How to Use Focus, Concentration, and Imagery in Youth Sport
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Learn how to use focus concentration and imagery when coaching youth sports with Dr. Dan Gould.


Let's talk about focusing, concentration and imagery. Has a coach ever told you to concentrate? They probably did, but most likely, they didn't tell you how to do it. Now, concentration involves knowing what you should pay attention to when performing and what you should not attend to. It also involves the ability to hold your attention overtime. In fact, think of concentration as a flashlight in a dark room. You're trying to focus a light beam on something in the room while ignoring other things that are not relevant. One thing that's important to remember here. Sometimes when you're most focused, you're not even aware that you are, like when you are in the zone in your sport, everything becomes effortless, so the key is for you to learn what to focus on, so listen carefully to your coach and try to determine the one or two key things to focus on to lead to better performance. For example, a tennis player may focus on having a good ball toss on her serve, a swimmer, plunging off the wall on his flip turn, and a skater will bring her right leg across when finishing a triple jump. There are some things you can do to help you learn to focus. First, you can establish and practice a pre-performance routine. A pre-performance routine is simply the things you do physically and the things you think about just before you perform. So do you stretch a certain way? Do you think certain thoughts? Good athletes have these routines and they do the same before every performance. The second thing you can do is learn to identify your optimal emotional temperature for best performance and learn how to control your emotions to get there. Once you've gotten to scale down pretty well, practice in less than perfect conditions. In front of noisy spectators, uncrowded courts, when you're a little tired, this will help you learn to better deal with distractions. Top athletes have found it helpful to have refocusing strategies by thinking out ahead of time how they might react in certain situations. For example, what could you do to focus after making a critical mistake in a game? You might center, you might use thought stopping, you might focus on several of the positive statements you've learned about. Finally, many top athletes find using imagery, imagining themselves, performing well or correcting errors in their head as important ways to refocus. When you do this, you need to use all your senses and it's especially important to feel your movements. So hear it, see it, feel it.