Focus in Sports, for Coaches and Players

Some people focus exceptionally well. They can tune out the world around them and pay rapt attention to the task at hand. Some can even hyperfocus, where they are so tuned in that nothing in the world seems to be going on around them except for the ball game they are playing. For them everything may seem to happen in slow motion and they have total and utter control over their reactions to the court or the field they are playing on. The key word here is some. There are no exact percentages on the number of people, or the percentage of the population, who are able to focus well (or hyperfocus). However, given the amount of attention paid to products and techniques to improve focus everywhere from the classroom to the boardroom to the locker room it would not be an anomaly if you or many of the kids you coach don’t step into the game with this skill perfectly honed.

What Is Focus?

Focus is a key to playing a good game. And all of the skills building that comes in advance of the game requires focus. When coaches and athletes are focused they are “on” or “in the zone.” It is impossible for people to be focused all of the time, but it is important to find a way to focus during practice and competition. (Source).

Focus in an interesting concept. It is most simply defined as concentrating on something in particular. (Sourc). There are several factors that can make focus worse for any given person. One of those is the environment that they are in. In other words, being in a place with distractions can reduce your focus. Dr. Julie Schwartzbard, M, has this to say about it:

Our ability to focus and concentrate lets us accomplish amazing things — when it’s working well. Distractions are the main reason we lose focus, but often these aren’t as obvious as you might imagine. Instead you may feel scattered or “fuzzy,” or blame yourself for not having more control.

Granted, she is selling a product that is supposed to enhance memory and focus (there are no lack of products out there for this), but the way she describes this is right on the nose. Distractions in the environment can be people, occurrences, or technology. For instance, if you, the coach, keep getting calls or messages on your cell phone, you will likely be distracted from your job. Or if a kid that is playing notices someone in particular in the stands that makes them nervous they will likely lose focus.  

Fatigue Destroys Focus

Fatigue is another major factor in whether or not a person can maintain focus. Fatigue can be physical or mental and it can have a major impact on performance, as well as the ability to pay attention to the game. It is important to realize that working too hard physically can impact both the body’s ability to continue coordination and the way that information is processed. This second impact is what is known as cognitive function. Take for example, the impact of having physically exercised beyond a warm-up in advance of practice or a game, or the impact that the game or an intense practice can have.

Much of the evidence found in the literature suggests that the relationship between acute physical activity and cognitive performance has an inverted U shape. Some reported that physical exercise of moderate intensity and duration appears to ameliorate brain dysfunction. In fact, several studies found that immediately after an exercise session of sub-maximal intensity (i.e., heart rate of about 110–130 beats per minute) and a duration of 20–40 min, there is an improvement in sensori-motor and cognitive performance. While others revealed that prolonged but sub-maximal physical exercise leading to dehydration is associated with a reduction in cognitive performance. (Source).

Fatigue can also come from lack of sleep, or emotional impacts. Both will have similar effects on the ability for an athlete, or a coach, to focus.

ADD/ADHD and Focus

Another factor that comes into play usually impacts youth athletes more than it does adult coaches. This is ADD/ADHD. These are diagnosed neurologic conditions and legal disabilities that may require medication to manage. If you or one of your players has one of these, it is important to recognize that this is the source of the problem and manage it. It is not always easy for kids that suffer this to play sports, but it is also not impossible. If this is an area of concern to you there are plenty of resources available to help you help all of your team succeed at having fun and playing sports. Attitude Magazine, a resource for those dealing with ADHD has a great article that can help you take the first steps, “This Sporting Life.” Usually coaches are not as impacted by ADD/ADHD because by the time you are an adult you have learned to manage it. Remember that not every kid has - some may need a little extra help from you, their coach.

Tips to Focus Better

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There are plenty of tips out there on how to increase focus for adults, including these suggested by Independent:

  • Meditation

  • Regular exercise (without exercising to the point of exhaustion)

  • Using to-do lists

  • Caffeine (in small quantities)

  • Taking breaks

  • Leaving work at work

  • Focus training exercises

  • Sitting in quiet places

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Working offline as much as possible

  • Organizing your activities around certain hours

For youth athletes to find and stay focused, coaches can help them with these tips from ActiveKids.com:

  • Focus on what is relevant to the sport and helping the team advance, rather than what is happening off the field or court. This may mean remembering to move your feet and then thinking about moving your feet.

  • Recognize the reason you lost focus, both when and why. When you identify your distractions choose to pay attention to the game, not giving more attention to the distraction.

  • Create a strategy to regain focus when it is lost. This will be unique and different for everyone, but will be your tool to use to get back on task.

For more tips and tricks on being a great coach continue to follow www.Hustle.Fitness.

Felipe Leon