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Mental Game Plans

Imagine a player minutes before a game going through his pre-competition routine. The hard work and training has been done, yet a number of unpleasant thoughts appear unexpectedly: "What if I'm not ready? What if I'm not good enough?"

Breathing becomes shallow, muscles tighten, heart rate increases and the player's focus is all over the place... mainly directed to irrelevant performance cues. Rather than staying with the process of competing, the player is now trying not to lose and is concentrating on all of the things that could potentially go wrong in the game.

Clearly, this is not the most helpful preparation to help you perform at your best. Now let's consider a different example...

As part of a pre-performance routine, the player mindfully acknowledges any unhelpful thoughts... but then, through practice in letting them go, he calmly returns to the thoughts and images that supports his ideal pre-performance arousal level. This in turn allows the player to have flexibility in their focus. The player reminds himself of some useful performance cues to help him focus on what he wants to do during the game. He reminds himself to react and stay in the game if he gets tackled and to provide positive encouragement to his teammates. This plan is clear in the player's mind, allowing for any needed changes (refocusing) in response to any challenging conditions.

The above example highlights an effective 'mental game plan' which covers FOUR key aspects of sport psychology: PACE... Perception, Activation, Concentration, and Execution.

  • Perception: Our thoughts and emotions that we experience BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER a game affect how we perform. How we talk to ourselves before and during a game will impact how we start the game and perform throughout the game.

  • Activation: Our physiological arousal (how 'ready' we are to compete in the game). Our level of arousal impacts how nervous or calm we fell before and during a game through factors such as our breathing rate and our muscle tension.

  • Concentration: Our ability to focus on the important and relevant cues during a game will impact how we perform.

  • Execution: Our actual plan to follow on game days. Reviewing our performance feeds back into adapting our mental game plan.

Thoughts + Emotions IMPACTS UPON Arousal Level IMPACTS UPON Concentration


  • What do I currently say to myself before a game? Are these statements positive or negative?

  • If your self-talk is mainly negative, what could you say to yourself that would be more supportive and encouraging?

  • Can you think of a time you performed at your best and re-live this in your mind by visualising yourself performing?


  • Our arousal exists along a continuum but we all have an Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning (IZOF); our "sweet spot" for performing at our best.

  • You can rate your level of psychological activation between 1 and 10 (1: not feeling ready to compete; 10: extremely ready and pumped to compete). Do this before every game/match/session to raise your awareness of what your sweet spot is.

  • Our ideal zone can be achieved through using emotional regulation skills (e.g., mindfulness) to decrease our arousal and/or energy management skills to increase our arousal.


  • As a performer, you want to focus on the relevant and useful information whilst ignoring any potential distractions.

  • Think about your recent performances... Are you easily distracted or are you able to stay focused on the task? Are there specific times during your performance where you tend to lose focus?

  • What cues are important for your performance?

  • Are there any helpful words/phrases which you can say to yourself to remind you to focus on these performance cues?


  • This is the DOING and REVIEWING part of a mental game plan.

  • We have identified some helpful self-talk statements and mental images for performance, your arousal 'sweet spot' and relevant performance cues for concentration.

  • Now, we can put this information into a plan...

Reviewing Your Plan

Now that you have developed your own mental game plan, practice using it in training situations that reflect game play.

Have a think about:

  • Parts of your mental game plan that you were able to execute well

  • Parts of your mental game plan that you struggled with

  • Any parts of your mental game plan that may need adapting

Interested in working on tailoring your own mental game plan? Contact me here or check out some of the free resources on my website here.

Louise x