How to Prepare Mentally for a Big Game

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Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson

When you think of the most successful athletes of our time, they all have one thing in common—mental strength. The mind has a way of controlling the body. For example, if you are nervous or tense, no matter how talented you are, you won't be able to perform anywhere near your peak.

Six-time NBA champ Michael Jordan was known for his intensity and mental toughness. He has stated several times that former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson was one of the best coaches he ever had; and MJ credits the Zen master for mentally preparing the team for competition—which led to the Bulls' phenomenal success.

Tap into the mindset of champions and demonstrate your appeal to recruiters by using these tips to prepare yourself mentally for a game.

Picture Yourself Succeeding
Mentally picture yourself scoring the winning goal, shooting the winning basket or making an unbelievable catch in the outfield. If you don't imagine yourself in these situations, you may be unable to handle them when they are staring you in the face.

Practice Game-Like Situations
Practicing under pressure translates into playing well under pressure. It's important to experience what it feels like to play under intense pressure before you are in that situation with a game on the line.

Set Personal and Team Goals
Make goals for yourself and for your team—for the season as well as for each game—so you don't fall into complacency. Having goals and stating them aloud or writing them down make you accountable for your actions.

Study Your Opponents
You will feel more confident if you know how your opponents plays. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. Then, on game day, just focus on winning.

Separate Yourself From the Pack
Do something for your team that no one else can do or is willing to do. If you can define a unique role for yourself, you will be mentally stronger than your peers, because you will know that you are essential to your team's success.

Practice Longer and Harder
As the saying goes, "Right now, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him, he will win!" Preparation makes you ready and gives you a mental edge.

Believe in Your Teammates and Coaches
The adage, "You are only as strong as your weakest link," is especially true in sports. Players must have confidence in their teammates, coaches and the system they are running. As a player, if you do not believe in these things, it will be impossible for you to play up to your potential and be mentally strong during competition.

Practice Good Communication With Your Family
Talk to your family about your goals and needs. You shouldn't be worrying about whether you have a ride to the game or if your uniform is clean. Such things should be set in place so that you can focus completely on winning.

Believe in Yourself
When all is said and done, you can have goals, be organized, study your opponents and do all the little things to prepare for each game. But the bottom line is that you need to believe in your own abilities. If you doubt yourself, so will others. You need to tell yourself that you are better than the rest. Then go out and prove it.

THR College Planning is one of the nation's premier recruiting and placement programs. THR specializes in leveraging financial opportunities in the educational market. Academic development, financial aid assistance and athletic placement are keys to a successful THR plan. On average, THR has facilitated awards of $92,000 in scholarship money over four years. For further information, send an email to or call 1-855-847-4723 (THR GRAD).

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Topics: COACH