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Mental Training Tips: Playoff Pressure

The Playoffs are here!
With the postseason upon us, over the next two weeks, every team will embark upon a quest to claim a championship.  Many athletes will endure the ups and downs associated with postseason play: the white-knuckle close games, perhaps an underdog finding victory, and some will play their last moments in competition.
The perceived intensity of the games will seem to increase with each victory.  The pressure athletes will feel may become debilitating or perhaps it will be the little extra some need to elevate their game to previously unknown potential.  Much of the time, the difference between allowing one to happen over another is simply what the athletes will focus on.
The mental challenges that athletes must overcome may be daunting, but there are coping strategies that will allow them to handle the pressure to reach peak performance in key situations.
Here are some following concepts Athletes, Parents and Coaches should focus on over the next couple of weeks:

  • Clean Slate:  There is a reason why it is called the “Postseason,” everything previous to it, does not matter.  This is important to remember as many athletes get caught up in their opponent’s record and/or results of previous games.  Some athletes fall into the trap, “oh, man, I don’t know about this game.  When we played them last week, they dominated us.”  Essentially, they are putting themselves in a proverbial “hole,” before the game even starts.
  • Stick To Your Routine:  By now, you have created a game day routine.  Now is not the time to change it.  A proper pregame routine can aid in creating the right mindset for a game.  It can help you focus your mind, as well as prepare you to feel confident.  It is not wise to introduce something that may alter your game readiness.
  • Have Faith:  Sometimes, athletes think because it’s the postseason, and there is more pressure.  They feel they have to do more to get ready for games.  Instead, have faith that your practice and training will pay off, avoid the temptation of adding a new drill during warm-up or questioning your practice before.  This will only lead to deteriorating your confidence.
  • Be In the Moment:  Avoid being outcome-oriented where your focus is on winning, or even worse, on your rival who you might play in the next round or beyond.  Focusing on results causes you to think too far ahead and sets too many expectations for competition. Rather, you should focus on the task at hand!  Become process-oriented, and turn your attention to what you should be doing at that moment regardless of the score.
  • Play Like You Do Not Care:  Athletes perceive they must be at their absolute best during the playoffs.  Therefore, they are prone to placing pressure upon themselves to live up to their best.  But, when you feel pressure to perform at your best is when you are likely to try too hard and become tense.  When you are tense, your body becomes rigid and slow.  But if you play like you don’t care about making mistakes or what the outcome will be.  You play loose, relaxed and fast!

Jared Ocana, M.S., is a Mental Skills Coach and Adjunct Faculty at Westminster College in the Human Performance and Wellness Department. Besides working with student-athletes at the school in 17 intercollegiate sports, Ocana also provides coaching and training to individual athletes along the Wasatch Front.  To connect with Jared, or have questions or comments, you can reach him at: or (801) 448-6818

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