Don’t think that if you just had a great pep talk or some other psychological gimmick, you would suddenly be able to perform a miracle…
How do you prepare yourself mentally for a big game, big match, or big event of any kind? Athletes have a variety of ways of preparing. Some need quiet just before game time, some like to chatter and release excess energy. What you need or prefer depends on your personality, but one crucial aspect of preparation should not depend on anything but intelligence.
Thousands of athletes, even good ones, sabotage their own psychological preparation by entertaining destructive thoughts that, to borrow a phrase, “would never hold up in court.” For example, if they usually play on Saturdays and suddenly play a game on a Monday, and play poorly, they may get the idea in their minds that “We just don’t play well on Mondays.”
Typically these kinds of ideas, that often have a powerful influence on performance, seem absolutely plausible to the athletes harboring them. Yet sometimes the idea is based on only one or two cases. There is no rational reason that one or two cases should be given any special belief but somehow those cases stick in your mind.
- “I just don’t play well under that kind of lighting.”
- “I just never play well on that kind of surface.”
- “I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t seem to get started when I play in the morning.”
- “I always give my best effort but somehow I just don’t seem to get the same results when it’s raining.”
- “I just don’t play well when my father comes to watch.”
All of these statements—these beliefs—and many more like them crop up in the conversation and, worse, in the psychological preparation of athletes. The results can be very negative because if you are convinced you have a reason to perform poorly there is a much better chance that you will in fact perform poorly.
What you need to realize is that a team of scientists, or a decent attorney, would laugh at your reasoning and make your way of thinking look very stupid even if you have seven or eight cases to base your idea on and not just one or two. Can you imagine the line of questioning?
“You say you play poorly when your father watches, right?
- When did you first notice this?
- Are you certain that your father’s presence was the reason you played poorly that first time?
- Are you aware that millions of athletes throughout the world are able to perform well in their father’s presence and could most likely do so in your father’s presence?
- Are you aware that several thousand athletes around the world once attributed their poor performance to things like their father but then discovered that they were simply victimized by stupid thinking patterns?
- Do you think you could play well if your father watched on TV? What if he merely watched a tape of your game a day later?
- What if he watched for a few minutes, then left, then came back and kept watching intermittently?
- Do you think you would ever “feel” him being there, only to find out later that he actually was out getting a hotdog?
- Do you think you would be free to perform well if your father wore a mask to your games?
- What about if he wore some big ears and a big red rubber nose?
- What if he kept his back to the action the whole time or sat far away in the last row or up on a distant hill?
- What if he watched through a telescope from an adjacent building?”
The line of questioning could become hilarious, bizarre, crazy, ridiculous, and all it would do is make you look really stupid because such mystical thinking represents a giant step into the supernatural. You might as well just claim that little green men from Mars are making you play poorly. It will make about the same degree of sense.
You may choose to play poorly when your father is watching because of something destructive in your relationship, but you have to realize that your performance is a choice you are making, and not something that must automatically happen. The best choice you can make is to take all the circumstances into consideration and then make a simple statement to yourself.
“Under these circumstances there are athletes in the world who could perform well. I choose to be one of those athletes.” Period.
Perhaps you now understand what I think about psychological preparation for sporting events. In a sense, the best preparation is no preparation. Your preparation is what you have been doing all year long—practicing, repeating, repeating, practicing. You work diligently to perfect your skills. If you have the necessary skills, you go out and use them. There isn’t any grand plan necessary once you have the skills. You simply go out and show off. That’s what you have been trained to do.
That means the only real consideration is that you don’t sabotage your skills with some type of negative thinking. “You can do it, you can do it.” Of course you can do it. That’s what you’ve trained yourself to be able to do. If you can’t do it in rehearsal, don’t fool yourself. Don’t think that if you just have a great pep talk or some other psychological gimmick, you will suddenly be able to perform a miracle during the actual performance.
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In other words, proper mental preparation is not much more than making sure you aren’t giving in or being victimized by negative or stupid ways of thinking. Let me give an example and elaborate. A surprising number of basketball players are victimized by a variety of shooting superstitions. “If I shoot well in practice the day before the game, I don’t shoot well in the game.” Or, “If I shoot well in warm ups before the game, I won’t shoot well during the actual game itself.” Conversely, “If I’m missing in warm ups, I usually hit during the game.”
Thought patterns like these actually encourage some basketball players to hope they are missing the day before a big game or to hope they are missing a high percentage of shots in the warm ups or, even worse, to shoot haphazardly and perhaps to try to miss in warm ups so they’ll perform at their best in the game.
What a bunch of wasted thought and misdirected focus. These same players should be focusing all their attention on grooving their shot, on getting it just right, the day before, the minute before, the game. Their thinking should be as follows. If they’re shooting well the day before the game or in the warm ups before the game, they should think, “Great, I’m in the groove, on a roll, ready to explode during the game.” If they’re shooting poorly before the game, they should think, “I’ve practiced hard, I’m an excellent shooter, but my shots aren’t falling right now. The law of averages indicates I will soon start making everything.”
Regardless of the circumstances you have a right to assume you will demonstrate your ability during the game, so prepare yourself to do just that. Good shooters have a right to assume they will shoot well. Any other assumption is counterproductive and may actually keep you from performing up to the level your ability merits.
Turn every event, every circumstance, every condition in your favor. That does not assure that you will perform to the very best of your ability in every game you ever play in. What it does do is assure that you will play as well as possible given your ability level and the fact that you are human.
Get rid of stupid thinking patterns. If they won’t hold up in court, discard them. Make sure your thinking is “right.” Prepare yourself to perform well in all circumstances, and then do it. Don’t look for supernatural explanations if you fail. Sometimes, failure is simply the very best you could have done under the circumstances. Learn what you can then get up, brush off your pants, and move on. There are always other games to play and new challenges ahead.
This is a correspondence between PGC owner Dena Evans and a long-time PGC grad. I was so moved by Dena’s response to this player, which the player’s father shared with me, I decided to ask Dena, and this athlete, for permission to share this correspondence publicly. If you know the heart-ache and disappointment of not reaching your team or individual goals, this is a must-read.
It’s easy to go to the gym and just fool around, but if you want to get better, you have to put in the time. Join PGC President Mano Watsa as he explains why taking game shots at game speed improves both your basketball skills and your work ethic.
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