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Sports Expert Q&A: Prepare your mind

LeBron_James_warming_up_before_USA_vs_Spain

Troy Moles, M.S., University of North Texas Center for Sport Psychology and Performance Excellence RA

There are many different mental exercises that athletes can do before a game or performance:  visualization, self-talk, psyching up/psyching down strategies, diaphragmatic breathing, goal-setting, etc.  However, not all psychological skills work for every athlete.   

Like an athletic uniform, each mental strategy must be a good fit with what the athlete needs.  Thus, it’s important to “try on” different mental techniques to see what you respond best to.  Here’s one way of knowing what you might need.

Think back to your best performance as an athlete, and place yourself back into that situation.

Got it?  Good.  How did you prepare for that competition, both physically and mentally?  How were you feeling?  Were you excited and pumped up?  Or were you calm and relaxed?  What were you thinking?  What statements were you saying to yourself?  What was your mindset towards the competition?

By answering these questions, you can form your own profile of optimal performance.  The best thing you can do for yourself to maintain consistency, to increase confidence, to increase your chances of success, and to put yourself back into the zone is to recreate the thoughts, feelings, and actions you had when you performed at your best.  The way to do that is to know what mental strategies you might need and when you need it to develop your own individualized, pre-performance routine.  By continuously checking in, tweaking, and refining your pre-performance routine as needed, you can set yourself up to play freely and automatically, and perform just like you had been trained to do.

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