With high school fall seasons coming to an end in Minnesota, and across the country, playoff season has just begun. As a high school athlete, you may be prepared physically because you have been training all season, but how much have you prepared mentally? Playoff games can feel much different than regular season games because they have more riding on them; for example, the chance to go to the state tournament. They are typically more intense and require everyone to be on top of their game.
In a study done by the University of Montreal, sport psychologists worked with a professional hockey team to help them prepare for the playoff season. What were their tips on how to prepare mentally for playoffs? Get focused and stay focused so it is easier to “stay in the moment”. Many playoff games go into overtime because ties are not an option. This extra time on the field or on the court may be a challenge for some athletes because they might be physically and emotionally drained. If you can learn to stay in the present moment and overcome that fatigue, you will be more likely perform at your optimal level. One way to stay in the present moment is to think about your role on the team during that game. If you are a golfer, your role may be committing to your putting stroke on the selected line; if you are a volleyball player, your role may be setting up the ball to your teammate who makes the spike. Focusing your energy on the task at hand will keep your mind sharp and help block out distractions.
Maybe you have never experienced a playoff game before or have had very little exposure. Many “don’t know what to expect and they don’t know how to respond” (Halliwell, 2004). How do you prepare if you’ve never had experience? Watching video clips of experienced performers, preferably of your same skill level, and using imagery techniques can help you “get extra practice in.” Studies have shown that just by using imagery, neural pathways in the brain associated with your sport become more “grooved” and essentially lead to better performance. Another strategy to help give you confidence is taking time to think back to where you played your best. Knowing that you have performed at a high level before gives you confidence that you can do it again. If you are an experienced athlete, don’t forget to encourage your young and inexperienced teammates since it may be a new environment for them.
Stanley Cup winner and Hall of Fame player Raymond Bourque gave this advice, “Enjoy this great opportunity.” Sometimes you may forget why you play or love your sport. It is important to take a minute and think about this statement because passion is essentially why anyone plays the game–they enjoy it. Going into the playoff season with an open mind and a smile on your face is the best advice anyone can give. So, don’t forget to focus about your role on the team, use imagery to give you confidence, and enjoy the great opportunity you were given! Best of luck to all the student-athletes participating in playoff games!
Reference: Halliwell, W. (2004). Preparing Professional Hockey Players for Playoff Performance. Athletic Insight, 6(2), 25-33.