How should I prepare mentally for a game?
While there are techniques and suggestions for mental preparation, the biggest thing to remember is that the best mental preparation for any game will come from both trusting your physical training and being aware of what it is you do mentally when you perform at your best. Mental preparation for a game will vary by the individual. For example, one athlete may prepare best by listening to music on their own and conversing with others minimally before a game, on the other hand another athlete may need to talk and interact with others to prepare, neither approach is right nor wrong. The trick is to key in on what works on an individual level, and channel your preparation through that. That being said, here are a few preparations strategies to try and see if they work for you:
Mindful Behavior: Mindful behavior has been shown to significantly increase athlete’s performance. Before a game your brain can be going in a million different directions, and what mindfulness does is center your attention on the immediate moment without judging the moment as “good” or “bad.” When we do this, we allow ourselves to channel our energy into our performance and take it moment to moment and be less critical of ourselves while competing. We are less distracted and more focused.
Imagery & Self-Talk: Before a game try closing your eyes and watch yourself on a highlight reel. See yourself being successful in all facets of your sport competing exactly how you want to. Any time a negative thought seeps in, notice it and let it pass. Replay those positive thoughts over in your head to help build your confidence. Focus on what you do well. Your self-talk tells you whether you can or cannot do something, and the effect it has on your actual performance is profound.
Stay Focused on the Process & the Controllables: A lot of athletes get caught up in thinking about the outcome of the game before they go out to compete (e.g., score, win/loss, will they make the line-up, how will I play, what will my time be, etc.?) rather than focusing on the PROCESS of performing well….all the how-to parts of playing a great game! (e.g., stay relaxed, confident play, good communication on the field, aggressive start, hold my form, quick feet, etc.) We know that athletes who focus on the process and let the outcome take care of itself, actually perform better. Also, try not to get sucked into worrying about the uncontrollable aspects of the game, such as the weather, refs calls, opponents’ skill level, or coach’s decisions. Rather, before and during a game, zone in on what you can control such as your attitude, effort, preparation, and mindset.