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Before any type of exercise, a warm up of some sort is crucial.  A proper warm up consists of increasing the blood flow to your muscles while decreasing the chance for injury.  Do it correctly an you will increase your capacity for a healthy performance.  It is for this reason that you will see athletes in any sport warming up meticulously before any serious training session or game.

While the physiological warm up is crucial, the psychological warm up is just as important.  Many athletes refer to this as getting in the zone.  Some example of this are players who like the listen to music in order to get pumped up, or others who like to be alone and meditate about the game and their role in the game.

While these are two very effective ways to prepare yourself mentally for a game, the irony is that these methods often psyche you out.  When you put too much thought into something that should be natural, you put yourself under a great deal of pressure.  Consequently, you don’t play as well as you could in games because you play with the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Why is it that some players do so well at practice but when they show up to play the game they under-perform?  In practice they play very well and often verge on magical, but in game situations they shy away.  Let me tell you why, it’s because they put too much pressure on themselves.

Think about the state of mind you have in practice:

  • you have little to no pressure on you;
  • you’re adventurous in the moves, passes and tricks you try;
  • you work hard and if you screw up, you try harder the next time;
  • you feel free and are quick to smile and crack a joke if need be

This same state of mind needs to be maintained in a game.  When you have a free mind and an open soul, you will play much better – I guarantee it.

Some might argue that the above characteristics are not the mindset of a champion.  My rebuttal is that this isn’t to be confused with focus and determination.  Because you’re playing with a  free spirit does not mean you aren’t focused.  All the preparation and all the work has been put in at practice, the game is an opportunity to show how hard you’ve worked.  The game is an extension of practice.  The game isn’t intended to bring the worst out in you, it’s intended to bring the best out in you.

Professionals play freely without worries about what others will say or do.  Professionals of the highest level play to the roar of 100,000 people and make it seem as though they’re playing with a few friends in a park.  They have come to understand that if you put too much pressure on yourself you can’t perform.

All this to say, in your next warm up try to loosen yourself up rather than shackle your mind down.  Dance a little, laugh a little…do what you need to do to create ease.  One of the best players of all time did this regularly and it paid off in spades.  He is now regarded as one of the most amazing players to ever play soccer.  He was able to enjoy the game rather than psyche himself out and create unrealistic expectations.  I present, Maradona:

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