You can picture it just like I can. In fact, as a coach, you’ve lived it just like I have. It’s the day before a game and your practice plan covers a lot of game prep. You need all 90+ minutes to get your team prepared for tomorrow’s competition. It’s also exam week; midterms to be exact. Your athletes have more consuming their thoughts than what you have on that practice plan. The timing couldn’t be worse, right? After all, tomorrow’s completion is against the best, but equally beatable, team in the state.
You recognize the situation and beg your athletes to be focused on practice. However, that can’t be done because your athletes have potentially missed the mark on the following human tendencies that allow focus to happen naturally, not forcefully.
The art of being prepared is the power that allows athletes to be focused on the present. It is vitally important that an athlete stay on top of their school work and family commitments in order to let their mind feel more freely focused in practice and games. Being prepared negates a certain level of stress, anxiety, excitement, worry, doubt and nerves that tend to parallel the thoughts that distract an athlete’s focus from the present.
Coaches: If you recognize there is a lack of preparedness by your athletes, set aside some time out of your own practice to help athletes navigate the areas in their life they need to attend to. This doesn’t have to be a lot of time. Try 15 minutes in the team room before practice. Prompt your athletes to create and prioritize a list of ‘to-dos’ and encourage conversation between individuals with the intention that they help each other determine when and how those tasks will be completed.
The act of acknowledging a thought unrelated to the task at hand, and removing it from one’s conscious, is a practice that will indeed clear a path for a more focused athlete. The human mind is an incredible machine and we all understand that thoughts unrelated to the present will trickle to the surface when least desired. Like any meditation coach would encourage, when a distracting thought develops, fully recognize it, as well as the timing and the meaning behind it. Then allow your mind to leave that thought entirely behind and come back to the present.
Coaches: This is a deliberate practice that must be learned to increase focus. Similar to the actions listed above to encourage athletes to be prepared, set time in your practice or pre game plans for athletes to welcome and recognize their distracting thoughts. Then, together as team, set those thoughts aside for the time being.
While the art of being prepared and the act of acknowledgement are just two avenues that will assist one in becoming more naturally focused, focus can’t be achieved without the simple act of commitment. Each athlete and coach experiences distractions at a different speed and intensity. Personally analyzing this will first allow one to understand how and where he or she needs to be committed in the depart of focus. This will look different for every individual but what can’t deviate across the board is the foundational commitment to be focused on the present even with the reality of distractions coming from every angle.
Coaches: Be the leader in your village of athletes and peers when it comes to focus. Eliminate your own distractions not only as an example to others, but to better your chances of staying in tune with the present and staying committed to focusing on the present. A few tangible ways to do this are; to eliminate your phone as a clock at practice and encourage assistant coaches to do the same, physically close off practice as much as possible to eliminate uncontrollable distractions, and celebrate the focused athletes and coaches in your program who are committed to the present.
Best of luck as you navigate the intangible road of focus in your seasons.