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Athletic Focus: How to Make the Right Game-Time Decisions

Focus: How to Make the Right Game-Time DecisionsWhat did you do when you read the word “focus”? You probably zeroed in on the word and prepared for that big, important lesson that’s about to be thrown at you.

Many of us are wired to listen only when it’s important. Think about it: when you are sitting in class, listening to Coach, or in the middle of your third meeting of the day, all you really care about is how this relates to you.

You probably zone out when you don’t think that it does. But as sport professionals, you need to pay attention to everything. During your team’s performance the highest demands on your attention will be specific performance variables and the decisions you make based on those variables. This requires a highly honed focus.

For sport professionals, focus means that they need to be able to pay attention to the right things, the things that are going to lead them to make the right decisions. Because right decisions win games and wrong decisions lose games.

How do you maintain focus and pay attention to the right things in the midst of the chaos of athletics, before and during your sport experience?

First, you need to decide what works for you. Do you need to be alone and running through each performance element as you prepare for the game? Or do you prefer to be distracted from your performance until it’s your time to shine? These questions are most relevant before the game — before you arrive at your performance venue for the day.

The time you personally take to prepare for your team’s performance is important. You should alter your pre-game routine based on the answers to the previous questions. Do you need to imagine the performance and how your expertise will fit in, or do you need a distraction? This is something only you can answer for yourself.

Once you figure out your focus strategy, begin to implement this strategy during breakfast or on your way to the performance venue — once you reach the venue, it’s your time to perform.

Now, how do you maintain focus and pay attention to the right things during the game? This depends on what kind of situation you are in. Each situation demands different types of attentional focus. As a coach during a game, the most relevant types of focus will be those related to external cues.

Throughout your team’s performance, much of your focus will be on performance variables, such as your athletes, your opponents or the officials. This is necessary in order to understand what your next decision will be. You will have to be focused broadly on the game or situation your players are in.

Once you have assessed the situation, you must narrow your focus and decide what the best course of action is. This takes an active switch in your type of focus from a broad assessment to a narrow decision.

If you don’t switch your focus while observing the performance and executing an action, it is very likely that you will miss something while observing or become distracted while executing an action. This could mean making the wrong decision and the difference between a win or a loss.

So instead of waiting for someone to shout, “focus” or “pay attention,” you can be proactive and begin to pay attention to the right things at the right times and help lead your team to victory.

Athletic Focus: How to Make the Right Game-Time Decisions

Brianna Leitzelar

Brianna Leitzelar is a young professional in the sport and exercise psychology field. She is currently in her first year of a Master’s program and has developed a special interest in performance anxiety and focus. If you would like additional information or are interested in learning more, please e-mail her at

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APA Reference
Leitzelar, B. (2018). Athletic Focus: How to Make the Right Game-Time Decisions. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Apr 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.