March Madness and Focus

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

March Madness is here, and fans are itching to see which NCAA Division 1 men’s and women’s basketball teams will be the last ones standing. People from all over the United States have made predictions about which teams will advance and which ones will crumble. Logic, however, rarely gets its way when it comes to March Madness. Every year, we witness unexpected upsets and blowouts. So why are some teams more clutch than others when it comes to the games that matter most? The answer may lie heavily in the players’ abilities to exercise one mental skill properly––focus. Every team in the tournament has physical talent, there’s no doubt about that. They are all well-trained and conditioned for highly competitive moments like these, but which teams can truthfully say that they are as prepared mentally as they are physically? Those who can are the teams who will likely wind up advancing furthest in the tournament.

There are two primary ways in which players can enhance their focus on the court. The first method involves concentrating on the processes and actions which have helped them to achieve success during past games. Some athletes almost involuntarily form game-day consistent routines over time as they progress in their careers. These may include things such as listening to pre-game music to calm nerves, taking the same number of dribbles before a free throw, or thinking back to past achievements and attempting to replicate the actions and mindset which aided in attaining those achievements. Players who have not yet created routines could greatly benefit from doing so, as these may help them to focus on the task at hand, as opposed to becoming overwhelmed or letting their nerves get the best of them. By performing dependable procedures and drawing on previous successes throughout each game, players are able to build confidence through consistency. Rather than merely focusing on the score and on wanting to win, they are keyed into the processes which can ultimately help them to do so.

A second way players can amplify their level of focus is by thinking about the controllables of the game rather than the uncontrollables. Within the sport of basketball, uncontrollables may include factors such as expectations from others, qualities of the opposing team (e.g., size, speed, skills, reputation, and character), playing time, and calls made by the refs (Competitive Advantage, 1999). Concentrating on these aspects of the game takes mental energy away from a player’s own actions and from what they as an individual can do to perform optimally. If a player cannot change something, then the only way to get around it is to deal with what they can change. Doing so inevitably helps them navigate the unchangeable factors of the game, thereby giving them a better shot at winning. Controllables such as communication, hustle, drive, aggressive play, and encouragement of teammates are all examples of factors which can have significant effects on the outcome of a basketball game.

The games during March Madness are not the only ones for which focus is paramount. In fact, this idea is not at all exclusive to basketball. No matter your sport, it is advantageous to concentrate on the processes which have helped you to be successful in the past. Additionally, everyone can benefit from allowing themselves to let go of what they cannot control, because doing so frees up the mind to focus on the things which can be done to maximize success. It is a waste of time and energy to think about and dwell on how you could change something that you do not have power over. In the same light, concerning yourself only with the aspects of the competition which are within your control can substantially help you in bringing your A-game during those clutch moments. Focus is key for all of us, because if your mind is not where you need it to be, then it is very likely that your results won’t be, either.

––Katie Lubben & Kylie Burgess

Competitive Advantage. (1999, October). Staying Cool and Calm in the Clutch. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Coach’s Corner. (n.d.). 7 Keys to Becoming a More Focused Basketball Player. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

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