Championship insight on revving up your team's focus
By Ker’Shyra Myrick
The ability to focus and concentrate is important for everyone, especially young athletes.
But it’s a skill that must be taught.
Children may be able to focus when they are playing video games or watching a movie, but that same concentration may not always translate over to when they are on the field or court.
“We need to go the next step and tell our young athletes what to concentrate on and how to focus,” says Dr. Jesse Michel, mental skills coordinator for the World Series Champion Houston Astros. “It is dangerous for us to make the assumption that athletes know what we are talking about. Kids come to practice and we expect them to be able to focus on what we are saying. I truly believe we, as coaches, need to get our expectations in line with reality and help them understand what we mean by focusing and concentrating.”
Many children struggle with concentration on a daily basis, where lapses can occur during school or other activities. As coaches, helping young athletes become more focused will pay dividends in their athletic participation, as well as other aspects of their life.
“I fully believe that focus and concentration is a skill that can be developed, especially with kids,” Michel says. “If kids are constantly distracted during the day, whether it be at school or at home, for us as coaches to think they will be able to focus when they get to practice is silly.”
UPGRADE PRACTICES TO FUEL PLAYER FOCUS
Coaches of all sports, and at all levels, likely will encounter young athletes with wavering levels of concentration who have difficulty staying dialed in to the practice.
“This issue is certainly something that I think is common, and I would say one way for coaches to overcome this is by taking a look in the mirror to see how they can improve practice time, drills and activities,” Michel says. “It is important for coaches to talk to their players about the meaning of focus and concentration, which could mean helping them focus on the right things at the right time. If there is a team meeting and we are all in a group before practice, everyone should be concentrating on the discussion and focused on what the coach is saying.”
Being very specific with the athlete on what you want them to focus on is key.
“One way to accomplish this is by making players understand there are several ways we can focus,” Michel says. “There is internally, which is focusing on what is going on inside of our heads; and externally, which is focusing on what is going on outside, whether that be what we are looking at and listening to.”
Body language and engagement are key indicators coaches can watch to gauge whether an athlete is focused.
“Aside from them being distracted or their eyes are looking elsewhere, another clue is that their head might be down,” Michel says. “One important factor I elaborate on when I am talking to my coaches is meeting the athletes where they are at. If we know their ability to focus is really high when playing a video game or watching TV, we can see that they will lock in on something that is of interest to them.”
Being creative and coming up with new ways to engage young athletes can be a real game changer.
“As coaches, let’s create drills that kids want to focus and engage in,” Michel says. “Instead of deflecting the blame to them, ask yourself ‘How can I create drills or an environment where the kids want to focus?’ Being more creative and integrating technology into the practice plan can make them more fun. As coaches, we need to encourage athletes to lock in and learn. If we continue to coach our youth the way we were coached, then we are doing it wrong. Kids are growing up in a different environment. Lastly, coaches cannot get frustrated and need to remember we were kids once too.”
Dr. Jesse Michel
Penn State basketball coach Patrick Chambers on using goals to keep young athletes focused, engaged and continually striving for improvement
Former Syracuse star Stephen Thompson on the importance of remaining even keeled during all the successes and failures that accompany competing
Motivating young athletes is a big part of coaching – and a challenging one, too. Use these tips to inspire and lead your team
Giving young athletes the chance to provide feedback, as well as self-reflect, is a powerful coaching technique. Drake women’s basketball coach Jennie Baranczyk tells how it’s done