What do you think when you hear the word focus?  As a parent or coach, how often do you find yourself saying it?  As a player, how often do you find yourself on the receiving end of it?

Personally, I’m not a fan of the word as it’s used by most.  I guess that’s due to the fact that when I hear the word it’s usually a coach or parent saying it (and more often screaming it) about 10 times in a 20 minute period and I think to myself with a bit of sarcasm “That seems to be really helping”.

Now, do I think one’s ability to focus is important?  Absolutely!  I just believe it sometimes becomes a catch phrase for any time things aren’t going well.

There’s also the question of what exactly am I to focus on when I’m told to focus.  If an entire team is being reprimanded and told to “Focus” does that mean that everyone is supposed to focus on the same thing?

I believe what most people mean when they say something like “C’mon, You’ve got to focus”, or the synonym “Concentrate” they’re meaning “Be here.  Be in this moment.  Lock In.”  I get that.  I think there is even more that can and should be added.

At Ron Wolforth’s Baseball Ranch and Pitching Central you will frequently hear us saying, “Focus on the PROCESS and the outcome will follow.”  This is a crucial point in development.

For example, a hitter is constantly falling to the plate or dropping his/her hands and getting under the ball.  Instead of simply saying “Focus” we can do all our drill work to help correct the problem such as hitting off a high tee, having the hitter swing with eyes closed and feeling where the body leans, or even playing a game where 10 balls are thrown and every ball hit in the air is 1 point for the pitcher and every ball hit on the ground is 1 point for the hitter, winner being determined by who has the most points.  Now, you might be thinking, the last one I mentioned is outcome, isn’t it?  To a certain degree you would be right.  Remember though, it’s any ball hit on the ground including a weak roller to first base, which is certainly not our long term outcome goal.

Would each of the above drills cause the hitter to focus?  I think you would agree the answer is yes.  And although, in essence, the hitter is focusing on the same thing (maintaining posture/controlling the barrelhead), each drill does it in a slightly different way which actually allows for the focus to reboot.

It’s important when we want someone to focus better, (and by the way, that someone can be ourselves) that we are more specific on the request.  For example, if I’ve got one of my softball pitchers and she’s struggling in her workout, appearing not to be locked in to what she’s doing, I would say, “For the next 3 pitches all I want you to focus on is your posture, staying tall.  That’s it.  I don’t care where the ball goes.”  Followed by, “Now for the next 3 pitches all I want you to focus on is your lift”.  That’s much more specific and easier for someone to do then simply telling her “Focus” or “Concentrate”.

Please know that as a parent and a coach, I can relate to this not being always as easily said as done.  When the frustration starts to build up and you are thinking about the valuable time that seems to being going to waste, it’s seems far more efficient to get the player’s / players’ attention(s) with a good harsh “Focus”.  And yes, you and I might feel a little better in the short term but it’s not as effective in the long term.

Some final thoughts:

There are a couple other components that I believe relate to one’s ability to focus.  These could be topics all their own and I will look to expand on them in the future.  For now, I’ll briefly mention them.

If you have followed us at the Baseball Ranch / Pitching Central very long, you know the emphasis we place on our warm-ups.  We always say the body cannot use what is not awake.  This holds true for the brain as well.  When we warm-up, we need to also engage the brain.  One way of checking on this is seeing the quality of a player’s warm-up.  Is it done crisply with purpose or haphazardly?  Is the player “into” the warm-up or more interested in what’s taking place on another field?  As a player, if I ever found myself not quite “wired in”, or starting to fade, I would immediately go do a couple short, quick sprints in the outfield or if in the middle of a game, down the foul territory between innings.  This quick jolt sent a message to both my body and my brain, “Let’s get going!”

Of critical importance and often overlooked, is the role nutrition plays.  When blood sugar levels are all over the place, so will be one’s attention.  Especially with our active, growing athletes, more attention needs to be given to pre and post workout nutrition routines.  Rest and recovery are also very important.  Both the body and the brain need them.  I will be the first to admit that these last two areas can be difficult to manage but they are critical to maximizing our athletes’ success and worth paying attention to.

In closing, if you find yourself having to remind others to focus, do so with specifics.  Let them know exactly what to focus on at this moment and then challenge them to do even more.  You and they might be just surprised at what happens.

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