5 Things You Can Do to Keep Your Players Focused All Season

On , .

Any experienced coach will tell you that it’s tough to keep a team focused, on track, and motivated all season. Individual players and teams will have highs and lows, and it’s challenging to contend with distractions, fatigue, and even boredom. Whatever your sport, here are some strategies to help your players keep an eye on the ball from the first practice through the last game.

1. Make Technology Part of Your Coaching Strategy

Repetitive drills can lose their effectiveness over time, so make sure to integrate other forms of training, like video. Kids are visual learners, especially today’s technology savvy kids, many of whom are growing up with devices in hand at all times. When players are given individual or at least position-based attention, they become more actively involved in the coaching process and in their own development. Advances in technology have made it easy and affordable to videotape the action during practices and games, so make that part of your strategy. This different approach will keep players engaged and interested, and everyone will benefit from the immediate visual feedback.

Video can also be a morale booster. Try showcasing videos of players who have shown marked improvement to inspire your team and to drum up some healthy competition among teammates. You can bet that everyone will be pushing themselves for the chance to be praised in future video highlights.

Another idea is to create an online message board where team members can share ideas, comment on posted videos, and support each other. Be sure to have some relatively strict posting guidelines in place so this strategy is taken as seriously as any other training on the field.

2. Understand What Motivates Your Players

Learning what motivates your players will help you build a stronger team. When you know what encourages them as individuals and as a team, you can give them goals they will actually want to achieve. As their coach and mentor, this is also an opportunity to build trust with your players by explaining why you are asking them to work on those specific goals. Understanding the “why” allows them to feel they are not just training just for the sake of it, but that there is a valid reason behind each drill. A strong sense of purpose and positive reinforcement goes a long way in keeping players focused and inspired.

3. Coach Your Team Off the Field

Building a team that is strong and unified outside practices and games is just as important as how they work together on the field. Plan activities that allow your players to bond and get to know each other through shared experiences, like watching a college or NFL game. Get together to watch Friday Night Lights or Remember the Titans. Both of those movies are charismatic, inspiring, and capture what it means to be a high school football player.

Are there college or pro athletes that your players look up to? Find out what they admire and use those points as reminders and inspiration throughout the season. If any of their role models live in your city, reach out to them and invite them to come hang out for an hour or so and talk to your team. If their role models are outside of your city, reach out and see if they might be interested in Facetiming or chatting with your team through a Skype conversation or a Google Hangout. You could model an online or video conversation after Reddit’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) chats and it could be great fun, both for the kids and for the pros. If you’re thinking that would never happen, well, you never know until you ask!

Everybody is inspired and motivated by different things, so get creative, get to know your players, and you’ll be surprised at how many ideas you come up with to keep your team working together all year.

4. Focus on Rewards

Small-goal setting has been proven to be an effective motivator by focusing on daily achievements. This takes the stress away from larger initiatives, such as winning a championship. Achieving smaller goals players to keep going because they see progress being made from their efforts.

Experts recommend phrasing goals in positive rather than negative terms. Take a look at the goals you’re setting for your players. If they include words like NO, NOT, NEVER, STOP, LOSE, LIMIT, or QUIT, you could be setting your team up for problems. Words are powerful—use them to focus attention on what you want to them to achieve, and reframe any negative goals so they sound positive. A quarterback whose goal is to ‘catch 20 passes during every practice’ is much more likely to improve than one whose goal is to ‘stop dropping the ball.’ His focus will be on catching the ball instead of dropping it.

5. Emphasize Health and Injury Prevention—At All Times

Of course you know that keeping your players healthy means not only protecting them from injury on the field, but also guarding their mental and physical well-being. The high school years are a minefield of changes, decisions, and life lessons for teenagers and coaches are one of their front-line resources. Hold meetings about nutrition and exercise, safe driving (and the dangers of distracted driving), the allure of alcohol and drugs and how to steer clear, and other issues they may face. Consider setting up a buddy system to add a level of accountability for themselves and each other. When you notice a player’s performance and mood has declined or they’re just not themselves, let them know you’re there as a resource and that you will help them get whatever professional support they need. And naturally, if there is a serious or life-threatening situation, your first priority is to protect the student’s well-being by reporting it to others who can step in and help.

These are just a handful of ways you can help keep your team focused throughout the season. Remember to use visual tactics, such as videos, and don’t forget the value of individualized attention. Find out what your inspires your players the most and use that as a beacon during the season. Keep your players safe and healthy and, most importantly, make sure they are still having fun. If you can manage to do this, your team will be motivated, inspired, and engaged right up to the end of the season.

We’ll close with this thought, specific to football, but by no means applicable only to football. Chris Fore, veteran athletic director and former head high school football coach, did a study that was published in his book Building Championship Caliber Teams and was interviewed about that by the folks at XandOLabs. One of the key things Fore shared that his research showed is that of the top ten things the most successful coaches responded were important to them in building their championship teams, three things clearly stood out: (1) having a strong off season, (2) the chemistry of the team, and (3) focusing on fundamentals and the little things. Not surprising, is it? Coming up, we’ll interview some coaches that we work with and let you in on their secrets to building championship teams. To that end, if you’ve got some advice to share, or an interview you’d like to see, let us hear about it.

Photo Credit: Andy Holt via Compfight cc