Like all things with coaching athletes, developing focus skills is a process. Every athlete gains physical and mental skills at a different pace. Forcing them to “keep their heads in the game” by chastising them every time their mind wanders usually makes things worse in the end.
Ask players to improve their concentration a little more each game and practice by seconds, at first, then by minutes. Teach them how to begin their focus with pre play thought as to their responsibilities with different play scenarios. Of most importance, do not overwhelm kids with “do this, do that,” instruction before and during games. With too much expected of them, many will just tune out instead. Attention spans are short for most.
Your best chance at building better focus comes from:
1. At practice, pregame and post game, use pre-play questions like, “What will you do if … happens? And post play, “Was there a better option?”
2. Have a special team-only keyword for the team that designates when concentration is needed and a keyword when you will allow the mind to relax a little. Nobody can keep focus for hours or even minutes on end, so they need help figuring out when concentration is most necessary.
3. Find roles and positions that engage them the most. This may differ from what their strengths are and what helps the team most but allow them to work at the things they enjoy at least some of the time in practice
4. Find obtainable challenges – most kids will focus more when they feel they have a good chance at accomplishing something. These challenges will be different for every athlete. If the challenge is above their “pay level,” so to speak, they will disengage.
5. Have some quality social time with the team when they seem to lose interest.
Nothing builds focus like a degree of success. Of course, that is on you, the coach, to give them the fundamentals to achieve and improve.