We have looked at how to bounce back after a defeat, but what about when you are in the middle of a match or competition? What can you do then, when you need to quickly forget about your mistake and perform well again straight away?
Keep calm and carry on
After making a mistake in a competition or match, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with emotions such as anger or upset. It’s important as an athlete to try and manage your emotions and just focus on the game and what you have to do next.
Remember, sport is unpredictable; it can change in an instant. You don’t know what could happen in the next two minutes. The other team make a mistake, an opponent might fall, or one of your teammates may take a great shot. So, just carry on doing what you know is important.
The key to this, no matter what you are feeling, is to be able to manage your emotions in order to not affect your performance negatively. Some ways to do this mid-match would be:
- Relax your body – By clenching and then relaxing your muscles, you will feel calmer.
- Take deep breaths – Lowering your heart rate will help you relax.
- Self-talk – Take control of how you talk to yourself, making it positive and rational.
Refocus on what you can control
Focus on what you actually can control. These include your processes, your thoughts, your feelings and reactions.
It can be easy to look at your competitors, compare yourself, and get hung up on what they are doing. When this happens, your confidence can drop and it is no longer within your control, leading to an increased fear of failure.
Stay focused in the moment and on what you are doing. This will boost your confidence and ensure you can perform to the best of your ability. Something we tell our athletes to help them is: “Be where your feet are”. To help you focus, you should think about the process; which leads onto the next tip…
Think about the process
As an athlete, you should think about the process and what you want to achieve when you are performing. Getting emotional and focusing on the outcome instead can throw you off and lead to a drop in performance.
Two ways stay focused on the process is to:
- Ask yourself: “what do I need to do to play at my best?”
- Focus on your strengths by reminding yourself what you are good at and use them
Watch your words
You self-talk after making a mistake will impact on how you feel and, subsequently, how well you will perform. Research has shown that how you talk to yourself can affect your persistence, concentration and stress levels.
Athletes need to ensure they say “stop” to negative thoughts. You may not be able to control the first thing that pops into your head, but you can control the second. Saying “stop” right after you get a negative thought is an easy, great strategy that allows you to proceed with more helpful thoughts.
But it’s not all about avoiding negative self-talk – you should engage in helpful and positive self-talk too. Negative self-talk leads to a poor emotional state, which in turn hurts athletic performance. In particular, catastrophising things can be very damaging. For example, saying, “This always happens” or “I’ll never be able to do this” should be replaced with positive self-talk such as “I know we can come back from this” or “I’ve succeeded at this before, I know I can do it again”. This counters negative emotions and creates positive ones too.
Don’t take unnecessary risks
Fresh after making a mistake is not the time to be trying new skills or taking risks. Risk taking is important is sport, especially for creating a psychologically safe environment, but they should be encouraged within certain parameters. After a mistake is the right time to be focusing on what you are good at and the skills you know you can perform well.
The odd mistake is normal and inevitable in sport – you can’t be perfect every time. However, athletes don’t want to be compounding mistakes with more and more mistakes. Often, an athlete will try overly hard to chase after a good performance. This is not helpful because it can cause them to overthink and then inevitably lead to more mistakes.
Instead athletes should try and focus on reaching a state of flow. Flow is a psychological state of total absorption in a task. It is defined as an optimal state of consciousness, where your feelings and performance are at their best. Athletes are not overthinking, they are instead at peace and feel completely in control, performing their skills automatically and effortlessly.
It is important for athletes to remember that mistakes are inevitable, but they aren’t the worse thing that could happen – they allow you to learn and improve your performance. What really matters is how you respond to these mistakes.
Using these 5 tips will help you overcome your mistakes and bounce back to performing at your best. But do you know what would help even more? Working with a sport psychologist. So, get in touch with our team today to chat about how we could help you perform at your best.