"if you ever want to be a decent player, you have to be able to use both feet without stopping to think about it."
Soccer Superstar, Pele
Probably one of the biggest mental mistakes that athletes make right before and during their performances is to over-think. Whether you’re thinking about the game’s strategies, the mechanics of proper technique, criticizing your current level of play, or simply worrying about your opponent or the game’s outcome, thinking will distract you from the proper focus and send your nervousness right through the roof. Peak performance, as Pele states, is all about NON-THINKING. You will always perform your best when you’re on automatic and your conscious mind is in a quiet and observing state. In this quiet state your muscle memory and previous training is allowed to run the show rather than your conscious thought. This automatic or unconscious mind-set is exactly what’s needed if you’d like to be at your best when it counts the most. Far too many athletes get into reminding themselves of everything that they need to do right before the big game. Then when the game starts, they continue instructing themselves and critiquing their own performance. This will NEVER help you play to your potential. On the contrary! This will send your game straight to the outhouse! Remember, over-thinking is hazardous to your athletic health!
However, in order for you to be able to play without thinking, you have to be able to trust your muscle memory. In order to do this, to “be able to use both feet without stopping to think” as Pele says, you have to first pay your “physical dues.” Simply put, before your unconscious mind and muscle memory can effectively take over from your conscious mind you have to practice, practice and then practice some more. The secret here is very simple. You can’t learn to “play out of your mind” without first putting in all the necessary hard work in your body. Far too many athletes cut corners in their physical training and are reluctant to put in the extra, uncomfortable training that’s the foundation for being able to play without thinking. Unless you’re willing to work hard and continually push yourself outside of your comfort zone in practice, then you can’t realistically expect that you’ll play mindlessly in competition. Work your butt off and you’ll learn how to trust yourself enough to “use both feet without thinking.”