Do you have a huge event coming up? Perhaps a swim meet you’ve been preparing for the past few months? A high-stakes racquetball tournament against your friends that you’ve got money riding on? Are nerves getting the better of you already? Are you the type of person that chokes when it comes to the crunch? If you answered yes to any of the above, you probably need to mentally prepare for competition prior to the event date.
The following is only a slight exaggeration: mental preparation and mental focus are just as important as the physical aspect of sports. The time you invested in getting in physical shape, honing your technique, and increasing your stamina is nulled if you fail to keep a cool head during a match or tournament.
Just like the body, the mind is a sort of muscle, in the sense that you can use tools to shape it and make it do what you need. Developing and practicing these tools should be part of your daily routine.
Here are a few helpful tips and strategies to help you mentally prepare for competition.
Focus On the Things You Can Control
Focusing on parts of the game that you’ve got full control of can take your mind off things that are out of your domain. For instance, devote your entire attention to your technique. Repetitive motions have a way of getting our minds out of bad cycles and into positive ones.
Mental Imagery and Visualization
Top-ranking athletes actively engage in the visualization of their performance. Think of possible scenarios, good and bad. Determine your reaction and envision it. Having mental pathways already broken through makes for quicker reactions when the real deal hits.
Refocusing strategies that help you return to the game after you’ve drifted away should be an essential part of your training process.
Pay Attention to Your Pre-Game Surroundings
Find your own way of centering their focus. Maybe you listen to your favorite music. Maybe you just sit alone with your own thoughts. Maybe you eat your favorite food. Whatever the case, make sure you surround yourself with positive energy and positive people.
Don’t overexert yourself and get a good night’s sleep prior to the event. Research shows that sleep deprivation reduces alertness, shortens your span of attention, reduces concentration, impairs hand-eye coordination… The list goes on. Getting a good night’s sleep is paramount.
Set Long Term Goals
Having clearly defined goals, especially long-term ones, will keep you from ascribing too much importance to a single event. A successful poker player views their entire career as just one match. It’s of no importance if they win a tournament or not. It’s the big picture they’ve got in focus.
Hype Your Self Up!
Nobody can deliver a pre-game speech to you as well as you can. Don’t be ashamed of talking to yourself out loud. Say good things to yourself. Say things that bolster a winning mentality.
The story you tell yourself should be positive, uplifting, and affirming. Look at yourself in the mirror and convince yourself you’re a champ!
Start picking up patterns in your thought processes. We’ve all got some type of ruminating routine that our brains default to in times of crisis. Learn yours. Start nipping them in the bud. Develop a technique of snapping yourself out of cycles of bad thoughts. In order to mentally prepare for competition properly, you’ll need to fully understand your mental strength and weakness.
Embrace the Stress
Stress coaxes adrenaline from our adrenal glands. Adrenaline heightens our senses, lowers our pain threshold, increases strength and performance. It’s a common fact. When you look at it that way, stress is a good thing. It means you care. It means you want to win. It means you’re doing something important. Stress prepares your body for activity and gives you the strength you didn’t even know you had.
Plan Your Day Out
You should have a strict and detailed plan of how gameday is going to go. You don’t want to be running around aimlessly. That’s where the bad thoughts can sneak in. If you know exactly what to do at every stage of the day, you won’t have time to ruminate. More importantly, you’ll stay focused on the present instead of planning for the future and dreading the match.
Although the last tip told you to have a strict plan, it’s also important to keep flexible with your expectations. Sudden timetable changes, problems with all different types of gear, thunderstorms right before your tennis match… These are all things out of your control that could happen.
If and when they do, it’s important to stay focused. Having a good sense of humor helps.
Trust in Your Team
Feeling all by yourself in a competition can be very daunting. Make sure the people surrounding you, coaches or teammates, are pleasant people to be around. Make sure they share your goals and are genuinely interested in helping you achieve them. Make sure they are reliable and can help you out in times of crisis.
Having a team that stands behind you is an invaluable layer of security that should never be neglected or forgotten.
Pre-event anxiety is common not only among athletes but among all types of performers. Some of the best musicians in the world, who have played in front of millions of people in their lifetimes, still get the jitters before they go onstage. If you’ve got a chronic case of stage fright, you may have to learn to live with it. Look at it positively – it sharpens your senses and makes you more aware. And it usually dies down as soon as the game starts.
The other part of mental strength is focusing during the performance. This is where you want to let your body do the work. You don’t want your mind stepping in its way. This is called entering the ‘zone’ or a ‘flow state.’ If there was a way to explain how to achieve it in a two-page article, the world would be a much more zen place. To properly mentally prepare for competition we need both mind and body in a good spot.
The key takeaway is this – a true athlete is not just a master of their body, but also a master of their mind. Devote time and energy into increasing your mental game, and results will surely follow.