How to Stop Overthinking During Games

Learn what causes you to overthink as an athlete

“I’m fine as I’m walking to the plate, but as soon as I step in the batter’s box, my mind starts racing.”

That’s a quote from a baseball player I was talking with yesterday. He’s struggling with overthinking, which is causing him to underperform when hitting.

“When I step over the putt, I start questioning my line and overthinking everything.”

A golfer told me this the other day. She’s been having a tough time being consistent with her putts because she second guesses herself.

“When I get the ball, I hesitate and it feels like a thousand thoughts rush into my head.”

That’s what a basketball player said happens when the ball is passed to him in a game.

Do you recognize a common factor between the three quotes?

Each athlete was overthinking.

And this overthinking led them to underperform.

Have you been experiencing overthinking recently? Whether it’s during practices or games, overthinking as an athlete can lead to stress, worries, and ultimately cause you to underperform.

In this article, I cover what causes you to overthink, why overthinking leads to underperforming, and a powerful tip you can use to manage overthinking in the moment.

The Causes of Overthinking in Sports

Why do we overthink?

Why do our minds race a thousand miles a minute, if we know this only hurts us during games?

Well, for one, none of us are trying to overthink. It just happens. As an athlete told me the other day, “All these thoughts just pop into my head. I have no control over them.”

Overthinking happens automatically. You aren’t consciously trying to overthink at the moment, but nonetheless, the thoughts are there.

And they’re there in full force!

But what causes them to be there?

To answer that, we must step back and take a look at some of the most common mental game challenges you can experience as an athlete.

These include sports performance anxiety, fear of failure, perfectionism, and self-doubt.

Overthinking is a main byproduct (or symptom) of each one.

So, let’s take a look at each of the four challenges in more detail, and how it causes you to overthink.

Sports Performance Anxiety & Overthinking

Sports performance anxiety is defined by thinking about what may or may not happen in the future. It is characterized by outcome-orienting thoughts (thoughts about the future).

Now these thoughts are not calm and easy going thoughts. They are worries. Concerns about what might happen at the end of a play or game.

Think, What If’s and Maybe’s.

As you experience these worries, it’s natural to overthink.

In fact, the anxiety itself is fueled by racing thoughts. So the more anxious you are, the more you overthink, which only worsens your feelings of anxiety.

Fear of Failure & Overthinking

Let’s say you’re afraid of making a mistake. What will you think about?

Well, it’s natural to think about what you don’t want to have happen. Which is exactly what was on the mind of a baseball pitcher I worked with.

He was terribly afraid of walking or hitting the batter and having his coach or teammates get mad at him. This fear led him to overthink before each pitch. His mind raced with worries and thoughts like, “Don’t hit him.”

Yet, the more he thought about what he didn’t want to have happen, the worse he performed.

Fear caused him to overthink and worry about what he didn’t want to have happen, increasing his chances of performing poorly, which only worsened his overthinking.

Perfectionism & Overthinking

Overthinking is seen in perfectionist athletes before/during games, and after games.

Since perfectionism is all about not making any mistakes, going into a game you will overthink what you need to do to play perfectly.

This overthinking will look very similar to overthinking caused by anxiety. Since you’ll worry about how to play perfectly and how to not make any mistakes.

After games, we see a frustrating part of perfectionism take place.

Perfectionist athletes never feel perfect…even though that’s what they strive for. Instead, they’re always nit-picking their performance and looking for things that went wrong in hopes of improving.

But this can be dangerous and very easily lead you to overthink your mechanics, when they don’t really need to be changed at all.

Self-Doubt & Overthinking

I worked with a basketball player who doubted himself a lot. This doubt led him to overthink his game.

The reason he would overthink was because he didn’t trust himself to play well. And since he didn’t trust himself to play well, he kept thinking and thinking about how he needed to play.

He would second guess his shots, question himself on the bench, and go over plays in his head.

All of this overthinking kept him stiff and tense. And it all was caused by the doubt he felt about his game.

Why Overthinking Causes You to Underperform

The four mental game challenges outlined above drive overthinking. Now, the challenges themselves are called challenges because they make it tough to perform at your peak when experiencing them.

