There are so many things that can happen right before or during a competition than can emotionally push your buttons and completely throw you off your game.Your warm-up time gets unexpectedly cut short. You see someone you know who is really good playing for the other team. College or pro scouts show up unannounced to watch today’s game. The weather suddenly turns cold and foul. Your coach is in a nasty, negative mood. The refs are really bad, etc.
When competitive conditions unexpectedly change, these changes have a tendency to trigger us, touching off out-of-control anxiety or other disruptive emotions. If we can’t learn how to get a handle on these runaway emotions, we will become “emotionally hijacked” and these emotions will run away with our skills and confidence, sending our performance quickly down the proverbial tubes.
The best way to handle all of these emotional “hot buttons” is to systematically prepare for them to happen. This is what I call ETU – EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. Sit down and think about all of the things that would be upsetting to you should they occur before or during the game. Next, write them down on a piece of paper. Once you have your list, begin to think about AN IDEAL WAY TO COPE WITH OR HANDLE each of these occurrences.
For example, if you get a horrendously bad call from the refs, the best way to handle it would be to stay calm and composed, tell yourself to “let it go” and then immediately refocus your attention on the next play/pitch/point in the game. If the weather conditions suddenly deteriorate and the wind picks up to gale force strength, you remind yourself that everyone on the field has to deal with these same nasty conditions, that the weather is an uncontrollable and will bother everyone else more than you. Then you would refocus yourself on those things that you can control in the game. If you make a stupid mistake and this tends to trigger a strong negative response inside of you, then your ideal response may be to quickly remind yourself to work on the mistake in practice, tell yourself, “let it go” and then return your concentration to the NOW. If an opponent starts talking trash at you and trying to provoke you then you remind yourself to stay calm, composed and focused on YOU, YOUR JOB and NOT HIM!
Next, practice ETU by spending time at night before you go to bed mentally rehearsing successfully handling all those things that could emotionally knock you off center. In your mind’s eye, see, hear and feel yourself in a pressured situation and having the unexpected happen! Then mentally experience yourself effectively handling the unexpected and performing to your potential.
Regular practice of this kind of imagery will build your self-confidence and keep you calm in competition whenever your emotional hot buttons get unexpectedly pushed!