Coach and Athletic Director

November/December 2018

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MIND GAMES Football is a sport that requires sharp focus, sustained attention and rapid attentional shifting during meetings, practices, games and walk-throughs. When players lack the optimal amount of attention needed in the sport, they are at approximately three times the risk of receiving three or more concussions, according to a 2016 study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. While poor focus and attention may be due to a variety of factors — such as insomnia, substance abuse or ADHD — it should be noted that excessive focus can be just as harmful to an athlete's brain. For a coach of high school and college football players, understanding the perils of over-focus should be at the top of their minds. In fact, excessive focus can deplete the brain of energy and make people care less. That's exactly what psychologist C. Nathan DeWall and his colleagues found in three studies when they observed two groups of people watching a video. In the study, one group watched the video intensely, while the other watched it normally. The group that controlled its attention cared less about helping a victim of a recent tragedy. However, this reaction was reversed by the introduction of glucose. In turn, the effect known as self-regulation depletion (SRD) makes the brain more emotionally reactive. Consequently, people may easily become angry or anxious, neither of which is ideal on the football field. You can become a better coach by encouraging players to build "unfocus" times into their day — and doing the same yourself. Mental preparation plays a key role in the regulation of energy and attention. People often believe that they have no time to be unfocused, yet most people spend 30 to 50 percent of their time with their minds off task, according to a 2013 study published in Frontiers in Psychology. Creating 'unfocus' routines No matter how hard you concentrate on a task, your mind will wander. Proactively building productive mind wandering into your players' (and your own) daily routines and practices has the potential to significantly improve overall focus, attention and creativity. Here are three ways to do that. 1 Catch some extra sleep. Good sleep habits help improve self-control, but football players are notoriously plagued by insomnia and sleep-disordered breathing, both of which negatively affect their attention capacity. However, a 2010 study published in Progress in Brain Research concluded that five- to 15-minute naps can add one to three more hours of mental clarity. Allowing time for a short nap during a practice day when players feel depleted may help to restore their mental focus and clarity. But be careful — too much napping can disrupt By Dr. Srini Pillay & Dr. David R. McDuff, contributing writers How football players and coaches can sharpen their minds by 'unfocusing' 38 N O V E M B E R / D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 8

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