Just as individual athletes may overcome deficit situations activities
can be developed to achieve team goals through practice. The following
is an example. Like every skill with high achieving athletes the skill
is developed through practice and repetition until one gains the confidence
that they can use the skill when the situation calls for it.
A few years ago a noted basketball coach asked for a demonstration of mental
management skills with his team. After the demonstration he asked if it
was possible to utilize a training process that would attack a very specific
team goal that he believed to be mainly a “mental activity”.
The coach indicated that he felt the team’s foul shooting average
in the low 60’s in competition was well below what these same players
were capable. My response was sure, but like any skill of the game, it
needed repetition and practice. That night the deal between the coach and
the sport psychologist was struck by allotting 14 sessions during the Fall
semester in which the entire team was given instruction and practice in
the “mental aspect” of shooting a foul shot.
The 14 sessions were organized to achieve three particular goals. Self-regulation
to understand and learn to adjust personal arousal levels within a brief
time span. The players had 10 biofeedback sessions and reached completion
of this activity when they were tested to prove that they could reach a
criterion of relaxation followed by arousal demonstrated by moving their
skin temperature 5 degrees warmer and 5 degrees cooler in less than one
minute. Twelve of the 14 players were able to reach criterion.
The second skill was for each player to establish a pattern of rhythm and
focus in preliminary moments of stepping to the foul line, accepting the
ball, and preparing for the shots. Players were shown video of successful
foul shooters and noted that each one had a set pattern and rhythm to their
approach. Typically, they included patterns of breathing, alignment, a
set number of bounces, looking at the basket, and pauses. They were told
to make their own pattern, but to find a comfortable and acceptable pattern
they could be maintained each time they came to the foul line.
The third activity was a demonstration of self-confidence and ability to
keep the act simple but focused to the basic mechanics needed for execution.
The main training activity for this exercise was to blindfold the players
and have them practice 10 shots with a partner who would give them simple
feedback as to where the blind shot went and what adjustment in terms of
distance or direction they needed to correct the shot. Each player was
given the goal to make over half of their foul shots in a 10 shot contest.
Over half of the players were able to make 60% of competitive shots (nearly
the same as the level they achieved the previous year with eyes open in
competition). At the end of that season the team had a foul shooting rate
with a better than 12% improvement over the previous year.