How to get mentally stronger for volleyball(1)

Are you left frustrated by making mistakes on the court? Can’t seem to access your best game consistently? Getting mentally strong for volleyball just takes a bit of practice.

There is no secret recipe for getting “in the zone” for volleyball. Different things work for everyone – but instead of leaving your best games to chance…try doing these 5 things to increase your odds of playing your best game all the time.

5 Keys to get mentally strong in game of volleyball

1. Prepare for practice like you would a game: 

 Like Allen Iverson once said, “we’re talkin’ about practice? I just played a game and y’all talkin’ about practice” Iverson Practice! 

There is a good reason to address the issue of “talkin’ ‘bout practice”. Every rep you take is either making you better or worse. Each also provides with you a learning opportunity. More on that later. (Good vs bad mistakes)

Preparing for practice like you would a game is the easiest way to shift your mindset positively. Think of the things you eat on game day and the rituals you perform. The music you listen to. The way you visualize the game… Simply adding to your game-day routine into a shorter version before practice can help put you in the right mindset. 

In a game, every rep matters. Make them matter in practice, too. Like anything, being mentally tough is a skill. This easy adjustment before practice can help train your mental game. If you practice putting the pressure on yourself like you’re about to in a game, it will trick your mind into thinking you ARE playing in a game. If you took every rep as seriously as you do in a game – you’d improve your volleyball skills a lot quicker.

Get “in the zone” more often

A lot of athletes approach practice like “it’s just practice”. This dangerous way of thinking can destroy your mental game more than you think it can. Getting “in the zone” or playing your best volleyball without having to think about it can become a trained skill. You simply have to put yourself into the same conditions over and over until it becomes second nature.

Instead of it being an accident, brainstorm the things you did before you got “in the zone”. What kind of mood were you in that day? What were you thinking about before during and after? TRICK YOUR MIND. Emulate the same things and add them to your pre-practice routine. No more happy accidents. Train with intention!

As an added bonus, by the time you’re getting ready for your game… suddenly you’ve prepared SO many times for a game-like mindset you already know what you need to do. A game will feel like any other practice. It will take the nerves and anxiety out of performing.

Additionally, you may notice that players and people who handle everyday adversity better than others have better mental strength. They can have a bad day and still bring their a-game. If you learn how to push through tough situations, you become tough.

2. Learn How to Control Your Breath: 

Frustration and anger naturally raise your blood pressure and deprive your brain of oxygen. When you feel stuck in a negative self-talk loop, reset your brain. 

Studies have proven that taking a deep breath lowers your blood pressure. Take a nice big breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and release it. When you release, think about also letting go of the thing you’re making a mistake on. 

Mine looks like this: I mess up a reception rep for the fifth time in a row. I’m trying to get the angle right on my platform to make a perfect pass…I keep getting aced left and right. Now that I’m frustrated I start talking to myself… “You’re so dumb. You’ll never get better. It’s not that hard. You can’t even do THIS right”. 

This is the perfect moment to rewire my thinking. I stop, stand up straight, take a deep breath, release my past errors, and let go. There is nothing I can do to change them. On my next big breath in, I think about what I’m going to do for the next rep. I take one more, relax my shoulders, shake out my legs, and focus on the task. 

All I need to do is make a good angle. 

I like to also incorporate a breath before I serve. Get myself to relax a bit and just do the task at hand. When I’m nervous, anxious, stressed, or any mix of negative emotions… I breathe deeply. It helps to alleviate the negative physical attributes that come with being stressed.

Next time you’re stuck in a negative mindset, remember there is nothing you can do about the errors. You can only do the next rep. It’s a bad idea to carry your past around with you because it’s heavy. 

Breathe, let go and move forward. 

3. Have a short memory for mistakes or disassociate from them: 

Have a short memory of your mistakes. There is no need to dwell on an error longer than it takes you to decide what you need to fix. Errors are just information. It’s feedback. Once you know what to fix, make that your focus for the next rep.

