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Do you want to perform consistently at your best? Do you often start slow and not feel ready to perform? Do you struggle to get in the zone? You need techniques to get in your winning mindset. Read this post to learn the strategies top athletes use to perform in competition like they do in practice.

What is the Zone?

The zone is your winning mindset. It is when you are in your ideal mood, you have the right intensity and, your mind is focused on how to play well and your game plan. You are using helpful thoughts, and your confidence is high. You are mentally and physically prepared to compete and overcome any obstacles you will face.

Why is being in the zone important?

If you are consistently in the zone and mentally prepared, you will perform consistently at your best.

  • You are at your optimum confidence level so you can overcome tough situations and bounce back quickly from mistakes

  • You are in your best mood, you are composed and don’t let unwanted emotions get in the way of playing well

  • You don’t make unnecessary errors

  • You are using helpful thoughts and are focused on game-related information

  • You are more likely to execute your game plan and ignore distractions

  • You have the right intensity and energy level so you will stay motivated and energized even when things don’t go your way

  • You will be ready to fight for every point and be resilient under pressure

How to get in the zone:

First it is important to identify your winning mindset. Everyone has a different optimum energy level and mindset – their zone. To begin think about when you play your best what mood or emotion are you in.

For example some athletes need to be calm and relaxed compared to others who need to be excited and have high energy. Write down your ideal emotion and also your ideal energy level out of 10. Where 10 is the highest energy you get and 1 is the lowest. Remember both of these need to be correct for when you play your best so don’t just guess, really think about it.

To get in the zone before you compete you need to use a pre-game routine. If you have a great pre-game routine you will be ready to perform at your best from the beginning and will avoid slow starts. Every athlete needs to develop a pre-game routine that mentally and physically prepares them to perform at their best. Your pre-game routine should be effective for any situation no matter what is going on in or outside your sport before you compete.

A pre-game routine should have set steps you follow each time that will help you get in the zone consistently. It can include strategies such as relaxation, visualization, reviewing your goals, listening to music and positive thinking.

Key Points for Pre-Game Routines:

  • This is not a ritual and doesn't include superstitious behaviors. Each step of your routine has a purpose and does something to prepare you either mentally, physically or tactically.

  • It also has to be flexible (e.g. home and away) so if you have less or more time you can adapt it and still be optimally prepared and ready for unexpected situations

  • There is no such thing as perfect preparation, but you still need to do what is necessary to perform up to your potential that day

  • During pre-game if you have low energy (fatigue, low motivation/confidence, slow thinking, aching, lack of/drifting focus, too relaxed) you can use techniques improve it to your optimal level

  • During pre-game if you have too much energy (hyperactive, too much anxiety or worry, distracted or focused inwards, over-thinking or negative thinking, tense muscles, rapid breathing/heart rate) you can use techniques to decrease it to your optimal level

Follow these steps to develop your own pre-game routine:

You need to include:

  • Physical Preparation: How to prepare your body and equipment

  • Mental Preparation: How to prepare your mind. For example your thoughts and focus, your energy level, emotions and confidence

  • Tactical Preparation: How to prepare yourself to execute your game plan/strategy. Also including how to overcome unexpected or tough situations

For each step below write down what you are doing physically, tactically and mentally. You can include more than one action, just be aware of how much time you have at each step and plan it all out. As you get closer to competition time you want to have less and less thoughts and be very focused on a few specific points. I have provided some mental preparation examples to help you:

Night before competition: Visualize myself performing well and overcoming tough situations

Morning of competition: Review 3 process goals for the competition

Traveling to competition: Listen to a pre-game music playlist, Visualize my best past performances

Warm-up: Practice using my routine to let go of mistakes, Use my focus points to practice my game plan

Right before you compete: Deep breathing, Focus on 3 points from my game plan, Visualize myself successfully executing my game plan

I have included some specific examples from athletes I have worked with:

  • 10 minutes to analyze different situations I may face

  • Listen to music to pump me up and leave life issues behind

  • Review game strategies and visualize myself executing each play successfully

  • Check your equipment and make sure everything is ready

  • Meet with my teammates to review game plan

  • Breathe into each step during warm-up, focusing on getting my muscles really loose

  • Go over game strategies/back up plans, visualizing myself doing everything at my best and beating my opponents

  • Read over positive affirmations to remove negative thoughts

  • Visualize myself performing key plays, focusing on how my body feels

  • Focus on my personal and team goals, imagine achieving them

  • Visualize the energy of the crowd and what it feels like to make a big play

  • Use cue words for specific technical points during warm-up to stay focused

You also need strategies to be able to get back in the zone when you are competing. Look out for Part 2 of this post that will cover the strategies top athletes use when competing.

How to apply these techniques?

Once you have developed your pre-game routine practice it before your next game so that you can remember the steps. You can then decide which strategies do or don’t work for you. Next make any changes and finalize your routine. Finally remember to use this routine every time before you perform to get in the zone.

If you want help to develop your own successful pre-game routine Contact Me here to schedule a mental training session.

If you want to get more tips and exercises, sign up for my free newsletter here. You will receive my free e-book: Top Ten Mental Mistakes Athletes Make In Competition: What Every Athlete, Coach and Parent Need To Avoid To Improve Mental Toughness. Plus you get the strategies top athletes use to become mentally tough and get an edge over their opponents.

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Zoe Littlewood, M.A. -
Sport Psychology Consultant & Mental Skills Coach

Zoe specializes in working with individuals, teams, parents and coaches to produce performance enhancement, mental toughness and a winning mindset.

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