Mental Performance A-Z

Mental Performance A-Z


Fundamentals for officials to develop their mental game

Officiating at an elite level is all about staying positive, present and focused on the process from game-to-game every season. Golf and baseball are said to be 90% mental and 10% physical. Many college level and professional athletes work with mental performance coaches. It is safe to say officials, regardless of the level or sport, would benefit from similar coaching. Here is an A-Z fundamentals list to keep you performing at your best. When facing adversity, this training will give you a strategy to go to! You don’t rise to the occasion; you sink to the level of your training. By developing these mental performance skills, you will raise the level of your officiating!

Adversity. How do you respond to adversity? Do you get fascinated or frustrated? As officials, adversity comes with the stripes. We face it nearly every game as well as in our daily lives.

Learn to embrace and prepare for adversity. It is merely a bend in the road, not the end of the road. If you are struggling with overcoming an obstacle, change your strategy and attack it from a different angle.

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Breathe. Learning how to breathe properly is the single most important skill that you can implement into your games and regular life immediately. Before a game when your mind starts to race, your heart starts to beat faster and you have that familiar nervous energy, what do you do? Embrace the feeling and take 5 deep breathes. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds and exhale through your mouth for 6 seconds.

Confidence. How many times have you heard that you need to referee with more confidence? Confidence comes with more game experience for sure, but a trick that you can start using is to act confident. Confidence is not a feeling it is an action! You can act confident by being big with your body language, projecting your voice and using snap, command and energy with your signals!

Discipline and self-control. These skills go hand-in-hand with one another. Discipline is the ability to establish great patterns of behavior, so that you can make most decisions on autopilot. Having self-control means that you can put off what you want in the moment for what means the most to you. Discipline and self-control will help you reach your big picture goals.

Elite mindset. Think of an elite mindset as the foundation to the mental training fundamentals. Officials with an elite mindset search out feedback and are never satisfied with being told that they did a good job. They are always searching for ways to improve. The alternative is officials that possess an average mindset and believe that they have a limited capacity to grow their current skill set. Developing an elite mindset is totally trainable. Which mindset do you have?

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Focus and awareness. Focus is your ability to stay present and awareness is recognizing when you no longer have present moment focus. Think of this skill as traffic signal lights. When you are in a green light it means you are in control. When you are in a yellow light it means you are losing control and when you are in a red light it means you have lost control. How many times have you made an incorrect call, or had a bad interaction with a coach and not been able to flush it?

Gratitude. Have you ever heard the saying that it is impossible to be grateful and sad at the same time? Research indicates that this is true. A good way to train yourself to be more grateful is to get a gratitude journal. Make this part of your AM & PM routines.

Habits and routines. There are good habits and routines as well as bad ones. Develop good habits and routines before, during and after games. This will allow for you to perform consistently at your best. Developing healthy habits and routines will significantly reduce physical, mental and emotional fatigue because you won’t have to waste energy on what to do next.

Intentional. Identify what your mission, vision and core principles (MVP process) are and write them down. It is okay to say no to people and things that do not align with your MVP. Your daily interactions, routines and self-talk should all be in alignment with your MVP.

Joy. Why do you officiate? For many of us, we have a passion for the game and want to stay involved in a sport that means so much to us and brings us joy. When dealing with difficult people or situations, remember why you officiate. Keeping your eye on your “why” will help keep you on track towards your goals.

Knowledge. As officials it is a must that we know the rules and mechanics of our respective sports. Between learning the mental performance skills, studying the rules, breaking down video and talking with mentors there are a lot of ways to improve our knowledge. Challenge yourself to never stop learning. Read books on personal development and communication. If you don’t like to read, check out audio books, or podcasts while you are traveling to your games. Always be working on yourself as well as your craft. As the great Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson says, “the separation is in the preparation”.

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Leadership. Supervisors are always looking to hire great leaders. Leaders are officials that know how to develop trust and have a proven track record of success by sticking to their process. Leaders are mentally tough and masters of the mental game. If you don’t already have a mentor, find one immediately at the level above you. It is just as important that you mentor other officials. Once you start teaching and training it deepens your understanding.

Motivation and commitment. Motivation is what keeps you working towards your goals. What is the hardest part of going on a run? Believe it or not, it is putting your shoes on! It’s the start that stops most people. In this example, motivation to run would come after you started running, not before. Commitment to your process will keep you coming back even when you are not 100% and do not feel like it. If you have 80% to give, the trick is to give 100% of your 80%.

