Focus and Injury Prevention

  • July 08, 2016


Some thoughts from Hunter Visser, co-founder of HeadStartPro Performance Training

How does focus influence injury prevention?

Have you ever wondered how an athlete could get injured doing something they’ve done “a thousand times?” Of course, some injuries are the result of poor technique, lack of experience, other players, and faulty equipment, but what about the injuries that occur when an athlete knows what they are doing?

When we begin learning a new sport, activity or task, our awareness is generally high, especially if there is risk involved. For instance, think about your first time driving. Where were your hands? They were probably gripped tightly around the steering wheel. Where was your mind? You were probably excited, nervous, maybe even a bit scared. One thing’s for sure; you probably weren’t focused on anything other than driving. How long did it take before you became complacent and your mind began to wonder? A month? A week?

Learning to jump, kick, shoot, throw, or catch without thinking is essential for any athlete. The repetition builds muscle memory and allows athletes to perform fluidly. However, as an athlete improves their technical skills, they also become more complacent. The problem is when an athlete becomes complacent their focus is compromised, exposing them to a much higher risk of injury. Fortunately, there are strategies athletes can use to combat complacency.

Looking at Others to Fight Complacency

It is easier to recognize complacency in other people than it is to recognize it in ourselves. By learning to look for complacency in others, we can use their mental state (complacency) as a trigger to bring our minds back to the moment. When adopted in a team setting, athletes and coaches can use this technique to look out for each other by giving teammates verbal cues like “mind on task” when they see their teammate getting complacent. With practice, this ‘look at others’ technique can help athletes improve focus, control the moment, and fight complacency.

Working on Habits to Compensate for Complacency

When the mind goes off task, our eyes work as our final defence against injury. However, most of us haven’t put much conscious effort into our visual habits since we were told as children to “look both ways before crossing the street.” When an athlete works on the habit of moving their eyes first before they move, it improves their chances of getting a reflex action. Working on visual habits (like moving your eyes first before moving) will help athletes compensate for complacency by keeping them visually aware and physically responsive even if their mind has drifted off.

Motivating Athletes to Prevent Injuries

Ironically, most people are not overly motivated to improve their personal safety skills unless they have recently been injured. If we hope to help our athletes prevent complacent injuries we need to find a way to motivate them. As you can probably imagine, complacency is not just a safety issue; it is also the root cause of most major performance errors (own goal, passing to the wrong player, celebrating too early, etc.). Fortunately, we can motivate athletes to improve their focus to enhance performance and in turn, prevent costly injuries.

Author: Hunter Visser, co-founder of HeadStartPro Performance Training

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Coach Responses

How do you help prevent your athletes from becoming complacent?

What strategies are you using to motivate your athletes to enhance focus and prevent injuries?

Share your tips and best practices!

Al Samsa – Basketball – Halton – 30+ years

“…Complacency can be combated. Regular individual and team competitions help spice things up. Most athletes hate losing! In games following a meaningful schedule with teams of similar ilk will keep the competitive juices flowing.

Re preventing injuries, this is much tougher. We recently had our star player connect with another player’s knee while diving for a loose ball. There were only 20 seconds left in the game! It resulted in her second concussion of the year, though mild. I can’t think of a way that could have been prevented. Players are taught to go after loose balls and gamers do. In a subsequent fun scrimmage with another team, I instructed our players to play hard but not do anything like dive for loose balls. Understanding the situation at the moment helps identify the level of engagement.”

Paul Yanuziello – Karate – Markham – 10 years

“…warm up exercises with verbal cues to aid in correct movements

  • visualization when doing basic techniques, always see the opponent
  • reinforcement of mindfulness techniques
  • mind moves body
  • space awareness – avoidance techniques”

Joe Benedetti – Fastpitch-Softball Semi-retired  – Hamilton – 25+ years

“I am going to take a different approach to this question. From time to time coaches find themselves coaching an athlete on their team who is “over-aggressive” on the field of play. This athlete causes injuries to your opponents. Most of the time the referees do not penalize your player – making the judgement that there was no ill-intent or malicious nature to the play. But YOU know, and you find yourself saying ” Jill got another one”. Some coaches choose not to make an intervention in these cases – as they know this athlete “keeps the other team on their guard” and gives your team a competitive advantage. I would hope that we as coaches agree that we have to have a talk with our athletes to help them understand they are crossing the line. Really it is in their best interest as well, because eventually, this type of behaviour leads to suspensions and often an injury to themselves. Those who live by the sword, die by the sword as the saying goes”

Barry Grubman  – Tennis  – Toronto – 18 years

“We always remind our athletes that being healthy is more important than the correct technique. We are always warming up and cooling down before and after practice. Once a week we work on the basic techniques for 30 minutes so athletes are less likely of being complacent on the court. We simulate gameplay during these drills so athletes have fun at the same time. Since they are competitive players, they think they know the basics but you can always improve on these techniques. This will intern keep their mind on a task which will keep them focused and keep them on the court!”

Pierre Laframboise – Gymnastics – Kingston – 45 years

“I am back coaching after being off for 1 1/2 years due to illness. Part of my recovery was adding a light cardio warm-up, stretching and yoga back into my fitness regime. I remind my self of this when coaching athletes. Consistently having these activities between, before and after a practice, game or competition helps to reduce the risk of injury. There is also a psychological benefit in terms of preparing the mind for movement, focus, alertness, giving the athlete confidence, and clarity of thought, allowing the athlete to move purposefully and mindfully.”

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