Five ways to build mental preparedness in practice

By: Michelle Cleere, Ph.D

Coaches at all levels work to create an effective practice plan that will produce the perfect game performance. Unfortunately, on occasion they overlook how to incorporate mental preparedness into their plan alongside physical preparations. The below tips are a few ways to set your student-athletes up to make the most of their time in practice.

Set aside time for mental warm-ups
While it is typical to dedicate time to a physical warm-up at the start of practice (jumping jacks, stretching, etc.), it is equally as important to dedicate time for a mental warm-up. Part of a coach’s task is to figure out in what headspace each student-athlete needs to be to perform at her best. Some need a calm environment while others may crave high energy. Music is a good way to reach that optimal headspace. Encourage players to have playlists that help them to focus. An alternative may be deep-breathing or visualization exercises to release tension and refocus thoughts.

Give feedback in a customized way
Understanding each individual player and what motivates (or demotivates) them is crucial, and one of the most important things to learn is the best way they receive feedback. If a player is afraid of receiving harsh or embarrassing criticism, she will have more difficulties focusing. Instead, you want to limit behavior that creates mental distractions. Coaching tactics that affirm effort (not outcome), encourage risk-taking, and approach mistakes as learning experiences that build leadership can help to motivate athletes in a positive way.

Let student-athletes set the bar
Allowing student-athletes to set their own expectations for practice empowers players to take ownership and gives them goals that drive their mental focus. Ask them what they want to work on and how they want to work on it. By setting their own goals and meeting them, they will increase their confidence both on and off the court.

Add fun
Team expectations and goals have been set and you have established a coaching relationship with student-athletes that requires respect from both ends. Now it is time to enjoy the game we love! Play horse, dribbler war, center-court steal. The same games enjoyed as kids can be great practice tools as well, and it is proven that people perform better when they are having fun.

Lead a post-practice reflection period
Dedicate five minutes at the end of practice to discuss the following questions:

  1. What went well? It is important to see the positives.
  2. What was challenging? As humans we remember this stuff forever, but if we can write it down (or talk about it) it is cathartic and doesn’t get stuck bouncing around in our brain.
  3. What do I need to work on tomorrow? This is important because it takes athletes from an emotional place to an action-oriented plan.


Michelle Cleere, Ph.D., is an elite performance expert who works with top athletes to unlock the power of the mind and create the mental toughness to be the best. Learn more here.

Release Date: 
Wednesday, January 3, 2018