Sports Expert Q&A: 3 Things to help get rid of pre-game butterflies

Every day, CaptainU is working with experts in all areas of cutting edge sports. Each week, we’ll be hosting a Q&A between multiple experts in one genre who have answered a pressing question from athletes.

This week, we talked with Carly Anderson, Sport Psychologist at Premier Sport Psychology and at the University of Minnesota and Jennifer Carter, Director of Sports Psychology, OSU Athletics@OSUSportsMed.

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3 Things to help get rid of pre-game butterflies: Carly Anderson

While there are techniques and suggestions for mental preparation, the biggest thing to remember is that the best mental preparation for any game will come from both trusting your physical training and being aware of what it is you do mentally when you perform at your best. One athlete may prepare best by listening to music on their own and not conversing with others before a game, another may need to interact with others to prepare, neither approach is wrong. That being said, here are 3 preparations tips that will up your mental pre-game:

1. Mindfulness: Mindfulness significantly increases athlete’s performance. Before a game your brain wants to go in a million different directions, and what mindfulness does is center your attention on the immediate moment without judging the moment as “good” or “bad.” When we do this, we allow ourselves to channel our energy into our performance and take it moment to moment and be less critical of ourselves while competing. We are less distracted, more focused.

2. Imagery & Self-Talk: Before a game close your eyes and watch yourself on a highlight reel. See yourself being successful in all aspects of your sport. Any time a negative thought seeps in, notice it and let it pass. Replay those positive thoughts over in your head to help build your confidence. Focus on what you do well. Your self-talk tells you whether you can or cannot do something, and the effect it has on your actual performance is profound.

3. Focus on the Process & Controllables: Lots of athletes get caught up in thinking about the outcome of the game before they go out to compete (e.g., score, win/loss, will they make the line-up, how will I play, what will my time be, etc.?) rather than focusing on the PROCESS of performing well….all the how-to parts of playing a great game! (e.g., stay relaxed, confident play, good communication on the field, aggressive start, hold my form, quick feet, etc.) Athletes who focus on the process and let the outcome take care of itself, perform better. Also, don’t get sucked into worrying about the uncontrollable aspects of the game—weather, refs’ calls, opponents’ skill level or coach’s decisions. Instead, zone in on what you can control—your attitude, effort, preparation and mindset!

3 Things to help get rid of pre-game butterflies: Jennifer Carter

1. Execute individualized pre-performance routine. Each athlete needs a consistent routine, including sleep, nutrition, and warm-up. Some athletes benefit from mentally rehearsing and preparing (imagery), and others benefit from complete distraction (TV, movies, reading, studying). Some athletes like to be high energy and some like to be calmer. Some need to listen to music and others need to joke around.
2. Diaphragmatic/Belly Breathing
3. Repeat Trigger Word (A word or phrase about the task at hand, like “Quick and loose” or “Stay low” or “Smile” or “Aggressive”)