You’ve been training your whole life for it, so why do the nerves suddenly kick in before the big day? Deep breaths, you’re not alone!
No matter how much mental preparation you undertake, regardless of the hours put in during training or competing, game day is always going to be an anxious time.
As professional mental coaches, we’ve seen first-hand the struggles faced when the pressure is on. Which is why we’ve compiled this ‘cheat sheet’, to help athletes prepare for competitions.
Use these 14 tips prior to and on the day of a big event or game day, and it will put you in good stead for the performance ahead!
#1 – Focus on the good
Whether you’re in a team or performing as an individual, remember what you are good at. While very few of us are all-rounders, we all have our own unique strengths and contributions to make.
Think back to your training programmes and the feedback your sports coach gave you. Don’t just know your own strengths – own them and focus on them. This is a time for a positive mindset only.
#2 – Be present
It’s only natural for your mind to wander off before the big game. Think back to your training and what it teaches you. Staying in the present has never been more important.
#3 – Imagine success
Imagery in sport is a positive tool to use at times like this. It is a strategy applied by athletes at the highest level. It’s not just about imagining lifting the cup or getting the trophy at the end of the game, it’s about all the steps you need to do in order to get there. This mental rehearsal which is taught early in your athletic training programmes is at its most important right here, right now.
#4 – Routine
You’ve heard it time and again in your athletic training programmes, from your sports coach and from competitors. A pre-event routine is everything. This is because it will provide you with some stability, familiarity and focus ahead of the big game. Locker rooms and unfamiliar surroundings are breeding grounds for negativity. If you can therefore bring some calm, you will be giving yourself an advantage.
#5 – Music is the answer
One of the greatest motivators of our time. All you need do is tune in to a pre-game preview on Sky Sports to see athletes plugged in to their headsets listening to their favourite songs. This positive distraction is all about getting in the zone, as well as removing the distraction of external factors. Compile your pre-event music playlist in advance and you’ll be grateful in the long run!
#6 – Tackle negative emotions
This is a time for positive thinking and a positive mind-set. To keep in the right frame of mind try and keep thoughts happy. If negative thoughts creep in, and they will, acknowledge them and move on. If your athletic training programmes have taught you anything, it should be that there’s a time and place for reflection, worry and negative thoughts. Try and put these aside for another time.
#7 – Avoid distractions
Going back to an earlier point, there is a time and place for distractions like mobile phones, social media and external influences. But on the day of a big event, or just before preforming, is not the time. To help you get in the zone, try and turn off external distractions, remove iPads and iPhones from your training camp, it’s not what you need to focus.
#8 – Warm up
We all know the importance of warming up before a game, but this applies to our mind as much as our bodies. Mental preparation is key here, so think about all the scenarios you discussed with your sports coach in advance and reflect back on them now. If guided meditation helps, this is the time for it.
#9 – Control
There are times when we need to remind ourselves to control what we can and let go of the things we can’t. Focusing on the areas we can control helps us refocus the mind. This might be breathing, our playlist, our outlook – no one can influence these, only ourselves.
#10 – Eat and sleep well
Listen to any professional athlete and they’ll tell you that the right diet and a good night’s sleep is a prerequisite for success. And they’re right.
Working closely with your nutritionist of sports coach, think about the right foods to eat ahead of a big game. Similarly, do as Mo Farah and many other successful athletes and get a good amount of sleep. Useful for restorative and mental health properties, the power of shut eye cannot be underestimated.
#11 – Set process goals
Working with your sports coach in advance, think about the processes you need to go through for success. Establish these and work towards them as your focus.
#12 – Timing
When there’s enough stress to deal with already, give yourself one less thing to worry about and get to the venue in good time. Think of it as an opportunity to relax and prepare before others arrive. In doing so, you’ll give yourself a real competitive advantage too.
#13 – Relax
Sure, it’s easy for me to say, but this is important. Try deep breathing and other techniques you’ve learnt to help control your emotions. Save your energy for the performance ahead.
#14 – Smile
All said and done, the most important part of daily sport is the taking part. So smile and try to enjoy yourself, because the window of being a sports person isn’t long, and it’s important to saviour and enjoy every moment.
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