Michael Jordan, one of the best basketball players ever, used to say that it doesn’t matter how many hours you train; only the hours you are focused in training count. It is all about working and being focused. Concentration refers to a person’s ability to exert a deliberate mental effort to succeed in a particular task. In sports, this is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon, and it should be understood as the means to:1
- Focus on the most relevant stimuli from the environment (selective attention).
- Keep focused while performing a task.
- Be aware of the situation one is surrounded by (to understand what is happening around).
- Redirect focus whenever it is needed.
Being able to stay focused on the most relevant signals from the environment is fundamental to achieve an effective performance. Below, there are some recommendations to improve a players’ concentration during a training session or a game:2,3,4,5
- The first thing, both coaches and players should be aware of the ever-changing game factors when they are pushed by their rivals and their fans, thus losing focus. On top of that, such situation needs to be controlled. It also needs to be measured. What is not quantified is more difficult to improve.
- Pressure must be a part of training. Training sessions and matches must resemble each other as much as possible. To do so, it is recommended: 1. Increase exercise difficulty. 2. Encourage competition among peers. 3. Monitor unforced mistakes.
- Helping players keep focused and increase the level of self-demand during training sessions. For this, a successful strategy can be: 1. Explaining the goal of the task. 2. Communicating what the task serves for. 3. Helping players identify to what they must pay attention when performing and completing a task. When increasing the level of self-demand, it can be effective to: 1. Give advice loudly. 2. Make the whole group take responsibility for any individual mistake. 3. Associate the learning capacity with the progression of the team. 4. Ask for silence when performing a task.
- Keeping in mind a detailed game plan. Training pays off when pressure is involved. In any game, solutions provided during training sessions should be put into good use. Each player must always consider what they have to do at every moment and how they are supposed to do it.
- Training players psychologically for a match. Warm-up routines, clear references for the game or even mental pictures are necessary to take advantage of time-outs.
- Setting individual objectives for each game with players. Steps to follow could be: 1. Stating the goal. 2. Naming it. 3. What do I have to do to accomplish it? It is about identifying what actions must be done to achieve what is being pursued. 4. How will the accomplishing the goal be evaluated during the game? 5. When will the goal be fully accomplished? Specific factors indicating its success should be identified.
- There is no need to play a special game. If the coach changes his work routine, the way he addresses the players or their usual game plan, they are implying that everything done up to that moment is not enough. If the coach changes his work routine, the way he addresses the players or the usual game plan, he’s sending a message that what has been done is not enough to reach the goal.
- Coaches must monitor their body language and non-verbal communication. Some ideas to better control this: 1. Gestures must convey confidence. Looking straight into the eyes, showing the palm of your hands, moving slowly, or maintaining an upright posture are ideal for reinforcing our messages. Exaggerated gestures and excessive movements cause the opposite effect. 2. Avoid gestures showing discomfort. Touching your face, scratching, or fiddling with objects will be counter-productive when delivering a message.
- The sports in which domestic teams’ advantage is more important are those in which coaches have less opportunities to give information to their players. When coaches can intervene more due to time-outs or breaks, domestic teams have less advantage. By reminding players of the game plan to follow, they keep focused on what they have to do at every moment. Consequently, players must be ready for self-assessment and self-organization when playing a match.
It is worth highlighting that, in team sports, training means exchanging information.6 Coaches should focus on facilitating players’ self-improvement by creating the best conditions for learning tasks.
Carlos Lago Peñas
1 Weinberg, R.S. y Goud, D. (2012). Fundamentos de Psicología del Deporte y del Ejercicio Físico. Madrid: Editorial Médica Panamericana.
2 Espar, X. (2010). Jugar con el corazón. Barcelona: Plataforma Editorial.
3 Marí, P. (2011). Aprender de los campeones. Barcelona: Plataforma Editorial.
4 Marí, P. (2017). Liderar equipos comprometidos. Barcelona: Plataforma Editorial.
5 Lago Peñas, C. (2018). Cortita y al Pie. Edición del autor.
6 Seirul-lo, F. (2010). Estructura sociafectiva. Documento INEFC – Barcelona. Retrieved from: http://www.motricidadhumana.com/estructura_socioafectiva_doc_seirul_lo_Outline_drn.pdf
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