I want to first say every athlete has different needs. Some people need to be alone before a game, some people need to be laughing with their friends, and some need a combination of many things. There is no wrong way to tap into your mental game. Remember that along with your needs you should be respectful of your teammate’s needs. Let them do what they need to do to truly get into the zone before and during a game as well.
This season I have been really working on cleaning up and fine-tuning my mental game. This is an all-too-common struggle in the athlete community. I feel like after some trial and error, I found what works best for me. I want to share with you some tips and tricks I’ve picked up or witnessed along the way:
Before the game, I personally need to get out some of my anxiety through being silly. I recognize my teammates who have their headphones in and are chilling and I do my best to avoid them so not to mess up their zen. I find the people who also thrive in the laughter and share it. This used to be me on the jam line a few years back:
I have moved to doing these shenanigans BEFORE the game now.
During the game I become hyperfocused. Hyperfocus is an intense form of mental concentration or visualization that focuses consciousness on a subject, topic, or task. In some individuals, various subjects or topics may also include daydreams, concepts, fiction, the imagination, and other objects of the mind. You can read more about different versions of hyperfocus here.
I don’t watch the game. As a jammer, I used to watch and try and pick apart the blockers weaknesses to try and come up with a plan of attack. It’s not a bad idea. But in the end, I found out that it didn’t matter. The blockers would be different, the situation would be different, and my skating style is different… All these things can be similar to previous jams, but it’s still going to be different in the end!
I don’t need to watch the game. Our team talks about what is working and what isn’t working. We share our knowledge after good jams and after bad jams. My team is also incredibly lucky in that our bench coach watches like a hawk and can give us pointers on how to be more successful.
For some athletes watching the game can become really stressful. Maybe a jam goes poorly before you take the track. This often leads to riskier behavior with lower awareness the following jam. You may be in the mindset that you HAVE to have an absolutely perfect jam to try and “make up” for something that went poorly. No. You need to do the absolute best you can and not morph into a loose cannon.
So what can you do instead of watch the game? Look at your teammates. Some of our blockers will touch everyone in their line before they take the track. They make deliberate eye contact and discuss what they can do.
You can also try what I specifically do. Look at your skates. Maybe close your eyes. Visualize. Tune out absolutely everything and imagine performing in a great jam. As my captain says before every game, “picture yourself being challenged, but overcoming those obstacles.” Focus on deep breathing. Think about what you can do and how you are going to do it.
Okay—so now that you’re doing all the right things for you… everything should be going perfect, right? NOPE. You will have bad jams. You might even have horrible jams! Maybe you went to the box more than once in a span of a jam or two. You just want to scream and yell– but you can’t. Or at least you shouldn’t. Don’t be that guy. Nobody likes that guy.
First off, don’t yell at your coach. All too often we get riled up when things go wrong and we stand too close to our coach while we word vomit what has upset us. While I am sure they probably care, they have another job to do and it isn’t handling your emotions.
Find a teammate. One teammate. Your safe space on the team. Vent to them (IF it doesn’t mess up their zen bench) once and then let it go. Get it out of your mouth and body and then completely refocus. Don’t go back to that place.
Alternatively, work it out on your own. A lot of times when I am upset about how things are going I need to be alone. I need to breathe and rage for a moment. I will move to the end of the bench, alone, so I’m not letting my bad feelings seep on to my teammates whom I love and care about. Don’t rain on their parade. Drizzle by yourself for a moment and then join your friends in the sunshine.
If you have the mental capacity during the game, be a safe space for others. If I’m in a good brain space, I try to take notice of reactions each of my teammates have. Sometimes they come off the track looking frazzled. I offer myself as an ear or a comforting pat on the leg. Sometimes they are watching the game and getting wound up. I offer myself as a distraction and as a partner in some guided visualization. If you can be there without ruining your zen, it is always appreciated.
Lastly, celebrate your teammates. High five after every jam! If you are watching the game, tell them something good you saw. A lot of the time they might not have even noticed. I can’t tell you how many times I have told a blocker, “that thing you did was AWESOME!” and they look at me confused.
Tap into your best self before, during, and after the game. You and your team will be better for it.