How To Start A Game With A Calm Mindset
If I gave you the choice to start a game with a calm mind, or one running wild, which would you choose?
The obvious choice would be a calm mind. However, for the majority of my baseball career, that was seldom the case. I had a tendency to begin games with all sorts of anxious and fearful thoughts flooding my head.
I want you to think of your favorite athlete. Before a competition, do you think they have a calm mind or are their thoughts bouncing all over the place?
Look at any elite athlete heading into a game and their focus is unparalleled. They have this look on their face as though they are in complete control of themselves.
While they surely have doubts and anxiety creeping in, as we all do, they have the power over their minds to keep these thoughts at bay. Allowing their mind to be calm and focused, helping them enter a state where peak performance is possible.
I know it may seem like such control over your own mind is impossible. When your head is full of racing thoughts pre-competition, you feel as though it’s a pipe dream to actually reduce the clutter.
However, with some training and deliberate techniques utilized right before a performance, you too can start a game with a calm mind.
Why Calm Is Better
There are some people out there who hold onto the belief you need to get completely amped up before a game. The only way to reach that peak state of motivation and adrenaline is by getting yourself jacked up through loud music or some other ritual.
I’m not against getting yourself into a zone. We are all different and like to prepare ourselves in different ways. This is not actually what I’m referring to when talking about developing a calm mindset.
What I mean is the state your mind is in immediately before a game. In fact, it has nothing to do with excitement or motivation. You can have a calm mind and still be motivated. You can even have a calm mind and still be excited and chalked full of adrenaline.
Calmness of mind is accomplished through the control of attention. It’s as simple as that.
Let’s take a look at what the opposite of a calm mind would be, as that will help you better understand what I mean by controlling your attention.
I stated in the introduction that my head was often full of anxious and fearful thoughts. Worrisome thoughts about how I would play, what would happen if I messed up, and how scared I was to make a mistake.
Picture a rubber ball bouncing endlessly inside of a small, square room. Shooting from one wall to another, thoughts would come and go in an instant. There was no control over my mind, because I failed to master where I placed my attention.
A Focused Mind Is A Calm Mind
We cannot truly eliminate a thought by trying to force it out of our heads. The act of doing so draws our attention to that thought, leading to its continual residence within our mind.
So, you may be wondering, how then can you expect to start a game with a calm mindset?
The answer lies in focus. See, it’s not the fact a thought happens that is truly to blame. Problems arise when your attention becomes attached to the thought.
That’s why a focused mind is a calm mind. We are not seeking to make our minds absent of all thinking, rather, our goal is to gain mastery over where our attention is placed.
For example, before a game I would often focus on what my coaches were thinking, who was watching, and how I’ve been playing leading up to that point.
All of these are completely natural thoughts, harmless, really, if I was to not become attached to them. Though, that is much easier said than done. When in the moment, the anxious and fearful thoughts that would flood my mind seemed too powerful to manage.
Instead, if I had learned to recenter my focus, placing it on something in the moment, that would have instilled a sense of calmness over my mind. Allowing me to relax into the present moment, which would follow me into the game.
That is exactly what I want to show you how to do.
Two Phases Of Starting A Game With A Calm Mindset
Focus, like any other skill, requires training.
Which is why there are two phases of training when your goal is to start a game with a calm mindset.
The truth is, if your mind is all over the place, consumed with anxiety, fear, self-doubt, and all sorts of unhelpful thoughts, it’s unlikely tomorrow you will experience a perfectly calm mind.
In order to get the mental strength necessary to manage your focus in these times, training and practice must be applied.
However, I don’t want you to feel like there is nothing you can do if you have a game tonight or tomorrow. That’s where the second phase comes into play.
When thinking about how to start a game with a calm mindset, you want to split your approach into two different phases: long term training and a pregame routine.
Long Term Training
The first phase is geared towards training your mind outside the moment.
Over time, this is where you will gain mastery over your mental processes, providing you with the strength necessary to control attention and start a game with a calm mindset.
Outside of the continual training you need to be putting forth, a pregame routine places yourself in the best position to start the game with a calm mindset.
So even if you have a game tomorrow, you can utilize a pregame routine to help you immediately.
Developing A Calm Mindset
Knowing the two phases of approaching the start of a game with a calm mindset is wonderful. But it’s also useless information without a proper plan to follow.
There are specific tools and techniques that need to be utilized, so your training has the greatest impact.
By following this plan, putting it into action consistently, you will be well on your way to starting games with a more calm mindset.
Let’s begin with how you start training your mind for the long term.
Long Term Training For A Calm Mindset
When thinking about how to train our minds to be more calm leading into a game, a long term approach is to examine what the main problem is, and the best solution to that problem.
