How to Be Mentally Tough Between Points: 3 Quick Steps

Athletes must have a short memory is an adage you’ve probably heard before. A player may drop a touchdown pass or kick in the tying goal. However, what’s about to happen next is what’s most important. Athletes need to quickly get ready for the next play or get back on defense. How can you help athletes reset during the tiny breaks in action so that they can stay focused?

Internal Combustion 

One of the things I struggled with as a college tennis player was carrying the last game or point with me into the next one. For example, let’s say I made a mental mistake and missed an easy put away shot. In the 15 – 30 seconds before the next point, I would beat myself up over the mistake and over-analyize why I missed the shot. You idiot. You didn’t move your feet. Your footwork is terrible. Turn your shoulders next time and punch the volley into the open court. You get the idea.

How do you think a player with thoughts such as those will perform on the next point? Not so well. My coach thought I was a head case. He was right. I could never reach my potential if I continued to think like that.

A Reset Routine

Fortunately, I came across the idea of developing a reset routine to use between points and on changeovers. Many successful athletes have a deliberate routine that helps them reset and perform at their best.

Reset routines can be used in a variety of different situations including:

  • Running back to the line of scrimmage after a play (football)
  • After hitting each shot (golf)
  • Between points and on changeovers (tennis)
  • Between pitches (baseball/softball)
  • During a dead ball or after a goal (soccer)
  • Between points and games (volleyball)

How to Create a Reset Routine

Coaches, you can help your athletes to develop their own individualized reset routines using these 3 steps.

1. Evaluate

The first step is for the player to evaluate (briefly) what happened on the previous play. Evaluating strategy, tactics, and decision making works best. Is there anything to correct? Is there anything to repeat again? Encourage players to make a mental note.

Generally, I encourage athletes not to evaluate their technique during a competition. This often causes second guessing (paralysis by analysis) and increases stress and muscle tension.

2. Plan

Next, based on the athlete’s game plan, they make a plan for the upcoming play. In tennis matches, I planned where I wanted to place my serve or return. Sometimes I reminded myself of my strategy too. For example, exploit the opponent’s backhand and look for opportunities to make him volley. His volley is weak. 

This looks different for various sports and for athletes at different levels. The idea is for players to develop a brief game plan in their minds before play begins again. This focuses their attention on the next most important thing.

3. Lock In

Lastly, athletes need to focus their attention on the upcoming play. The best way to do this is with a focus trigger. A focus trigger is a word, sign, motion, or action that cues athletes to “lock in” on what’s most important.

I’ve devoted an entire post and free worksheet for helping athletes lock in. Get it here.

Make It Routine

Coaches have said that what happens between plays is just as important as what happens during play. I agree. When I instilled a reset routine into my tennis game, it made a huge difference in my performance.

Athletes that aren’t intentional with their down time leave the next point up to chance. Those who are intentional and craft a well designed reset routine have a competitive advantage over their opponents.

Question: Name an athlete you think uses a reset routine well. Share your example in the comments section below this post. 

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Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.