When it comes to success on the field one thing athletes can do to get a leg up on the competition is something that is amazingly easy to do, and probably sounds like common sense. Specifically, I am referring to being proactive with a pre-game plan for success. While you might think all athletes do this, I have found the exact opposite based on having worked with thousands of athletes over the course of my career. In fact, a disproportionate number of athletes have confessed to me that they really don’t know what they should be doing before games, and as a result are left to think about a host of distracting thoughts that actually steer them away from playing their best.
Proactive or reactive?
When it comes to our thinking, there’s only two ways we can go – we can be proactive by following a set of cognitive instructions either we create or someone else designs for us to follow; or we can go into situations with no script whatsoever and instead allow our thinking to become reactive to the situation we are about to experience. Yes, it’s really that simple, at least on the surface. Where things get interesting, however, is how this one simple decision actually serves as a major “fork in the road” as it applies tom the likelihood we will perform to our greatest potential, and whether or not we exceed or fall short of our personal goals.
To drive this point further, check out this video and read the following two examples.
Proactive pre-game preparation
Working from the premise that our minds cannot think of two different thoughts at the same exact time, athletes who follow a comfortable, thought-aligning pre-game routine not only minimize the chance for outside static confounding their success, they also prime their minds for exactly what they need to do to be successful. For example, listening to a meaningful song you enjoy sets your emotional status, while reviewing personal goals directs your focus and increases your motivation. Additionally, while listening to a song and reviewing your goals you push out the chance for negative, irrational thoughts getting in the way (like being intimidated by the upcoming opponent). Developing a cue word to regularly reference also helps maintain focus, especially when thoughts began to wander.
When athletes have no pre-game routine, it’s like going out empty-handed and on the defense. Rather than priming cognition and emotions, you are left exposed to a host of things that not only steal your attention, but also chip away at confidence. For example, if you’re walking around nervously and hearing the crowd, worrying about the team you’re about to play, or thinking about what scouts might watching, what you’re not doing is preparing yourself for what you need to do in order to be successful. Also, we know that stress and control are inversely related, meaning we stress more when we don’t have control, and stress less when we do feel we’re in control. When you don’t have a plan, you’re not in control, and therefore expose yourself to experiencing a high level of stress. Why is this important? because stress often interferes with muscle-memory, or those automatic movements that allow for perfect mind-body synchrony — and on-field success.
Interestingly, while athletes often search high and low for the secrets of athletic success, one of the most important variables linked to maximizing human performance is simply being prepared to compete. While it seems obvious to prepare, many athletes do not, leaving them susceptible to nerves and anxiety. Make it a point to develop a pre-game routine that helps you feel comfortable and confident, and you will soon witness firsthand the importance of being fully prepared.