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Tips for game day mental preparation

Last Modified: March 31, 2023

Sports & Exercise

Mental tough

This post was written by Lauren Tait, Peak Performance coach, Parkview Sports Medicine.

For athletes, there are few feelings that rival the excitement of game day. Every player, coach and team hopes to have an MVP-like performance because, well, let’s face it, everyone wants to come out on top. The competitive spirit rests on a desire to walk away with the win.

But, like most scenarios, games and matches also come with an abundance of elements and aspects that are completely out of the player’s control, like the weather and referee calls. I encourage athletes to focus on the things that they can control, such as pre-game routines, nutrition and mindset, to name a few. Considering that, generally speaking, every team and athlete has access to similar equipment, coaching and facilities, mental preparation is one of the key tactics that offers that edge and helps players deliver a peak performance.

Tips for mental preparation

As a professional certified peak performance coach, I can tell you from experience that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting into the right mindset for game day, as every athlete and team needs something different. But I can provide some solid starting points (in no particular order) that anyone can utilize to get into a more productive place mentally and deliver their best effort.

Place your focus and energy on the controllables.

The lives of athletes and coaches can be stressful, with countless moving parts that lead to stress and distraction. I find that many athletes worry about the wrong things­–namely, the things that are out of their control. Focus instead on what you can regulate, including your physical fitness, technical and tactical skills, effort, attitude, thoughts, nutrition, emotions, behavior, equipment and preparation.

Focus on your strengths. Not what you think you need to work on.

Game day is not the time to critique yourself. When you’re playing, you should go all in on what you know you do well. Bring your best onto the field so you can have the biggest impact for your team. A good game day hack is to write out your strengths on a 3x5 notecard and keep it with you in your locker, training bag or the bench, so you can read it over and over heading into competition.

Embrace the pressure of game day!

This is absolutely one of the biggest game changers for an athlete, but it can also be one of the most challenging to develop. Every single athlete can learn to reframe pressure. Remember, champions don’t run from big moments, they embrace and welcome them.

A simple way to begin improving your relationship with pressure is to remember why you play the sport. This seems simple, but it’s important. Sports are not life or death. You play because you love it and enjoy it. Embrace the opportunity to feel the privilege of playing, competing and putting yourself in a position to do something meaningful.

Adopt a trusting mindset.

“You don’t rise to the occasion; you sink to the level of your training.” – Joshua Medcalf

There is a time and a place to think about technique, and that’s during practice. When game day arrives, you shouldn’t question, doubt, analyze or think about form. Whatever capabilities you bring to the game, trust yourself, and do the best you can with what you have on that day.

Commit yourself.

Repeat after me: “In order to be the best version of myself, I must be 100% committed to performing the very best that I can!”

You will come across competitive situations and conditions that you think are over your head, where you’re uncertain about going all out. This will only create doubt and anxiety. If you try to perform with this mindset, you are going to perform tentatively and give up at the first sign of trouble.

Going into your game, make sure you are focused and totally committed to leaving it all on the field. If you lose your drive, refocus and recommit, then go for it! Develop the skill by getting into the same mindset before practices. You will perform better, increase your chances of getting the results you want and have a whole lot more fun in the process.

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