How well do you focus during games? Do you stay in the moment or do you get distracted?
Lack of focus causes missed lay-ups. Lack of focus causes missed defensive assignments. Lack of focus causes broken plays.
Lack of focus and mental breakdowns keep you from playing as well as you can play.
Great players don’t get self conscious, coach conscious, or fan conscious. Great players are game conscious. They block out all distractions and only focus on things that are important… the things they can control. Great players are focused on the next play.
Let’s look at free throw shooting as an example. Do you get distracted by the fans? By the time and score? By the fact you have missed your last three free throws? Or do you focus on making the shot?!
When shooting a free throw you need to focus on what you want to happen as opposed to what you don’t want to happen. Why? Your subconscious mind can only focus on one thing at a time. Free throw shooting is all about confidence and poise. The worst thing you can think right before you shoot is, “please don’t miss!” The word ‘miss’ puts your subconscious mind in a negative state. When you do that, more times than not, you will miss!
Instead, you need to take a deep breath (which physiologically does help… it calms your mind and relieves muscular tension which is crucial to the smooth release on your shot). Then you need to go through your standard pre-shot routine (a consistent routine aids in muscle memory). Next you need to think something to the effect of, “nice and easy… over the front rim.” That will put your subconscious mind in a positive state. Then watch the ball drop through the net!
Here is the perfect analogy to shooting a pressure free throw:
If I laid a ten foot long, wooden 2” x 4” on the ground and asked you to walk across it; you would do it easily because you would be focused on the task at hand (walking across the board). What if that ten foot long, wooden 2” x 4” was placed 100 stories in the air and it connected the top of two skyscrapers (and you had to walk from one building to the next)? Would walking across it be easy then? Why not? Although the task wouldn’t change (walking across a ten foot board); you wouldn’t think it was easy because you would be focused on falling.
Shooting a free throw in an empty gym after practice is the exact same physical task as shooting a free throw with 2 seconds left and the score tied… if you stay focused.
This is something we are currently addressing with our team at DeMatha. Our team free throw percentage is well below what it should be. We are almost shooting a higher percentage from the field (against defense I might add) than we are from the line! We were 1 for 12 in the first half of our most recent game. It is not from lack of ability… most of the players on our team are excellent shooters. It is not from lack of practice… Coach Jones has our guys shoot a ton of free throws every practice. It is simply from lack of focus.
You have absolute control over your focus.
Play hard. Play smart. Play together.
PS: What do you focus on when you watch college and NBA games on TV? Do you watch as a fan or do you watch as a student of the game? Do you always watch the ball or do you watch what players do to get open to get the ball? Do you always watch the shooter or do you watch the player setting the screen to get the shooter open? Do you always watch the player guarding the ball or do you watch the player in help-side position?
If you want to improve as a player, you need to learn what to focus on to get better!