Imagine for a second that you had to play basketball with a backpack on. In addition to tying your shoes and doing your ponytail just right, you also load up your backpack with dumbbells before stepping on the court.
Seems crazy, right?
No athlete would purposely play with a backpack of extra weight. But almost all players, at some point, step onto the court with a backpack of emotions. Before the game, they pack up their virtual backpack with fear about the outcome, with self-doubt about their skills and talent, with worry about being judged. They carefully place negative self-talk in their backpack, cram in unproductive thoughts of failure just in case they are needed, and make sure there is room for an extra dose of worry for a multitude of things they have no control over -- referees, scouts, parents, playing time, shooting percentage.
These same athletes then wonder why they don't play well, why they've stopped having fun with the sport they love, why playing feels more like a chore.
This backpack of emotions is just as real, just as heavy and just as obtrusive as if it were a real backpack of weights.
So take it off. Or even better, don't put it on.
One way to do that is to have a consistent pregame routine, a consistent pregame mental routine.
The summer schedule is hectic. You move from gym to gym, it's loud, it's crowded and it's hot. This makes it really easy to not have a pregame routine, but it also makes it even more necessary. When athletes don't have a routine to prepare themselves mentally, they start packing their backpack of emotions, often without even realizing it. While they are talking to their teammates before a game they notice a scout walk in, as they stretch they start noticing the opposing team and how tall/athletic they are/aren't, during the warm-up they worry whether their shot is going in or not. Their mind wanders, fear and worry about the outcome mount, and unproductive thoughts circle in their heads.
A pregame routine doesn't include which shoe you tie first, or insisting on making your last shot before you run in for the huddle. A true pregame routine gives an athlete time to relax, to affirm in her mind her talents and hard work, to get excited about competition, and to focus on the game while blocking out external distractions. Many athletes like to listen to music, which is a great way to tune out and focus. One addition to that is the following:
Close your eyes.
Take five deep breaths, feeling the air move through you.
Replay in your mind three or four of your best performances.
See, hear, and feel everything you experienced in those games just as if it were happening right now.
Take a few more deep breaths.
Say some positive affirmations to yourself, such as "I am a great basketball player." Or, "I play hard and leave everything on the court." Maybe, "Today I will give myself to the game and have fun doing it." Or perhaps, "I'm a passionate leader that drives my team to play hard."
Notice that the affirmations are not result-based. It's not about winning or scholarships, or how many points you have. Concentrate on playing your hardest, being a great teammate and having fun. This will make you relaxed and pumped, which is the perfect combination for peak performance.
Remember, you've spent countless hours preparing physically for this summer. You have probably spent an equal amount of time hoping that your hard work will pay off. Stop hoping and start doing something about it. You'll be amazed what five minutes of mental preparation can do in allowing you to showcase your hard work.
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Lindsey Wilson was a three-time, all-conference player at Iowa State, where she graduated as the all-time assist leader and second all-time leading scorer. Afterwards, she played professionally in the USA, Europe and the Middle East for eight years. Through her company, Positive Performance Consulting, she works to unlock individual and team potential through the implementation of mental performance training tools and techniques. Lindsey also is a Certified Hypnotist (CH) as well as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA). She can be reached at Lindsey@positiveperform.com