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Create a Mental Checklist to Improve Concentration

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It seems to me that coaches tend to write off youth athletes who lack the discipline to focus through practice or games. CoachesUnknown123 seem to think that concentration is an innate skill and can’t be improved or changed. As a kid I remember hearing that the human brain could only focus for five seconds at a time, this immediately became my internal excuse for not paying attention in class. So I’m guilty of dismissing the possibility of improvement as well.

I’ve learned of Neuroplasticity: “The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.” This means that concentration can be enhanced due to our brains ability to undergo neuroplasticity.

images-62 Like I’ve said before, most coaches simply tell players to concentrate without teaching them how to do so. I’ve reworked my coaching language in an tempt to avoid doing this. I try to keep the words “concentrate” and “focus” out of my coaching vocabulary as much as possible. Easier said than done. I’ve begun to utilize a strategy I picked up in graduate school. I consciously create a concentration checklist for my athletes when I feel they are losing focus, or concentrating on the wrong aspects.

So what is a concentration checklist you ask? It consists of 3-4 physical or mental components needed to complete a skill. They are simple, short tasks which are easy to remember and repeat. A skill we are all familiar with is making a right turn while driving. A concentration checklist for this would look something like this:

1. Signal blinker

2. check traffic to left and right

3. accelerate and turn the wheel to the right side.

When teaching athletes how to throw a change up, I usually give them this checklist. hqdefault

1. Lock wrist to the sky

2. Keep Elbow at your side

3. Think over the bucket in the hole

This checklist helps to keep athletes thoughts on the right path. I’m implying the need for them to focus more adequately, and showing them how to do it, rather than simply telling them they need to.

Consolidate the task at hand into three simple steps. It’s something simple that athletes can repeat to themselves to keep their mind and body on the right track.

Quote of the day:

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Concentrating on Focus

Focus, what is focus?! Athletes have been harped on to focus since the beginning of competition. It’s one of the most common phrases we hear in sports. But, what is it? When yellingasking your athletes to focus, what are you actually asking them to do? Can you write out 5 simple steps to achieve the focus you’re asking them to possess?

At first I was perplexed by this question, how can I paint vivid guidelines for my players to follow in order to attain the focus I’m asking them to have? I found my answer within the definition of concentration. The definition of concentration in a sport or an exercise setting involves four parts; Selective attention, maintaining attention focus, situational awareness, and shifting attention focus.

Selective awareness is the act of focusing on relevant environmental cues. It’s the physical process of eliminating irrelevant cues from your realm of attention and only selecting the relevant cues to concentrate on. Once an athlete has mastered a skill, they no longer have to consciously think about it while they are performing it. For instance, younger athletes are taught to drop step as a first step to any fly ball. With more practice and experience, that first step becomes second nature, done without thought. Having these second nature habits allows athletes to pay attention to other parts of the game.

Maintaining attention focus is the ability to maintain concentration throughout the entire game. This is tough because studies show the average time thoughts stay on target is about 5 seconds. Some of the greatest athletes earned their reputation not on pure talent, but the ability to stay focused in competition. Tennis player Chris Evert never had the best physical ability, but she never let a bad line call, missing an easy shot, or crowd noise, affect her. Concentration was the key factor that made her a champion.

Maintaining situational awareness is an athlete’s ability to understand what is going on around them. It’s the peripheral vision of concentration. This ability allows players to size up game situations, opponents, and competitions to make the right decisions in play.

Shifting attention focus is the ability to be flexible with attention; being able to switch one’s focus depending on what the situation calls for.

Think of Concentration as a personal spotlight. Athletes have to know where to point their 133spotlight, how narrow or broad to make the beam of light, and be able to switch it from place to place quickly, in order to focus on the correct things.

Researchers have found that when studying elite athletes in their most exceptional performances, three of the eight key components of their performance were related to concentration.

1) Being absorbed in the present and having no thoughts about the past or future.

2) Being mentally relaxed and having a high degree of concentration and control.

3) Being in a state of extraordinary awareness of both their own bodies and the external environment.


It has been proven that expert athletes, compared to novice athletes, have a different focus in game situations. Exp

ert players are able to disregard irrelevant stimuli and focus on task-oriented things, rather than the outcome of the task. This is proven by the study of eye movements in experts and novice athletes. A perfect example is the basketball player Magic Johnson who was known for his no look passes. He used advanced cues to know what his teammate’s future moves would be.

Focusing on the wrong cues, is one of the biggest problems for athletes. It’s not that they lack the ability to focus, but their focus is concentrated in the wrong area. Sometimesathletes get caught up in focusing on internal worries and concerns, past experiences, future events, the pressure of the game, and body mechanics.

Jim Thompson, the author of “Positive Coaching” brings up a great perspective in concentration. Most athletes are consumed with trying to avoid looking dumb. They are focused on not making a mistake, which is actually causing them to focus solely on making mistakes.


Quote of the day:

“When I’m training I’m focused… by focusing all the time on what you’re doing when you’re training, focusing in a race becomes a by-product.” -Orlick and Parintons landmark study of Canadian Olympic athletes   

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