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“It’s the next one, not the past one” … as Dr. Cohn points out in his interview below with well-known sport psychology consultant, Dr. Keith Henschen.  This interview is a must-read for athletes and coaches that want to succeed at the highest level in their sport.

by Dr. Patrick Cohn

Do you have difficulty staying focused during a competition?

Do you become distracted by past mistakes or over-think specific technique aspects or mental strategies during the game?

Dr. Keith Henschen is a sport psychology consultant who has work with Olympians, as well as the Utah Jazz for more than two decades.

Dr. Henschen authored the book “Sport Psychology: An Analysis of Athlete Behavior” and points to “playing in the present” as a critical aspect to peak performance.

In a recent interview, I asked Dr. Henschen about “playing in the present.”

COHN: What are the top principles that you like your athletes to understand?

HENSCHEN: Many of our athletes try to think through what they’re doing and that’s not going to work because the thinking slows them down.

Any time you have to think about something that should be well learned (automatic) you’re slowing yourself down.

The mind isn’t in an analytical mode (during peak performance). It’s more of just letting your skills happen based on practice and trusting yourself.

One thing that I learned from Jerry Sloan, who I worked with for 25 years in coaching with the (Utah) Jazz, is that the great ones play forward.

If they make mistakes- (they know) there’s no perfect game- they’ve already realized that the most important play is the next one, not the past one.

You can go back and look at films (later) but they don’t analyze themselves during the game; they just play forward.

COHN: What you’re saying is that skill has to be learned at an intuitive level so that they can use it on demand in competition?

HENSCHEN: Absolutely. Most of our great athletes or high level athletes are the ones that perform by feel.

COHN: You said the great ones play forward and I’m assuming that they don’t dwell on the past, they don’t dwell on mistakes. When they play forward it’s all about the next play, it’s all about the next shot.

HENSCHEN: Yes, they don’t take time while they’re performing to analyze what they’re doing wrong.

When they’re actually performing they’re not spending any time in the past, they’re not spending any time in the future. They’re spending time in the present; that’s where they’re focused.

***Remember, focusing your mind on the present moment is a mental skill that requires repetition to habituate.***

Try these tips to help you develop the mental skill of focusing on the present…

Tip #1: Practice and repetition is required to develop and habituate the technical aspects of your game. Good technical habits will allow you to perform on “autopilot” without over-thinking your technique while playing.

Tip #2: You want to develop a feel for you technique–instead of verbal instructions or coaching yourself all the time.  By developing the “feel” of your game, you will trust your skills more and enhance your decision-making during games.

Listen to an excerpt of the interview with Dr. Keith Henschen on our blog here:

Dr. Keith Henschen Interview Excerpt

-For Peaksports Members-

Listen to and download the full interview with Dr. Keith Henschen and many other top sports psychologists on this page:

Peaksports Member Network


Your Mental Coach,

Dr. Patrick Cohn

P.S. This is one of our 14 exclusive interviews with top sports mental game experts in our “Champion’s Mindset” series. Make sure to check out all 14 interviews on our Peak Performance Sports Network, where you can listen, download and read the transcripts of each interview.