Welcome to Part 2 of the Game Day Mental Toughness series. This follows on from Part 1 (obvs) where you learnt how ridiculously nervous I used to get before games.
So much so I didn’t enjoy them at all. And I really, really wanted to enjoy them! Games are the reason we train so hard, they are the culmination of all that blood, sweat and tears and the place to show the world how awesome we are!
I also shared with you some of the things I do to cope with nerves and strengthen my mental toughness in preparation for a game. These things you can try for yourself and if they don’t work, try something else. Mental toughness is all about testing theories and seeing what works and what doesn’t.
So now we’ve got the pre-game mental stuff down, lets move on to game day!!!!
If you’ve been working hard and have put in all the preparation in the days and weeks before, you’ll feel way more confident come the big day. However, the pressure of the occasion can cause even the steeliest skater to fall apart so it’s good to have some strategies for keeping cool on game day.
Before the game
Get up early
I am not a morning person in the slightest, but on game day I like to get up early (or at least I don’t hit snooze 47 times) because I hate feeling rushed. I want my game day mornings to be relaxed and calm.
The more calm your morning is, the more calm your head will be and the better your game will be. The start of the day will set the tone for the rest of the day. If you go into the sports hall already frazzled because you’ve been rushing around, you will find it harder to get into ‘the zone’ and focus. It also zaps your energy and you kinda need that for the game.
So do all your prep the night before so that when you wake up in the morning you can be so chill.
(It also means I can eat – close to game time, adrenaline or nerves make it so I physically can’t eat. I can drink calories but actually eating something will make me puke! So getting up earlier means I can beat the adrenaline rush and get a good amount of food in so I have plenty of energy.)
Streamline your routine
Everyone has a routine on game day – what they eat, what underwear they wear, what make up they wear, how they style their hair, the order they put their kit on, what music they listen to….
Routines are great; they help put you into the game day mindset, each step of the routine preparing your for battle. They are familiar and familiarity makes you feel calm and prepared.
But routines can also be bad: If your routine is elaborate, takes four hours to complete and involves being in a specific place at a specific time, you’re going to have a bad time when you have an away game or there is some kind of mishap. If your routine is rigid and something goes wrong, say hello to stress spiral.
Instead, try and create a routine that is portable, flexible and as short as possible so that you can take it on the road with you wherever you go. It needs to work on a bus, in a hotel room, in a sweaty changing room as well as in the comfort of your home venue.
Write and repeat mantras
Mantras are like mini motivational speeches that you give to yourself. They help get you fired up, solidify goals and put you in a positive and focused mindset for the game. They should be super positive, motivational, vivid and punchy! You can write mantras for yourself specifically and for your team as a whole.
I like to write mine in my little notepad on the morning of a game and re-read them at various points – before the warm up, after the warm up and just before the first whistle. It helps me get my head in the game and visualise our success. I also like to choose a couple words, my focus or trigger words, that I write in big massive capital letters.
An example mantra might be:
“My team is unstoppable. We play our game from the first whistle to the very last second of the game. We are unrelenting in our offence, soul destroying in our defence and our jammers slice through opposition walls like they aren’t even there.
My offence is clinical and I’m so in sync with my jammers, people think we’re psychic. My defence is so strong I make opposition jammers regret the day they ever picked up the star.
STRONG. FOCUSSED. INTENSE.”
It might seem really over the top but that’s the point. If you aim high and you don’t make it, you’ll still end up better off than the person who aimed low. You don’t have to share these with anyone so don’t be afraid to be dramatic!
Sometimes the pressure of a real game can be too much, especially if it’s an important game that will determine your rankings or whether you win the tournament. It can literally feel like life or death. (I cried the whole morning my old team were in the Heartlands finals and then I broke m wrist in the first game, thanks nerves!)
Pressure can make you play like you’ve never even heard of roller derby. It makes you stiff and unfocussed and stressed. It makes you more likely to do stupid things you’d never do in training.
So you have to pretend the game doesn’t mean anything. It’s just training. It’s just a scrim – it’s important but it’s also not important at all. If you can play like you do in training or fun scrims, you’ll play your best. You’ll be loose and unafraid, focused but enjoying every moment. It’s just a game, it’s just for fun!
Don’t watch the other games
If your game is part of a double or triple header and you’re not on first, watching the other games – in my experience – can be detrimental to your mental game. If it’s a really exciting game with lead changes and apex jumps and drama, this can make you way too hyped and use up mental and physical energy. If it’s a blow out and one team is getting pummelled, it can leave you with the fear and with a negative mindset for your game.
Personally, I get frustrated (because I am an asshole spectator who can only see the stuff skaters are doing wrong) and I don’t want the way other teams play to be the last mental image in my head. Not necessarily because what they’re doing is bad but because it’s not how we do things. (I also do have a fear of someone else’s bad game rubbing off on me!)
Other people enjoy watching games before their own as it distracts them and can act as inspiration. The only way to know for sure is to test it out for yourself.
Get hyped/get chilled
You need to find your ideal arousal level (wheeeey!) so that you’re neither too hyped or too chilled. This will take a few games to figure out – did you start the game with so much adrenaline pumping you started throwing big, pointless hits and ending up in the penalty box. Or did you start the game so chilled you were slow to react and made stupid mistakes. Some people need to get more hyped to get focussed and ready whilst others need to be calm to reserve energy and think clearly.
A lot of people – myself included – like to start calm and then gradually increase the hype to peak just as you go out on track.
Things your can do to get hyped: listen to pumped up music, punching your fellow hype teammates, doing plyometrics before your warm up, doing shouty chants, watching motivational speeches….
Things you can do to get chilled: listen to calming music, practice mindfulness to connect with your body, sit quietly and repeat your goals and mantras in your mind, do yoga, take deep and slow breaths….
During the game
Don’t look at the score
If you’re someone who really feels pressure, avoid looking at the score. It can be that one thing that tips you over the edge into desperate, sloppy play if you’re behind. Or it can make you complacent if you think you’re miles ahead and then surprisemotherfucker, you lost the game.
For me personally, it depends on who we’re playing and what our predictions are. If we’re the underdog, I love the scoreboard. If we have to win, I don’t want to know! I’m gonna play each jam like it’s the most important jam anyway.
Coping with penalties
I’ve had quite a bit of penalty trouble recently and sometimes they get the better of me. I start to get frustrated and, in my mind, I’m almost never genuinely at fault – it’s always someone else’s fault. But we know that 99% of the time, I really did commit that penalty.
Reacting in a stressy way doesn’t help, in fact it makes things worse. It makes you more aggressive and therefore more likely to get another penalty when you go back on track.
The best reaction is to just bite your tongue, take a deep breath and use those 30 seconds as a rest and reset. Instead of festering on how much that outside pack ref hates you (she doesn’t) try planning your next move. What’s happening on track? Where is the best position for you to (legally) return to? Is your team trying to communicate with you?
Smile and thank the NSO as you leave and reenter the track calm, focussed and ready.
Every jam is a new jam
Jamnesia! Whatever happened in the last jam is over. You can’t go back and change it. There is no use feeling angry or upset about what just happened because the moment is gone. The only thing you can affect now is what you do in the next jam.
If the last jam was hectic, use these few seconds to reset – new jam, fresh start, back on plan. Use the break to make adjustments, discuss what’s working and what isn’t, make a new plan and go out and execute it. If you need to, get out your notebook or journal and re-read your mantras!
Shake your head and visualise erasing your memory if you have to – anything that will help you to focus on the next jam and the task in hand. Because, if you’re still thinking about the thing that happened in the last jam, how can you concentrate on what you’re supposed to be doing in this one?! Jamnesia!