As the NFL season marches on toward Super Bowl XLVIII with the league championship games this weekend, a lot of talk about “preparing for the big game” is happening all over the sports media airways. In the sport psychology world this is especially interesting, as athletes regularly talk about the importance of mental toughness and preparing for all games, not just the big ones. With that said, the big question I tackle today (pun intended) is whether athletes should prepare better or differently when it comes to “big games?”
The importance of routines
Whether an athlete is preparing for a regular game or a “big” game (i.e. the Super Bowl), what is most important is having a specific, unique routine that allows athletes to feel comfortable in their surroundings. The pre-game routine might be the single most important part of playing at a high level as it allows athletes to moderate their arousal level, increase self-confidence, and minimize anxiety all by doing things before the game that help them center and mentally rehearse their success. In my experience working with athletes I have witnessed a number of different things athletes do pre-game to help with preparation, including listening to music, reviewing personal goals, and using imagery to name a few.
One great example of keeping routines consistent — regardless of the importance of the game — might best be illustrated in the movie Hoosiers when the coach reminded the players that even though it’s the state tournament, the court dimensions and basket height are still the same. The thinking is the same here today — while there is certainly more at stake with the Super Bowl, players are much better off keeping their normal routines and following the same pre-game routines they have in place if they want to play their best.
Keeping focus in the here-and-now
Similar to keeping a normal pre-game routine, players can also remind themselves of the importance of focus, and keeping it as simple as possible. For example, one of my favorite sayings is “do the next thing best,” a phrase that reminds us of not getting caught up with the last play, but also making sure to not think too far into the future, either. Of course, thinking only about the very next play might be challenging to do, but it is the best way to maximize focus, and consequently athletic performance.
The teams that stay with their normal routines and keep their focus in the present will likely be the teams that move onto Super Bowl XLVIII after this weekend. Remember, while the stakes have increased the game is still played with a normal football on a normal football field using the same normal rules that have been in place all season long.
Looking to learn about mental toughness on the go? Then check out The Athletes Guide to mental Toughness e-book available through itunes!