Tips on how to mentally prepare yourself for a match
If you want to be a top performer in any sport, you’ve got to develop your skills. You have to continually work on improving things like your stamina and hand-eye coordination, as well as developing the muscles that will allow you to perform powerfully. You must prepare your body for competition.
All top performers work on their bodies, but what makes some of them stand out in a sea of talented athletes, and what prevents the others from reaching this level? If you want to excel among your peers, you’ve got to invest energy in mental preparation as well.
In the same way, we prepare our bodies so our muscle memory can automatically rise to the physical challenges we face in game situations, preparing our minds to react in the same way allows us to see the playing field with exceptional vision and prevents us from making the mental mistakes that can cost games.
Why is mental preparation so important?
We’ve all seen top athletes have a rough game due to mental mistakes. It’s not that they lack the skills or physical strength to win tough games, but something is causing them to miss easy points, drop balls, or make any number of other mistakes.
In an individual sport, how athletes prepare mentally for the big day can have a significant impact on their performance. Developing a strong mental game in sports is especially important when there are no teammates to pick up the slack. Forgetting your training or losing focus in crucial moments can mean the difference between winning and losing, so mental preparation is one of the most important things you can do if you want to bring your “A” game.
Whether you don’t yet have a mental prep routine or you’re looking for new techniques to quiet your mind before game time, adding a few stress reduction techniques to your pre-game regimen can noticeably improve your game more quickly than almost any stretch or added reps could hope to achieve. If you’re going to find a solution, you’ve first got to find the source of your stress.
Common stressors that affect athletes
When we think of stressors that athletes deal with, competitive stressors like returning from injury, pressure to perform well, and facing a tough opponent may be the first things that come to mind. They are part of the game and can leave the best of us feeling distracted. They are very common and very real stressors that athletes must deal with, but stressors from other life sectors can affect performance just as quickly.
Not all stressors are related to the game. Things like dealing with family issues, poor time management and sleep habits, and other life commitments can be some of the hardest things to shift to the back of your mind. When we deal with very personal issues, there’s a good chance it can affect our performance. The best way to mitigate the effects of these stressors is to put together a mental preparation plan.
How to get mentally prepared for a game
Personal stressors can look different from one athlete to another. One may suffer severe bouts of performance anxiety, while another may be overly focused on setting records and delivering a perfect performance. The key is to find out what works to reduce the stressors that affect you. Let’s look at a few of the things you can do to prepare your brain for the big game.
The first step toward a successful mental preparation plan is to understand your own mind and body, understand what stresses you, and the ways in which you are affected by those stressors. It can be helpful to keep a log of your stressors and responses so you can learn how to prevent and overcome them. Your personal nervous system response to stress in sport may differ from other athletes, so it has to be based on you.
Take care of your body to take care of your mind
As athletes, many of us feel like we have built our bodies into efficient machines. But, even though we work out and eat well, stressors on our bodies can still impact our moods. Things like excessive alcohol consumption and not getting enough restful sleep can negatively impact our bodies and minds. Make sure to avoid overindulgences and get a good night’s sleep before any competition.
Find a routine that relaxes and prepares you
Not all of us use the same techniques to prepare for a match or game. Mental preparation for athletes can take many forms. Some like to prepare with soothing music, and others like to blast heavy metal. Some spend the pre-game in solitude, while others yuk it up with their entourage until game time. None of these is the right or wrong way to do it. It all comes down to what set of steps works for each individual. As you repeat your ritual before each successive game, you’ll likely find that you can feel your stress falling away.
Avoid pre-game stress
Fresh stressors weigh extra heavily on the mind, so it’s a good idea to avoid any potential stressors before game time. Skip lunch with your friend with all the drama, and try to let the little things go. While that sounds great and all, it’s not always possible. Life happens. Learning how to alleviate pre-game stress is the next best thing. Find out what kinds of things calm you down, and employ those techniques when necessary.
Turn stress into motivation
Athletes who have participated in their sports for a long time realize that they will never eliminate stress from the game. Stress in sports is natural. In fact, low levels of stress can give you a rush of adrenaline and help you perform better. The key is not to let it negatively affect your performance. Don’t let it consume you. The motivation you gain through overcoming low-level stress can help keep it from spiraling out of control and boost your self-esteem.
Focus on the fundamentals
Like deep breathing, focusing on our technique while performing can be relaxing and meditative. By focusing on the mechanics and game plan we’ve spent weeks or months perfecting, we are able to block out some of the other stressors. Stress is cyclical, so break that vicious circle by focusing on something productive like your movements and breathing.
Practice visualization techniques
If you’re feeling stressed about the upcoming game, a good way to calm your nerves is to visualize your game performance. Seeing yourself succeeding can go a long way toward developing the confidence you need to perform at your best. Visualize your steps. Visualize your strokes. Visualize yourself doing all the things you have practiced, and you’ll perform the way you know you can.
We all like to perform well and win, but sports are games at the end of the day and should be fun. Don’t worry about being perfect. Playing for the love of the game will release natural endorphins and is an excellent method for stress management in sports and life.
Coaches get stressed too
While we’re on the subject of stressors in sports, we can’t leave out the coaches. A large part of what produces an elite athlete is solid coaching. In fact, many times when we see our favorite teams or athletes performing poorly, we blame the coaches. We know the athletes are capable, so something else must be going wrong.
In this case, we can make the argument that a coach’s mental preparation can be as important as that of the athletes themselves. They are human too and subject to the same stressors that life can throw their way. Top coaches will overcome them and perform more often than not. When a coach is cool and collected, they are much more effective at leading their athletes to victories.
Seek help if it gets to be too much
Sometimes the stress becomes overwhelming. If you’ve tried all the techniques but still can’t shake the stress, find someone you trust to talk to. It can be a coach, a clinical sports psychologist, or a close friend. Just letting it all out can be very cathartic. Many things that stress us out stem from the same source, so talking to someone who can help you identify that source can minimize the stress you feel from everyday things.
Mental preparation is an ongoing project. By learning how to prepare for a sports game, we can ensure that we enter with a clear head. Don’t let poor mental prep lead to a perfunctory performance.