The 2017 Men's Junior National Team gets its pre-match cheer on.

Originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of VolleyballUSA. Author Jaimee Rindy, former VolleyballUSA junior correspondent, now plays at Coe College.

When we talk about mental strength and focus, it applies to more than just the time we spend on the court. Much of our mental preparation comes just before a match starts. This pre-match routine that sets our minds and bodies on volleyball is crucial to overall performance. For some, it’s extremely specific. For others, it’s as simple as a peppering drill. But it’s necessary for anybody who wants to be prepared to play well.

Compared to some players I’ve known, my personal routine is somewhat lax. But it IS a routine. A big part of it includes eating a light snack to give me energy. I also do dynamic stretches to loosen my muscles and an arm warm-up with a partner. It’s really important to me that I get a proper arm warm-up so I don’t hurt myself in the match – and so I’m ready to go when first point is played.

I spend a lot of time during warm-ups visualizing myself playing well. This helps me block out distractions and focus on my responsibilities as a player. Some people like to go to a quiet place to visualize before the game, but I prefer handling the volleyball so I can feel it as well as picturing it.

When visualizing, it’s important to see yourself being successful rather than fearing mistakes and creating pressure. Pre-match routines are meant to excite you for the match, not scare you. Focus on only the positive things while mentally prepping for your game.

Another thing I do before matches is talk to my coaches and gauge how they’re feeling about the match. While some people like to keep to themselves with their headphones on (which is by no means a bad way to mentally prepare), I’m drawn to conversations about strategy. I love that side of the game, and when my coach and I are discussing how to beat a team with an exceptionally powerful outside hitter or an unusually scrappy defense, my mind is engaged and focused completely on the game I’m about to play.

I love when coaches give me something specific to focus on because it gives me a definitive purpose for that match and a place to redirect my energy if things get chaotic. It also helps me understand what my coach needs from me. The mental part of the game is what separates competitive volleyball from gym-class volleyball, so I take special interest in it.

Ultimately, my true focus before every match is my teammates. I make sure that they are all feeling O.K. and ready to play. I make sure that their focus is on the match and not on any issues they may be having with other players, the coach or in their personal lives. This was an especially important job as the team captain and a mentor to many of the younger girls.

While I do like some time alone before a match to focus myself, I love the time I spend with my teammates before we play. They are, after all, the reason I play this sport and the true reason I get excited for a match. I get to go and do what I love with my best friends. That knowledge in itself is enough to pump me up.

Whatever your pre-match routine may be, it’s important to have something that readies you for the match. Warming up, both mentally and physically, is a must because you don’t want to waste precious points waiting for your body and mind to get in the game.

Remember that what works for your teammates may not work for you. Find a routine that mentally and physically prepares you for competition. These routines are a way to clear your head, bring your full attention to the upcoming match and position yourself to be the best player you can be.