Coach Doaty on Understanding Focus in Basketball


Randal S. Doaty
Focus & Attitude Coach

   It is not unusual to see the term “focus” used as one of the goals of a basketball team prior to a game. It’s a common word. Coaches stress the importance of focus. Everyone agrees that you absolutely need to have good focus if you hope to be successful. This magical ingredient in the formula for success is universally accepted, but it is almost never clearly defined. What exactly is focus? How do you get it? How do you keep it? How do you even know if you have it? I can give you those answers!

   Focus in athletics refers to our mental state in relation to time. Put simply, it references whether you are thinking about the past, the present or the future at any instant. It is only possible to be in one of those three mental states at any given point. If our thoughts of the past, present and future were individually associated with three different color lights – red, blue and green as an example, they would be constantly flashing back and forth between the three different colors. Sports require us to look forward, backward and at the present constantly to perform well.

   When you are playing basketball, you need to anticipate what you and your teammates are going to do. This is forward thinking. You also need to be constantly aware of any immediate threat or opportunity. This is “playing in the now”. You also need to be aware of prior experiences to recognize and overcome strategies that your opponent is using against you in the game. Now you are looking backwards in time. Your mental lights keep jumping back and forth from color to color.

  So how on earth can a basketball player stay focused? Ironically, true focus is achieved by having a steady flow of mental focus shifts from past, to present, to future and then back again – constantly. Focus is lost when we become stuck on just one light. If you keep thinking about the bad call from the ref – you are stuck in the past. If your opponent is violating your comfort zone, you are stuck in the present. If you are worried that time is ticking away on the game clock, you are lost in the future. True focus requires us to maintain a healthy shift of all three points in time!

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