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Basketball Mental Prep Playbook
by Anthony B. Lanzillo

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Tone Lanzillo is a mental prep coach to athletes who want to be mentally prepared to play their best game. He has worked with student-athletes, from middle school through high school and into college, in such sports as basketball, football, soccer and lacrosse. Over the past several years, he has written for a number of sports blogs and websites, including FirstDown Playbook, Coaches Training Room, Ultimate Hockey Source, and Lax Playbook.

Contact: Anthony B. Lanzillo

This article is an overview for a mental prep program that he has been designing for athletes that will be presented in a workbook and/or offered as a mental skills workshop.

"In contrast to your physical abilities, your mental abilities may flutter moment to moment, because your mind is susceptible to performance pressures and situational demands. This being true, you cannot trust your athletic performance to chance. Just as you build physical strength through training, you can also build mental strength through training. Mental dexterity can be practiced and developed in a planned and purposeful manner so that you can elevate yourself to a champion performance in all endeavors."
- James Afremow, The Champion's Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, And Thrive

"Playing the game at the highest levels of our ability comes down to how well we have learned to control our minds, to rid ourselvs of any and all interferences, and to stay focused on what needs to be done."
- Craig Manning, The Fearless Mind: 5 Essential Steps to Higher Performance

So, you want to play your best game. Playing your best game not only requires a commitment to physical conditioning and training but, just as importantly, a commitment to mental conditioning and training. While many athletes will spend hours, days and weeks developing their physical strength and skills, very few of them will dedicate the necessary time and energy to becoming mentally stronger and smarter.

For many teams, the traditional playbook is one of the basic tools used by coaches to prepare their players for the upcoming season. It provides a diagram or picture of different plays, and shows the players where they are to be physically positioned, and then move to execute their roles once the play begins. Players will spend a significant amount of time with their team, and on their own, learning and practicing these plays.

Yet, too many athletes will set themselves up for failure because they haven't worked on their mental game. They have not mentally prepared themselves to play in a competitive and challenging game. These athletes do not know how to keep their heads in the game, and do not have the mental strength to effectively respond to the numerous challenges and pressures they will face when they are playing.

be mentally prepared

The Mental Prep Playbook is a primer for athletes who want to be mentally prepared to play their best game. It shows you how to become mentally stronger and develop your mental stamina so that you can play with greater composure, focus and confidence. You will learn how to put yourself into the right frame of mind, and thereby become a more positive, proactive and productive player.

Being mentally prepared is all about knowing what to think and how to think when you step into the game. Knowing how to mentally position yourself in order to make the best decisions in any play or game-time situation. The Mental Prep Playbook will give you the basic tools to be a mentally sharper and smarter player.

"It is highly beneficial for athletes to know what to think as they preparing for competition."
- Jason Selk, 10 Minute Toughness

"Regardless of how he feels, the athlete acts out of what he knows, what he's been reminded of."
- H.A. Dorfman, Coaching the Mental Game

"Believe what you know about yourself."
- Tim S. Grover, Relentless: From Good To Great To Unstoppable

There are 9 things that you need to know to be mentally prepared to play your best game.

1. Know what you control

Too many athletes think and worry about what they don't control - what the players from the other team say and do, calls by the referees or umpires, the opinions and attitudes of people watching the game, weather conditions and who will win the game. By thinking and worrying about what you can't control, you will lose control of yourself. To be a successful athlete, it is essential that you always focus only on what you do control. You control your attitude, your actions on and off the field or court, the time you put into practice, physical conditioning, eating right and how you respond to your coaches.

"I try to teach our players to focus on the things they can control and to let go of whatever is beyond their reach. Being prepared, fit, focused in the moment are things we can control."
- Augie Garrido, Life Is Yours To Win: Forged From The Purpose, Passion, And Magic Of Baseball

2. Know what you want to do

Many athletes focus on what they don't want to do or have happen to them in a game. They don't want to look bad or embarrass themselves. They don't want to get hurt or lose the game for their team. By focusing on what they don't want, they are simply creating more stress and anxiety for themselves, and at the same time, will probably end up doing the exact same things that they didn't want in the first place.

They are so worried about themselves that they begin to withdraw or pull themselves back. The key is to focus on what you want to do in the game and how you want to play. By taking this perspective, you will become more proactive, and will be more open to seeing every game-time situation as a learning opportunity to grow as a player. When you focus on what you want, you become more assertive, more passionate about playing and basically feel more alive.

"The first step to creating any change is deciding what you do want so that you have something to move toward. The more specific you can be about what you want, the more clarity you will have, and the more power you will command to achieve what you want more rapidly."
- Anthony Robbins, Awaken The Giant Within

3. Know how to stay in the moment

There are athletes who are playing in a game and, at any given moment, they are thinking about what happened five minutes ago or are worrying about how the game will end. Because they are preoccupied with everything except what is happening right in front of them, they either miss out on an opportunity to make a play to help their team or they simply make a mistake. They are setting themselves up for failure because their minds and bodies are not in the present moment.

As a player, it is very important that you stay in the moment; that you keep your head in the game and keep your eyes on what's taking place right now. It is seeing what the moment offers you and the potential opportunity to make a play, and then positioning yourself to effectively respond and make a pivotal move.

"…what I battle hardest to do in a tennis match is to quiet the voices in my head, to shut everything out of my mind but the contest itself and concentrate every atom of my being on the point I am playing. If I made a mistake on a previous point, forget it; should a thought of victory suggest itself, crush it."
- Rafael Nadal, RAFA

4. Know what to ask

An athlete keeps asking himself why he is not as talented as another player, why he makes so many mistakes, why he is such a failure, why he doesn't get more playing time, or why the refs make so many calls on him. Asking these kinds of questions will only put you in a negative and reactive state of mind; especially if you asking questions about things that you don't have control over.

