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Want to make sure you show your potential on game day? Do you want to be a game time performer? Are you worried you might be holding yourself back with your mental game? Read this post to see if you are making one of these key mental errors.

Athletes sabotage their own success with their weak mental games. It is important to be able to handle the pressure and show your hard work. To do this you need to stay calm and composed.

If you are not mentally tough on game day you will get distracted, lose confidence, perform tight or hold back and make more mistakes. You will not perform at your best. It is just as important to be mentally prepared and strong as it is to be physically prepared and strong. If you want to be a game day performer you need to avoid these 6 mental mistakes and up your mental game:

1. You don’t get in the zone: You don’t take pre-game time seriously. You don’t maximize all of the time you have to mentally and physically prepare. Maybe you physically warm-up but forget about your mind.

Players often wait to play well to get in the zone, but why leave that to chance? What happens if you don’t start well? You are then less likely to correct this later on as it is much more difficult to get in the zone during play.

How does this hurt your play?

If you don’t get in the zone on game day you will not perform the same in games as you do in practice. If you are not in the zone consistently it is very difficult to play consistently at your best. You will struggle to stay focused and will fail under pressure.

Many athletes struggle to bounce back from a bad warm-up or if something doesn't feel right. If you don’t have strategies in place to get in the zone it will be difficult to play your best.

To get in the zone consistently you need a pre-game routine. This is a series of steps that you follow every time. It includes strategies to mentally and physically prepare you to show your potential. See this post for tips on how to develop a successful pre-game routine.

2. Doubting Your Abilities: As you get closer to game time you start to feel nervous and worry about how you are going to play. Your confidence goes down and you start to picture yourself making mistakes or losing. You lose trust in your skills and all of the preparation you have done in practice goes out of your head.

There are many reasons this happens to athletes: You may have a bad warm-up or something doesn't “feel” right, you see how well your opponent is warming up, you have people in the crowd who you want to impress, you start slow and have already made a few mistakes or you start worrying about what your coach or parents are thinking. Many athletes also struggle with the game day atmosphere and do not find playing fun. They doubt they can show their best and worry they will not be able to overcome any tough situations.

Remember: All of these can only cause doubts and lower confidence if you don’t have strategies in place to maintain your confidence at its optimum level and ignore the self-doubt.

How does this hurt your play?

If you lose confidence and are not able to maintain it at the optimum level it is very hard to show your best. If you don’t believe in yourself and have doubts in your mind, your body will listen to this and you will be more likely to make mistakes. I have seen this happen many times where an athlete starts to think “I can’t make this shot” or “I know I'm going to make more mistakes” and what they are thinking becomes true.

Confidence is one of the most important factors in achieving peak performance, without it you will not be able to overcome tough situations or have the mental toughness to succeed. There are many strategies you can use to increase and maintain confidence on game day. Read this post for practical tips and exercises top athletes use.

3. Over-Thinking Right Before You Play: Athletes often psych themselves out right before they are going to play. They start worrying about what will happen and second guess their game plan. This can make you feel unprepared and nervous.

Your warm-up may not feel right or something seems “off” and this gets stuck in your head. You get distracted by trying to figure out what is wrong. It doesn't help to continue to work on or master your skills just before a game. You lose trust in your skills and forget about all the preparation you have done in practice. Your mind is racing with thoughts about everything you need to do; your game plan, technique, your opponent, what your coach/parents are thinking or trying to figure out why it doesn't feel right. You can’t think clearly.

How does this hurt your play?

You are distracted and focused on the wrong things. If you are focused on worrying about what will happen or trying to make a lot of corrections, you can’t also focus on how to play well and the key points of what you need to do. Your mind can only focus on a few things at one time and you need all of your mental energy to play at your best.

You will lack confidence and it will be hard to stay calm and composed under pressure. Over-thinking causes worry and nerves, your body becomes tight and your muscles are tense. It doesn't matter what sport you play your body doesn't show its best in this state. Read this post to find out how to avoid over-thinking and empty your mind.

