Produced, edited, and copyrighted by
Professor Brent S. Rushall, San Diego State University
Volume 1, Number 2: September 19, 1994


At a practice session, athletes should function in a manner that will:

Such expectations are expressed commonly but, apparently, are hard to implement. However, there are three training emphases that can be established which go a long way to achieving admirable athlete function. This issue of Carlile Coaches' Forum focuses on psychological emphases which are appropriate for training.

1. Psychological Focus

Psychological focus is the behavior of concentrating on the activities of a training session with the same intensity as that required for a competitive performance. The repetition of fully applied concentration develops a skill of focusing on the task being performed. Such a focus requires: (a) all energies and abilities to be applied to a task; (b) the performance of an established level of task proficiency (usually some observable and measurable goal); and (c) a consistency of application for the duration of the task. Essentially, this requires an athlete to apply him/herself totally to the tasks of training, even though the effort level of those tasks may not be equivalent to those of competitions. That means each significant practice activity should be treated as being extremely serious. A way of focusing that seriousness is to have athletes expect improvement for every training item. With that expectation, no training stimulus should be wasted and athletes should become almost obsessive about improvement. Improvement should be stimulated by athletes working individually on manipulating and exploiting their own capacities and insights to produce advancement in performance (both skill precision and absolute levels). The incentive and expectation for improvement should motivate athletes to establish high self-expectations for both practice and competitive behaviors and performances. It should promote the fastest, but sane, rate of performance improvement.

It is unlikely that such an intense application of mental energies can be accomplished in every activity of every training session. There should be opportunities presented where athletes can switch off from the intensity of focusing and experience mental recovery. Usually, activities associated with physical recovery should be associated with mental recovery. Alternating extreme focus with mental relaxation should develop the skill of being able to "turn on" competition level focus on demand, a very useful skill for competitions.

Expecting athletes to concentrate and focus with "intensity" may be initially "exhausting." However, since it is a skill it will require practice and training. Eventually, it should build to a level where it occurs for at least more than half of the practice session or intended competition duration. In short-event sports, the amount of practice focusing should exceed the competition time many times over.

An obvious question arises: how much time should be spent focusing with competition level intensity? There is no verified amount because this concept is still relatively new in coaching and has not been investigated. Rough estimates that are only opinions are as follows.

Another major advantage to be gained from practicing focusing, is that it should increase the quality of physical activities. It has been shown that a most significant factor in influencing skill improvement is the number of "correct" practice trials. Errors, or less than "improved" skill executions, do not promote better performances. If of sufficient volume, they will be counter-productive to improvement. To develop this orientation of performing each skill trial effectively, athletes should be expected to behave as do champions. The steps in doing that are as follows.

It is proposed that the major emphasis of any practice session should be that of complete psychological focus. As a very rough rule-of-thumb, it is proposed that 80 percent of practice time should be spent emitting such a behavior.

Return to Table of Contents for the Carlile Coaches' Forum.