What To Do If Your Game's Inconsistent
One game you’re the top player on your team. Outperforming even that which you thought you were capable of. Yet, the next game it’s as though a switch was flipped, and you’re a completely different player.
Does this sound familiar? If so, then it’s likely you are an inconsistent player.
Being inconsistent has both its ups and downs. On one hand, the days when you’re on, you’re really on. These are fantastic moments of success. During these games everything clicks.
On the other hand, however, your bad days are quite bad. It can feel as though your sport is completely foreign to you. Facing games such as these leaves you wondering, “Which performance is the real me?”
The yo-yo act of inconsistency is tiring and frustrating for you as an athlete. One day you’re on, the next you’re off. Instead of having such volatility in the way you perform, a better alternative is a consistent flow of good performances.
Now, of course there will be days where you outperform yourself. Just as there will be days when you play badly. But overall, your performances are much more consistent.
Consistency is a valuable asset to you and achieving it is exactly what we’re going to uncover by the end of this article.
The Causes Of Inconsistent Performances
Before you can work to become more consistent, you must first understand why this inconsistency is present in the first place.
Many athletes, after a bad game, will immediately look to their mechanics for an explanation. Admittedly, this was the pattern I fell into during college.
But here’s my question to you and what I would go back and ask myself if I could: what’s changed in your mechanics since your last game?
Mechanics play a large role in your success, there’s no doubt about that. You must know how to perform your skills at a high level. However, if you are showing elite levels of play, followed by drastic dips in your production, you clearly have the physical skills to succeed.
Your skills have not magically disappeared in a matter of days or weeks. So if it’s not mechanics that are to blame, what is the cause of inconsistent performances?
When you struggle with being consistent, this has more to do with your mental game than your physical game. Identifying the underlying cause of your inconsistent performances will be the first step towards consistency.
"Mechanics play a large role in your success, there’s no doubt about that. You must know how to perform your skills at a high level. However, if you are showing elite levels of play, followed by drastic dips in your production, you clearly have the physical skills to succeed."
No Set Pregame Routine
We often see consistent performances as the goal. However, these are simply a byproduct. When you struggle with being consistent in games, you need to analyze your routines. Or possibly, the lack of routines you’ve put in place.
As athletes, there are many different types of routines you can use. From training plans to routines in the foods you eat, all are important for you to be a consistent performer. The one we are focusing on right now involves your mental approach to each game.
For myself, one of the major reasons I struggled with consistency was the inconsistency of my confidence. Some games I would feel more confident than others. The only problem was, I didn’t really understand why.
This left me showing up to each game hoping I would feel confident that day. This kind of inconsistent mindset leads to inconsistent performances.
A pregame routine works to get you into your optimal mindset heading into each game. That way, you approach each game in a consistent manner from a mental standpoint, giving you the best chance of being consistent physically.
When you don’t utilize a pregame routine, you leave your mindset up to chance and this can easily lead to inconsistent performances.
The reason pregame routines are so valuable has to do with the mindset they instill. But not just the mindset you work to generate, but the negative mental states a pregame routine helps to eliminate.
These mental game challenges are distractions and will be the leading factors resulting in you being inconsistent. Here are the most common mental game challenges that keep you from being consistent:
- Performance Anxiety: This occurs when you have extreme worries about what may happen. With performance anxiety, your mind is fixed on the outcome. Instead of being focused in the moment, your mind is centered on the results of a play or the game as a whole.
- Fragile Self-Confidence: When you look to external sources for confidence, these results in fragile trust within yourself. True self-confidence comes from within. By looking to coaches, teammates, parents, or any other external source, you are keeping yourself from building real confidence that leads to consistent play.
- Perfectionism: As a perfectionist, even a good game is an opportunity to belittle yourself and point out all the areas you need to improve. The worse your perfectionism becomes, the more difficult it will be to show up to each game with confidence and trust in yourself and your skills.
- Fear of Failure: When you are afraid to fail, performing relaxed and confidently becomes close to impossible. This leads to inconsistent games since you play timidly, tiptoeing around hoping not to make a mistake.
"A pregame routine works to get you into your optimal mindset heading into each game. That way, you approach each game in a consistent manner from a mental standpoint, giving you the best chance of being consistent physically."
