Having just read the title of my new article, you may be thinking: "Has Dr. Jim finally lost it? What does sleep have to do with sports?" Let me explain.
Have you ever tried to sleep? You lie in bed and tell yourself that you have to sleep and you try, try, try to sleep. It doesn't work, does it? Why? Because sleep can't be forced.
So, how do you fall asleep? You create an external and internal environment that allows sleep to come. Externally, you make sure your room is quiet, dark and warm. You have a comfortable bed, pillow and comforter (maybe even a teddy bear or blankie). Internally, you take breaths, relax your body and clear your mind. Having created this environment within and outside of yourself, your mind and body are prepared to accept the sleep that will naturally follow.
So, how are sports like sleep? You can't TRY to play well. Forcing yourself to play well creates overthinking, muscle tension and the attempt to control your body in the hopes that you can make your body play well. But, the harder you try to play well, the less likely you will play well.
Just like sleep, you want to create an external and internal environment that will allow great play to emerge naturally. The external environment has two levels. First, as a foundation, it includes having a good practice schedule leading up to the game, being organized, and being on top of your school work. Second, on the day of the game, it involves having your equipment optimally prepared, being warmed up, and being around a supportive coach and teammates before the start of the game.
The internal environment also has two levels. First, going into the game, you should be healthy (no injuries or illness), rested, in top physical condition, well fueled and with minimal stress. You should also be well trained with solid technique and tactics. Second, on game day, internal means having a healthy perspective about the game, having clear goals and having fun. It also mean being mentally prepared, that is, being motivated, confidence, energized, focused and happy.
Creating these environments that encourage good play can't be left to chance. The "foundation" environments that I just discussed can best be developed by having a good training plan, eating well, getting good nights' sleep (don't try to!), keeping up with your schoolwork, and, in general, just being disciplined and diligent about everything that can impact your sport.
On game day, there are two tools you can use for creating those "play your best" environments. First, mental imagery before the game primes your mind and body for playing your best, ingrains successful images that translate into more confidence, and focuses your mind on what you need to do to play well.
Second, the total preparation of a pre-game routine includes a good physical warm-up, making sure your equipment is prepared optimally, reaching your ideal intensity, narrowing your focus onto what you need to do to play your best, and grabbing your best mindset. A structured and consistent game-day routine can be the final piece of the pre-game puzzle that ensures you have created those ideal internal and external environments that allow your very best play to come out.