For many athletes, the most anxious time they experience in sports is just moments before game time when their nervous energy spikes, oftentimes resulting in debilitating anxiety, poor focus, and scattered thinking. In these instances, mental toughness quickly goes out the window and the athlete is left in a very challenging position – either quickly regain focus and confidence, or deal with the negative symptoms of anxiety that usually lead to choking. It is for this reason that pregame routines are vitally important to mental toughness and athletic success.
So as most of you head back onto the court, field, or ice for games, it is key to remember that the warm-up routine is also the time to become mentally prepared for the game. There are a few things you should be thinking about or doing prior to your game to make sure you are prepared mentally.
Pregame anxiety is a major obstacle to a relaxed and effortless performance for athletes. This is where a pregame warm-up routine can help you relax, focus, and be confident for competition. With the proper warm-up or mental prep routine, you will:
- Feel poised and relaxed about an upcoming competition.
- Feel confident in your skill at the start of competition.
- Enjoy competing and overcome pregame jitters.
- Trust in your skills you have trained in practice.
Here are our recommended steps to take for pregame mental preparation:
- Transition from life to sports and enter the role of the athlete. Focus only on the role of athlete and park any worries from life.
- Set goals for what you would like to achieve during your game. Stop demanding things from yourself that are impossible to achieve but rather things that are realistic for your skillset. Discard outcome expectations or strict demands. Let go of the expectations you feel to be perfect or win.
- Be proactive with confidence prior to competition. Take full control of your confidence level before the start.
- Focus on execution or the process and not results. Stay into the moment and don’t think too far ahead.
- Use imagery to help you see and feel how you will execute those goals. Rehearse your performance and game plan. Visualize how you want to perform and execute you game or race plan.
- Perfect practice makes perfect execution. Prepare your mind and body to trust in your skills. Whatever you do, make sure you do it to the best of your ability every time. The phrase “practice makes perfect” only hurts your skillset by allowing you to make mistakes more fluently. The more you practice your skills perfectly, the more you will be able to rely on them. Also remember that the word “perfect” is different for everyone. Get ready to become a performer and stop practicing so you can get into the zone.
The fortunate thing for athletes is that they almost always have control over the unique things they do before games, whether its stretching, using imagery to see the first few plays in their mind, or listening to a specific song that helps them with focus and confidence. The key for athletes is to leave the locker room as they head out to the field having the best, most positive attitude that they can possibly create. We like to encourage each of the athletes we work with to take control of their surroundings and engage in a proactive, positive pregame routine so they don’t succumb to the pressures of the unknown (i.e. the opponent, the crowd, etc.).
Robyn Antoyan is a certified Athletic Trainer at Compete Sports Performance and Rehab in Orange County, CA. She received her Masters Degree in Sports Psychology from Fresno State University.