Mastering Your Approach Through A Pregame Routine
Being consistent will lead to greater success over time. Not only that, but when you are consistent this also results in more enjoyment.
When you shoot back and forth between great and terrible, your emotions go on a similar rollercoaster. While the feelings of success is extraordinary when you perform well, they are quickly overshadowed by your inevitable failure.
Over time, even your great games don’t result in as much joy, since you know what’s coming for you in the future.
That’s why learning how to be more consistent is crucial. While consistency in the outcome is really what you want, this occurs by understanding how to be consistent in your approach.
When you start to approach each game with the same mindset, consistent performances start to happen. As I said, you aren’t aiming to be consistent in the outcome, this happens due to the way you approach each game.
There is no better way to control how you approach a game mentally than utilizing a pregame routine. With a pregame routine, you pick specific tools that work to generate the mindset you want.
In order to pick these tools, you must first figure out what kind of mindset works best for you heading into a game.
Step 1: Identifying Your Optimal Mindset
How would you describe your mindset when you perform your best? Think back to the games when you’ve exceeded even your own expectations. What were you thinking about? How was your confidence? What was your emotional state?
You need to define this mindset for yourself. Now you have a clear target to work towards with your pregame routine.
The tools you decide to use will be in an effort to instill this optimal mindset heading into each game. That way, you are consistently approaching each game the same from a mental standpoint.
Once this mindset is identified, you next need to figure out the mental game challenges that are keeping you from being consistent in the first place.
Step 2: Identify Your Main Mental Game Challenges
What is keeping you from performing well on the days when your performances turn bad?
Take mechanics and physical aspects of your game out of the equation for a moment. What parts of your mental game could you point to that are keeping you from having the mindset you described in step 1?
Are you overly anxious, fearful of failure, or trying too hard to be perfect? Perhaps your confidence is fragile and you have a tough time controlling how confident you feel.
Identify which of these mental game challenges is holding you back during the games you perform poorly.
Step 3: Choosing The Right Tools
Now that you’ve come up with your optimal mindset along with the current mental game challenges that are keeping you from consistently attaining that mindset, let’s get to work choosing the right tools for you.
Mental training tools are used to build mental strength along with instilling certain mindsets, especially before a game.
The reason you wanted to identify what you did in the previous two steps is because your tools will need to work to instill your optimal mindset, while reducing the effect of your current mental game challenges.
Here is a list of the best mental training tools you can use when crafting your own pregame routine:
- Mindfulness: The state of mindfulness helps you be more focused, relaxed, and reduces unhelpful wandering thoughts. By utilizing mindfulness training, you can calm and focus your mind before a game.
- Self-Talk: How you speak to yourself impacts how you feel. By taking control of your thoughts through a self-talk practice, you can boost your confidence, focus, and help to eliminate many worries regarding failing and the outcome of your performance.
- Imagery Work: Also known as visualization, this is a practice where you imagine a scene in your mind, accompanied by specific emotions. You can use imagery to build confidence, reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, handle pressure, and much more.
- Breath Work: Now this is going to be very similar to mindfulness, where you’re focusing on your breath. With breath work, you breathe in and out for specific counts. This really helps to center your focus and relax both your mind and body.
- Process Goals: Setting process goals helps to remove your attention off the outcome. Also, it will allow you to have a clear definition of what success looks like, therefore reducing your perfectionism.
"The reason you wanted to identify what you did in the previous two steps is because your tools will need to work to instill your optimal mindset, while reducing the effect of your current mental game challenges."
Consistent performances come from consistency in approach.
As much as consistent games are judged by outcomes, you must remove your attention from such outcomes if you truly wish to be consistent.
In order to become a consistent player, you must learn how to show up each game with the same mental approach. The best way to do so is through the use of a pregame routine.
Identify your optimal mindset, figure out the main mental game challenges keeping you from having that mindset, and then pick the specific mental training tools you’ll use.
This will help you become a more consistent player. But if you want a more direct and personalized approach, you need to check out mental game coaching.
In this twelve week coaching program, I will help you really dig into what’s keeping you from being consistent and work to tailor specific sport psychology tools to strengthen your mental game.
To learn more about mental game coaching, click here.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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