By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor
Keeping athletes motivated and focused has been a challenge for coaches during the pandemic, with so many interruptions, postponements and cancellations.
As a Sports Performance Consultant, Dr. Alan Goldberg works with athletes and teams across all sports at every level. He specializes in helping athletes overcome sports fears and blocks, snap out of slumps, and perform to their potential.
He shared with FNF Coaches some strategies for keeping athletes focused during the pandemic.
1. Keep the ultimate goal in mind.
“The pandemic is not going to be with us a whole lot longer — whether it’s the summer or a year. Most kids have dreams beyond that like playing at the next level in college. Really, what I try to have athletes do is keep a bigger perspective in mind. When you are back, how will you be ready? What’s the ultimate goal?”
2. Don’t focus on outcomes.
“The biggest problem for athletes when it comes to mental performance is they bring their goals with them when they’re competing. They walk on the field with a goal of playing well, or impressing college coaches, or padding their stats. All that does is generate stress. It makes this game too important. One of the most common reason athletes ‘choke’ is they walk on the field with an outcome focus. Concentration is at the heart of mental toughness. Everything from your confidence level to your ability to deal with mistakes to your ability to stay composed under pressure will dictate your performance. It’s about finding a way to eliminate last-minute doubts.”
3. Explain the ‘why’.
“The goal of coaches is to keep their athletes motivated in each moment of practice. The kids need to understand the purpose of each moment in practice so they can answer the question of how what they’re doing right now can help get them to where they want to go. The pandemic caused us to lose our direction at times because everything was uncertain. The proper use of goal-setting is supposed to motivate us to work hard. Coaches should focus on the right stuff with kids. Focus on executing their role on the team and not thinking about the outcome. It’s not about, ‘I need to catch this many passes or throw this many touchdowns.'”
4. Ignore the things you can’t control.
“Help the athletes come up with other goals when things change. Do they want to compete in college? What they do today and tomorrow will help get them there. A major cause of choking during a performance is focusing on the uncontrollable. When any athlete does that, he or she gets stressed and tightens physically. They’re filled with doubt, and that affects performance in a negative way. With COVID, it’s a massive uncontrollable. Whether you play this week or practice is out of your control. Stay focused on what you can control, which is how you respond. You can learn to get a handle on how you respond and how you get motivated.”