Leading up to a practice or competition has loads of different variable to consider, and the mentality you're going into it with is going to play a massive role in your performance for that day. Today, however, I'm not going to be talking about how to mentally and physically prepare for performance; instead, I want to take a look at what happens when you hit the mental boom midway through your game.
We often get caught up in "how do I get in the right mindset?" in order to hit the ground running and have a peak performance. And while that is an almost unbelievably important topic, I've seen many athletes show up and actually be in that right headspace already. Great - what's the issue then? Getting into a peak performance mindset isn't an easy job, but it's done in a relatively controlled environment. You can do it in your room, in an empty room with your teammates, on the stage while drowning out external stressors, and so forth. I'm not saying it's easy; in fact, it's extremely difficult. However, you have more control of that environment - whether it be the music you choose, pre-performance routines, moving around, planning strategies out, etc.
What happens when you come into a match crazy pumped up, focused, and everything kicks off perfectly. Then, out of nowhere, things start crumbling.
The team is flooding comms with negative, pointless talk.
Everyone is upset.
All momentum is gone, your thoughts have turned more negative, and even your posture has sunk. Now, how do we get into a peak performance mentality here? You don't have control of the environment as much as you did in the pregame when you initially tried to get your mind into the right zone so it becomes even more difficult to get back into it.
Everything has collapsed into chaos. Your team is all burnt out and you can't stop the other team from pressing down on you. The secret, though, is that you now have a choice to make: mindlessly experience the emotions and let them control your actions OR use the emotions you're experiencing as fuel for change. Here's the thing: if you're mentally shut down, you're in a negative frame of mind. That negative frame of mind is going to cause you to be more pessimistic and less open to finding solutions. If you're able to find a way to swing back into the positive framework, despite being behind, your mind is going to actively search for ways to recover the match.
I can't promise you that every time you tilt that refocusing and getting yourself mentally back into the game will result in an underdog comeback story. What I can promise you is if you work on learning how to get your head back into a peak performance mentality, you're going to increase the amount of times you have a comeback.
The latter choice is probably the more effective one in terms of turning things around. Being mindless about your emotions means that your actions in and out of game are going to be out of your control. Here's a 3-step process you can follow to try to re-focus and push for the comeback.
#1. LABEL YOUR EMOTIONS. As I mentioned earlier, being mindless with your emotions will cause your actions in and out of game to be controlled by something you're not aware of. Are you pissed off? Angry? Sad? Frustrated? Feeling like you have no energy? Can't focus? Give your emotions a name and make yourself aware of what's happening inside your mind and body. Give them a label so that you are very aware of what you're feeling.
#2. USE KEYWORDS. You're directly in the middle of training or competition. You don't have the luxury to sneak off and take some time to get back into the zone. It has to happen now. In the middle of everything. No break. Make keywords your best friend. When the shit hits the fan and you have a mental boom, your focus is going to go right out the door because you're now focusing on everything that's wrong rather than what needs to be done to recover. Using keywords like "positioning," "CS," "edge guard," "watch the map," and countless others will be a trigger to remind you of where your focus should be going. These are just examples but the keywords that you use are going to be specific to you, your game, and the things that you know you do poorly when tilted. Word of advice on this one, though: keywords become more effective when you condition their meaning. What this means is use them frequently and often when practicing. If you try to implement keywords in the heat of the moment for the first time, they won't mean much. If you've used them as part of your training over the past month, the "positioning" is going to hold a lot more weight and value.
#3. LEAVE THE MISTAKES BEHIND. Working in esports I've seen athletes get stuck on a mistake for the remainder of the match. Whether it's towards themselves or another teammate, that one mistake takes them out of their peak performance mindset and directs their focus/attention to the wrong thing. Does bringing up that moment over and over again help fix what happened? Or does it help get you or your teammate into the right mentality? No. Definitely not. You need to immediately let that drop. The longer you stay focused on that mistake, the more your emotions are going to hold you back and the more mistakes you're going to make moving forward because you're not focused on the right information. Acknowledge that it happens and move on. Don't flame your teammate, don't flame yourself. In fact, encouraging a teammate when they do something wrong will actually help them do more correct things in the upcoming minutes, while flaming does the exact opposite. Sure, it's sucky that they fed or lost the map, but you've done that before as well. To get that teammate performing well again, boost their confidence. We can deal with that mistake later in a debriefing session, but for now it's irrelevant.
These are just 3 quick suggestions of things you can try in your game to help refocus after a mental bust while in-game. There's loads of other techniques out there, but these are just three ones that you can try out yourself or shoot me a message on Twitter if you have questions and want help working through them!