Using Visualization to Help Relax During Games

Do you play your best when relaxed? If so

Competing and being relaxed don’t inherently seem to mix. But let me ask you this, have you ever played your best all wound up and tight?

Whenever I ask athletes about their best performance, nine times out of ten one of the words they’ll use to describe their mindset during the game is relaxed.

“I was relaxed and in the moment,” is a common statement.

But what does this idea of being relaxed actually mean…and how can you relax yourself better during games?

Well, for one, it means you are relaxed mentally. Meaning, you’re not strained with worries and fears. There isn’t a tremendous amount of stress weighing heavily on your mind.

In addition, physically you are loose. Not in a bad way, but a quick way. Think of the difference between a swimmer who has nice relaxed strokes through the water, versus one who is tense and straining with all their might to swim fast.

Which swimmer do you think will win? My bet would be on the relaxed swimmer.

Another example is a hitter in baseball. Imagine two different hitters. One is stiff and tense standing in the box, and the other is loose and seems relaxed. Who do you think will end up with the better average?

Once again, my bet’s on the relaxed hitter.

We can tell when looking at a player that he or she seems more relaxed. And when we see someone more relaxed, don’t they appear to be in control and you feel like they’re going to be a good player?

So if the aim is to play with a more relaxed mind and body, what can you do to get into such a state?

There’s a great exercise you can use that will help. But before we talk about the exercise, we need to examine the leading cause for not playing relaxed…worry.

How Worry Leads to Tension

The opposite of playing relaxed is playing tense. But where does this tension come from? There are many reasons it may be there, but they all stem from worry.

Let’s say you’re tense in a big moment during the game. Why might you be feeling this tension? Likely it has to do with a worry about how you’ll perform. Will you come up clutch, or will you let your team down?

You may also feel tense going into a game. Are you worried about how well you’re going to play, or thinking about how you can’t have another bad game or else you’ll lose your spot?

All of these worries lead to tension.

Two common mental game challenges athletes face are fear of failure and performance anxiety. Both involve worry. With anxiety, its very definition involves worries about what may or may not happen.

With fear of failure, there is a lot of fear surrounding the possibility of making mistakes. So what happens? You worry about whether or not you’ll make a mistake.

This worry leads to tension, which leads to mistakes. Further solidifying this cycle of worry and tension while you play.

To help, among other strategies, you want to work on getting yourself into a more relaxed state before and during games.

Visualization for Relaxation

Picture the most relaxing scene you can think of. What are you imagining? Are you on the beach, walking in nature, hanging out with friends, playing with your dog?

It doesn’t matter what your scene is, as long as it promotes a sense of calm when you think of it.

For example, if I close my eyes and imagine myself walking on the beach, immediately I feel calmer.

I want you to try something real fast. Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Breathe in for 1,2,3,4,5 and out for 1,2,3,4,5. Now, keeping your eyes closed, imagine your relaxing scene.

Really feel as though you were there. Make it real to you. See what you would see, hear what you would hear, and feel as calm as you would if you were actually there.

When you’re finished, open your eyes. Now, imagine if you could get into that state before a game when you’re normally feeling incredibly tense? Do you think it would help you relax?

This visualization for relaxation is a great exercise to use if you tend to play tense and full of worry. It will get you into a calmer state, allowing your mind to clear and your muscles to loosen.

There are two ways you can use this visualization. One is before a game, as part of a pregame routine. The other is during the game, in moments when you feel stressed.

If you perform the visualization before the game, I recommend taking a minute or so to take some deep breaths before visualizing. This will add to the sense of calm you experience, promoting more relaxation going into the competition.

If you use it during the game, it will likely need to be quicker. In that case, simply think of the scene (sometimes without closing your eyes if you aren’t able to) and it will still help to relax your mind in that moment.

The main idea is, if you find yourself playing tense, the goal needs to be to calm your mind and relax your body. And visualization is a great tool that can help.

Final Thoughts

When you play your best, is relaxed a word you would use to describe your mindset and physical play? If so, then your job is to figure out how you can play in a more relaxed state consistently.

The reason it’s beneficial to examine good games is because of the clues they provide. Typically, there are similarities between good games in terms of your mindset.

This makes the goal moving forward to generate a similar mindset, trusting it will lead to similar results.

So, if you play well when relaxed, then you need a tool to get yourself relaxed. Visualization can be that tool.

Either before or during the game, imagine a relaxing scene. This will help calm your mind and relax your body as you compete.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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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.

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