3 Strategies to Help Athletes Focus on the Process

In our microwave society athletes want to see immediate results. When they look at the rankings, draft boards, and young superstars, they think success came overnight. Coaches might be preaching, “focus on the process,” but athletes are judged by results.

A Major League Process

David Ortiz, the Red Sox former first baseman known as “Big Papi,” will certainly become a Hall of Famer.

When looking at Hall of Fame numbers and powerful home runs, it is easy to think Ortiz is a “natural” and ignore his road to greatness.

While helping Ortiz with his rehab in 2013, Darren Fenster, a Minor League Manager for the Boston Red Sox, expected to see him swinging for the fences in batting practice. However, what he witnessed from behind the L-Screen surprised him.

Big Papi, it turned out, was a grinder who worked hard and focused on the process.

His philosophy (which fueled his every swing), was “stay on top and inside of the ball.” Every swing had a purpose.

His process can be seen through his daily hitting routine:
  • Round 1: 12- 15 solid contact & high percentage base hits
  • Round 2: 12- 15 well-hit gap to gap
  • Round 3: 20 balls of situational hitting
  • Round 4: 15 deep drives (maybe HRs)

Day after day, week after week, year after year…through each purposeful swing David Ortiz became the Hall of Famer we know today.

Unrealistic Expectations

Technology has sped up everything, especially our expectations. Your athletes expect websites to load in 2 seconds or less. They expect online purchases to arrive in 48 hours.

Similarly, athletes today expect a new technique to work immediately. They expect it to be automatic. They expect it to get results. Most importantly, athletes expect to win – now.

Why Focusing on the Process is Hard

While coaches preach “focus on the process,” everyone else praises results. Sports talk radio, SportsCenter, and social media celebrate accomplishments, talent, and the overnight superstar.

Even coaches will talk about how a player is a “natural talent” or “born to run.” These kind of comments bypass the process that led the player to the results we see today.

Athletes are getting mixed signals, which makes it difficult for them to focus on the process.

Your players need to learn that those idolized results come through hard work, sweat equity, and determination. As the phrase goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

3 Strategies to Help Athletes Focus on the Process

How can you get athletes to embrace the daily grind of trusting the process?

Coaches need to set clear expectations and hold players accountable to the process moreso than the outcomes. Or, as Tim Elmore puts it, “value the process not the product.”

Allow me to share with you 3 powerful strategies coaches can use to help athletes focus on the process:

1. Praise the process.

When you provide players with kudos or praise, praise the process. Coaches (and parents) can do this by calling out the effort, strategy, or persistence that led to the success or improvement.

This focuses a mindset of continued learning and development – the process. This strategy also directs an athlete’s focus and energy toward the aspects of their sport they can control.

2. Point out examples.

Nearly all athletes look up to someone else. These role models might be professional or Olympic athletes. They could be Hall of Fame athletes from decades ago.

Use case studies, like David Ortiz, to teach your athletes the behind the scenes work (process) that molded that player into the peak performer you see on television.

3. Provide coaching, not criticism. 

Criticism points out what an athlete is doing wrong, a mistake he made…the negatives. Criticism is outcome focused.

Instead, coach the player by providing specific feedback that teaches her how to adjust and improve. The point should be learning and development.

Athletes Follow the Coach’s Lead

Coaches will get more of what they focus on. If your words and actions demonstrate that you value the outcomes most, your athletes will follow suit. On the contrary, if you praise, illustrate, and teach the process, your athletes will learn to focus on the process. When athletes buy in to trusting the process, they’ll close the gap on their potential and the results will take care of themselves.

Question: What do you think is the biggest reason athletes struggle to focus on the process?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.


Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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