Having a short memory of your errors will leave you less bogged down carrying the weight of your own frustrations. If you’re having a hard time – look to the above section. Breathe, decide what you’re going to do next, and do it. 

Know thyself:

Dissociating from your errors in a game is a great way to move on. Mistakes ARE information and disregarding them entirely is a bad idea. However, this is a great tool to have in a game. 

Come game-time, if you make an error, look at your hands and say “that was weird”. Or “that’s unlike me”. And then move on. I like this technique for a couple of reasons. One, no one makes an error on purpose. Reason number two, it removes you (your ego) from the error. 

When you remove your ego from the error, the blame then gets shifted somewhere else. Instead of absorbing the mistake, this allows it to bounce off of you. Don’t take mistakes personally, it has nothing to do with your skill set, it was simply a mistake and everyone makes them. The ability to rebound from errors is a great skill and can be fixed with a positive mindset.

Volleyball is a game of errors. If you let your ego get mad, everything else will follow. You will stiffen up, become more prone to future errors, and even worse… play afraid to make an error. 

The thing is, you know have what it takes to play well. You know you’re a good player. Why else would you be on the court? Let errors be what they are – a point. And nothing more. My mom always told me, “be like a duck, as the water rolls off of a duck, let the mistakes roll off of you too”. If you can become a player unphased by your own mistakes you will become mentally strong. Remember, it’s not about ignoring the mistakes – just don’t let them consume you.

4. Growth mindset:

As I mentioned in the previous section, don’t let your ego define you as a volleyball player. Your ego is responsible for keeping you safe, so it will retreat into a safe space when you’re in fight-or-flight mode. And I’ve got some bad news about fight-or-flight. ANY stressful situation will force your brain to retreat to what it knows. That’s why we breaaaaathe. Taking intentional breaths reminds your body that YOU are in control.

If you can control your breath, you can control your thoughts. YOU are the master of your body – don’t let it go into overdrive and run your emotions into the ground.

Red Bull athletes have some of the best sports psychologists in the game. They have to learn not to conquer their fears, but acknowledge them and decide how to act despite their fears. They override their brains to keep calm in limit-pushing feats. 

You MUST be uncomfortable in order to get better. No one is born knowing how to ride a bike. Once you’ve learned how to adopt a growth mindset, you will find that mistakes are how you grow. Adopting a growth mindset will make you mentally strong.

Identify your emotions to build mental strength

That’s why identifying your emotions is important. Your body will rebel against you when learning something new. You’re forming new connections and pathways in your brain. 

Our brains are lazy – they want to use the neural pathways that already exist. That’s why making new habits is so difficult. The path of least resistance is… well… the easiest. So in high-pressure situations, anything starting with a “must” or “have to” immediately puts that pressure on (or one where your ego may be bruised – like having a bad game).

As soon as you feel negative emotions, it’s a sign your body is dealing with fight-or-flight. We overcome that by seeing the emotion, recognizing why we have it, and then deciding to not let it control us. 

The quicker you can feel those emotions, the quicker you will be able to overcome them. There is no real danger. You’re not fighting saber-toothed cats or chasing down wooly mammoths anymore. But that evolutionary part of our brain still exists. 

As soon as you feel frustration, maybe even embrace it! You’re getting better. You’re learning and adapting. Don’t walk down a negative self-loathing path. Take the emotion for what it is and use it in your favor. Get better at it. 

All aspects of mental training require practice just like anything else. Rather than avoiding the emotions or giving up, learn to live with them. 

A true growth mindset is one where you accept your emotions, flaws, and mistakes and instead of being defeated by them, you learn to live with them. Imagine if every time you got angry, you were able to coach yourself into taking a breath, realize why you’re angry, and fix the problem on the spot! A true sign of being mentally strong is someone who can acknowledge their fears and proceed anyways.

You’re going to fail…And that’s okay

This kind of thinking allows you to go into challenging situations knowing you’re going to fail and do your best anyways. You’re going to fall a couple of times learning to ride a bike. You may have gotten mad at the bike, a hole in the road, or the sun in your eyes. But until you learned to accept that YOU ride the bike… it’s the only way you would learn to deal with those things. 