These questions will only contribute to your loss of focus and lack of desire to play. Make sure that you ask questions that put you in a positive and productive state of mind. You should be asking such questions as "how do I use my skills to help the team?", "how do I improve my focus and concentration", "what can I learn to improve my game", or "how do I visualize success?"

"Perseverance and adversity go hand in hand. You persevere when you can look adversity in the eye and see it as a challenge…Adversity creates opportunity. Champions rise to the occasion. When obstacles are placed in front of you, don't say 'Why me?' Instead, say, 'How can I overcome this?"
- Nick Saban, How Good Do You Want To Be? A Champion's Tips On How To Lead And Succeed

Nick Sabin
Nick Sabin

5. Know what makes you stronger

As an athlete, it is essential and vitally important for you to know your strengths. Whether it's your hustle, your intensity, your positive outlook, your intuition and ability to anticipate, your desire to compete, your faith, your intelligence, your sense of humor, or your ability to mentor and teach others, you must never forget the skills, talents and personal attributes that brought you here. They are the cornerstone to maintaining your confidence and composure as a player on and off the field or court.

"Later, when he learned to play to his strengths and camouflage his weaknesses, when he started pinning opponents left and right, some came to see his missing leg in a different light. It gave him an advantage! It allowed him to carry more muscles on his upper body! It gave opponents one fewer limb to grab hold of! He' only got one leg - it's not fair!"
- Ron Robles, Unstoppable - From Underdog To Undefeated: How I Became A Champion

6. Know how to visualize your performance

There are some athletes who will only think about and keep replaying the mistakes that they have made in games. And there are other athletes who spend no time thinking about how they want or plan to play once the game begins. By not mentally training themselves to visualize their performances, they will be unable to stay focused on what they want to do in any game-time situation, and will often have a mental meltdown when they are facing a difficult or challenging moment in the game.

Given the physical and emotional demands of a game, it is imperative that you condition and prepare your mind to perform on the field or court. Use all of your senses, and self-talk, in developing this picture of your performance. See how you are positioned. Take yourself through each step and maneuver. Feel the ground or floor below your feet. Feel the sense of accomplishment as you successfully execute your role in that specific play.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. If you can't visualize it happening, it will not happen. Anyone wanting to break records and push boundaries must build a clear picture in their mind of what they want to achieve."
- Rasmus Ankersen, The Gold Mine Effect: Crack The Secrets Of High Performance

7. Know what to tune out

Many athletes find themselves looking at, paying attention to or thinking about those things that are taking them out of the game. Whether it's verbal taunting from an opposing player, what you consider questionable calls by the officials, frustration over the last play, negative judgments about yourself, or wondering who will win the game, you have to know which things that you need to divert your attention away from and not focus on if you want to keep your head in the game.

"On the mound Hershiser seems to be all business. Seems to be. Actually, he has fun there. Often when he steps on the rubber, he drops his head, which suggests solemnity. Actually, he is avoiding the distraction in front of him - the umpire standing up, the catcher getting set, the batter digging in and the television and other cameras and radar guns and equipment and activity that are often behind the screen directly behind home plate. 'When I lift my head, they are waiting for me."
- George F. Will, Men At Work: The Craft Of Baseball

8. Know how to respond to a mistake or difficult moment

After making a mistake or facing a difficult moment in a game, the athlete tells himself that he screwed up or failed. This negative self-talk will create negative feelings (anger, guilt) and will often lead to a negative physical reaction (lowering the head, kicking the ground). Then the athlete begins to label himself as a loser or bad player. These negative thoughts and feelings after the first mistake or moment will then trigger another mistake or second difficult moment.

The negative thoughts and messages have prevented the athlete from thinking clearly and objectively about what just happened, and thereby will not be able to learn from that experience and make the necessary adjustments to improve his game. One approach is to simply take a deep breath. As you inhale, ask yourself what did you see, and while exhaling, ask yourself what did you learn. The message is that if you can see clearly, you can learn, and if you can learn, you will become a smarter and better player.

"Mistakes must become a part of the learning process. When you consider the mistakes you have made in your life, there is always a potential for learning. Bad performances can lead to good performances, or they can lead to other bad performances if learning is not part of the experience."
- Robert Fritz, Creating

9. Know what you're playing for

When you step onto the field or court, do you know what you are playing for? Have you noticed that when you have something to play for, you seem to play with more intensity and passion? Knowing what you're playing for can fuel your desire to play and to play with greater perseverance. Knowing what you're playing for gives you a purpose and sense of direction. Whether you are playing for the love of the game, to honor a loved one, to support your team, to raise the spirits of the community, or a chance to play at the next level, having something to play for will help you play big even in the smallest moment of a game.

"But I hadn't come that far to quit. And we hadn't come that far as a team to quit either. We could have lamented our misfortune, packed up, and headed home. But something was brewing. Something was going on that the fans at Lambeau and the people watching television couldn't see. They had no idea how hard we had worked to get where we were. They had no idea of the desire burning in the belly of each player on our team. And they no idea how much the people of New Orleans meant to us. We were playing for th..."
- Drew Brees, Coming Back Stronger

Drew Brees
Drew Brees

Mental Prep Test

1. What do I control?

2. What do I want to do?

3. How do I stay in the moment?

4. What do I ask?

5. What makes me stronger?

6. How do I visualize my performance?

7. What do I tune out?

8. How do I respond to a mistake or difficult moment?

9. What am I playing for?

Copyright 2015, Anthony B. Lanzillo

Contact: Anthony B. Lanzillo