I addressed this earlier, introducing the idea that a focused mind is a calm mind.
The main hindrance to having a calm mind leading into a game is poorly managed focus. Your mind is bouncing from one thought to another, never settling into the present moment, allowing you to experience a calm and steady mind.
So, what we are wanting to do is look for a long term solution. One that will build your mental strength over time.
What you are wanting to focus on is the present moment. As long as your mind is seesawing back and forth from the past mistakes you’ve made and your future concerns, there will be no calmness to find.
This state of present moment awareness is known as mindfulness.
Your long term solution to building a mind that is calm, leading into even the most pressure filled game, is to develop the skill of mindfulness within yourself.
Mindfulness is a state. The skill you’re aiming to adopt is the ability to place yourself in a mindful state, and more importantly, retain your attention there for an extended period of time.
Training The Skill Of Mindfulness
On your search for a calmer mind, developing a daily mindfulness practice is going to be key. Since focus is both the cause and remedy of a scattered mind, training yourself to center your attention is the number one priority.
To train mindfulness, I always first turn to mindfulness meditation.
I find it to be the most powerful technique when someone is truly wanting to master mindfulness. There are other techniques you can read about here, but the truth is, if you want to start a game with a calm mindset, why not train as deliberately as you can?
The technique is not very complicated. Challenges arise when you fail to utilize it consistently. A secret to developing the skill of mindfulness (as with any skill) is consistent effort.
Follow this technique every day, as your way to instill a calm mindset within yourself over time.
- Find a quiet location.
- Decide on a time frame and set your timer (I recommend beginning with 5-10 minutes).
- Get into a comfortable position. Either sitting on the floor or in a chair. Keep your back straight to help you stay alert.
- Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath.
- Each time you notice your attention drifting away from your breath, recenter it back on your breath (without telling yourself how terrible you are at meditating).
Pregame Routine To Start A Game With A Calm Mindset
Now that you’ve got your long term training plan in place, it’s time to narrow down your focus onto what you can do right before a game.
There are certain steps you can take, heading into a game, to instill calmness into your mind.
The application of a pregame routine, deliberately tailored to this end, is going to help you develop such a mindset.
When the goal is to start a game with a calm mindset, two techniques come to mind. It’s useless to overload yourself with a ton of tools to use before a game, because that decreases the likelihood of you actually utilizing them.
Sticking with two will help to ensure you stay consistent in applying them. The two techniques I want you to begin using are visualization and count breathing.
Visualize The Calm
The first technique is going to be a visualization practice, specifically designed to see yourself relaxed and calm.
One of the beautiful aspects of visualization is the ability to see yourself how you would like. This means, you have the ability to mentally rehearse how you want your mindset to be, starting a game.
This is preferably done before arrival at the field or arena, as it’s a more private practice than the breath work that will follow.
When performing your visualization during a pregame routine, follow this structure:
- Find a quiet location and get into a comfortable, seated position.
- Close your eyes.
- Take 10 deep breaths to calm yourself.
- Now imagine you are about to start a game. Really make it real by seeing all the people around you, the stadium, and any detail you can think of.
- Feel calm. Once you make the environment real, it’s now time to feel calm. Imagine yourself beginning the game exactly how you want.
- When you are finished, take 5 more deep breaths, open your eyes, and your visualization practice is complete.
Breath Into The Moment
Right before the game starts, you want to take control of your breath. By focusing on your breathing, two things are happening.
One, you are getting yourself into a state of mindfulness. The attention you are giving to your breathing helps you reduce the focus you typically place on everything else.
Two, you are slowing down your breathing, which reduces your heart rate. Slowing down this process is going to help you feel more relaxed, leading to a calmer mind.
I really urge you to continue this breath work throughout the game. You are not limited to only utilizing this technique before a game. Though, with this article being geared towards starting a game with a calm mindset, that is what I want to focus on.
To perform count breathing, follow this simple sequence:
- Breathe in for a count of 5.
- Breathe out for a count of 10.
Seems simple enough, don’t you think?
Perform this continually, and your mind will slow down, finding itself more relaxed and able to start the game in a calm state.
Before a game, if your mind is all over the place, that’s going to lead to more anxiety, fear, self-doubt, and all sorts of unpleasant thoughts, resulting in you not performing as well as you’d like.
It should be your goal to start a game with a calm mindset. One that is focused and centered on your goals, and what you need to do to accomplish them.
Beginning a game in such a state of mind is not reserved for a lucky few. It is a skill that can and must be trained.
View this training in two different phases: a long term approach to developing a calm mindset, and a pregame routine that will instill calmness into your mind right before a game.
By doing so, you can develop a calm mindset, and experience all the power it provides.
I hope you enjoyed this article, and if you did, please feel free to share it with others.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.eli's story
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