Sport Psych Thursday with Brian Alexander - Defining What Coaches Say

“You’ve got to focus!” - Defining What Coaches Say

You have probably heard this phrase hundreds of times from coaches in every sport. When the team makes a mistake in the water or isn’t playing up to their potential, coaches will often yell “focus” or “where is your head right now?”. These verbal cues work for the athletes to help them become aware of a lack of concentration. However, there could be an even greater benefit if the athletes know how they should put those words into direct action in order to make a positive improvement in their game.

The time to discuss what these words mean is during their preparation at practice. One of the main skills a coach needs to master is their ability to communicate with their athletes in a language they can understand. The following points break the verbal cue “focus” into language coaches can use with their teams out of the water in order to be aligned and prepared for key moments in games.

  • Attention, focus, and concentration all have very similar meanings but they should be used with water polo players purposefully. The game of water polo is a very fast-moving dynamic sport with a lot happening at once. Athletes must attend to multiple moving objects at once in a state of awareness of where they are, where the ball is, and the direction in which everything else is moving relative to the closest goal.
  • Attention can be broken down by two dimensions: direction and width. Direction relates to whether or not what you are attending to is external (what you see and what is going on around you) or internal (what you think/self-talk and how you feel). Width relates to whether or not what you are attending to is broad (many visuals or thoughts) or narrow (one visual or one thought).
  • Here is a diagram to show how these two dimensions combine relative to water polo situations:

Looking at this diagram, the majority of water polo game time focus fits into the Broad External quadrant with a few specific game situations in the Narrow External. Coaches should think about how they communicate/teach focus, practice it, and then communicate it once in the game in order to be as direct and clear as possible for the results they want. Usually when the athletes get out of their own internal focus to more of an external focus during a game, they allow their physical preparation to take over. As ironic as it sounds from a mental skills coach, it is important for athletes in a fast-moving dynamic sport to think less and work more.

If you are interested in one on one mental skills coaching or for your team, you can contact Brian Alexander via email: Alexander.brian3@gmail.com or at www.athletementalskillscoach.com Also follow him on Twitter @BA_POS_MIND on Facebook (Athlete Mental Skills Coach) or follow his biweekly blog post on LinkedIn.