What’s the Best Mindset for Playoffs?

Playoff Mindset

Perform Your Best in Playoffs

Does a playoff mindset mean athletes play at a higher level in post-season competition?

When you think of a playoff mindset, you probably think of Kobe Bryant’s ability to hit a winning shot in the playoffs… or Tom Brady and his stellar play in the Super Bowl… or a lights-out World Series closer like former-Yankee Mariano Rivera.

The playoff mentality has been characterized as raising your game to a new level or playing lights out in the post-season. This implies that those with a playoff mentality play better in playoff games than they perform in the regular season.

For example, a softball player who has a playoff mentality is “expected” to hit higher than their regular season batting average. A hockey goalie with a playoff mentality is “expected” to allow fewer goals in a playoff game than their regular-season goals-against average.

When you feel you need or are expected to perform at a higher level in the playoffs, you put more pressure on yourself. The added pressure will lead to increased anxiety.

You might will think, “I have to play better, or I will lose, fail or be embarrassed.” These thoughts, feelings, and mental and physiological stress responses lead to under performing or, even worse, choking.

Still, confusion exists around the term “playoff mindset.”

As the Chicago White Sox head into the 2021 playoffs, White Sox bench coach Miguel Cairo discussed the team’s mentality and approach to each game.

CAIRO: “You try to play every game like it’s the last game you are going to play. You want to beat anyone that is in your way. It’s like every game is a playoff game from now on. You can get your mindset on what you want to do when October starts.”

Shouldn’t every competition have the same importance? Making the game “bigger” than it is becomes added pressure.

To play consistently well during the season, you should focus on preparing intently each day, competition, or task at hand… And to succeed in the playoffs, you should be focused on preparing each day, competition, or task intently at hand.

CAIRO: “You don’t want to think ahead, but the way you play the game, the way your mindset is, it’s like a playoff atmosphere, playoff mentality. You still have to do the little things to win games: Catch the ball, hit the ball. Just keep playing baseball.”

Consistent mental and physical preparation and focusing on the little things were why Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, and Mariano Rivera were consistent performers.

Playing consistently near your peak requires the same mental and physical preparation for EVERY game, whether it is the regular season or post-season.

Getting the Playoff Mentality

A playoff mentality is not something you “have.” A playoff mentality is something you work to achieve…

Building a playoff mentality starts with identifying the characteristics of peak performance or how you want to compete when the stakes are high.

Next, how would you train if every game in the playoffs could be your last? Would you up your intensity? Would you want to enter the game with high confidence? Would you want to embrace the challenge of end-of-season games?

One key is to be consistent in preparation for practices, preseason, regular season, and post-season.

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It’s probably no secret that you have many opportunities to become distracted in sports. Athletes are bombarded with both internal and external distractions everyday in practice and competition. Focused athletes are able to get the most from their skills because they are more efficient with practice and more concentrated in competition. Athletes who lack focus let distractions run wild through their mind and don’t know how to adjust or refocus.

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