How to Stay Confident After a Bad Game
Bad games suck. But the truth is, they're going to happen. What matters is how you respond.
You want to be sure one bad game doesn't turn into two or three bad games. Or worse, kill your confidence for the entire season.
What can happen after a bad game is that you lose your confidence in yourself because you played badly. Then you may be a little fearful going into the next game because you don't want to play badly again.
But you can't allow one bad game to destroy your self-belief. You need to be able to bounce back with full confidence, ready to respond in the next game.
One of the best ways to make sure you respond to a bad game in a positive way is by having a system in place for every game. That way, you get comfortable with the system and it's easier to use when you have a bad game.
In addition, you also want to have a strategy you can use to maintain your confidence when you have a bad game and feel yourself beginning to adopt negative self-talk and doubt your skills.
Learning How to Evaluate Your Games
The first phase of maintaining your confidence and positively responding to bad games is learning how to evaluate every game. The reason this is an important step is because it helps create consistency.
When you consistently examine your performances, all of a sudden bad games don't stand out so much since you approach looking at them in a similar way to other games.
Of course, you will be more frustrated following a bad game, and that's where the second part of the strategy comes into play. But first, you want to make sure you begin evaluating all your games so you're ready the next time you have a bad game.
Post Performance Questions
To evaluate your performance, you want to begin applying post performance questions. These act as a strategic way for you to examine each performance. You can also apply these questions to practices as well.
Here are the questions you can ask yourself:
- What did I do well technically today?
- What did I do well mentally today?
- Where can I improve technically today?
- Where can I improve mentally today?
There's a specific reason the questions are in that order. It's because you always want to first look at what you did well. On a daily basis this forces you to look at what you did well which increases your confidence over time. And it's so easy for athletes to overlook what they did well and immediately look at what they did wrong.
But also, when you do have a bad game, if you honestly first think about what you did well, this puts you in a better mindset to then examine where you can improve (which will include the mistakes you made).
Next you want to list out all that you can improve, both technically and mentally. When I say technically, I am referring to your physical game. So think mechanics.
When I say mentally, I am referring to your mindset. This includes what you were thinking about, focused on, and how you were feeling.
The best way to use this exercise is to keep a journal to keep track of the answers to the questions following each practice and game.
The reason you want to have a record of your answers is so that you can look back and see what you did well to increase your confidence. But also so that you can actually take what you want to improve and apply it to your training or your next game.
One last thing about the post performance questions is that sometimes you don't want to answer them immediately following the game. You may need to wait until later that day, or the following day.
This is especially true when you have a bad game. Sometimes the best thing you can do immediately following the game is forget about it.
Go do something else, get your mind off the game, and then answer your post performance questions that night or the next day.
Maintaining Confidence After a Bad Game
When we think about holding onto your confidence after you've played a bad game, what we're really after is making sure you are confident moving forward. So really, you're wanting to be confident going into your next game.
Because one of the worst things that can happen is you have one bad game and then it's carried with you into the next game. That only increases your chances of playing badly again.
That's why answering the post performance questions is so important. Because when you answer the questions, you are then able to leave the game in the past.
You've taken what you can from it to build your confidence and you've taken what you can from it to learn and improve your skills. Now it's time to leave the game where it belongs...in the past.
In addition to the post performance questions, there are certain tips you can focus on to help manage how upset you get and also to work on building your confidence moving forward into the next practice or game.
Tip #1: Pay Attention to Your Self-Talk
Your self-talk involves the way you're thinking and how you speak to yourself. But after a game, it's also important to think of your self-talk as the way you speak about yourself to other people.
When you have negative self-talk, this is going to hurt your confidence. So, if your goal is to maintain your confidence after a bad game, you need to pay attention to what you're thinking and how you're speaking.
Instead of saying things like, "I suck," "I'm an awful player," and "I let the team down." Say things like, "It's okay, it was just one game," "I know that I'm a great player," "I know I'm going to be ready to redeem myself next game."
You want your thoughts to be centered around maintaining and building confidence, as well as wanting to compete again. Because when you have a bad game, it's easy to feel like you're afraid to play again because you don't want to fail again.
So after a bad game, pay attention to your self-talk and make sure it's working to boost your confidence rather than destroying your confidence.
Tip #2: Use Visualization
When you have one bad game and your confidence drops, this happens because the way you see yourself is as a bad player. What's fresh in your mind are your mistakes. So it's easy for you to keep thinking about them.
But how you see yourself in your mind is how confident you're going to feel. If you see yourself as a bad player, you aren't going to trust in yourself very much. On the flip side, if you can see yourself as a successful player, you will increase your belief in yourself.
One way you can make sure you see yourself as a good player is by using visualization. You can perform visualizations where you go back and imagine the mistakes you made, but now see yourself performing them well.
This is a great exercise for you to do as you prepare for your next game.
It's not that you are trying to convince yourself the mistakes didn't happen, it's that you are working to change how you see yourself in relation to that play (or mistake).
It's the same idea as taking more reps of a skill you struggled with during a game. You still want to be taking those reps, but simply adding more mental reps by performing visualization.
Tip #3: Get to Work
The third tip is to take what you learned through your evaluation practice and get to work on improving. If you had a bad game, and you know what happened and why it was a bad game, then you want to begin working on improving your mistakes.
The more you train, and the more confident you get in your skills in practice, the more confident you will be during games.
When you get to work, this also helps you leave the game in the past. Your mind should be focused on improving. That means thinking forward, not looking back.
You know where you need to improve, so it's time to get to work. And as you do, keep reminding yourself to leave the bad game in the past.
Bad games happen. But that doesn't mean they're easy to deal with. You train hard every day to perform your best. So it's easy to get frustrated when you play badly.
But you can't let one bad game turn into many more. And the reason one bad game leads to another, and then another, is because your confidence has taken a hit.
It's not whether or not you had a bad game that's important, but how you respond to the bad game. You want to work on maintaining your confidence even when you underperform.
The best way to do so is by applying an evaluation practice to your game and then following these three tips: focus on your self-talk, use visualization, and get to work.
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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