Winning The Mental Game
By Anthony Lanzillo on Oct 14, 2016

020115-nfl-super-bowl-fight-jl-pi-vresize-1200-675-high-53Now that most of your teams have played four or five games, and are entering the middle of the season, you want to remind your players at every team practice that when they step on the field to compete they are actually playing two different games. There’s the game that everyone is watching from the sidelines or stands, and the other game that is taking place between the players’ ears.  If the players want to succeed, and hopefully win their games on the field, then they need to learn how to win the game in their heads. They have to know how to think and what to think about so they can win the mental game.

Too many times we see NFL players who lose the mental game. There are players who commit a personal foul out of frustration. Then there are players who have an emotional outburst when they or one of their teammates make a mistake. And there are players who forget where to step or run once the play is called. These players are making mental mistakes. They have lost their ability to concentrate, stay composed and play with confidence.  They have forgotten to use certain mental skills that can help them keep their focus and maintain control of themselves.

As a football coach, you want to talk to your players about what they can do to win the mental game and thereby be mentally prepared to excel and be successful on the field. They need to make time to visualize how they want to perform and, at the same time, identify the positive feelings from having a successful performance. The players need to focus on what matters on the field and not get distracted by things that they don’t control. They need to know what they want to achieve or accomplish during any play or game-time situation, and not to think or worry about what they don’t want to see happen.

One approach to reinforcing this message is to incorporate several different mental skills drills at each team practice. When you are reviewing a play from the playbook, you can begin by physically walking the players through the play. Then you can have the players mentally walk through that play, and think about their specific role and responsibility, and mentally rehearse each step or maneuver they need to take to have a successful performance. Or, you can review different stressful game-time situations that the players may find themselves in and discuss how they want to mentally respond so that they can maintain their composure and concentration.  And, during stretches or exercises, the coaches can simply shout out several different questions that require a verbal response from the whole team. For example, you could ask – “what do you control?” – and the players respond with “I control myself!” Or, you could ask – “what do you focus on?” – and the players respond with “I focus on my responsibility!”

Winning the mental game is essential to any football player who wants to win the physical game on the field. If the player doesn’t practice the mental skills that will get him mentally prepared to play and compete, then he will emotionally struggle with many of the challenging or difficult game-time situations on the field. Therefore, getting your players to truly understand the importance of their mental game, and to invest the necessary time in developing those mental skills, could be pivotal in how your team plays out the rest of their season.

Anthony Lanzillo –