4. Focusing on the Past or the Future: This is a very common mistake that athletes make on game day. They often can’t let go of the past such as mistakes, bad calls or annoying opponents, or they are worried about the future such as losing/winning, making more mistakes or not being able to overcome future situations. Athletes spend too much time on these irrelevant things and not enough time on the present and what they need to do to play well. Thinking about the past or future is a distraction. You need to focus on one play/point/skill at a time. You need to refocus quickly when you recognize you are focused on the past or future.

How does this hurt your play?

If you are focused on the past you will not be able to control your frustration and will make more unnecessary mental errors. If you are focused on the future you will not be able to control your nerves or fear, you will play tight and not be able to show your best.

You won’t perform well under pressure. Our minds can only focus on so much. When you focus on something not happening right then it means you will not be fully focused on the current play and can’t perform your best. Read this post to develop your own Refocusing Routine to stay focused on the present and play one point at a time.

5. Putting Pressure on Yourself to Perform Well: Athletes place high expectations on themselves to perform well especially during big games or key situations. In these moments they think they need to do something extra special instead of focusing on how to perform well and do what normally works for them.

You may put unrealistic expectations on yourself because you really want to win, you don’t want to disappoint other people, you know how important the game is or you are afraid of losing. You will focus more on what is going wrong and mistakes will seem more important. You will worry about the future and making more mistakes or losing. You may feel nervous or threatened by challenging situations and doubt that you can overcome them.

How does this hurt your play?

When you put pressure on yourself it causes you to doubt your skills and can cause nerves and choking. You become tight and hold back. You play not to lose rather than to win. This makes it much more difficult to stick to your game plan and show your best.

You will fail under pressure and your confidence will be low. It will be harder to bounce back from mistakes, you will make more mistakes and you will be more negative. If you don’t have the winning mindset to avoid putting pressure on yourself and step up in big situations you will not be able to show your best when it counts. Look out for a new post this week to find out how anyone can perform under pressure like the pros.

6. Focusing on Uncontrollables (things out of your control): During game day it is easy to get caught up in the score, your opponents, bad calls, the weather or other distractions. Athletes let these things bother them and get distracted by what doesn't matter. They get frustrated by a bad call or over-focused on the score and this distracts them from focusing on how to play well and what they need to do to win.

It is common to see an athlete get angry about opponents trash talk, or with one of their teammates. These are all incorrect things to focus on as they are uncontrollables (things out of your control). You can only really control yourself and your play. Focusing on anything else is a waste of mental energy. You can’t change any of these things so don’t focus on them and move on quickly.

How does this hurt your play?

Focusing on uncontrollables means you can’t also focus on you and what you need to do to win. Remember your mind can only really focus on a few things. You need your whole mind to perform well. If you are distracted it is unlikely that you will be able to show your best and make the key corrections you need.

You will spend more time in negative or unhelpful emotions such as frustrations and nerves instead of being calm and composed. You will not be able to fully focus on performing your skills like you do in practice. You will make more mistakes. Read this post to get one amazingly simple tip on how to stay focused.

To be successful on game day it is important to be mentally tough and prepared. Avoid these common mental mistakes. You do not want to sabotage your own success with your weak mental game.

To up your mental game, start with identifying whether you are making one of these mental errors. Next you want to have plans and skills in place that you can use to overcome these barriers. You can use the tips in this post and if you want more information read this post on mental training tips for success on game day.

Key Points for Success on Game Day:

  • A weak mental game will hold you back on game day. It is just as important to be mentally prepared as it is physically prepared.

  • Maximize pre-game time to mentally and physically prepare. Develop a pre-game routine to take control of your preparation and get in the zone

  • Keep confident by trusting in your skills and ignoring the self-doubt. Focus on the positives and what is going well

  • Don’t over-think right before you play. Focus on a few key points of what you need to do to play well

  • Focus on the present. Do not waste energy thinking about the past or the future

  • Use a refocusing routine to play one point at a time

  • Manage your expectations and don’t put extra pressure on yourself to perform well

  • Play to win rather than not to lose

  • Stay focused on things in your control (you and your play)

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.

If you would like more customized tips and an individualized mental training plan you can Contact Me here. You can also find out more about my services and why you should work with me on my Services Page here.

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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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