What should athletes be thinking about before a match? Are some thoughts more helpful than others? We’ve looked through the research from the world of sport psychology to find 7 tips to help people achieve the right mindset before a big match.
Positive Imagery – Visualising successful performance has been found to increase confidence. Spending time imagining a positive experience will also help students manage nerves. Pictures are better than words. Picturing yourself doing well has been found to be more effective at enhancing mood and reducing anxiety than telling yourself you will do well.
It is worth noting that there are some potential downsides to daydreaming about your future success, as discussed here, but these relate to behaviour and self-control strategies over a long period of time. Thinking positively for a few minutes before you compete (and once you've put in the hard work) shouldn't affect this and will help boost your mood.
Remember Your Previous Best – Thinking about previous positive experiences will help improve confidence. Athletes should remind themselves of a successful performance to help them feel more confident about an upcoming one. They should think about what helped them do well in the previous match and how they can apply that now.
Remind Yourself Of Your Preparation – How well you have prepared for a task is an important source of confidence. Controllable sources of confidence such as preparation will lead to more enduring confidence levels. Getting athletes to remind themselves of the preparation work they have put in will increase feelings of confidence and control in the build up to performance.
Focus On Yourself and Don’t Compare to Others – When athletes compare themselves to others their confidence is dependent on those around them, and is not within their control. This is stressful and increases fear of failure. Alternatively, focusing on themselves and what they can control will increase confidence. Reminding themselves of what they can do will help them to feel more confident in their ability to perform.
How You Have Overcome Setbacks – Research into mental resilience of Olympic champions has shown how overcoming setbacks has helped them deal with future challenges. Encourage athletes to think back to previous setbacks that they have had and what was successful in helping them overcome these.
See the Competition as a Challenge, not a Threat – If something is perceived as a threat, it is more likely to cause stress. Athletes who reframe an event as a challenge, as opposed to a threat, increase their performance. Instead of thinking about the potential negative consequences of losing, they should reframe the exam as an opportunity to succeed. The increase in stress caused by focusing on 'what could go wrong' will also hinder their sleep quality the night before a match.
Get a Good Night's Sleep – Sleep duration and quality have a significant impact on how you feel and subsequently how you perform. It's linked to creativity, mood and concentration. Be sure not to make the 9 common sleep mistakes and you'll feel fresh and ready for tomorrow's competition.