Five Winning Ways Athletes Mentally Prepare for Competition

Getting your mind ready to compete is a crucial part of performing your best. Which is why

Getting your mind ready to compete is a crucial part of performing your best. Which is why, in this article, you will learn five athlete mental training tools you can use to mentally prepare for competition.

Tool #1: Visualization

Visualization is also known as mental rehearsal. With this tool, you are rehearsing your performance in your mind. That way, as you go into the game, you will have already seen yourself compete many times before the game even begins.

With visualization, the goal is to increase confidence so that you can go into competition feeling relaxed and ready to perform.

When you lack confidence, you tend to play timidly and are afraid of making a mistake. Visualization works to keep that from happening by developing a high level of trust in your skills.

Here’s how to perform visualization as an athlete mental training tool before a game:

  • Step 1: Get into a quiet location (this is best done before you arrive at the field or court).
  • Step 2: Close your eyes and spend a couple of minutes doing some deep breathing to get yourself nice and relaxed.
  • Step 3: Imagine yourself performing. Go into as much detail as you can. See yourself from a first-person perspective.
  • Step 4: See yourself succeed and feel successful as if you’d actually played well in real life. The key here is to bring emotion into the visualization.

Performing a visualization exercise is a great way to mentally prepare going into competition.

Tool #2: Mindfulness Meditation

Two major components to successful performances are being focused and relaxed. Both of which are improved through the practice of mindfulness meditation.

This is a way you can prepare for competition on an ongoing basis. You want to take up the habit of practicing mindfulness each day. That way, you are continuously preparing your mind to have better focus and to be more relaxed during a game.

Here are the steps to perform mindfulness meditation:

  • Step 1: Find a quiet location free from distractions.
  • Step 2: Sit in a comfortable position. A great way to do this is in a chair.
  • Step 3: Set a timer for 5-10 minutes.
  • Step 4: Close your eyes and begin taking nice and slow deep breaths. Bring all of your attention onto your breath.
  • Step 5: As you notice your attention drift (which it will), simply return your focus onto your breath.

Mindfulness meditation is a simple technique you can use to mentally prepare for competition. One of the keys to keep in mind is that it’s natural to find yourself thinking about something other than your breath during meditation.

That’s okay! In fact, the act of noticing your attention drifting and returning it to your breath is what is training mindfulness.

By committing to a daily practice of mindfulness, you are working to strengthen your focus and your ability to relax; both of which will help you perform at a higher level.

Tool #3: Performance Objectives

Going into a game, what are you focused on?

Are you focused on how much you want to win, or maybe how much you don’t want to make a mistake?

Of course, those are two natural outcomes you’d like to have happen. However…they are just that, outcomes. Focusing on them does not help you perform your best.

Instead, you need to provide yourself with something to focus on that will put you in the best position to achieve the outcome you desire.

That’s where performance objectives come into play.

These are an athlete mental training tool that works to prepare you for competition by giving your mind something to focus on throughout the game.

When setting performance objectives, there are two areas you want to think about: mental and physical.

Your job is to set one objective for the mental side and one for the physical side. And remember, these need to be 100% within your control.

For the mental side, think about what you want your mindset to be like. For example, you may say, “My mental objective is to feel confident, even after making a mistake.”

On the physical side, set a technical objective that will help you physically perform your best. For example, a basketball player may say, “Follow through on every shot.”

Set your performance objectives before the game, and then focus solely on them as you compete.

Tool #4: Self-Talk

Self-talk involves how you speak to yourself and how you think about yourself.

When you’re wanting to mentally prepare for competition, this athlete mental training tool works to ensure you are using your thoughts to your advantage.

Now, there are two different ways you can use self-talk, and I encourage you to make use of both.

The first will be through daily affirmations. These are statements you create that are working to increase your confidence and alter your natural thought patterns.

Here’s how to create your own daily affirmation practice:

  • Step 1: Create a list of all the negative beliefs and thoughts you have about yourself and your game.
  • Step 2: Read through the list and create a more positive/productive alternative for each.
  • Step 3: Reread each positive statement to yourself at least once a day.

The second way you can use self-talk to mentally prepare for competition is by creating a thought-stopping phrase.

This is a statement you will repeat to yourself whenever you get frustrated or make a mistake. An example would be, “Take a deep breath, let it go, focus on the next play.”

Once you’ve created your statement, your job is to then repeat it to yourself during the game whenever you make a mistake or find yourself frustrated and distracted.

Tool #5: Research Your Opponent

Now, this is a bit different from the other athlete mental training tools outlined in the article. However, it is no less important.

Researching your opponent is a key way athletes can mentally prepare before competition.

I was working with a football player who loved to watch film. We realized that watching film was one of the main ways he increased his confidence. By identifying weaknesses in his opponent, he felt more confident going into the game.

For yourself, if you can research your opponent and find any ways you can exploit them, that will automatically give you an edge over your competition.

What you want to do is have a clear eye for what you’re looking for as you watch film and perform your research. Keep a notepad and write down tendencies you see or anything that may help.

Something you can also do is take what you learn through researching your opponent and apply it to your visualization.

An example would be a baseball player who learns through research that a pitcher has a really great slider. He could then visualize himself hitting the pitcher’s slider.

The one warning I will say is to be careful not to psych yourself out when researching who you’re going to play. If you start to worry that the opponent is a lot better than you, stop and quit your research.

But, if you can do this in an objective way, researching your opponent is a great exercise for you to do that will help you mentally prepare for competition.

Final Thoughts

I am sure, as an athlete, you are physically prepared to compete. You’ve been practicing and are ready for whatever comes your way come game time.

But what about mentally?

Are you as mentally prepared as you need to be to perform your best?

In order to be sure your mind is right for competition, there are five mental training tools you can use: visualization, mindfulness, performance objectives, self-talk, and researching your opponent.

Now, if you’re interested in a more personalized approach to mentally preparing for competition, then you need 1-1 mental performance coaching.

In this 12-week program, you will learn how to strengthen your mindset and truly unlock your full athletic potential. To learn more about mental performance coaching, click here.

Be sure to put these athlete mental training tools into practice, and you will be mentally prepared for your next competition. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

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.

Mental Training Courses

Learn more about our two main mental training courses for athletes: Mental Training Advantage and The Mentally Tough Kid.

The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

In Mental Training Advantage, you will learn tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage expectations & pressure, increase motivation, and build mental toughness. It’s time to take control of your mindset and unlock your full athletic potential!

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