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Sports Psychology with a Coach

Coaches often report that the teams or athletes they work with do not perform well in key moments of the game not because they are not good enough, but because they lose concentration in key moments. 

Concentration refers to where an individual has their attention at a point in time. To perform in sport, it is important to focus this attention on tasks that are important in the sport.  To support a coach in helping their athletes concentrate there are two things a coach needs to develop (1) attention and (2) focus.

A picture of a coach giving instructions to his players

What is Attention?

Attention can be internal or external. This means it is focused on yourself (Internal) or something in your environment (External). At the same time it can be broad or narrow. This means you are focusing on a lot of information in the environment (Broad) or specific information (Narrow) (Nideffer & Sagal, 2006)

A table which details the different types of attention and examples of each type

What is Focus?

Focus is where your you are placing your attention. This is where coaches can provide training sessions to support athletes in maintaining their focus of attention on the key information that is available to them. This involves an awareness of what is going on inside of you (thoughts and emotions) and what is going on around you. 

A focus list can be introduced to help athletes identify where they are focusing their attention (Hansen & Haberl, 2020):

  1. Level 1: focus on the task and game plan
  2. Level 2: Focus on distractions
  3. Level 3: Evaluating the team or individual performance
  4. Level 4: Result of the game or consequences of actions
  5. Level 5: Something outside of the environment (e.g. friends, family)

A Practical Example

A team I was working with in football were experiencing concentration lapses in key moments of the game. We decided to place emphasis on developing concentration skills through the practices that the coach was already using. The idea was to work on concentration within the technical, tactical, and physical training. 

An example of one of the games was a transition game. The game started with 2 players attacking against 1 player. Once the 2 attackers get a shot away, 2 players on the defender’s team could join in to attack the other team 3 versus 2.

An example of a coach's plan for a game

The focus of the exercise was for the players to work on switching their channel of attention. When the attacking team is 2v1 they may be assessing where the defender is and where the space is. They then prepare a shot and act to execute the shot. Once they take the shot, the player now has to assess their position to get back into a defensive position as they are now overloaded 3v2. They might be analysing their thoughts based on whether they have scored or missed their previous shot and need assess their position to prepare to get back into a defensive position to make a defensive action. 

Based on the above description of the practice from a psychological perspective we can see that the players are constantly moving between the 4 channels of attention. At various stages, the practice was stopped to ask the players where their focus of attention is based on their role in the attacking or defending phase of the game. This can be used to teach the players the different types of attention. 

In between games the players were brought together to review their overall engagement in terms of focus. One team identified that they were at level 4 and were focusing too much on the consequence of what they did after they took a shot rather than getting back into position. The other team identified that they were at level 3 and were evaluating individual performance. The players were all then asked how they can bring their focus as a group and individuals closer to the task and the game plan.

Following on from this exercise the players were provided the opportunity to explore concentration channels in a 9v9 game and reviewed their focus of attention in between games. An additional area of focus during the game was on set pieces and how the attention channel changed during this moment of the game.

Review

This intervention examined attention and the focus of the attention with the aim being to integrate Psychology within the training exercises of the team. This is just one example of a series of sessions that were implemented within the overall process of improving a team’s concentration in games.

References

Hansen, J., & Haberl, P. (2020). Helping Athletes be Present When Performing Under Pressure. In Henricksen, K., Hansen, J. & Larsen, C. H. Mindfulness and Acceptance in Sport: How to help Athletes Perform and Thrive Under Pressure (pp47-58). New York, NY: Routledge. 

Nideffer, R. & Sagal, M. (2006). Concentration and attention control training. In J. M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (pp. 382 – 403). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.