The day of reckoning is fast approaching. Your first event of the season is only a week away. What should athletes do during the final week to ensure quality performance?
One Week Out
- Duplicate the conditions of actual competitive play as much as possible during the practice sessions. Emphasis should shift from general drilling to preparing for specific criteria you will face from the upcoming opponent.
- Taper training. By the last 3 to 4 days of the final week, become aware of training overload. Past experience will tell athletes what routine is best to follow for achieving the highest possible physical, emotional, and intellectual performance level for the competition. Follow the routine that was successful in the past.
- Target mental training efforts. One important consideration during the final week centers around the dictum, "Never be surprised by anything!" The athlete who is surprised is unprepared and in trouble. Being prepared for the unexpected, including poor officiating, bad playing conditions, or the opposition changing their strategy does not mean you expect them to occur. It does mean that athletes have mentally rehearsed satisfactory mental and emotional responses to those situations beforehand. Research shows one of the most important aspects of mental training during this period is to re-establish the attitudes, emotions, and mindsets that lead to that "winning feeling". The eagerness, enthusiasm, tension, confidence, positivism, and intensity will all contribute. By the end of this final week, all negative feelings and attitudes should be successfully dissolved.
One Day Out
- No last minute cramming. If your athletes are saying, "I haven't practiced hard enough lately so I put in three hours extra last night" or "I haven't mentally rehearsed my performance so I visualized for 2 straight hours." are not sufficient at this point. Last minute cramming will more likely than not lead to confused play. The goal of actual performance is to "go with the flow" and be spontaneous.
- Don't get anxious about being anxious. It's perfectly normal and natural, and probably necessary to perform well. The same approach should be taken with sleep. Research shows a restless night will have no appreciable effect on performance. However, the athlete who worries over not sleeping can hinder performance.
- If any persistent personal problems exist, make one last effort to temporarily set them aside.
- Spend 15 to 20 minutes mentally rehearsing how they want things to go. Again, attempt to recapture that "winning feeling."
The Final 3 Hours
- Different athletes have different ways to prepare or "psyche" themselves before a competition. Performance consultant Ken Ravizza explained how the University of Nebraska football team prepared for competition: "We had one area for the guys who liked to talk and one for guys who liked to stay quiet and listen to music on headphones. We had another area for the guys who liked to scream and bang their helmets together. Then we had an area for the guys who didn't know what they wanted."
- Dress "to win." If red socks are the winning ones, wear them. If you've got a winning beard, the last thing to do is shave. Superstition or not, if athletes believe it will help, allow them to partake.
- A light workout. For lowering tension levels and anxiety, a warm-up routine consisting of mild aerobics and stretching just prior to play helps prevent a slow start.