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Nutrition and fitness. Food and exercise are proven to be linked to mental performance. Think of yourself as a sports car. Would you put diesel fuel in a Ferrari? Develop good habits and routines with your eating and exercise. However, these are only two components of officiating performance. Do not fall into the trap and think you can stop there. You must work on the rest of the mental game to become an elite official.

One-word. Developing a one-word focus is a great tool for improvement. Instead of a New Year’s resolution, pick one word to focus on during the next year for personal development. A good example of one word for 2020 is growth. Pick several areas of your life to focus on and get after it! Write your word down and put in places you will see on a regular basis.

Process over outcome-based goals. This is the secret to making dreams a reality. Many people write down goals and think that they are done. Unfortunately, this will rarely accomplish much and will lead to disappointment. Goals should be challenging, specific and measurable. When setting goals, think of where you want to be in 3–5 years and write them down. Then you must reverse engineer into short-term goals and daily tasks. The journey is the reward, not the destination. In other words, enjoy the process.

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Quality. Have you ever heard the expression; perfect practice makes perfect? Always choose quality over quantity in everything that you do. Make it a point to be where your feet are and be present in the moment. When you are in the locker room before the game, are you engaged with your partners and preparing for the game ahead or are you on your cellphone? A quality pre-game meeting leads to a quality performance!

Recognize, release and refocus. This is the mistake recovery strategy that many professional athletes use when they are in yellow and red lights. It is easy to apply with officiating. When you recognize that you have lost control (missed a call), do a physical action, find a focal point and take a deep breath, say a verbal cue to yourself and take another deep breath. Doing this allows you to release the last play and get back to the present (next play) before things start to snowball.

Self-talk. What does that little voice in your head say? We all have thought patterns whether we realize it or not. Make the decision to use positive self-talk instead of negative self-talk. Train yourself to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. You can do this with confidence conditioning statements before and during games.

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Time management. Time is the great equalizer and one thing that is consistent for everyone. The most successful people are great managers of time. How do you manage your time? Managing your time can lead to increased productivity, instead of just being busy. Utilizing a time management strategy that works for you can limit decision fatigue, allowing you to focus on your most important tasks (MIT) and be on time to games and other commitments.

Uniform and physical appearance. Make it a point to have good physical conditioning and to look professional in your uniform. Always pass the eye test with supervisors, partners and coaches as this will lead to credibility.

Visualization, mental imagery and meditation. Learning how to develop this mental skill set will really set you apart and make a major difference in your performance. Develop a daily routine where you can recall past games and rehearse your upcoming game. Everything should happen twice. First in your mind and then in real life. Meditation is a great tool to add to your morning routine as well. It will improve your focus and provide many other positive health benefits. There are many types of meditation. Find one that works for you. If you are not sure how to get started, download the Head Space or Calm apps for assistance.

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W.I.N. the day. If you always focus on WHAT’S IMPORTANT NOW, you will win the day. Attack each daily decision with this mentality. If you regularly win the day, you will be locked in on the process and making progress to what you want the most.

EXcellence. Many of us are perfectionists, but there has been no perfect game officiated to date. Officiating is the one avocation where you are expected to be perfect and get better from there. When the game competition gets more challenging, striving for perfection can hold you back. Those that strive for perfection, referee safe. Those that strive for excellence, referee aggressive.

Yourself. In life and officiating you only have control over yourself and the decisions you make. Instead of worrying about others, you should always be competing with and focused on yourself. Keep it simple and focus on the two things that you can control, which are your attitude and effort. Be positive and give 100% of what you have got!

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Zzz’s. Do not underestimate the importance of a good night’s rest. For optimal mental performance you should make sleep as consistent as possible by going to bed near the same time every night as well as waking up around the same time every morning. Think of sleep as your cell phone charger. Would you want to leave the house in the morning with 10% battery life? Power naps and meditation are great ways to supplement your sleep needs.

By training the mental performance skill set your overall officiating experience will improve tremendously. There are 4 stages of acceptance to mental performance training that everyone goes through:

  1. Mental training is not for me.

2. Mental training is okay for others (usually after showing examples of professional athletes using the refocus & release tools).

3. Okay, I will give mental training a try. 4. I cannot believe I did it any other way! Which stage are you at?

Darren Drake is a certified Mental Performance Mastery (MPM) coach under the world- renowned mental performance coach, Brian Cain. He has a master’s in sport & athletic administration and is a current NCAA Division I official in the Raleigh, NC area. For more information on mental performance training contact him at:

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