Athletes are uniquely programmed to always expect perfection from themselves and nothing less from their teammates. No athlete goes into a game anticipating things will deviate from the plan. No matter what position or skill, you have a plan for success. Maybe there is a certain pitch you are sitting on or a plan for how to strike a guy out. Pitcher, catcher, hitter, or fielder, it doesn’t matter—you have a plan. (Read How to Mentally Prepare for the Big Game.)
When it comes to mental preparation, your expectations should be no different. Why do we spend so much time preparing for the unexpected? We practice and prepare for the worst-case scenario in hopes that we never actually experience it during a game.
One way to look at it is, you would never go to the beach expecting not to get a sunburn. You bring sunscreen so you can guard against it. Similarly, preparing for what is likely to happen during a game is the best way to make sure that whatever happens, you are ready to face it. (See Master The Five Pillars of Athletic Mental Toughness, Part 3: Mental Preparation.)
Tips on Mental Preparation
Anything is possible
Run through every scenario you can think of before the game, positive and negative. Picture yourself responding to these scenarios, working to deal with them in the best way possible.
Pick your “must haves”
Establish a routine of things you do to mentally prepare. For example, close your eyes, picture the next play and repeat the word “ready” until it is time to execute. Whatever routine you use will eventually become habit and automatically get you focused without your even realizing it. (See White-Line Fever: The Power of Preparation.)
Create emotional control
Your game performance evokes stronger emotional reactions than does practice. Knowing how strong your emotions can be during practice will help you deal with them and keep focused during games. (Read Emotional Toughness: The Real X Factor.)
Create a reminder for yourself to use in the game. Having a plan is a great start, but remembering to use it is vital. You can plan your excursion to the beach all you want, but if you forget to actually get the sunscreen out and apply it, you will burn. So, find a trigger. When you are frustrated with yourself, pumped up about something you did, or annoyed with the officials, you will need a reminder. Emotions are powerful, irrational, and can easily wrap you up. So make your trigger obvious. A few examples: wearing something on your wrist, putting a colored sticker on the thumb of your glove or under the bill of your hat, or writing a reminder on your hand. (Watch Philip Rivers on Keeping Emotions in Check.)
If you truly want to be successful, you have to plan to be successful under all circumstances. To be the best, prepare like the best. Prepare for both the good and the bad and you will be ready for anything.