But what makes it even harder to play your best is the overthinking they cause.

Overthinking leads to underperforming because it takes you out of your natural flow.

I talk a lot with the athletes I work with in one-on-one coaching about allowing their talents and skills to take over. That’s the ultimate goal during a game.

You train hard to build muscle memory. Games are the time to allow that muscle memory to take over.

When you overthink, you don’t allow this muscle memory to take over. Instead, you are trying to force a good game.

As you try to force a good game through thinking, tension naturally builds. The more tense you become, the less relaxed and natural you play.

Also, when you overthink, you’re no longer as present as you need to be.

When we’re talking about being present, it has to do with your awareness. Is your awareness fully in the present moment? If you’re overthinking, the answer is no.

Even though you may be overthinking your mechanics, you’re not actually focused on what you’re doing. Your attention is on what you should or shouldn’t do with your mechanics, instead of being completely focused on the ball, the opponent, or whatever else you need to be focused on at that moment.

Overthinking takes you out of the moment, generates tension, and keeps you from performing naturally and allowing your muscle memory to take over.

So what can you do about this?

Simple Tip to Stop Overthinking During Games

With the four mental game challenges outlined above driving overthinking, by working to manage them, you will see your overthinking improve.

And that is something I highly encourage you to do. To help get you started with managing each of the challenges, here are links to other articles I’ve written on each of the individual challenges and how to manage them:

But I also want to give you a tip you can begin using right now to help with your overthinking, as you begin your journey to overcome any mental game challenges you’re dealing with.

And that tip is to…


To stop overthinking during games, we cannot try to do so with anything complicated. You’re already overthinking, which means your mind’s racing a thousand miles a minute.

Our goal is to simplify and slow your mind (thinking) down.

Breathing is the best way to do so.

Focusing on your breathing, while incredibly simple, has been proven time and time again by the athletes I work with in one-on-one mental coaching to be incredibly effective at managing overthinking.

When you notice yourself overthinking, don’t try to force yourself to stop overthinking, and instead inhale counting to five in your head and exhale counting to five in your head.

This is known as count breathing.

Deep breaths slow everything down (in a good way). They begin to bring your attention back into the present moment and off whatever it is you’re overthinking.

Adding the counting helps you regain control of your thinking.

Now, this isn’t a do it once and problem solved sort of solution. You have to keep using the count breathing over and over and over again.

As you continue to take deep breaths, your mind will become calmer and calmer. And the more you focus on the counting, the less your attention is on whatever it is you’re overthinking.

But it has to be a continuous process…you can’t take one deep breath and expect the overthinking to go away.

Keep at it, however, and slowly your mind calms down, your thoughts settle, and the overthinking is reduced. As a result…you’re free to perform!

A great example of this idea in action comes from a college baseball player I’ve been working with. Every time he went up to bat his mind would race with uncontrollable thoughts.

While we got to work on his underlying sports performance anxiety, he began applying count breathing.

While on-deck, as he was timing up the pitcher, he would inhale for a count of five and exhale for a count of five. He did this repeatedly until it was time to hit.

Then, after he got the sign from his third base coach, he took one more deep breath (counting once more), stepped in the box and eyed down the pitcher.

By applying this simple technique, his overthinking was reduced and his hitting improved.

Final Thoughts

Overthinking during games is a quick way to find yourself underperforming.

When you overthink, this creates tension and keeps you from performing as clear-headed, relaxed, and freely as you need to.

Typically, this overthinking is caused by anxiety, fear, perfectionism, or self-doubt. Or more likely…a combination of a few or all of them.

While you’re working on managing these mental game challenges, there’s a simple, yet powerful, tool you can use to begin reducing your overthinking…your breathing.

Practice count breathing before and during games as a way to calm your mind, reduce overthinking, and free yourself up to play the way you know how.

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!

Recent Articles
Follow Us

Master Your Mental Game With One-On-One Coaching

Get one-on-one mental performance coaching to help break through mental barriers and become the athlete you’re meant to be!

Master Your Mental Game With One-On-One Coaching

Get one-on-one mental performance coaching to help break through mental barriers and become the athlete you’re meant to be!