How to Mentally Prepare for the Big Game

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Kentucky Pre-Game

The time leading up to a big game can be an emotional roller coaster, filled with pressure and expectations. Besides following the 4 C's of mental preparation to avoid an upset, use the mental preparation strategies below. They will help make sure your mind doesn't get in the way of your performance during a rivalry game, conference final or state championship.

  • Keep your focus on the game ahead of you. Avoid external distractions or pressure from friends, family, teammates or coaches.
  • If conducting an interview, be gracious and honest without giving opponents ammunition. The last thing you want to do is provide fuel for an already formidable opponent.
  • Stay away from websites, newspapers and social media, because reading others' opinions can cause you to think too much about the uncontrollable aspects of the game; plus, they add to the pressure you are already feeling.
  • If you are in the playoffs or a tournament, make the necessary arrangements with your teachers ahead of time. School work always comes first, so make sure that everything is taken care of to avoid an added stress factor.
  • Let your coaches worry about preparing for your opponent—video scouting reports, etc. Your coach's instructions will dictate how you work together as a team.
  • Fuel and hydrate properly before the contest. This is an important factor that's completely within your control.
  • If you are at the college level, do not stay with family or friends when at home or on the road. Stick to your team routine and avoid distractions.
  • Get quality sleep the night before the game. If your mind is working overtime, try some deep relaxation breathing and tension relaxation cycles. They will cause you to focus on your breathing and tune out the chatter in your head. Also, don't eat too close to bedtime, and turn off your cell phone to prevent interruptions during your restful sleep.
  • Be a little extra nervous and anxious before the big game. When this happens, know that you are prepared and ready to go. Don't view pre-game nerves as a negative, or they will negatively impact your performance.
  • Enjoy the process! As stated by NFL Super Bowl coach (and icon) Bill Walsh, take care of the process and "the score takes care of itself" (the title of his great book).


Mike Voight, Ph.D., CC-AASP, is a team leadership consultant on player development for the New England Revolution (MLS), as well as for teams from USC, Texas, Georgia Tech and Mississippi State. He is also an assistant professor at Central Connecticut State University. Visit his website at for comments and to ask questions.

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