Even Shaq suffered under the bright lights at the free throw line. Many different shooting coaches were brought in to help him improve his form and he learned to shoot a high percentage from the line in practice. But in a game situation, “hack a Shaq” was the motto of opposing teams as the game tightened up. Why did Shaq struggle from the line? He was so skilled and yet even he felt the weight of the audience. How much more pressure does a teen feel when stepping to the line in front of his girlfriend, parents, and classmates?
It turns out that we all have a tendency to fall victim to the ‘spotlight effect.’ Whether we are coaches, parents or players, we all believe that other people are really attending to what we are doing. It is within our nature to grossly overestimate how many people notice something about us. There have been many psychology studies conducted that support this phenomenon. The research attributes much of the spotlight effect to egocentrism – the idea that we are all the center of our own universe and our existence is built from our own experiences and perspective. But other people are also the center of their own universe and focused only on their own things. So it is easy for us to notice our mistakes on the court and think everyone else noticed them too, even though fans might be more focused on their own hunger, girlfriend, or spilt drink.
With limited experience in the world, teens are the most prone to the struggle under the spotlight. Students often want to skip school because of the new pimple on their nose or will only attend wearing name brand gear. The spotlight effect can really impede our confidence and ability to move past our mistakes. What if Shaq had reminded himself when he stepped to the line that most people were buying popcorn, talking to their friend, looking at a cheerleader, or checking out their cell phone and were not focused on him? Even the acknowledgment of the spotlight effect will help athletes perform better and succeed when they think everyone is watching.
Aaron Dickson is from a coach’s family and has been around sport his whole life. He played hoops in college on a full scholarship (where he met his wife also a full ride hooper) and has been training basketball players for the last 10 years. Aaron is passionate about Jesus, his family, sport and discipleship which is why he started Pursuit Sports, a ministry that invites followers of Jesus (who speak sport at a high level) to disciple athletes through skill training. Pursuit Sports is very simple: we train skills for 30 min and do leadership development for 30 min in order to invest in athletes.
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