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7 things to think about the night before a match

7 things to think about the night before a match

4 min read
  • Sport psychology

Good preparation for any sports event starts the night before. At InnerDrive, we always teach our athletes this phrase: “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”.

But physical preparation is not the only thing an athlete needs to do before an event, which is why we’ve been asking ourselves this question: ‘what should athletes think about before a match?’ Are some thoughts more helpful than others? And can athletes perform better depending on what they think the night before the event?

We’ve looked through the research from the world of sport psychology to find 7 tips that can help you achieve the right mindset before a big match.

Positive imagery

Visualising successful performance has been found to increase confidence, and will also help players manage their nerves. In this case, pictures are more powerful than words – picturing yourself doing well has been found to be more effective at enhancing mood and reducing anxiety than telling yourself that you will do well.

It is worth noting that there are some potential downsides to daydreaming about your future success though. It was found in several studies that positive visualisation could decrease your urgency of working towards your goal or stop you from properly preparing for the obstacles you will encounter along the way. However, these relate to behaviour and self-control strategies over a long period of time. Thinking positively for a few minutes before you compete (and once you’ve put in the hard work) shouldn’t affect this and will help boost your mood. For more information, check out our guide on how to visualise more effectively.

Remember your previous best

Thinking about previous positive experiences will help improve your confidence. Athletes should remind themselves of a successful performance to help them feel more confident about an upcoming one. Most importantly, they should think about what helped them do well in the previous match and how they can apply that now.

An easy way for athletes to better reflect on their former performances is using the following questions:

  • What three things did you do well?
  • What three things could you do better?
  • What would you do differently next time?

Remind yourself of your preparation

How well you have prepared for a task is an important source of confidence. Controllable sources of confidence such as preparation will lead to more enduring confidence levels. Getting athletes to remind themselves of all the work they have put in prior to the match will increase their feelings of confidence and control in the build up to performance.

A word of caution: being confident in preparation is not enough on its own – the preparation should be as good as it can be in order to perform better too. Check out 6 ways that athletes can prepare properly.

Focus on yourself and dont compare with others

When athletes compare themselves to others, their confidence suddenly depends on those around them and is not within their control anymore. This is stressful and increases fear of failure. Alternatively, focusing on themselves and what they can control will increase their confidence. Reminding themselves of what they can do will help them to feel more confident in their ability to perform.

For athletes to focus on themselves as opposed to others, they should think about their process and what they want to achieve when they are performing. An easy way to do this is to ask yourself or your athletes:

  • What do I want to achieve today?
  • What three things do I need to do to achieve that?

Remember how you overcame setbacks

Research into the mental resilience of Olympic champions has shown how overcoming setbacks has helped them deal with future challenges. Here are a couple of easy strategies that can help you achieve the same results:

  • Encourage athletes to think back to previous setbacks that they have had and what helped them overcome these at the time.
  • Ask athletes to think about what they learnt from their past setbacks
  • Ask athletes to think about who helped them overcome their past setbacks.

By using these three easy tips, athletes are encouraged to find confidence in their ability to overcome setbacks, acknowledge that setbacks are important for learning and develop a good team and support network around themselves.

See the competition as a challenge and not threat

When you perceive something as a threat, it is more likely to cause you stress. Athletes who reframe an event as a challenge, as opposed to a threat, increase their performance. Instead of thinking about the potential negative consequences of losing, they should reframe the match as an opportunity to succeed. The increase in stress caused by focusing on ‘what could go wrong’ will also hinder the quality of their sleep the night before a match.

Get a good nights sleep

Sleep duration and quality have a significant impact on how you feel and subsequently how you perform. It’s linked to creativity, mood and concentration. Be sure not to make the 9 common sleep mistakes and you’ll feel fresh and ready for tomorrow’s competition!

Final thoughts

There are a number of strategies that anyone can use to help them thing about the right things before a match. Getting into the right frame of mind the night before a competition is a great way to ensure that you hit the ground running the morning of your competition.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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