In almost every sport the top level performers are all similar in their level of ability, for example they all have similar attributes of being strong, fast, skilful, and have as much stamina as each other. Yet in every sport some performers emerge as winners while others never quite reach this level. The difference between these top level performers and the winners are the players who can overcome the mental pressures of a tough game; they can ignore and in some cases embrace the crowd and the importance of the occasion.
How do amateur sports people improve these skills to improve their game is a commonly asked question. The answer can be found by improving the mental skills required for their chosen sport.
The mental qualities required for most sportsmen/women are:
- Be calm under pressure
- Control of their emotions
- Be Confident
- Mentally alert
- Be Positive
Improving these qualities will boost a performer’s level of consistency; this in turn will boost a performer’s ability to maintain focus on the game and ignore internal and external distractions and apply their physical and technical ability in the game situation.
The top level performers do not try to avoid pressure; they accept that it is part of the game at all levels. They are confident that they have the skills to deal with the situation, treating pressure as a challenge that is welcomed.
Nobody, from the top level to amateur sports people perform well while ‘under pressure’. Sports people at all levels have to get in to the correct mental state to enable them to shine, this is the reason why our top level performers of the game ‘shine’ when the stakes are highest, the competition the fiercest and the game the toughest it’s not because they can do it under pressure, the real reason is they can downgrade the pressure to be able to perform in an ‘ideal mental state’.
How do you know if you’re in the ‘ideal mental state’ to perform?
- You’re relaxed although your adrenaline level is high
- You feel a little nervousness but with a sense of calmness and confidence
- Your decisions will be made spontaneously without conscious thought process as you will have a strong belief in your ability.
- You feel as if you are in the right place at the right time
- You maintain concentration and have an awareness of what is happening around you
- You maintain control over your emotions and not become tense, therefore remain in total control of yourself and the game
By achieving this state, you will decrease the excess of ‘pressure’ which would otherwise prevent you from performing at your best.
What skills will help to reach the ideal mental state?
- Relaxation – Taking a few moments to gather your thoughts and focus
- Concentration – Not losing focus of the game and holding concentration throughout
- Emotional control – Focus at all times – be positive!
- Attitudes – Control your behaviour, if you think you can you will, if you think you have to be the best then you won’t be…… be the best you can be!
The first aspect to help you handle the pressures of competition must be to ensure good pre-match preparation.
Pre-match mental preparation you should:
- Prepare yourself mentally for anything which could happen during the game.
- Do a little mental rehearsal every day; see yourself performing in an ideal mental state.
- Don’t become anxious about your nerves, you will need an adrenaline flow for the game, so look forward to the ‘buzz’.
- Anticipate that you will enjoy the game, you are going to perform well, you are going to be in control, and you’re going to handle any situation that arises.
- Stop unhelpful thoughts and focus on what you can do.
- Manage emotions – listen to calming music
- Maintain composure
- Refocus to task
- Have a positive mental attitude
Now go and enjoy your game!
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About Liam Blackwell
I’m a student currently studying a BSc (Hons) degree in Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire; I have a BTEC diploma in sports and exercise science. I’m a qualified FA referee and football coach with experience both refereeing grass roots football and coaching boys and girl’s teams from 4-17 years old.