One of the most common reasons why athletes, or the parents of youth athletes, reach out to sport psychology professionals and pursue sport psychology coaching is that they struggle to perform their best during competition. Oftentimes, these same athletes have no issue playing their best during practice, but on game day they struggle to find their “best stuff”. So why is it so hard for athletes to play their best during games, matches, meets, and other competitive situations? The answer can be broken down into three key reasons: increased pressure, having too many expectations, and thinking about the future and “what-if'' scenarios. To perform at your best it’s important to focus your efforts on those things that are within your control. Read the full blog post here.


1) Increased pressure - Game day feels different. The pressure is on, which may manifest itself in pre-game jitters and performance anxiety. It can be hard to control your nerves and emotions before the game starts when you consider what is at stake. Athletes feel more pressure during competition compared to practice because of the implications, negative or positive, of the performance.


2) Placing too many expectations on yourself and your performance - Competition leads to us putting expectations on ourselves, and oftentimes these expectations relate to winning or winning by a certain score. A great mindset for athletes to adopt is to “keep expectations low and standards high”. This means that you want to focus your efforts on keeping high standards for the factors within your control during a performance while acknowledging that certain things, including winning, are ultimately out of your control.


3) Thinking about the future and “what-if'' scenarios - One of the biggest factors that holds athletes back is letting their thoughts run wild and starting to think about “what-if” scenarios regarding the future. These might include:


What if I lose? (What will my parents/coach/teammates think of me if I lose?)

What if I don’t play my best today, will my coach bench me in future games?

What if I lose, how will my ranking be impacted?

What if today is the day that I re-injure myself?


Whenever you compete there will be questions and you may start to think about these what-if scenarios. Doubts may creep in as well. When encountering these sorts of questions and what-if scenarios it is important to know that there is good news and bad news. The fact of the matter is that many things during competition are outside of your control. These include the weather, playing conditions, behavior and playing level of the opponents, mistakes of the officials/referees, the decisions of your coach, reactions of spectators including parents and friends, and many other factors.


Despite these factors out of your control, the good news is that there are always things within your control that you can focus on - and they will make a significant impact on the outcome of your performance. Some of these factors include your strategy, your preparation, your physical intensity, your attitude, and how you decide to respond to the situations that you will inevitably encounter on game day. Considering all of the factors outside of your control on game day, I hope that you decide to focus your efforts on those things within your control to give yourself the best possible chance to perform at your highest level on game day.

So you’ve heard of “sport psychology”, or maybe it was recommended to you by a friend, teammate, coach, or parent. Maybe you listened to one of your favorite professional athletes talk about how they’ve improved their mental game through working with a Sport Psychology Coach. Perhaps you had a negative experience on the court or field that made you think you could benefit from the assistance of a professional who specializes in helping athletes overcome mental barriers that get in the way of playing their best.


Regardless of the reason, working with a Sport Psychology Coach can make a big difference in your performance and for your overall enjoyment of your sport! Here are a few of the main benefits of working with a Sport Psychology Coach:


1. Manage anger and frustration better during competition

Anger and frustration are the byproduct of a gap between the expectations that an athlete has for their performance and their actual performance on the day of competition. A Sport Psychology Coach can work with an athlete to develop techniques to “reset” when they make a mistake, address their mental preparation leading up to game-day, and work with the athlete on their mindset surrounding competition to embrace the inevitable ups and downs of competitive sports.


2. Plan out and “script” self-talk to increase confidence

Self-talk and routines are mental tools that help athletes manage the stressors of competition. A Sport Psychology Coach can work with an athlete to plan and “script” out their self-talk to prepare it for certain moments of competition such as prior to the game/match starting and high-pressure moments that are bound to come up during competition. By talking to yourself in a planned-out and intentional way rather than listening to your self-doubt and fears surrounding competition you will approach the game/match in a far more confident way. When communicating with yourself it is critical to “talk to yourself more and listen to yourself less”.


3. Utilize routines during competition to “reset” when things aren’t going well

A Sport Psychology Coach can help athletes develop routines that can be helpful during competition such as a “reset” routine. This can be done through a combination of various mental tools including the breath, self-talk, and utilizing behaviors that make it clear to the athlete that they need to “reset” and put the mistake or negative event behind them rather than holding on to it during the rest of their game/match. Routines can also be utilized prior to competition (preparation) and after competition (reflection).


4. Learn short- and long-term goal-setting techniques

Ambitious goals can be broken down into much smaller and more manageable pieces. A Sport Psychology Coach can help you approach your outcome goals by generating process goals that make your larger outcome goal feel much more achievable. This can be done through utilizing the SMART Goal framework (Specific Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) and by establishing a development plan for the athlete over a 3/6/12 month period.


5. Develop leadership skills and improve group dynamics

Teams and other groups can greatly benefit from mental training with a Sport Psychology Coach too! These teams can learn key skills to improve their team dynamics through interactive games and activities with the aim to grow as a cohesive unit. Additionally, team leaders such as coaches, captains, and upperclassmen can develop key leadership skills that will be helpful as they interact with their teammates and will also positively serve them in other leadership opportunities in the future.



