For an athlete, learning to prepare for a game or other types of sports event is key to executing their performance when the big moment finally comes. All elements of the training and preparatory regime should combine, leading to optimal performance – in theory. However, regardless of our levels of fitness, the amount of practice, and other factors, one of the key components is that the athlete’s brain is sharp. They need to be in the zone, so to speak. Otherwise, a lot of that preparation can count for nothing.
In light of that, we want to look at four areas that can help sharpen your mind before you face that momentous moment in the spotlight. From feeding the brain to training the mind to visualize success, these activities and rituals can help your mind be at 100%:
Feed the Body – And the Brain
It’s normal that athletes want to eat right before a big event, but we spend too much time thinking about the foods that help our bodies and not enough on those that help the mind. Foods rich in vitamin C are a good place to start, as they can help with mental sharpness, so aim to incorporate berries and other fruits into your diet in the lead-up to the game. The same goes for foods that contain vitamin E and zinc – walnuts and pumpkin seeds – which can help keep your mind sharp. Oily fish, too, can give you a nice hit of omega-3, so try some salmon, mackerel, and herring. Also, be careful about the false highs provided by sugary and caffeine-based drinks. You might seem like you are more alert, but they can actually be detrimental to your cognitive ability.
The Science of Sleep
We all know that sleep can help you stay sharp, but there is a big problem when it comes to sleep advice: Namely, there is no consensus on how much sleep is needed and when to sleep. Of course, it’s a given that you should have a good night’s sleep before the event. But some experts recommend catching a nap before the event. Steph Curry, he of NBA basketball fame, claims that a power nap prepares him before he suits up for the Golden State Warriors. But others might find that a quick nap makes them feel more lethargic. Unfortunately, then, it is a case of trial and error. But one thing that there is consensus on is that you should incorporate a sleep schedule into your training regime.
Brain Train with Games
So many interesting studies have been made in recent years looking at the effects of playing games on keeping our minds sharp. And some of the most important studies have focused on athletes’ preparations. Gaming is a broad church these days, ranging from titles on consoles like a PS5 to games for Android OS you can easily play on your phone. But many of them can be beneficial, helping you develop spatial awareness, deal with multiple object tracking (a big one for sports, particularly goaltenders/goalkeepers) and even help with your confidence and communication skills. On the more anecdotal side, many top athletes play video games based on their sports pre-game because they say it helps them start thinking about the mechanics of their performance.
Visualization and Psychology
LeBron James is arguably the most famous proponent of the art of visualization. King James’ technique is simple to understand but quite difficult (for some of us) to execute. In essence, James and others visualize what they want to happen in the game, believing that it will help them make it happen. Sounds simple, right? But it takes a lot of mental fortitude and discipline to do it right. Of course, sports psychology can also help. Back in 1986, Italian soccer team AC Milan opened the “Mind Room”, which is widely regarded as one of the first sports psychology units for a major sports team. It paid dividends, with Milan winning 21 major trophies during the 23 years it operated. The point of the “Mind Room” and similar operations is that they were simply about helping you find a psychological edge, small pointers that can help your brain get that extra one or two percent in the game. Often, that’s enough.