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High-Performance Mindfulness: Practice & Game Improvement

Jake Rauchbach nails down foundational ways for players to translate practice repetition into in-game improvement.

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There are players at all levels of basketball, including the NBA, that struggle to connect the dots on how to translate their practice repetitions into actual performance improvement during the game.

So, what are the underlying reasons why players struggle in this department? What’s the differentiating factor for translating practice repetition into in-game performance improvement?  The answer can be found in the mind.

Mental Focus is Key

The consistency with which a player remains mentally locked-in is crucial. A player’s ability to interface with his present moment awareness during his timeline for preparation – practice, individual workouts, film study and the game – directly influences how much translatable on-court performance improvement will be had by the player come game time.

One of the main things that coaches tell players is: “Come ready to play!” Interpreted more literally, this means come focused. However, many players do not have a repeatable process for getting the most out of their preparation process.

There Are Levels to This

It is important to note that there are levels of application for mental skills. Just like progressions in an on-court skill-development series, a similar process is employed when teaching players how to sharpen the mind.

There are foundational tools and skill-sets that players can pick up and begin to employ straight away.

There are also leading-edge mental skills processes. Specific to each player, these zero in on specific parts of a player’s game that the player, coach or general manager pre-determines.

In this column, we’ll outline some foundational HPM tools that players can begin to employ immediately to begin sharpening their focus and influencing in-game improvement upwards.

Foundational Techniques

Meditation

Meditation has been scientifically shown to help improve focus and attention, creative thinking and regulation of emotions, all of which are critical elements regarding successfully processing through split-second reads during the game. Meditation has also been shown to decrease depression and anxiety.

There are many types of meditation practices. However, what I have seen work best for high-level basketball players is employing a 15-minute meditation session twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.

20 years ago, there were very few athletes who would touch a yoga practice. Look for meditation to become the new yoga, helping athletes sharpen focus and master internal peace of mind. The effects of this technique, when fed into an overall focus for on-court performance, is immense.

Visualization & Decision-Making

Visualization retrains a player’s mind to expand the boundaries for what is deemed possible. Working in this way helps players to train their mind for the game. Visualization has also been shown to improve mental focus and confidence for the player. One of the more profound experiences is observing players who employ visualization as way to prime decision-making abilities during the game. Mentally Rep’ing the various decisions faced during the game has seemingly helped prepared players to mentally process faster.

Common examples of plays that high-major college and professional basketball players use this tool for optimizing decision-making are:

  1. The Pick-Six: Denying the passing lane – Creating a Stealing – Going opportunity for an uncontested finish on the other end. This play is common for players who begin to focus on defensive situational excellence.
  2. The Big-Time Block: Defensively rotating over and pinning the ball against the glass. This is a big-time energy play that happens frequently when improving mental processing.
  3. PNR Situations: PNR situations can be some of the most mental intensive on-court experiences for players. Leveraging this tool to more efficiently process the decisions that arise in pick-and-roll situations can help players prepare to be successful.

Generally, this is an eye-opening experience for the player. There is a level of connection made by the player between the mental rep and the on-court execution of said decision that helps to reinforce the value of mental skills training.

These types of plays give the player a discernible cause-and-effect experience from implementing the mental rep, to manifesting the specific play on the court.

Breathe-Work

The implementation of Breath-Work deepens awareness and has been employed by different cultures around the globe for years. Foundational breathing techniques are also the building blocks for many Martial Arts modalities.

These types of techniques have been shown to help players hone focus by becoming more present, getting the athletes out of their head and into their present moment of awareness. Improving focus this way can have the overall effect of boosting confidence and supporting the player while on the court in the game.

Practicing Detached Observation

Observation is a key component in every technique mentioned herein. It is important to mention that as a standalone technique. This creates peace of mind and facilitates greater present moment poise and focus.

Improving in-game performance comes down to training the mind over the preparation timeline. Employing the foundational techniques mentioned above will begin the process, helping players prioritize mental training as a way to optimize performance efficiencies during the game.

Jake Rauchbach is an Integrated Player Development Coach, specializing in High-Performance Mindfulness. He has coached professional and Division-1 basketball. He is the founder of The MindRight Pro® Program and consults on the Olympic, collegiate and professional levels. Follow him on Instagram @mindright_pro and twitter @mindrightpro

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