,, We all love the holidays—that end-of-year lull when we finally hit pause and enjoy some much-needed downtime with friends and family. Indulging in rich meals together and more than our share of sweet treats. What could be better? But once the holidays end, it’s back to the grind. As we’ve all experienced, that can be tough—for adults and student-athletes, too.
One of the major struggles we face as educators and coaches is helping to refocus our athletes after an extended holiday or summer break, so they can concentrate on their studies and sports. When athletes concentrate, they’re able to tune out what’s happening around them. Less distraction means they’re more able to become totally involved and engaged in what they’re doing. Not only is concentration key to having a successful season after a major holiday break, it’s also important for learning, so students can find success beyond athletics. It’s a mental and physical discipline and it can be so rewarding on and off the field.
In fact, the ability to focus is one of the most important mental skills a person can have—in both sports and school. Negative thoughts, mistakes or other factors, like parents, fans or coaches yelling during games, can cause kids to lose focus. By following these three simple tips, you’ll not only help them find their focus, but improve it. Often, athletes are asked “Did you hear the crowd or see the fans waving sticks or bricks as a distraction when shooting free throws?” The focused say “nope!”.
Tip #1: Identify the Cues Relevant to Your Sport
In basketball, players should focus on their free throw form and mechanics, learning different aspects of a play or moving their feet on defense. When we help athletes focus more on the basic aspects of their sport, they’ll focus less on what’s going on around them. So players called it “locked in”, I’m in the zone and everything seems to slow down.
Put It into Practice
As you develop your practice plans, focus on showing and communicating the fundamentals. This constant communication will enable players to focus on those aspects as well. Try not to put 10 things on your development list. Find 3-5 areas that you really want to get better at – be disciplined!
Tip #2: Recognize When and Where Athletes Are Losing Focus
Think about past games. How and when did your athletes become distracted? Try to remember what was going on around them. Perhaps a parent was yelling. Maybe the other team’s fans were talking to your players. Or a mistake was made. Now teach your players to do the same. Help them learn to be more aware of potential distractions, so they can tune them out and focus on the game instead. I love parents and family coming to cheer you on, but if they distract you it’s a problem. It’s you who has to be focused on the game, not fans in the stands.
Put It into Practice
Create drills or scenarios that mimic the kinds of distractions they might experience during games. This can be especially important when playoffs are approaching. I always like loud music when lifting weights, working out or in practice. It makes me used to outside stimulation.
Tip #3: Create Strategies to Refocus
First, you need to help your players identify the triggers causing them to lose focus. Once you pinpoint those, you can figure out the best way to help them ignore distractions so they can get back on task. I recommend coming up with a trigger word or phrase to help them refocus. Some players wear a rubber band on their wrist and snap it. Some put messaging on their shoes or hand with a few focus thoughts.
Put It into Practice
Start adding this word or phrase during scrimmages or when playing against one another in practice to determine what works best for your players. Then, start working them into games. Phrases like “let it go” or “next play.” Have amnesia, forget that play and move on. Anything that will help them refocus and reconnect with you and the team.
In the end, players that are focused will get more out of every day and every game. And that’s a winning strategy we can all get behind.
About Nancy Lieberman and Nancy Lieberman Charities
Nancy “Lady Magic” Lieberman is a true pioneer in women’s sports. Nancy is a Basketball Hall of Famer, two-time Olympian, former Asst. Coach with the Sacramento Kings and the 1st Female Head Coach in a Men’s Professional League NBA G League TX Legends (Dallas Mavericks affiliate) BIG3 HC Team Power, 2018 Champions and Coach of the Year. In 2009 Nancy Lieberman Charities was established with the mission to provide a healthy physical, emotional and mental environment for young girls and boys to build their self-esteem and confidence so they will be able to make the right choices in the future. Nancy Lieberman is dedicated to expanding and ensuring that educational and mentorship opportunities exist for youth through Educational College Scholarships, Financial Literacy, Dream Court programs with STEM and Civic Engagement, backpack and laptop programs. Find out more online at www.nancyliebermancharities.org.