As the saying goes, “Smooth sailing never made a skilled sailor”. 

You will have hiccups, maybe even backtrack and you most certainly will do things wrong. But, you will also do things right. The more you look at your mistakes and decide how to fix them the better you will become at anything you do. The more you use your emotions to help you, the less they will hinder you. Being mentally strong comes with practice.

Remember that you’re playing a game you enjoy. Smile. Breathe. Play hard. 

5. Good vs bad mistakes: 

These good and bad mistakes can get more and more specific the better you get. Every error is a chance to get better. Mistakes are data. Data always tells you how you can improve. 

There is such a thing as good and bad mistakes. I’ve spent the majority of this article talking about mistakes in general, but there is an important distinction between good mistakes and bad ones. 

Good mistakes can be identified by positive ACTION not the OUTCOME of the thing you’re trying to get better at. For example, if you’re working on your pipe attack, a good mistake would be one that you hit long. A bad one would be one that is hit in the net. 

In volleyball, reducing the number of errors you commit is a great way to have more wins. You can do this by simply making the other team play, or giving them an opportunity. In the example I outlined above, a hit in the net provides ZERO opportunity for your opponent to touch the ball. At least if you’re hitting it out of bounds someone might touch it. 

Differentiate between good and bad mistakes

One thing I like to do while in practice is to pick a particular skill I want to improve. On reception, it’s usually moving my feet to the ball quicker. While I am getting reps, I think about that and only that. I count a good rep as one where I moved my feet correctly to the ball. 

Whether the pass was good or not depends. If I moved my feet well but didn’t hit my target because I had a bad platform – it’s still a good mistake for me. If I didn’t move my feet well, bad mistake. It’s possible to make an error with my feet and have a good pass, and vice versa. 

This will depend on the player – but it makes it easier to sort the data. Good feet, awesome. Reinforce that feeling. Not only will it help you improve your self-awareness, but it will build your mental strength. You can more easily analyze what you’re doing and how to fix it. Even mid-game!

This is also a great tool to help you reinforce the growth mindset. Find what works for you and apply it to your game. 

The mental game prevails over the physical: 

Mentally tough athletes last a lot longer in their game. They know that things get hard. There will be stretches of time where it feels like you don’t improve. When you want to give up. But those who can push through adversity will always come out victorious in the end. 

I don’t mean to mislead you when I say victorious. I’m not talking about medals, trophies, or championships. Being in this kind of mindset prepares you for any situation you might be in off the court. Someday you will be done with competitive sports – but you will still have the same mentality. 

Want to go into business? You know what it takes to lead. You’re great under pressure and you know how to calm down your coworkers. You will know how to adapt yourself to fix past mistakes and move forward. You will know that every day is an opportunity to learn something new. Being mentally strong extends beyond the court.


It’s not an exaggeration to say that being a growth-minded adult makes you a kick-ass human. Sports are an incredible time of your life to access the very best of you and keep it. When your body can’t push anymore, your mind still can. Being mentally strong makes you a better volleyball player and person.

If you want to really step up your game – check out this ultimate hitter’s guide that I wrote here.

How much mental is volleyball?

From professional playing experience, we can safely say that at least 80% percent is the mental part. Of course, skills and technique are essential, but if you want to play on the highest level, being mentally strong will give you a great advantage. Essential part if you want to become a professional volleyball player.

Is volleyball hard mentally?

Yes, it is. The hardest part is to be consistent. Bad games and mistakes will happen. The most important is to bounce back as fast as possible.

How do you mentally prepare for a volleyball game?

Every player has different routines for preparing for a volleyball match. Some will listen to music, and motivational speeches, while some will read. Find the best routine that will prepare you the best. When you step on the court, never, and we never, think that you will make a mistake. Be confident. You should talk positively to yourself.

How do you gain confidence in volleyball?

Gain confidence with positive self-talk. You have to want that set; you have to want that reception; you have to want that ace. Don’t be afraid of the ball. And believe good things and plays will happen.

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