When it comes to playing youth sports, the best predictor of success is not based off of an athlete’s physical abilities or skills. What really matters is which athlete is able to remain focused on the task at hand when they are tired. The more focused an athlete is, the more successful an athlete will be.
Look at a pitcher as he prepares to throw, he is focused on the catcher’s glove. Consider a weightlifter or gymnast, notice how calm they are before their event. They are totally locked into “the zone”.
So how do we teach our youth athletes to get into the zone and have laser sharp focus when they need it? Luckily, focus is something that can be trained.
As a coach, you must plan practices with the goal to keep athletes engaged. How do we do this? Here are some of our tricks:
One easy way to do this: NO CELL PHONES. Smartphones of any kind can dramatically decrease focus and productivity. To keep it simple, and increase focus, our rule is: Phones stay in the bags.
3 Words: Structure, Routine, Consistency.
Having a structured practice with little down time is necessary to keep athletes engaged and focused on the task at hand. When practices are consistently the same, athletes develop a routine. Routines are very important for helping an athlete increase focus. Let’s be honest, athletes are going to lose focus from time to time, so developing a strategy to regain focus is critical to help them get back into the zone. This is why a routine, or ritual, is important. For example: consider a baseball player’s at-bat routine. After each pitch, they step out of the box and adjust their gloves and helmet the same way before stepping back into the box. They consistently do the same thing over and over. This helps them maintain focus.
Understand Different Learning Styles
Each athlete is different and they learn in different ways. There are three types of learning styles: audio (hearing), visual (seeing), and kinesthetic (doing). Coaches and parents need to be aware of the possibility that the information they are presenting their athlete might not be done so in the style of learning that they understand best. In this case, the athlete is less likely to pay attention. Engaging your athletes in all of the different learning styles helps them to remain focused.
Find a Balance
Challenge is an integral part of your athlete’s overall improvement. However, keeping these challenges in line with their skill level is important to keep them from losing focus. It’s impossible to stay focused on a task that is way too challenging. Coaches need to create attainable challenges their athlete’s in order to keep them focused on completing the task at hand.
Many times as a coach we feel the need to tell our athletes everything they are supposed to do and exactly how to do it. This can be information-overload for an athlete. When there are too many things to focus on, the athlete is overwhelmed and breaks down. Giving them one task to focus on is the best way to see them succeed. Once they’ve mastered the initial task, you can begin to add more.
Keep it Fun
Sports are fun. Plain and simple. Let’s keep it that way. If an athlete is not having fun, they will be less likely to stay focused and and more likely to disengage.