Cook County boys basketball notes: Prospect's pilot program helps with mental toughness

Athletes and their coaches are always looking to improve their focus and concentration.

At Prospect, a pilot program for the boys' basketball team is training the mind to help with that.

Bobby Reibel, who is an assistant coach with Prospect, approached Kate Schneider, who is a psychotherapist and has a masters in clinical counseling. Schneider also has a son Ben, who currently is sophomore on the Knights basketball team. Her son Owen was an all-area player last year for Prospect and graduated.

After consulting with head coach Brad Rathe and with the administration's approval, Schneider put together a mindset program for the coaches and players.

It included a unique 29-page binder full of techniques and ideas for training the mind to prepare to compete in both practice and games. Some of those techniques include music therapy, breathing techniques, pregame routines like closing their eyes or meditation, positive thought processes, visualization and others.

"The program recognizes the need for mental toughness on top of the physical piece," Schneider explained. "So many programs talk about it but struggle to implement it. There are one to three minutes activities where they are focusing in on mental toughness."

Schneider said that many athletes struggle with being in the moment at the right time.

"They can't get the flow they want because they are worried about the play before that or the play after," Schnedier said. "So, the goal is to have the players get into the moment."

Schenider said that she began this with the Prospect team at the start of the season. She says that she and the team check in with each other periodically.

"They report back to me and tell me what worked and what didn't work," Schneider said. "They tell me that the kids are awkward about. And that is understandable. But most of them understand the importance."

Prospect senior Nolan Murray said that he and his teammates were a bit skeptical at first.

"We all trust Rathe," Murray said. "But at first everyone thought this was weird. We all had our heads down. But then we started to realize that it helps us. We have been able to lock in and prepare."

Murray said that it is the same before every game.

"We play a song and we all put our heads down," Murray explained. "The coaches then tell us to think about and visualize what we are going to do in the game. And then imagine yourself doing it."

Alex Georgakas said that he feels that the training has not only made him a better player, but it has helped his teammates as well.

"It is something I never did for a game," Georgakas said. I have heard of professional athletes doing something like this, so I figured it was worth giving it a try. I can feel the difference. Guys are coming off the bench and stepping up. We have been playing really good lately. And I know it has really helped my game." I have stepped up early in the season."

Schneider said that the need for this, not just for basketball, but for other sports, activities and schoolwork is necessary.

"We have seen an increase in anxiety in general, especially in young people," Schnedier said. "Sports have been a great outlet for teaching life skills."

Schneider said the skills that the Prospect players are learning in her training can be translated later in life.

"I think it is important to let them know that this is something they can use on the court," Schneider said. "But it is life skills. So, we are teaching things in regulation and being in the flow later. Most of these kids aren't going to play after high school. They can use these tools to relate to other things like relationships and their careers."

Rathe has watched his team use these skills all season long.

He seen the results on the court where his team is 13-9 and 6-1 since Christmas. That loss was to Rolling Meadows by two points in a hard-fought game. The Knights also have recent wins over Stevenson and Glenbrook South.

"We have done some similar things like his in the past," Rathe said. "But there is a lot more pregame where we are trying to get into a routine. I can say this is the best free throw shooting team as long as I have been here."

Rathe said it he saw it took some time for his players to embrace this new technique.

"It is new for them and awkward at times," Rathe said. But the more you push and make it a routine and say that it is important and use examples. We try to reiterate that there are lots of people on higher levels that are using this."

Rathe said he knows that not only is this better for his basketball team, but it is better for his players as they enter the next stages of their lives.

"You are going to have more important situations in your life than high school basketball, Rathe said. "There is a lot going on. It is important to have some mindfulness and think about your mental process before you go into something."

Bartusch scores 1,000:

Elk Grove's Brandon Bartusch broke the 1,000-point mark last Saturday.

Bartusch scored 40 points in the Grenadiers' 60-42 win over Mather in a nonconference game. That gave Bartusch 1,028 points for his career.

Bartusch improved on that on Tuesday as the Grens (5-16) lost to Maine West. He scored 20 points to bring his career total to 1,048.

This season, the senior guard, who has been a starter for three seasons at Elk Grove, is averaging 21.6 points. He is averaging 20.2 points for his career.

After Tuesday's game, Elk Grove has eight regular season games remaining plus the state playoffs.

Bartusch is currently fifth all-time in scoring at Elk Grove. He trails leader Dave Otto, who has 1,596 points. Ken Politz (1,259), Austin Amman (1,207) and Terry Evans (1,051).

"Bronson is a great kid with a really good work ethic," Elk Grove coach Nick Oraham said. "He comes in early to get shots up on the shooting gun or stays late if he feels things are a bit off for him during practice. He gets the opposing team's best defender, a lot of times two defenders. Yet, every game and he is still able to fill it up like he does."

Palatine sponsors Hoops for a Cause:

The Palatine High School special education department is sponsoring their first annual "Hoops For a Cause" Saturday at 3 p.m. at Palatine High School. It will take place between the Palatine sophomore and varsity games against Warren.

Between games, members of Palatine High School Special Olympics team will participate in an intrasquad scrimmage. It will enable the members to have the experience of playing before a varsity-sized basketball crowd.

The event, which is sponsored by the Palatine High School special education department, is also a fundraiser for other activities by the group.

"The Palatine Special Education Department is always looking to provide extraordinary experiences for students in Educational Life Skills, Life and Learning Strategies, and Structured Learning Support Programs," they wrote in a statement. "We try to provide experiences that continue to make our students feel valued, connected, and that make memories for a lifetime."

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