Athletes tend to calm themselves down before a high stakes match by practicing self-talk, stating, “It’s fine, it’s just like any other game.” In some ways, of course, this is true. The rules are the same and the players that have been beside you all season are still right there. However, don’t be fooled because it is a different game. The challenge of a playoff game is that it may seem like any other game, but it is an entirely new playing field.
These games hold much more importance for each individual player, the team as a unit, the coaching staff, and the fans. The heightened stress of these games for everyone involved raises the stakes and changes the environment in the stadium or arena. The challenge for teams, or for any high-level performer, is simple: Take the focus off the result and put it on the process or the things you control.
In order to do this, you need to prepare for changes in environment and how you are going to adapt. Some teams do this by practicing in similar temperatures to what they will be facing or by replicating loud crowd noises. This commitment to total preparation is what gives a team the edge that it needs to come out on top. The focus on details during preparation may seem unimportant, but these are the factors that allow players to perform at their best, despite the pressure of their surroundings. The next step is to make sure that you have a solid mental preparation. By working on your mindset, your level of relaxation and your ability to focus, you will play the best you are capable of, playoffs or not.