How to focus your team and avoid going mad

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‘How on earth do I get these kids to focus?’ – said every junior coach at some point.

We want the kids to concentrate on the game whilst all they want to do is talk about school, parties, Facebook, friends, their new phone, anything but the game at hand. It can drive you mad, but don’t worry because solutions are available.

The problem starts when we say ‘c’mon kids, make sure you concentrate’. They often simply don’t know what to concentrate on. As such it is the coach’s role to teach players not only how to play the game, but how to mentally prepare as well.

Start by developing a set pre game routine. Designate 30 minutes before the game as ‘switch on time’. Encourage them to get all the chatter out of the way prior to then.

The following methods will help them transition from ‘chat time’, to ‘go time’.

  1. How I play well

Help the kids understand the three (maximum) things they do when they play well. A player should be able to immediately reel these off when asked.

Here’s an example: When I play well I….

  • Tackle hard
  • Push forward
  • Talk a lot on the field

It is a good idea to have the kids write the three on a piece of paper and keep it in their bag. Asking them to go and get it puts a halt to the conversation and helps them know ‘what’ they have to focus on. Make sure they don’t write more than 3 things, as the rule with kids is if you say 4 things you say nothing. Not surprisingly the rule applies to many adults too.

After the game revisit the 3 points as a way of reviewing their performance. Ask the question, did you do the 3 things today, why/why not? It teaches kids that playing a good game is in their hands, and to focus on ‘doing things right’ rather than ‘avoiding making mistakes’.

  1. Visualization

For the older kids try some visualization. At ‘switch on time’ get them to be quiet and spend 5 minutes picturing themselves perfecting a skill. It may be kicking a goal, shooting a three pointer or taking a strong mark. Being able to visualise success increases confidence and the ability to perform the skill ‘automatically’ in the heat of the game. It also puts a break between chat time and go time.

  1. Goal setting

Have the kids write down one goal they want to work on during the game. When you say concentrate, they will then have something definite to concentrate on.

Most importantly avoid telling the kids what to do all the time. Set the expectation that they must have input into their performance prior to the game. Also understand that kids have limited attention spans, so long speeches are a no-no. Keep them short and most importantly make them interactive.

Great coaches manage a good mix between coaching instructions and player ownership/input; so ask as many questions as you give instructions.

And like I said in a previous blog, you get what you settle for, so set the rules and expectations right from day one. If you haven’t, don’t worry it is never too late to start.

About the author:

Nathan Burke started his career as a schoolteacher before the demands of elite level football with St Kilda F.C. took over. Following a successful corporate career he founded Nathan Burke Consulting – a Melbourne based firm that offers High Performance training and coaching solutions to corporates, schools and sports teams.

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