Athletes, regardless of their sport, do some form of a physical warm-up prior to competing. They understand the importance of warming up their muscles and priming their body systems in order to perform their best.
Many athletes, however, do not know the benefit of incorporating a mental warm-up into their pre-performance routine.
What is a Mental Warm-up?
A mental warm-up is a specific type of pre-performance routine that is completed once before starting a sporting activity (practice or competition). Its purpose is to optimize the athlete’s mental state for their performance, as well as priming psychological skills that they will use in their sporting activity.
Why is a Mental Warm-up Important?
The most successful elite athletes have spoken out about their experiences in using mental skills to improve their performance. Many of these athletes have noted that sport is often 10% physical and 90% mental; making it all the more important to prepare your mind prior to performance.
Athletes can feel physically ready to compete, but it’s important that they are in the right headspace as well. Not having complete focus, having too high or too low of arousal, or not feeling confident can lead to poor performance.
With mental skills understanding and practice, athletes can create a mental warm-up that works for them to help manage their competition anxiety and arousal level, increase their motivation and confidence, improve their self-talk, and/or improve concentration.
What Could a Mental Warm-Up Look Like?
Below is an example of what a mental warm-up could look like. This mental warm-up assumes that the athlete has a basic understanding of mental skills. You can check out our Sport Psych Saturday series on our Instagram to learn more about mental skills! @humanintegratedperformance
Let’s say you’ve just finished your physical warm-up and have 20 minutes before you compete. You grab a quick snack, drink some water, and take about five to ten minutes to mentally prepare.
A simple and customizable breathing exercise you can try is measured breathing. Breathe in for a count of five, then breathe out for a count of five. You may change the count if you feel like a count of five is too short or too long. Repeat four to five times, or more if needed.
Focus on your breathing and release any thoughts or emotions that aren’t relevant to the task.
If you have any lingering thoughts or emotions that are unproductive to your upcoming performance, write them down in a piece of paper and throw the paper in the garbage! You do not need those negative thoughts!
State or write down two to three sport related affirmations that reflect you as an athlete. An affirmation is a positive statement about yourself that helps to evoke positive emotions. Your affirmations could sound something like this: “I’m a confident athlete that never backs down from a challenge” or “I am mentally strong and can stay positive throughout competition”
Picture yourself successfully doing a skill during your race or game. Try to make the image as vivid as possible by using your senses. What are you feeling? What do you hear? Is there a specific smell in the venue? What do you see?
Come up with a cue word, or short phrase, that puts you in the zone and helps you focus on the task at hand. For example, your cue word could be “unstoppable” or “ready.” You could have a phrase instead like “bring it on” or “I’ve got this.”
All athletes are different, and as a result need an individualized mental-warm-up that best suits them. Some athletes may only need five minutes, where others may need twenty; some may really enjoy breathing exercises, where others may prefer guided meditation. It’s your mental warm-up, so try techniques out and discover what works best for you!
If you are struggling to overcome mental roadblocks in your sport (such as low confidence, competition anxiety, or maintaining focus), reach out to us at email@example.com or (780) 862-3111. We will be able to connect you with one of our sport psychologists who will be able to teach you various mental skills and techniques that will help you perform to your best in your sport.
1. Can my mental warm-up only be done before I compete?
Absolutely not! Using your mental warm-up prior to practices can help you to have more productive training sessions. It’s encouraged that you practice your mental warm-up in training multiple times prior to using it in competition. This way you can figure out what works best for you and have a set warm-up that you are confident in before you go to compete.
Your mental warm-up doesn’t have to be strictly for sport. You may find it useful to execute your mental-warm-up before an exam, job interview, or during a stressful day!
2. Can my mental warm-up replace my physical warm-up?
Your mental warm-up cannot replace your physical warm-up as you still need to prepare your body to compete. Create a mental warm-up that works for you and accompanies your physical warm-up!