Mental Skills – Building Concentration

Know your own style.

It is important that each official prepares a concentration routine that is both effective and comfortable. Some officials prefer a routine that they complete in isolation with total control over the situation; others prefer a routine that allows them to continue interacting with the world around them and being stimulated, in fact, by the effect of other people.

Officials should select a concentration method by personal preference and develop a routine and style (ritual) that they can go to when necessary. The mental skills of focus and intensity are no different from physical techniques – they will become habits and therefore automatic – but only through repetition.
Some mental habits help officials deal with stress situations when their concentration could easily waver. The ideal performance state is often described as being automatic. Officials simply release, with confidence, the physical and mental habits established in training and preparation.

Develop a transition zone.

Officials come to training and games from differing home backgrounds and lifestyles. They need to switch onto the focus and intensity required for officiating. When they come to the game, they cease to exist as individuals and become part of a team.

Set goals.

It is important that officials keep at the front of their minds, what they want from training sessions and games. A clear set of objectives enables officials to:
Focus on priorities.
Begin to eliminate distractions.
Start to create the discipline and intensity required for the game.
Although officials may create their own set of objectives to help them improve concentration, Instructors and mentors can help by giving each preparation session a clear purpose and each game an identifiable goal. This will assist officials in building and developing good concentration routines.

Relax and conserve energy .

Maintaining concentration causes fatigue, yet officials must come to the game with maximum energy. In the international games, officials are required to report the day before the game, giving them some time to relax and prepare for the game. In national games, most officials arrive at the game directly from work and have only an hour to prepare. Officials tend to be very disciplined in work habits, but not so about relaxation.

Always be prepared.

An official, building a concentration routine, needs to know as much as possible about what he/she will definitely have to do in the game. This is where the pre-game talk is so important. Each official can then begin creating priorities for focus and a “solution bank” that contains effective responses to particular circumstances that may arise in the game. Several things can help officials to prepare focus and intensity:

  • Knowing his/her job. Each official should agree during the pre-game conference on how to cooperate and perform.
  • Understanding the roles and responsibilities of the other participants (e.g. players and coaches).
  • Knowing your colleagues, their strengths and weaknesses, thereby identifying priorities for concentration.
  • The pre-game conference will have provided mental and physical exercise by communicating to each official where and when to apply focus and intensity. (“on ball” and “off ball”).
  • Having a game plan. If officials are prepared with a plan for coping with all eventualities, they will have a framework for building their own concentration.

From this information base, officials may visualise the game, bringing a reality forward in their minds and building a personal concentration strategy.

Control your state of arousal .

Officials must learn to check and regulate their state of arousal: too much and they may be out of control emotionally, wasting energy: too little and they may not be able to produce the required intensity of concentration and effort.

Depending on their state of mind, officials may either need to:

  • Psych themselves up with physical activation, high-energy thinking, self-talk, motivational music or videos etc.

Or

  • Calm themselves down by slow rhythmic breathing slowing the pace, performing relaxation exercises, smiling etc.

Concentrating on the game.

Many things happen in basketball that can destroy concentration. This will NOT occur, however, if the official has mental discipline and can control his/her thoughts in moments of crisis. Several tools can help the official develop the mental discipline of thought control during games.

Managing anxiety.

Every official feels anxiety, but successful officials learn how to manage it. When anxiety strikes during a game, often after a mistake or highly contested decision, a useful recovery process is to:

  • Recover breathing control
  • Ease tension out of the body
  • Talk yourself back into the positive
  • Let the fear go
  • Review your goals and reactivate yourself toward achievement

Developing performance routines .

The bigger the game, the more important good performance habits will be. If officials have paid the price over years of practice, they will have a good memory bank of performance routines to deal with any situation. Performing automatically produces a no-think situation, the ultimate thought control.

Using performance cues .

Officials will occasionally suffer mental lapses during a game, especially when fatigued and will often use self-talk or quick physical actions to shake themselves back into focus. Co-officials often do this for each other with a phrase that urges better concentration and effort during key moments.

Controlling distractions.

Loss of concentration in games is often due to a lack of mental discipline in dealing with distractions. Many likely distractions can be anticipated and prepared for. Officials who are well prepared can shut out the taunting of vociferous, fanatical fans at certain venues. Officials should focus on elements of the game that they CAN control rather than those that they cannot, such as spectator behaviour and electrical malfunctions.

Staying in the “NOW”.

Total focus means being locked into the here and now, but officials may lapse mentally and go into the past because of anxiety or guilt about an earlier mistake or decision, or even into the future, perhaps because the mind begins to anticipate an eventual outcome. Officials must focus on the PROCESS not the OUTCOME, believing that if they take care of the present by concentrating on each situation as it unfolds and respond well, then the outcome will take care of itself.

Beating fatigue.

The greatest enemy of concentration is fatigue; physical, mental or both, so officials must work constantly on their fitness and understand how to pace a game in order to conserve physical and mental energy. To concentrate efficiently, officials must maintain awareness and recognise game situations when they can switch concentration between total focus, semi-focus and relaxed focus.

Defining moments.

A basketball game is rhythmic in flow, each team having periods of giving and receiving pressure, punctuated with sudden movements that can define the outcome of the game. Officials must learn to anticipate these movements when possible and be totally focused and prepared for dealing with them.

Such defining moments could be:

  • Opening toss on the jump ball to begin a period
  • The first foul of the game
  • The first basket with a bonus shot (shooting foul)
  • Reactions after an obvious mistake
  • Recovering focus after an interruption to the game
  • Responding after a technical/unsportsmanlike foul
  • Goaltending call that is/is not made
  • Charge/Block in the closing minutes
  • The last shot of the game (clock/signal not seen/heard)

Instruction for Concentration .

Knowing where and when to pay attention, what information to select and what information to ignore in a complex and fast moving game is a mental skill that Instructors must teach officials. For it to become a habit that protects the official under pressure, the Instructor must ensure that the session is repeated throughout the season and reviewed after each game.

When working with officials, Instructors should:

  • Ensure good physical fitness levels to counteract fatigue
  • Treat officials as individuals and learn their particular concentration styles
  • Reinforce concentration on the PROCESS not the OUTCOME
  • Make training and teaching relevant to game preparation
  • Identify concentration lapses with each official using video feedback
  • Give officials a game plan to reduce potential distractions and help them structure concentration priorities
  • Learn how to regulate arousal levels.

Summary.

Officials´ attitudes and therefore performances are based on their levels of concentration, confidence and composure. Concentration is a skill that officials can learn. Through regular practice officials can develop it into a habit that minimizes lapses in focus, often making the difference in big games. Officials should learn, HOW, WHEN and WHERE in a game to switch onto total focus and intensity and also switch onto relaxed but focused attention.

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