We bring every past moment to the present moment. This is both good and bad. Thankfully, we carry all of our hard work: Every game we have played and each step of the training and practice. We also take the last mistake we made, such as a swing at a bad pitch or the pass you just dropped. This is why playing in this exact moment is vital. We need to let go of the mistakes while focusing on the positive stuff.

Of course, this isn’t an automatic occurrence, this learning how to be here right now. Luckily, we can learn how to play this way. Authors Ken Ravizza and Tom Hanson give us concrete steps to reach this goal in the book Head-Ups Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time. The first step on this path is self-awareness: “being aware of what is happening and then respond to it.”

Think of this as a traffic light. When your body is in the green, you are playing in the zone. You are playing well with no need to think. When your body is in the yellow, you are starting to have trouble. Maybe you didn’t hit your split time or you saw your girlfriend talking to her ex-boyfriend on the sideline. When your body is in the red, you are struggling: your mind is racing and you are tense, shaken, and completely out of the zone.

Ravizza and Hanson suggest making a chart of how your body reacts to each light. Think about your game and write down several examples of how you act while at each light. Now you know your body’s signals and you can be self-aware during practice and while in competition.

Next, practice gaining self-control when you are experiencing a yellow or red light. Ravizza and Hanson recommend these six techniques:

  1. Recognize when you aren’t in control: Just realizing you have lost control can help you regain focus and change to the green light mode.
  2. Breathe in and out three times, deeply, to change your mood.
  3. Take a minute: If your sport allows it, take a break by doing something as simple as tying your shoelace.
  4. Release negativity: Create a routine or gesture to let go of negative thoughts and feelings. Pick up a small stone, place your frustration on that rock, then toss the stone away from you.
  5. Find a focal point: Find a spot, from a crack in the wall to the flag blowing in the breeze, and let this be the place you look at to regain focus when you are faltering. By looking here, you are acknowledging all the hard work that got you this far and will carry you to the next good place.
  6. Carry yourself to confidence: Change your defeated body posture to a confident stance. “Keep your head up. Lift your sternum. Act like the most confident player you know. Think about your greatest performance and carry yourself the way you did that day.”

These are the first steps in learning how to play in the present moment. A sport psychologist can teach you more techniques for being present on the playing field, which helps us play the best possible game.