Updated: Feb 14, 2022
This winter I've gotten one single question from athletes via email and social media more than any other. I've been asked numerous times something along the lines of "How do you overcome different distractions and setbacks in order to stay mentally focused during practices and games?"
This is such a great question, both for players and coaches alike!
While we could make a list a mile long of ways to be more mentally focused, here are four specific ways that I've found to be incredibly helpful when it comes to dealing with distractions and overcoming setbacks.
1. Intentional Self-Talk
Positive and instructional self-talk helps you stay grounded and focused in and on the present moment. While it's easy to judge ourselves with our words and be our #1 critic, it's also just as important to positively communicate with ourselves during a "bad" game or practice in order to stay focused on what's most important.
2. Trigger Words
This is a form of self-talk that is used to trigger a response. Triggers words are very useful when you are trying to vary or change a movement pattern or response to a situation. For example, you might use the trigger word "balance" when attacking the basket to remind yourself to stay on balance when you finish at the rim.
3. Stay Present
Too often, athletes and coaches tend to lose their concentration when they either: 1) dwell on the past (especially mistakes), or 2) focus on the future (potential uncertainties). Doing either of those things is a futile exercise if you want to stay mentally focused, as both are out of your individual control. Successful athletes and coaches stay in the present by only focusing on that moment because the present is all you can actually control.
4. Develop a Focused Plan
You can develop a plan to not only prepare for practice and games but also to prepare for what you would do in different situations. For example, players can decide how they want to respond to a turnover and then spend time visualizing turning the ball over in practices or games and continue to visualize their response to that turnover. A great exercise for coaches would be deciding how they want to show up with their body language/demeanor after a referee makes a bad call, and then practice visualizing those bad calls and their reaction to them. Most importantly, I'd recommend focusing on process goals rather than outcome goals. This will help you have more confidence as you go through practices and games!