Question: "Are there mental warm-ups we should be doing in addition to physical warm-ups?"
I love this question.
Think about the purpose of a physical warm-up: to prepare your body for whatever you're about to ask it to do...train, practice, or compete. We know - and have normalized - the fact that our bodies need some deliberate preparation to perform optimally.
Funny thing is, while most of us acknowledge that our minds also need to be ready in order to perform optimally, we haven't normalized that our minds also need deliberate preparation.
I have two opinions/approaches/recommendations on both physical and mental warm-ups that I'll share first. Then I'll dive into a few strategies to try.
First, your physical warm-up should be what you need as an individual player to get your body ready. I know most teams have specific team warm-ups with running and plyos and mobility and stretching. All of that is good. And, each individual athlete, if they want to perform at their best, has to know which of those exercises in which order at what intensity is right for them.
My opinion is that while teams can/should run some element of a structured physical warm-up for those who need it, they should also be open to athletes who say "I need something different."
I insert this opinion on physical warm-up within the 'mental warm-up' post because ultimately, being ready physically can have a big impact on our mental readiness. Allowing individuals the time and space to do what they need to do to be ready is one small step captains/coaches/leadership can take to improve the mental performance of their athletes.
Second, your mental warm-up should be what you need as an individual player to get your mind ready. While I would say the vast majority of teams still don't incorporate deliberate mental warm-ups at all, I would also say those that do often miss the mark. Largely what I've seen is captains/coaches/leadership taking the same approach as they do to physical warm up: asking everyone on the team to do the same mental warm-up at the same time. This is usually imagery of a highlight reel, talk to your pump-up buddies, or breathe/meditate.
While these are three great go-to strategies, the trick is in encouraging individuals to customize their warm-up to incorporate them when needed (which I'll discuss more below). Now let's talk about how to improve those mental warm-ups or create them from scratch.
#1: Know your end state: what physical/mental/emotional state are you trying to create with the warm-up. I wrote a series of posts on this topic called so that I could tease-apart the details and help people understand how to identify their ideal state. "Switch On" Part 1 and Part 2 deal with identifying your ideal state and you can find those posts here and here. The general idea is: you have to know where you're trying to go if you want to get there on purpose.
#2: Develop/discover how to get there: Some athletes really like having a set routine you do the same way every time. Some athletes have bits and pieces they incorporate as needed. Some athletes discover what they need day-by-day. Interestingly enough, the world of sport psychology is rather polarized on this issue: some say you need a set routine and some say you don't. My approach is that you have to know you...How you get to your ideal state is up to you. "Switch On" Part 3 is largely about discovering and developing what you need to be mentally ready. Hint: it takes some work so you'll find most of what you need in the "Journal Work" section.
#3: Have a variety of strategies to introduce or try: Different strategies produce different results. And, sometimes a strategy that worked before doesn't work in a particular moment and you need another option. Below is a short-list of strategies to try.
Finally, as always...Train your mind like you train your body: Warming-up physically for a competition isn't the first time you've warmed-up physically. You physically warm-up for training and practice as well. So my question is, are you mentally warming-up for each of those events as well? If not, start there. Try these strategies in practice first to see what works best for you.
Let me know what questions you have from this post. And, this list of strategies is nowhere near complete. Please feel free to comment on our FB page with the mental warm-up strategies that work best for you, especially if I didn't cover it here!
Hi! I'm Piers. I am an Ultimate player, spouse, parent, and human performance coach. My passion and my profession is to help individuals and teams perform at their best through research-based mental skills, resilience, leadership and team dynamics training.
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