Play Present

“Basketball is a complex dance that requires shifting from one objective to another at lightning speed. To excel, you need to act with a clear mind and be totally focused.” – Phil Jackson

If you want to maximize your play on the court you have to learn how to ‘Play Present.’ There are as many as 150 individual plays over the course of a game (roughly half on offense and half on defense). The best players in the world are totally focused on the present moment – because that is all they can control.

Great players don’t worry about a missed shot or a bad call. They don’t get distracted by trying to think about winning and losing. They focus on the here and now. They ‘Play Present.’

The ability to ‘Play Present’ is a skill that takes practice – just like shooting and ball handling. Basketball is a highly cerebral game. As Coach Jones has said, ‘you can’t just play the game; you have to think the game.” That is where mental training comes in.

Whether you are a player or a coach, you need to practice ‘Playing Present.’ You need to constantly remind yourself to be focused on the task at hand. Build your self-awareness so you recognize immediately when your mind starts to drift. Over time, you will be able to sustain focus and concentration during the chaos that occurs during a game. This will drastically improve your performance.

Think about this hypothetical scenario. Imagine if at a random time in the beginning of practice or in the first quarter of a game, you called your players over and said, “If you get a stop on the next possession, I will buy each of you a brand new pair of Jordan’s.”

Do you think they would get a stop? I do! Why? Because your players wouldn’t be thinking about anything in the world except for getting that stop. They would have razor sharp focus and make sure they were in position, were playing as hard as possible, and were communicating. They would be ‘Playing Present.’ The key to success is learning how to achieve that level of focus every possession!

Like any skill, if you want to learn how to ‘Play Present’ – you have to practice!

A mental training exercise you can do at home is called “100.” Find a quiet spot to sit and relax. Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. When you breathe in, say the number 1. When you breathe out, say the number 2. Repeat all the way to 100. In the beginning, your mind will be elsewhere and you will be thinking of all kinds of distracting thoughts. But the goal is to ‘Play Present’ and bring your focus back to your breathing and to the next number. Do this every day (only takes a couple of minutes) – when you first wake up or right before you go to sleep.

Another powerful mental training exercise is called the MVP (Meditate – Visualize – Positive Talk). This is perfect to do before your team’s pre-game talk and warm-up.

Meditate: Sit in silence with your eyes closed, take 15-20 slow breaths, and focus on the moment. Let the day’s distractions leave with each exhale. Get present.

Visualize: Using all of your senses, recall a time when you played in the zone, a time when you played (or coached) your best basketball. See it and feel it.

Positive Talk: Repeat your favorite motivational affirmations and quotes to yourself.

Another concept that goes along with ‘Playing Present’ is the concept of ‘Next Play.’ Whether good or bad… the last play doesn’t matter… let it go… focus on the ‘Next Play.’

Learning to move to the ‘Next Play’ is the foundation of how you ‘Play Present.’

A part of Playing Present, is ‘Getting in the Zone.’ Affirming the following 20 statements is how you maximize your performance on the basketball court:
1) I play to play well, not to avoid mistakes.
2) I focus on the process of my development and let the results take care of themselves.
3) I ‘Play Present’, one play at a time, and focus on the task at hand.
4) I act confident even when I don’t feel confident.
5) I focus on the ‘Next Play’ after a mistake or a bad call.
6) I use positive self-talk to coach myself through challenging situations.
7) I focus on what I can control and let go of what I can’t control.
8) I trust my abilities and my talents on the court at all times.
9) I think positively toward adversity.
10) I am not afraid to fail, I just go for it.
11) I know that how I think will affect how I feel and what actions I take.
12) I consistently use a pre-game mental routine to get myself focused.
13) I visualize myself being successful during the game.
14) I listen to (and trust) my coaches and I am a great teammate.
15) I welcome pressure because I know I am prepared.
16) I practice (and workout) with the same intensity and focus of a big game.
17) I think calm and act calm when things seem chaotic.
18) I don’t let physical fatigue cause mental fatigue.
19) I am comfortable being uncomfortable.
20) I learn from a loss and focus on the next game.