I thought I’d take an opportunity tonight to answer a question from a professional coach on a topic I know is a popular one. I’d like to hear what you think about these suggestions and would appreciate hearing from others if they have ideas for helping players to maintain or regain focus over the course of a game. And please keep the questions coming as I believe this is a great way to address topics on the blog.
Pro Coach: Geoff- We have had issues with keeping players focused for 9 innings. I’m looking for a suggestion to try to keep them locked in. We talk all the time about 27 outs and focusing on the task at hand but we just have found ways to make stupid plays at inopportune times. Feedback, thoughts are appreciated.
GM: Thanks for your question, coach. Ultimately, staying focused is about desire and a willingness to pay attention to what’s important. That’s why I believe it’s so important to find out so much about what motivates players as well as their learning styles and styles of focus. For some players, if you give them too many details, they tune out. For others, if you don’t give them enough, they tune out.
Without knowing more about the specifics of what your players are like, here are two simple generalities that might be helpful:
1. “Call the Game”
If you have players that find their minds “drifting” during games, they can reduce this by simply trying to stay focused on describing the details of the game like they would if they were radio broadcasters. If you have an outfielder who isn’t making good decisions because he isn’t paying attention in the field and then when the ball is hit to him he doesn’t know what to do with it, he might stay locked in more often just by telling himself what’s happening. It might sound something like this if he said it out loud:
Okay, there’s a man on first base, he’s their number two hitter in the lineup and looks like he can steal a base. Their best hitter is at the plate, he’s someone who likes the ball down and when he gets it he hits it in the gaps. The pitcher comes set and checks the runner and here’s the pitch…
By describing the action to themselves, they might stay in the game more and be more alert when the ball comes their way. Calling the action keeps a player outside his head and keeps him from thinking distracting thoughts.
2. Have a Routine That Gets You Back on Track
Before and during pre-pitch set up, make sure that whatever the player is thinking about between pitches has a chance to be “cleared”. I believe that it’s close to impossible to keep your thoughts on exactly what you’re supposed to for three hours. So rather than hoping that your players will do that, I’d rather have you have ways for them to get re-focused than to stay focused.
A deep breath is a simple thing and it’s a total cliché in sports, but if it’s used to tell the player “okay I was drifting and this breath is my reset button” then it can be a good way to get guys back on track. You might go through a pre-pitch set up with a player and add in a deep breath to help them start over between pitches or between hitters.
The same could be true for separating between offense and defense or for preparing yourself before you go pick up a bat. Most guys are more focused at the plate than they are on the bases or in the field because that part of the game means the most to them. They take the most pride (and are most easily measured) on their hitting so they are focused there. That gets back to my point about desire. If you care about something, you are much more likely to be focused than if you don’t care.
Remember that these are just two simple suggestions for helping players maintain focus. The best way to help players focus is to know them well and to be able to have honest conversations with them about what helps them stay focused, when they struggle with staying focused, and what works best for them to get them back on track.
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Geoff Miller’s book, Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, was released in August, 2012. For more information and free sample chapters, please visit:
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