Recently, because it is Super Bowl season, a journalist asked me for my thoughts as
to how top athletes get psyched up for a so called “big game.”
Over the years, I have counseled many athletes and coaches prior to “big games.”
events. These have included football games, track meets, Junior Olympics, state
finals, league championships, golf tournaments, tennis matches, baseball games,
skating competitions, volleyball games, basketball tournaments, bowling championships,
swim meets, soccer tournaments, rodeos, boxing matches, martial arts competitions,
fencing tournaments, and skating competitions. I think I have worked with athletes
from almost every sport you can think of and they frequently do call me prior to a major
event of some kind. Most of them are seeking a psychological edge going into
Each athlete prepares a little differently and we spend a lot of time developing
routines, rituals and procedures which will allow the athlete to perform to his or
her fullest potential. In addition, we work as a team in trying to get the athlete, his
or family and coach onto the same page with these techniques and methods.
Now there is a significant difference when working with an athlete who plays
a team sport rather than an individual sport. Where a team sport is involved, getting
psyched up is a group process. In this process, the camaraderie, the team chemistry,
the coaches’ pep talks, motivational style and his or her relationships with the players are
all vital elements of the “psyching up” process.
I have seen a lot of different coaching styles work with different kinds of
athletes and different teams. Almost always, however, successful coaches have good
communication skills and good relationships with their players. They use
these psychological talents to ready their athletes for the game.
Where individual athletes are concerned, I teach a variety of skills including
self-hypnosis, meditation, visualization and guided imagery. I also work on their
self-talk, their focus, their confidence and their optimism. I frequently share
lots of stories and anecdotes about how other successful athletes prepare when
the pressure of a “big game” is looming. I frequently share these stories with
the athlete right before the game.
One thing that works well for many athletes is to simply view the “big game”
as another game. Prepare the same way you have prepared for the games that
you won to get to the upcoming event. This idea seems to give many athletes
a simple way of viewing the event and it seems to quiet their nerves a bit.
It also gives them something concrete to focus on. That is, they simply have
to repeat what they have done thousands of times before.
Each athlete is a unique and special person and they need to
learn how to adjust their minds in a way that will allow them to feel comfortable and
perform well. I have seen many different approaches to getting mentally ready
Some use music. Some use prayer. Some listen to inspirational CD programs.
Some like to be alone. Others like to spend time with family, friends and teammates.
One idea that helps a lot of young athletes is some simple reassurance that
it is normal and okay to be a somewhat nervous or overly excited before a big game.
This simple reminder and acknowledgement helps a lot of competitors to get
comfortable before the start of “the big game.”
Last, for many athletes, counseling or therapy can be quite valuable in
teaching them creative strategies managing their feelings when the pressure is on.
Jay P. Granat, Ph.D. is a Psychotherapist and The Founder of www.StayInTheZone.com
He has developed a number of programs to help athletes perform better.
Information about these products is available at http://www.stayinthezone.com/