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Mental Preparation for Athletes: 5 Key Tips

Every athlete knows that physical tools are important. Strength, speed, agility, and athleticism — and the commitment to the development of each — are integral to success in virtually every sport. Factor in sport-specific skill development (for example, basketball ball-handling and shooting), and you’re on your way to building a strong foundation.

Equally important is your mind, and its ability to drive your body. Mental preparation, focus, and confidence are all implicated in your success and attainment of your goals. Generally, your limits will be those you set for yourself. Here are some tips to improve performance and push through those self-imposed limitations through mental preparation.

Have a plan
I’m always surprised by athletes, especially at the higher levels, who “just play.” That is, they don’t really have a game plan. Situational preparation leads to successful execution. A baseball player should go to the plate with a plan, depending on the score, inning, opposing tendencies and trends, number of outs, baserunners, pitch type and location, etc. Having a plan — and working your plan — will help build your confidence, which fuels a positive mindset.

Stay positive
A negative attitude and focus won’t help you or your team. When I train athletes, we don’t talk about the negative. Sure, there will be times when you face less-than-desirable circumstances and conditions (inclement weather, an injured teammate, etc.) Your attitude is contagious and it will impact the people around you. Do your best to maintain positive words and body language. Expect to win.

Be adaptable
There’s a lot you can control, but not everything. You have to practice being adaptable, and believe you can do anything. Train yourself to overcome obstacles, and not concede to them. For example, a basketball point guard should anticipate the defense taking away his/her strong hand, and should practice and develop capable ball-handling skills with his/her “off” hand.

Focus on small goals
Rather than focusing on winning the game, direct your focus on each individual at-bat or offensive possession. Your goal should be to win each inning, quarter, or period. Successful attainment of each small goal will lead you, ultimately, to your larger goal. Looking too far ahead to the outcome can dilute your focus. Do your best to impact the present and the future will take care of itself.

Talk to yourself
Positive self-talk is a strong motivator. External motivation is great, but it’s also inconsistent — you can’t always count on others to motivate you. Find quotes, sayings, or slogans that motivate you. Visualize yourself succeeding (and celebrating). Learn to communicate with yourself in a way that is positive and motivating.

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