Developing Focus Plans for Athletes
Confident, relaxed athletes tell themselves things like “I can do this” or “I’ve trained well.” They DON’T say “There’s no way I can make that jump” or “I wish the wind wasn’t blowing so hard.” They DON’T dwell on things that might go wrong, stress them, or distract them. As a coach, you are responsible for preparing athletes to remain positive in the heat of the action and focused on the task at hand. A focus plan is an essential part of that preparation.
Focus plans are detailed plans setting out when and how athletes will work on all the different thoughts and emotions they need to manage to perform well. Focus plans train athletes to focus effectively on each aspect of their sport or event by helping them deal with distractions by using techniques such as visualization and goal setting.
The process of creating a focus plan is one of the most collaborative things you can do with your athlete to help them perform at their best. Athletes need to be aware of what works best for them; one of your main jobs as a coach is to help them discover that.
To develop a focus plan, start the process by:
- Asking athletes to reflect on one of their best races, games, or performances. What were they thinking and feeling?
- Asking athletes to do the same for a not-so-great race, game, or performance. This will begin to tell you about what focus is best for the individual athlete.
Then, work with your athletes to translate the information you collected into a focus plan. Here are some questions you can ask to call on your athletes’ self-awareness and get at THEIR best focus.
- What do you need to be thinking about to perform well?
- What do you need to be feeling to perform well?
- What distractions do you have to be able to handle to perform well?
- What skills do you need to be able to apply to perform well?
Asking pertinent questions is the key to finding out what’s happening with your athletes. You need to ask good questions, questions that get at what’s really going on, and you have to listen to and probe your athletes’ answers. This is an ongoing process of learning and self-discovery for you and your athletes, as you learn together what works and what doesn’t.
The following sample focus plan for canoe/kayak uses key words to ensure the athletes remain focused and on task. Note that it outlines the typical aspects of a race and that shorter events may not require as many points or phases.
|At the start: || |
|Stroke transition: || |
|Throughout the race: || |
|Stroke pick-ups: || |
|At the finish line: || |
To support the creation of a focus plan, consider these tips on visualization, dealing with distractions, and goal-setting.
Tips for incorporating visualization
- Visualization must be positive. This is the ONLY RULE about visualization. There is no point visualizing a poor performance, a mistake, bad technique, an injury, etc.
- Work with your athletes to find out what works best for them. Some athletes can see themselves executing a skill or remembering a past good performance; for others, it’s more of a feeling.
- Athletes can visualize just about anything: specific technical aspects of a skill, tactical plans, race focus plans, past best performances, future competitions, feelings of confidence, etc.
Tips for dealing with distractions
- Plan how to deal with distractions well in advance of any competition; otherwise, the athlete will be focused on all the things that could go wrong.
- Start by brainstorming on everything you feel or know distracts your athlete(s)/team and prevents them from focusing well.
- Develop solutions for each distraction you come up with. This is your back-up plan.
Tips for incorporating goal setting
- Provide direction to your athletes when they set goals. Making it a collaborative process ensures more commitment on their behalf and holds them accountable.
- Point out to your athletes how goal-setting is related to focus: those athletes will be focusing on small, daily goals.
- Regularly assess whether your athletes are achieving their goals and adjust them as needed for ongoing and long-term success.
Want more information on how to build a focus plan? The Psychology of Performances module, part of the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) Multi-sport module series for coaches, will provide you with additional knowledge! Contact your Provincial or Territorial Coaching Representative for more details!