6 Keys to Great Game Day Decision Making

During last summer's Olympic games I heard commentator Brandi Chastain on television, during the U.S vs. Japan gold medal soccer match, talk about the importance of decision making and it struck me as just how critical a function that is for any athlete in any sport.

Chastain's reference to decision making pertained to possible fatigue among the United States players in playing their third match of the week. In a state of mental and physical fatigue decision making during a game can become less precise and, thus, lead to mistakes that can have monumental consequences on the outcome of a game.

The potential for poor decision making is even more likely with younger athletes who don't possess the experience or mental toughness to fight through fatigue (including adverse weather or playing conditions).

Game day decision making can also suffer under pressure of competition. Sport, by definition, requires performance. As such a younger athlete can succumb to anxiety before and during a game. This anxiety can look like fear of failure, which can lead to doubt and delay in making decisions.

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Or anxiety can look like the game speeding up inside an athlete's head, causing him or her to make decisions hastily. In either case "performance anxiety" can cause poor decision making which will lead to inconsistent performances, at best, and more likely disastrous performances.

Because most every sport requires precise execution of physical game mechanics and actions decision making on ball possession/transfer or hand/foot movements are critical. As it is said...timing is everything

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So how can your athlete consistently make good decisions, even in the most stressful of game situations?

1. Relax - A relaxed athlete is more likely to be able to slow down the game and minimize anxiety. Employing proper breathing and even the utilization of mental imagery (which all Olympic and professional athletes use) will absolutely help calm the mind which will lead to heightened decision making abilities. Seeing and feeling success in advance is key to game day success.

2. Confidence - A higher level of game day self-confidence will lead to less doubt and more decisiveness on the court or field. Confidence takes time to build for many younger athletes. The more reps they get the more competent and confident they become.

3. Focus - Cultivate the ability to focus on the task at hand is critical for any athlete. If the mind is focused on a past mistake or is focused on the fear of committing a future mistake it is impossible to execute any athletic task with precision. To consistently make good game day decisions an athlete must be able to focus their thinking on the present moment and task at hand (or what I call P.M.A. - Present Moment Awareness)

4. Process Thinking - If an athlete is process or effort driven they will be more likely to bounce back from game day mistakes because they see mistakes as an inevitable part of the game, and an opportunity to learn from. Whereby an athlete focused solely on his or her game day results is likely to be preoccupied, judgmental, and not in the present moment...always riding an emotional roller coaster ride with every shot, hit, or throw.

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5. Trust - In order to make good game day decisions an athlete needs to turn off the brain and trust his or her ability to make good decisions. Trusting means a willingness to make mistakes. All great athletes continue to risk making a tough pass, a tough shot, a tough throw. The more your athlete is willing to trust their abilities the easier making good decisions will be. Again, being process focused will greatly help this.

6. Have Fun - Sport should first and foremost be fun, shouldn't it? Younger athletes today are under an immense amount of pressure to excel on the field or court due to elevated competition levels and the external pressures from parents and coaches to win or get that college scholarship or pro contract. Most younger athletes don't have the ability, on their own, to cope with these game day pressures and, thus, their performance level suffers. If the game remains fun and their participation is kept in perspective good decision making will be a natural outcome for them.

So there you have it...6 sure fire ways your athlete can cultivate and, hopefully, maintain good game day decision making habits. As a parent or coach your unconditional support will go a long ways towards building the self-confidence necessary to be a good decision maker when it matters most.

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