Recently in my coaching sessions both myself and the other coaches I work with have been assessing the player’s ability to concentrate. As defined in the Oxford Dictionary, concentration is ‘the action or power of focusing all one’s attention’. This definition sums up several elements that a player requires to be able to concentrate well. The reason why we have been looking at whether people concentrate, how long they can concentrate for and when they concentrate will help us to further explore avenues that will help the player develop their tennis and life skills.
“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular. ” -Tony Robbins
Personally I find it hard to concentrate on tasks which are either boring or very difficult and I don’t think I’m alone. The problem is that those tasks which are boring or difficult are very likely to be the most important and the fun stuff is only possible with the tough stuff done. We set up a challenge for the players whereby they had to rally to a high number of shots depending on the age and ability. With the 10&U players they had to get to 100 shots and if they make a mistake they go back to the start. We timed how long it would take for the first pair to achieve this and took notes on the children’s behaviour as time went on.
As you can imagine, the children were up for the challenge at the start but after 40 minutes and no success, they were showing signs of frustration, anger, disappointment, negativity and boredom. It was also interesting that it was very rare the players would do a big rally e.g. 80 shots, then make a mistake and follow it up with another big rally straight away.
Normally they would make another mistake within 5 shots and repeat this a couple of times before focusing again to start building another long rally. At the end of the session we asked the children whether they enjoyed what they were doing, how they were feeling and any other feedback they had. It was interesting to understand how the individual perceived the exercise as it gives a good indication of their belief, motivation to succeed and awareness of themselves.
With the feedback from the players and our observations, we are able to identify the players needs to improve concentration, so I have compiled a non-exhaustive list as below:
- Identify what really matters – You must know what will make you a better player whether you like it or not and you must spend time doing this well until it is done or improving. Being honest with yourself is paramount!
- Select key tasks – There may be 2 or 3 things you MUST do every day, so don’t avoid them. Whether it is eating the correct foods, following your physical programme or getting up really early for practice, if these things are done your day is a success.
- Don’t delay…get it done now – Whatever you have to get done, just get it done! Usually first thing in the morning is best otherwise distractions and other work may interfere. I know that if I don’t go training at 6am then it’s unlikely to happen so for those 10 minutes in the morning while walking around like a zombie, I feel like a champion by 9am when it’s all done.
- Nothing else is important in your success apart from getting the core tasks done – It’s so easy to log into Facebook, send a few text messages and answer emails but DON’T!!! They are not as important as getting your core tasks out of the way. Turning your phone off to complete the tasks is the best way.
- Multitasking is a bad mistake – You may think you can do lots of things well at the same time but you can’t! Responding to Facebook notifications while completing your stretches will divert attention and focus which will take time to regain. This is a very inefficient way of working.
- No interruptions – While completing your tasks, make sure that you can do so without disturbance. This may mean choosing the right location or time and disconnecting from the outside world.
- Plan time for other distractions – If you have a task to get on with then plan a time when you can change your attention. This may mean leaving the internet, social media and emails until 11am and then checking things again after lunch. I’m notorious for doing some work then seeing an email come in and then replying to it. I have much less stress if I get the important things done and then make time for the rest.
- Less is more – Don’t pack out your day. As a tennis player, you must have time to relax, eat well and study / work. If you have back to back activities, then you feel as if you are rushing and you are less focussed on the important tasks.
- Expect things will take longer – By giving yourself more time than you think you require, you will not come up against time pressure which can detract from focussing on the task. A good example is to allow more travel time to training or tournaments. I see players leaving themselves the minimum amount of travel time to get to an event and then compromising on warming up and pre-match preparations which can have a negative effect in the match.
- Rewards and breaks – Concentration can only last for up to an hour so rather than battling against it, take a break and reward yourself. This could mean that the player finds somewhere quiet to read a book or listen to music for 10 minutes before they get back to the practice court. I promise you that you’ll feel more focussed after the break.
If you are player, coach or parent and willing to try and take on board some of the information above, hopefully you’ll be better at what you’re doing and able to increase your endurance levels of concentration for even more success!