Athletes have lots of different reasons for seeking out a Sport Psychology Coach, but central to most is a drive to improve their mental game and perform well at their sport. Whether you want to maximize your potential, better manage nerves during competition, or build confidence with a group, for most athletes and teams, a trained Sport Psychology Coach can really help.


The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has created a global crisis and has impacted people and businesses in every corner of the globe, and athletes have suffered greatly. NCAA sports, professional sports, and youth/adult leagues and tournaments have been have been cancelled or postponed worldwide. As a result of having to spend time away from their sport and teammates many athletes are experiencing anxiety, depression, loneliness, and other negative emotions during this challenging time. Here are some tips and resources to help you best handle this challenging time.


Physical Wellbeing


· Make sure to exercise and keep your body fit: Just because your team/sport is suspended right now or your gym is closed, you can still take care of your body and stay physically fit during this time! Many gyms and personal trainers have released new free or discounted at-home workouts that can be completed from the comfort, convenience, and safety of your own home.


· Go for a walk outside: The fresh air, sunlight and Vitamin D will contribute to your mental and physical health and wellbeing. Plus, you may even see some neighbors or friends that you can talk to (from a distance!).


· Utilize YouTube for skill instruction: YouTube is filled with coaches who have shared their tips and advice for specific technical suggestions that can be practiced in the convenience of your bedroom. View this as an opportunity to hone and improve your technique in the sport(s) that you compete in.


Mental Wellbeing


· Social connection: Remain connected to family members, teammates, and friends through phone/video calls. People are spending significantly more time at home, so to decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness utilize phone calls, video chats, and group calls. Keep in mind that other people are experiencing similar emotions and feelings right now, and it can be emotionally helpful to discuss shared experiences.


· Learn a new skill: One of the best ways to bond with loved ones and grow together is to learn a new skill together. Learning something new establishes new neural connections and can lead to shared positive experiences with family and friends. Here are 50 skills that can be learned on YouTube.


· Read: If you want to engage in something intellectual, give your family or friends a one-book challenge. Ask each member to pick a book and share the learnings with everybody. This will help you understand each other and grow together.


Relaxation


· Relax tense muscles: Try to actively relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulder, head and neck. These are the muscles that become tense when we are experiencing a threat. By relaxing these muscles, you are giving your body a signal that you are safe and okay.


· Handle your added stress: Most of us are feeling added stress and tension in our lives, these emotions are absolutely normal and warranted responses to the threats we hear on the news and social media. Just as a reminder: it is okay to feel and experience stress. There are healthy ways of dealing with stress and other uncomfortable emotions.


· Slow down: Allow your body to rest, eat healthy food and learn how to slow down. Try to relax and let go of the need to accomplish too many tasks. More is not always better, for your brain and for your life.


· Meditate: Taking part in deep-breathing and meditation practices can help lead to decreased stress, feelings of control, and greater self-awareness of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Headspace, Calm, and Waking Up are three highly recommended guided meditation apps that make the process of meditation a bit easier.


Final Thoughts


· Get your information from reliable sources: This can be a difficult time to differentiate between helpful legitimate information from false gossip/clickbait. If you are looking for additional information please visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) for additional information and resources.


· Wash your hands: Wash your hands with warm soapy water and use hand sanitizer as much as possible! Set up routines and reminders. Wash them whenever you enter or exit a building, enter or exit a meeting, shake hands with people, eat food, cough/sneeze, etc.


· Don't make big decisions: Refrain from making any big decisions if possible. When we are stressed out, we want to take action and solve the problems impulsively. Use the HATS acronym to avoid action: whenever Hurt, Angry, Tired or Stressed, don’t make a major decision!


· Gratitude: Practice gratitude and take note of all of the things in your life that you are grateful and thankful for. Writing down three things that you are thankful for each day in a journal is an excellent way to practice gratitude and remind yourself that you have much to be appreciative of and grateful for, even during tough times.


· Happiness Hacks: If you feel lonely or negative during these times, try some “Happiness Hacks” from Gagandeep Singh, Tiebreaker Psych’s Sport Psychology Intern, to help lighten up your day. Here is a video on some easy tips and tricks that can be used in your daily life to feel happier.


· Sport Psychology Coaching: For athletes, this is the perfect time to practice your mental skills. Psychological skills like mindfulness, visualization and self-awareness are best perfected in silence, and this is a great opportunity to gain an extra edge over your competitors. To learn more about Sport Psychology Coaching please visit Tiebreaker Psych LLC and book a free one-on-one 60-minute online Zoom Sport Psychology Coaching session.


Please show empathy, kindness and compassion towards everybody during this difficult time and keep in mind that other people are also going through a tough time. Remember that we are all in this together!


Wishing you safety, health, and strength during this challenging time. This too shall pass.