4 WAYS TO IMPROVE MENTAL FOCUS & CONCENTRATION IN BASKETBALL

basketball concentration
At Pro Skills Basketball, we use the acronym F.O.C.U.S. in our attempt to make a change in a youth sports culture that we see as flawed.

The “C” in F.O.C.U.S. stands for “Concentrate” which involves an essential and crucial piece to the development of the young mind both in basketball and in life.

In short, the simple definition of concentration is “the action or power of focusing one’s attention or mental effort.”

In today’s world, we are never too far from distractions. Smartphones, TV’s, computer screens are everywhere…we live in a world of sensory overload.  It even extends to youth sports when you find yourself in a basketball facility with 6 games happening at once, fans cheering, coaches yelling, and whistles blowing from all angles.

All of these distractions can lead to a very challenging situation for a young player to focus their mental effort, demonstrate concentration, and find success on the basketball court. In fact, when matching two players of a similar skill-set and ability, it is generally the one that is able to concentrate for a longer period of time that will demonstrate greater success and happiness in the game.

Here are some ideas to think about in order to improve one’s concentration to give them an edge on the basketball court and beyond.

#1 Set Goals

Goal setting in sports, business, and life is an idea that goes back decades in American culture. It can provide a simple way to achieve desired results through a sharpened focus onbasketball focus the task at hand. This can be applied to concentration in basketball in an easy way. Focusing on achieving a certain outcome calls for a more focused and detailed concentration in order to be successful.

When goal setting in basketball, either working individually or with a team, you must set goals that are clear and measurable while challenging at the same time.  

Do remember to keep them within reason especially for a young player.  If you want to become a better shooter, don’t set a goal of making 50 shots in a row if they most you have ever made is 5.  Start with a goal of 10, then 15, then 20, and so on.  

If we set a goal for a kid that is out of reach in the immediate future, they will find themselves demotivated and frustrated and will not concentrate their efforts on completing the task.  Setting a clear, measurable, and challenging goal will lead to greater mental effort out the player attempting to achieve it.

Similarly, when working with a team, set a goal – whether it is finishing a drill with no mistakes, or becoming a better defensive team, or wanting to reach a certain number of wins – can lead to a great team concentration as they will need to work together and hold each other accountable in order to achieve their goal.  Teamwork on the court is directly tied to how well the group can concentrate.

#2 Develop Routines

Basketball is a game of habits.  Whether you go to a youth practice or a NBA practice, you will see many of the same skills being worked on by the players.  

It’s a simple strategy…the more you perform a task, the better you become at it. So with that, our ability to focus our attention can be greatly aided by developing routines, both with skills and our ability to prepare.

basketball routinesA simple way to begin with developing routines is to always prepare for a practice or game in the same way every time you begin. The great UCLA coach, John Wooden, used to instruct his players on how to put on their socks and tie their shoes before they began playing.  

It may seem silly that a college coach with more NCAA Championships than anyone would do such a thing, but it is such a fundamental tool of the game of basketball.  If you don’t have to worry about your shoes being untied, then you should be able to focus your concentration on completing fundamental skills and achieving goals as an individual or team.

Similarly, routines related to how you warm up, how you prepare to shoot a free throw, how you get ready to play defense, etc. will lead to a relaxed mind that is able to concentrate on more complex tasks and solve them as they arise because you know that you have developed a method to deal with the frequent occurrences of the game.

#3 Focus On What You Can Control

This is a big one in youth basketball. We have all seen the crazy atmosphere of a youth basketball game in which players, coaches, and/or parents lose their minds and berate refs, opposing coaches and players or their own coaches and players.  Such actions will not help with concentration.

In youth basketball, we can’t control what the referees see or think. Honestly, they could call fouls, travels, or other violations on a numerous amount of possessions. We as coaches, players, and parents cannot control this.

When something happens that you do not agree with, get ready for the next play. Here are a few scenarios where you can get ready for the next play:

  • You turned the ball over and thought you were fouled? Concentrate on sprinting back on defense.
  • You were called for a foul that you didn’t think occurred? Get ready to box out on the free throw attempt and communicate with your team about what you need to do moving forward.  
  • As a parent, something didn’t go your way? Rather than yell at the coach or the ref, be supportive of your child on the next play.

The beauty of basketball is that game doesn’t stop much. Everybody is involved in every aspect of the game while on the court, so if you concentrate fully on what you can control – how you play defense, how you work together on offense, how you communicate, how you support your team – then any outside distractions will not matter.  

Again, when looking at evenly matched skill and talent, the individual or player that shows a greater ability to concentrate generally succeeds!

#4 Proper Health Maintenance

This could have been grouped with “Develop Routines” but I think it is important enough to have its own category. If we want our children to be focused, attentive, and have high levels of concentration then it is very important to make sure they eat well and get enough rest.  

Kids obviously process food and drink in their bodies a little bit differently than adults. I know as a young person I could go eat fast food and 30 minutes later step on the basketball court and feel fine.

At the time I didn’t see anything wrong with it, but if I could have found something a little healthier to eat, I’m convinced I would have performed even better. Kids typically prefer junk food over healthy food, but if we can manage to work some healthy options in from time-to-time we will find a greater ability to concentrate.

The same can be said for proper rest. With all the activities available for children these days, we have to be careful not to overwork them. If someone has had school, music lessons, followed by 2 sports practices, then I imagine their focus would suffer by the time they get to the last event.  

We shouldn’t be afraid to allow our kids to take some time off from time-to-time. Also make sure they are getting plenty of sleep at night. It will keep them refreshed and allow them to concentrate on many of the aspects that we have already discussed.

Over the next few weeks, we will go on to cover other life lessons and skills taught through basketball contained in our F.O.C.U.S. acronym, so stay tuned!

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