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:
Mindfulness: Mindfulness has been shown to significantly increase athletes’ performance. Before a game, your brain can be going in a million different directions–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: Lots of athletes get caught up in thinking about the outcome of the game before they go out to compete (e.g., score, win/loss, making the line-up, how they play, etc.) rather than focusing on the PROCESS of performing well. The PROCESS is all the how-to parts of playing a great game (e.g., staying relaxed, confident play, good communication on the field, aggressive start, holding form, quick feet, etc.)! We know that athletes who focus on the process and let the outcome take care of itself, actually perform better. Try not to get sucked into worrying about the uncontrollable aspects of the game (e.g., the weather, ref calls, opponents’ skill level, coach’s decisions, etc.). Rather, before and during a game, zone-in on what you can control such as your attitude, effort, preparation and mindset!