Dr. Ed Garrett is the associate professor for the Online Department of Health Science at California Baptist University and a CMPC with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. He calls these lessons “Get Psych’d.”

By Dr. Ed Garrett, CMPC, for VolleyballMag.com
Stepping to the back line for a serve, many thoughts go through an athlete’s mind.

Who should I serve it to?

What happened the last time I served?

What if I miss my serve?

Serving is the only time in volleyball when the athlete has complete control over the outcome, but if the athlete believes, even for one second, that he or she might miss, then it’s game over. If the old saying is true, that athletics are 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, then an athlete must increase focus.

There are multiple factors to consider when it comes to an athlete’s attention, such as how to shift attention as needed and how to intensify one’s concentration.

An athlete’s focus during the game can be equally as important as where the focus was before the game. And coaches, I know I have been guilty of more than once standing on the sideline and shouting “Don’t miss this serve” to my athlete. The minute a coach puts that negative thought in their mind that negative thought will be all the server can think of. At that moment what we are guilty of is shifting the athlete’s focus. The cognitive can be powerful, which is why whether you are a coach or an athlete, gaining the control over one’s focus in this crazy game is so important.

So how can someone obtain greater focus? The athlete must first understand what detracts from their mental state. It could be past performances, a certain gymnasium, a opponent’s skill level, the officials or the fans. These are intangibles in the sense that they are external forces that the athlete has no control over.

Too often athletes allow what is outside to disrupt what is inside. When a mental correction is needed, the focal point must be on what is causing the athlete to lose focus during competition. At some point during the game, there is a trigger that shifts the athlete’s focus to a negative state.

Some points to address when observing the athlete during a game are:

• Does the athlete lose concentration when winning or losing?
• Is the athlete’s concentration affected by a certain play or opponent?
• Do onlooking parents affect the athlete?
• What is the overall chemistry with the team?
• Are there external or internal forces that are distracting the athlete?

By examining these different situations where athletes can lose focus, the coach can begin to develop mental training activities to strengthen the level of focus given to the performance. Note to the athlete: though a coach is mentioned, take the initiative over the summer and perfect these skills so that you are ready for pre-season.

When sports psychology practitioners work with an athlete, there are a multitude of tools they use to address mental training issues. When I first begin working with a volleyball athlete one of the tools I start with is goal setting. Most athletes have “toyed” with goal setting in the past, but it never became a daily part of their practice. If practiced regularly goal setting can aid your athlete in increasing his or her confidence by providing a daily focus. Though there may be limited time for your team to improve its mental approach, each training session I describe in these Get Psych’d segments is designed to last 10 to 15 minutes with an additional five minutes for discussion if done in a team setting. Athletes can then adapt the practice and begin a pre-practice routine where they have a gauge on the time it takes them to set goals and direct the focus. 

Throughout the training, it is critical that the athlete masters the first step before progressing to the next. The results can be astounding.

I encourage coaches to walk through each mental-training session with all athletes to gauge the level of attention each athlete brings to the team. This will also help you evaluate those athletes that have the potential to work with the  cognitive practice and could progress towards other practices. Though there is no replacement for utilizing a sport psychology practitioner for your program, these mental training sessions will be a good starting point for your team’s development. 

Goal Setting
This is the first step, and the objective here is to develop a process of formulating goals that are measurable.

Athletes should start this process by first discussing what areas they want to improve on. Once established, each focal point of improvement is molded into a goal that meets two criteria: the goal is measurable, and it’s at the control of the athlete, not by any external source.

The athlete should formulate these goals on a weekly basis for practice. It’s also encouraged that the athlete use each weekly goal to shape their overall season goals.

Have the athletes develop two goals that are measurable and two that are not. Ask them to define the differences between the two sets.

Goal Setting Worksheet-Sports Psychology-Ed Garrett
(Click on the worksheet for a link to the downloadable PDF)

I created this worksheet to help athletes navigate through the goal-setting process. The long-term goal must be something that the athlete wish to have accomplished by the end of the season. I always caution athletes from putting down “win a championship.” To me that’s the obvious. I want them thinking about what can they contribute by season’s end to help their team win that championship. Then have them work backwards. The key to this worksheet is that each goal should support other. So, if the season ending goal was to hit a .350, then the mid-season, short-term and pre-season goal should reflect a form of hitting. The goal must be that the goals follow the STATS format and can be assessed upon completion.

Once the athlete has used this form, I help them progress to daily and weekly goal setting. I will hand the athlete a stack of 3×5 cards and start by having the athlete write down one to two goals they want to accomplish this week. From there the athlete then writes down one or two goals (depends on the level of athlete and their cognitive ability to process the goal) he or she wants to accomplish for that practice. The intent behind this goal setting is now when the athlete walks onto the court he or she is thinking and focused on the goal that needs to be accomplished.

One last mention on goal setting: The glue that holds this together is having the athlete place the written goal in a place where he or she can see it daily. Many times I will have my athletes place their goal on the bathroom mirror. That way I know they are gauranteed to see the it and recite the goal twice a day.

Athletes must bring attention and focus to every game or match. As the demand for stronger, better and faster competitors grow, coaching staffs must administer mental training as a regular part of practice. This is how you take responsibility for preparing athletes both mentally and physically. By adopting these tools into your practice, both the athlete and coach can overcome the obstacles that may be ahead.


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