March Madness can be a mental challenge for a lot of players. Maintaining physical fitness and preparedness is not often a problem. The challenge for most athletes is staying mentally strong throughout such an exciting, pressure-packed process.
Athletes can stick to the following tips to try to stay on top of their mental game in these situations:
Recognize the Stakes – While you may have had coaches tell you to treat big games just like any other, the reality is that big games and national tournaments are bound to produce more nerves, worries, or overall activation in an athlete. Confronting it head on and recognizing the stakes is important. This requires you to spend time thinking of what’s ahead, anticipating how you will feel, and making a plan for how to handle it.
Stick with Your Routine – After recognizing the stakes, it’s still important to stick with your routine. Your routine is what helped you achieve these heights during the season. Routines can help you stay focused in the moment, reduce stress and anxiety, and increase confidence. You might want to add something to your routine to help you cope with the added pressure of a big game or tournament, like self-talk that helps you feel confident (i.e., “I earned my place here” or “I’ve shown myself that I have what it takes).
Be Prepared to Refocus – These kinds of pressured-packed games and tournaments bring about a lot of distractions: Big crowds, jeering fans, tiring travel, new sleeping arrangements, and often very high-level competition. Each of these things, and many more, can cause you to struggle to stay focused on the present moment and the task at hand. Be prepared to refocus, using refocusing cues, such as “head in the game” or “next play,” or physical cues like brushing your shoulders off or snapping your fingers.