Performing Under Pressure: The Transformative Influence of a 'Next Play' Coaching Emphasis

Being able to mentally reset for the next play is an extremely important skill for athletes. It’s at the heart of resilience. Coaches play a pivotal role in how effective an athlete's "Next Play" mental reset skills are, especially after the athlete makes a mistake. Coaches can also hinder the mental reset process!! In high pressure situations, everything is magnified. Here are five things that the coach can do to help the athlete develop a strong "Next Play" mental reset routine? Here also are five things that coaches typically do that can make it more difficult for the athlete to effectively reset mentally after a mistake:

Five things coaches can do to help athletes develop a strong “Next Play” mental reset process:

1. Cultivate a Supportive Environment: Coaches should help athletes feel supported and safe. Two-way communication is key. When players feel understood and supported, especially after a mistake, they more easily embrace the 'Next Play' philosophy as a constructive tool for competitive success. It is very difficult to play at a consistently high level when fear of possible punishment is a prominent thought in the athlete’s mind.

2. Develop a Strong Relationship of Trust: Strong trust between the athlete and the coach creates an important psychological safety net for athletes. Knowing that mistakes won't lead to harsh criticism or negative consequences allows players to focus on the present rather than mentally spinning on past errors. This can be accomplished while still maintaining high performance goals and standards. Trust is essential for the successful implementation of a 'Next Play' mental reset process…and ultimate competitive success. Athletes love this!

3. Establish a Pre-Skill Routine: The coach should strongly encourage each athlete to develop their own personalized pre-skill routines that they will use between each play. These routines could include a series of mental and physical preparation steps that help them smoothly transition from one play to the next. Establishing a consistent routine creates a sense of familiarity and control, which can positively impact an athlete's mental state.

4. Teach “Present-Moment” Awareness: “Next Play” mental skills will help athletes to stay present in the moment rather than dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about future outcomes. Techniques such as focused breathing can help center their attention on the present moment. Deep, rhythmic breaths can be a simple yet effective tool to calm the mind, reduce anxiety, and enhance concentration during training or competition. Helping the athlete’s ability to focus on the present will foster better decision-making and performance during the upcoming play.

5. Positive Self-Talk: Teach athletes to replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Develop a set of empowering phrases or keywords that athletes can use to boost their confidence and focus. Athletes will often repeat what they hear their coach say. As the coach, help the athlete cultivate an awareness of their inner dialogue. Help them work to fill their mind with solution-focused affirmations. This positive self-talk can help them maintain a strong mindset and maintain a resilient and focused mindset.


Five things coaches should avoid doing that can make it more difficult for athletes to mentally reset after a mistake:

1. Ignoring Mental Skills Development: Neglecting the mental aspects of training can hinder an athlete's ability to reset mentally. Coaches should integrate mental skills training into the overall coaching strategy to help athletes develop resilience and focus.

2. Over-Coaching Between Plays (Especially After a Mistake): If athletes are looking at the bench after a mistake, it’s much more difficult to get focused on the next play. When a coach is constantly talking to the athlete between points, it’s very difficult for the athlete to mentally reset to the “Next Play”. It’s hard for the athlete focus on the “Next Play” when the coach is still talking about the “Last Play”?

3. Public Shaming/Excessive Criticism: Constantly criticizing athletes for their mistakes can erode confidence and make it challenging for them to mentally move on. Coaches should balance constructive feedback with encouragement. Avoid singling out athletes in a negative way in front of teammates or spectators. Public shaming can be detrimental to an athlete's mental state, hinder their ability to reset for the next play, and undermine player-coach trust.

4. Unrealistic Expectations/Expecting Near Perfection: Setting unrealistic expectations for perfection can create undue pressure. Coaches should acknowledge that mistakes are a natural part of sports and strongly focus on the process of improvement.

5. Lack of Support/Distancing the Athlete after a Mistake: Failing to provide emotional support or understanding can leave athletes feeling isolated. Sometimes coaches create the perception that they are distancing or abandoning the athlete after a mistake. No athlete ever made a mistake on purpose. Coaches should be approachable and available for athletes to discuss mistakes and receive guidance.


Remember that individual athletes may respond differently to various mental preparation strategies. Coaches should communicate with their athletes, understand their unique needs, and tailor the teaching and nurturing approach accordingly. Consistent practice of these mental preparation techniques will contribute to improved performance and resilience, especially in high pressure moments.

In summary, coaches play a crucial role in shaping an athlete's mental resilience and ability to reset after a mistake. Resilient athletes develop confidence in their ability to recover and overcome hardships. Positive reinforcement, constructive feedback, and a supportive environment contribute to the development of strong "Next Play" mental reset skills.

Huddle Up!

Let us know what you think! Share your experiences, stories or thoughts that guide your coaching on our new Paragon Coaching Resources Facebook page. “Like” or “Follow”. It’s always helpful for coaches to hear amazing stories. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Cell:   1-559-287-8389
Email: [email protected]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top