Getting Your Athletes "Game Ready"
I had a chance to see a number of games over the past week and hanging out at a rink for a tournament also gave me the chance to see a lot of teams warming up and getting ready to play. Some teams were quiet and thoughtful, and clearly had their "game faces" on while others had music blaring, were chatting away and seemed to be distracted from the task at hand. I fully realize that there are some teams and some athletes that play their best when they have not had an intense mental "warm up" and prepare by staying as loose as possible. But I think for the most part, teams and individuals need to find that balance in their mental preparation so that when the "puck drops" they are ready to go and play at 100%.
Below is an excerpt from my eBook Creating a Cuture of Confidence (click here to learn more). It speaks to coaches of any sport working with athletes of any age with regards to mental skills. To my mind, confidence is the key to creating outstanding athletic achievements and as coaches we are responsible for finding ways to get our athletes in the best possible position to succeed at game time.
Here is the excerpt from a section entitled Focus:
A large part of the pre-competition preparation comes down to your athletes being focused. Being able to mentally prepare for a game is critical to creating a confident attitude. Visualization is a terrific way to focus and increase game readiness in an athlete’s pre-competition ritual. Simply, visualization is the mental rehearsing of an athlete’s sport. Players need to have been somewhere in their mind before they can actually get there. For example:
• A golfer in the sand trap. It’s much less stressful to be in a bunker if you have already been there in your mind. These things happen and athletes need to mentally prepare for a worst case scenario by mentally rehearsing what it will be like if the ball is in the sand trap. What will it feel like?
• A team down 10 points. Another bad scenario but how an athlete or team reacts to it depends on how much they have prepared for it. Coaches can help their players prepare for bad situations by showing them how to come out of the situation successfully in their minds.
• Playing and winning a close game in the last minute. Athletes can ready themselves for that stressful time by putting themselves there in their minds before it actually happens.
Keeping the focus can also be helped by coaches not over-communicating at competitions. More coaching needs to be done at practice and away from competition and less at the actual competition. It astounds me how many times I have heard a coach talk to a team and give them literally ten instructions before they go out on the field for a game. In my experience, players stop listening around the third instruction - they are too pre-occupied with getting going. My rule - only three things at any time while addressing the team.
Metaphorically, I want my players to all have the “Hit the ball to me!” mentality. That is when the game is on the line, the team needs one more out, and every player wants the batter to hit the ball to them for the out. More to the point, you don’t want athletes who are hoping the ball is hit to someone else. Develop in your athletes that “I want the ball” mentality. If they want the ball then they are confident players.
Helping to focus my players also means not getting distracted by the opposition and the referees. I have a “no talking” rule that has players never talk to anyone but their teammates and coaches. This is coupled with positive communication on the bench with regards to the officials and the opposition. As a coach, getting upset about things you can’t control ends up taking away the focus of your players. Stay positive and athletes can stay focused.
Scotty Bowman, legendary coach of the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings, says “it’s so important for a coach to get the team focused and in the zone. So much can distract from your concentration.”