When asked how Aaron Rogers prepares for the biggest game of his life, he responded, “I think the key is to be able to focus on your preparation. You can’t let the other distractions and the magnitude of the game take you away from what you need to do next. You need to show up prepared to play, expect the unexpected, and know exactly what you are going to do,” said Rodgers.
This is great advice and a tip I encourage my students to adhere to. You want to stay committed to your preparation and not get lost in the hoopla before the game. It’s easy to get sidetracked when you have a full two weeks between games. And media week before the big game can take potential distractions to a new level.
“Expect the unexpected” is another mental strategy I talk about in sports psychology. You want to prepare yourself mentally for anything that can happen during competition–so you don’t lose your composure. The idea is that you want to anticipate what might “rattles your cage” and have a strategy for coping with setbacks. When you are mentally prepared and have a backup plan, it’s easier to cope when you throw an interception, for example.
One method you can use to mentally prepare for competition and expect the unexpected is by using mental imagery. Mental imagery is the ability to create clear, detailed and accurate images in your mind of plays you want to rehearse. In football, for example, quarterbacks use visual triggers to help them recognize which defensive play to anticipate. A quarterback can mentally rehearse his response to various defenses he might see and practice calling an audible if necessary.
How do you anticipate setbacks and is this just negative thinking?
Some people might think that anticipating setbacks is not a very positive way to mentally prepare for competition. But I would argue that nothing ever goes according to the plan and you have to make adjustments in your game plan and be able to roll with the punches. Sports is not always about playing in the zone, according to Dr. Ken Ravizza, professor at CSUF you have to learn to make adjustments on the fly because athletes rarely perform in the zone.
Step one is to anticipate setbacks, distractions, or emotional triggers for you personally. You start by thinking about the ones that have caused challenges in the past.
When anticipating setbacks or challenges, you can ponder the following questions:
1. What are five typical situations in which you become distracted?
2. When are you most likely to become upset and frustrated during a competition? List five and the belief associated with each frustrating situation.
3. When do you become most anxious or stressed during competition?
4. What would cause you to get distracted if something were not to go as planned prior to a game, during warm-up, or during the performance?
5. What challenging events can you anticipate that may disrupt your game such as forgetting a piece of equipment you need?
The second step is to develop a coping reaction for each challenge and how you will cope with the specific challenge. This might be a simple refocusing strategy to help you move on, for example. This gives you the mental edge knowing you have prepared a positive reaction when distracted or if unexpected challenges rock you. Things happen all the time in sports that are often out of your control. Take a tip from the pros, and prepare for the unexpected by having a strategy to overcome setbacks and cope with distractions.