Apr 20, 2017
Staying On Track
Anthony Lanzillo

When you are coaching high school student-athletes, one of the biggest challenges is often to get them to stay focused and pay attention–not only in team meetings and practices but also in actual games. There will be the players who have short attention spans, those who seem to become easily distracted, and others who often struggle with controlling their emotions on the court or field. How can you show your athletes how to stay on track and not get mentally or emotionally derailed?

One mental skills process that can help is what I call AAA. As many people know, AAA is an organization that initially provided roadside assistance to motorists and now offers various kinds of insurance. Tell your players about the AAA organization and how people buy AAA’s services to give themselves a sense of security and protection in their daily lives. Then, talk to the players about developing their own AAA mindset that will give them a sense of mental security in knowing what to focus on and pay attention to. Explain that it protects them from various distractions and losing control of their emotions.

From there, break down the AAA skills you’d like them to develop:




First, they must be able to assimilate what is happening in a game. That means they need to clearly see what is going on. Nothing more. Nothing less. They have to play and lead with their eyes. Not with their feelings. Not with their fears. And definitely not with their frustrations. One way to get this message across to your players is when the team is scrimmaging you can occasionally blow the whistle to stop the practice. Then call out a player’s name and yell “eyes.” You are asking that player to tell his team and coaches what he sees at that exact moment on the field or court.

Second, the players have to anticipate what could happen at any moment of the game. Therefore, they must look for clues or tendencies from the opposing players or team. Do certain players tend to make the same moves in specific game-time situations? Are there players who predominately use one hand or both hands when playing in the game? The more you know what you are looking for, the more you will be able to anticipate what could happen next on the court or field. You can practice this step at team practices by stopping a scrimmage and asking a player what he sees happening and what he anticipates what could happen.

Third, the players need to actualize what they want to happen. This is where they quickly visualize or mentally rehearse in their minds what they want to do or make happen. And, if they have been practicing their visualizations for these various game-time situations, they can simply use three short verbal cues–personal strength, first step, and positive feeling. In essence, you are asking the player to focus those three things that keep his mind on the task at hand.

The AAA mindset is a great tool that can help your players stay on track. It will strengthen their ability to stay focused and pay attention to what’s most important in that moment of a game. It will also keep them from falling off the track or getting derailed, mentally and emotionally.

A mental health professional for over 20 years, Anthony "Tone" Lanzillo has more recently been exploring how athletes can use mental skills in their practices and games. He works with athletes in such sports as softball, boxing, field hockey, football, soccer, basketball and lacrosse and writes for FirstDown Playbook, Coaches Training Room, Ultimate Hockey Source, Lax Playbook, Online Soccer Coaching, World of Basketball, Lacrosse All-Stars, Coaches Clipboard and Coach Book. More information on his ideas and services is at: http://www.thementalpeak.com/.

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