One of my favorite, most accurate sayings in life is “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” and this may be most true when it comes to sports. Amazingly, even though athletes typically have plenty of time to mentally prepare before practices and games, many do not, resulting in an increase in nerves and anxiety, poor focus, and lacking resiliency. The reasons why athletes fail to develop a solid pre-game routine varies, but one common answer I receive is that athletes simply don’t know what to do. My answer to this question is quite simple — do whatever you need to do to relax your body, calm your mind, and get yourself in a position to be successful. If you’re not disrupting anyone on the team, what you are doing is probably just fine.
Developing your pre-game routine
Remember, your pre-game routine will likely be as unique as you, meaning it is not necessary to model what you do after someone else. Your pre-game routine can be a combination of many things, including stretching, listening to music, using imagery, or reviewing your goals. In fact, you might even have a superstition you include in your preparation that helps you feel comfortable.
Developing mind-body synchrony
We play our best in life when our mind and body work together in perfect unity, and this is achieved by developing both a specific cognitive focus of what we are going to do, coupled by using relaxation techniques to calm our bodies, thereby allowing perfect, effortless movement. There are countless ways to do this, however, there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach that can be applied to everyone, as there isn’t one specific technique that must be include din the pre-game routine, nor is there a specific time length you need to complete.
A few ideas to consider are provided below:
- Self-talk. Simply saying healthy, positive things to yourself will have a direct and immediate impact on your thinking.
- Cue words. A cue word is a word, phrase, or acronym that makes you quickly think of something positive. Cue words can be written in your locker, on your hand, or even your equipment.
- Imagery. Thinking through what you want to do today using as many senses as possible is a great way to prime neural connections for rapid, muscle-memory responses.
- Music. Choose your favorite song or artist that helps you improve your mood state and prepare for competition.
- Deep breathing. Deep, rhythmic, belly-breathing is a great way to calm the body, regulate arousal, and turn your attention to your preparation rather than outside distractions.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. Go through your entire body one muscle group at a time tensing/relaxing for about a 5 count — within minutes you will have shaken much of the anxiety free from your body.
Don’t beat yourself!
Remember, sports are tough enough — don’t beat yourself by walking on to the field feeling like a bundle of nerves! Take time out to learn about the things that make you tick, including things you like to think about, music you enjoy, and anxiety-reducing techniques you have previously found to be effective. Take control of the time you have before practices and games to ready your mind and body, and as you engage in your routine you will quickly experience 2 very important things that will happen:
1.) Your focus and motivation will be at its highest level
2.) Your will feel less anxiety as following through a specific routine prevents anxiety-inducing thoughts to develop (i.e. “what happens if I fail today?”)
Open your mind and think about what you need to do in order to get focused and play your best. As you develop your pre-game routine, take notes in a journal and tweak things as new ideas develop. If you want to play “smarter, not harder” then developing a pre-game rotuine to help with focus and anxiety reduction is a no-brainer.