So many things can challenge the focus of competitive athletes. Ranked teams, intense coaches, specific procedures, and hundreds of spectators contribute to the pressure cooker of performance anxiety. Distractions are nonstop and the confusion can become overwhelming. Many times, these pressures can take athletes out of their comfort zones and leave them numb or unable to find their focus because they don’t have a mental plan.
Have you ever had the feeling of being alone inside a huge competition venue on game night? Even with fellow competitors and hundreds of spectators within close proximity – you feel all alone. No friends, no teammates, no nothing.
This is why competing is 90% mental, and why mental toughness skills are essential.
Pre-competition routines are important safeguards in helping to prepare for the emotional drama and doubtful thinking which will always accompany pressure situations – always. We use these skills and routines not just before competitions, but during competitions as well. Here they are:
1.) Plan. On game day, especially before leaving for an away competition, planning and packing ALL our competition necessities is critical. First, make a list – a written list. Then make sure all your things are laid out in front of you and ready to be packed: equipment, back up equipment, clothes, fuel, fluids, accessories, etc.
Example: If you want to take specific clothes along for after the competition, list them and pack them. If you want specific music for the ride there and during warm ups, list it and pack it.
This may seem trivial, but it’s not. For the big shows you need to make yourself psychologically comfortable as possible and your things help accomplish that. Why put out the extra effort to make a list? Because a list provides assurance. When you’re not thinking about what you might have forgotten to pack, you’re then able to think about the stuff that matters. And remember, your mother is not your list. Do it yourself.
2.) Fuel. Nutrition is undervalued by practically everyone. But if your goal is to be a consistent pressure-ready competitor, especially at the big games, nutrition cannot be ignored.
3.) Rest. During competitions, resting is more for your mind than it is for your body. During a long tournament, figuring out how to take mental breaks between games is vital to stringing one well-though-out and well-executed play after the next. Think about it – how many other activities in your life require intense concentration for several hours straight?
4.) Breathe. Oxygen, along with the controlled physical inhale/exhale process, has such a positive measured effect on emotional stability under pressure. Deep, rhythmic breathing will probably become one of your favorite and most commonly used winner routines.
5.) Rehearse. Clutch performances are not tied to genetics or luck; they’re tied to mental toughness preparation and skills that produce emotional control. Rehearsing is a way of making your mind do what you want it to do, when you want to do it. Even when you’re freaking out, you are still in control. Choosing your thoughts is the master skill required for high- level performances.