Pro Mindset to Play Your Best in Big Games

Ultimate Mindset for Athletes Playing in Big Games

What does it take to perform at your peak during the playoffs?

Pressure increases a notch in the playoffs. A loss during the regular season is just a loss, just one game. However, in the playoffs, one game may be the difference between going home or going to the championship.

Elite athletes can regulate the pressure, while other players have difficulty controlling the volume of pressure.

Four factors help players perform at their peak during the playoffs. These four interrelated factors help players regulate pressure so they can perform their best given the circumstances:

  • Mindset – Don’t make the game too big or try to be a playoff hero. The key is understanding and performing your role to the best of your abilities.
  • Focus – Stay present and look for opportunities to make plays in the moment. Competing in the present minimizes worry about making mistakes or losing the game.
  • Preparation – Prepare in the same manner as you have all year. Try to normalize the game to prevent becoming overwhelmed by the moment.
  • Confidence – While each of the three previous elements impacts confidence, it is still essential to tend to your confidence to maintain optimal levels. Many elite athletes visualize previous successful performances or performing at their peak before a game to keep their confidence high.

If you attend to these four mental factors, you will minimize distractions and perform confidently in the playoffs.

Throughout the first five games of the 2024 NHL playoffs, New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad has consistently produced despite the pressure.

Zibanejad has 10 points in five games (three goals and one assist) and is tied for second in postseason scoring.

Examining Zibanejad’s mindset, you can understand why he has played at a high level during the playoffs.

ZIBANEJAD: “I go out there and try to do my best and do whatever I can in that situation. If things are not clicking offensively, I know I have other areas I can contribute… I think in terms of the goals and the points for an offensive guy they will come, I’ve been just trying to focus on doing the right things and when I have a chance to attack the game.”

It’s not just how Zibanejad has played in the playoffs but how he prepares for each game.

Ranger teammate Jack Roslovic points to Zibanejad’s preparation as the key to his peak playoff performance.

ROSLOVIC: “It’s not easy to score big points in the playoffs so for [Zibanejad] to do that at this time of the year is important. You see him in practice, his preparation; I don’t think anyone should be surprised at what he’s doing.”

Peak playoff performance results from attending to your mental game. Training your mind to be on top of your game lays the foundation for peak play.

Create a mental playoff preparation plan for the days leading up to a game by answering the following questions:

  • How will I tend to my mindset to positively contribute to my team?
  • How can I be “locked in” during the game?
  • How can I prepare over the following days to be mentally, physically, technically, and tactically ready to compete?
  • What can I do each day to maintain a high level of confidence?

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