Prepare, Trust & Compete: A race to the national title
Can you believe it!? Only a few more weeks left of club season. I guess the saying is true, “Time really does fly when you are grinding and having fun!”. With only one tournament remaining in the season, I thought it would be cool to converse with some of the most successful club teams and players about their experiences with end of the year tournaments and what it took for them to succeed. Here are some tips from the pro’s themselves:
Set Goals: Whether long term or short term, goal setting helps improve team/athlete motivation and commitment. It is also an organized way of tracking performance and allows teams and athletes to assess their strengths and weaknesses over time.
If you already set long and short-term goals for the season, now is a great time to analyze whether or not you were able to accomplish those goals and why you were or were not able to do so. It is perfectly okay if you set high goals but “under accomplished”. I always encourage athletes and teams to relentlessly pursue greatness because I strongly believe that success is dependent upon ones capacity to believe. Not accomplishing a goal doesn’t mean failure, unless you are unable to learn from it. If you can pull just one lesson from your past experiences, then you have already progressed from where you were when you initially set that goal. So, start analyzing.
If you are stumped, start by making a list of the goals that you set in the beginning of the season. Brainstorm reasons why you may or may not have achieved these goals. From this list, you should be able to identify and learn from the physical, social and mental influencers that either did or did not work to your advantage. For example:
Goal: Win SCVA Regular Season
- Didn’t practice hard enough during the season
- Team drama
- Lack of communication
- Confidence Issues
- We had potential to be really good, but couldn’t perform in important situations.
If you never established a set of goals, now is a great opportunity to sit down, narrow your focus and start goal setting. The strongest goals are ones that are specific (S), measureable (M), adaptable & attainable (A), realistic (R) and time-based (T), so keep in mind these five principles (SMART goals) when formulating goals for this last tournament.
Practice Like You Play: Yup…you’ve heard it once, and you are going to hear it over and over again. Practicing like you play is one of the most important mindsets to adopt during this final stretch. Commit to the process of practice by spending this entire month bringing everything that you have, every single day. Practicing like you play is no walk in the park. Check out the following link for tips on learning to “practice like you play”. http://renathletics.com/2017/05/16/practice-like-you-play/
Tune Out the Noise: Although Nationals may seem like the biggest event in your life, in reality, it is just another tournament. It is no different from the last SCVA mandatory that you played in or the last practice that you had. Despite that, in the weeks leading up to the ‘big tournament’, you may be experiencing a level of energy and excitement that you didn’t know you were capable of. This sudden influx of energy is electrifying, but also has the power to impede on your routine. Be mindful of this extra energy and understand how to burn it off in ways that don’t affect/change your preparation or play.
At the actual tournament itself, there are expectations and added pressures that have accumulated over multiple months of preparation and anticipation. There will be college coaches, crowds and spectators. There will be heightened emotions from teammates, coaches and parents. All of these are uncontrollable factors fostered by the nature of participating in a ‘big tournament’. You don’t have to fall victim to the uncontrollables by letting them change the way you prepare or compete.
Remember, the environment may feel different, but the actual game of volleyball doesn’t change. If you can keep that perspective in your forebrain, the likelihood of you sticking to a routine and bringing your best self is much higher.
Stick to Your Routine: You know yourself better than anyone! Stay consistent by creating a list of the physical and mental preparations that bring you to your best self. For example:
- 9 hours of sleep
- Wake up 2 hours or more before physical activity
- Set my intention for the day
- Coffee immediately upon wake-up
- 10 min visualization with coffee
- Eat breakfast 1 hour before match (Chobani yogurt and banana).
- Music on
- Phone off (no social media) 30 min before warm-up
- Roll out on foam roller
- Set a personal match goal
- Talk to team about team match goals
- Tell myself that I am great
- Tell my teammate that she is great
- Jump rope pre-warm up
- Official warm-up
Refer to this routine if/when you start feeling anxious, overly enthused or lost.
Allow Others to Help: There is a huge team amongst the players on your team who are around to support you (parents, siblings, coaches, club directors, friends), USE THEM. Let your support system deal with tickets, travel accommodations, flights, food and any other logistical tasks that might take your attention. Let your coaches deal with practice plans, warm-up times, line-ups and reffing assignments. You do you. Focus on taking care of yourself and being a good teammate.
Front Load: Create a list of ALL the things that must be completed before, during or even slightly after the tournament. Force yourself to finish these tasks BEFORE departure. Homework, phone calls, chores, grocery shopping, summer plans…all of these completely unrelated tasks have the power to impair a humans’ ability to focus. In order to be successful, every player must commit to devoting their full, undivided attention to the goal at hand.
Be Conscious of Social Media: Part of ridding yourself of extra stress comes with eliminating temptations and extra distractions. What is one of the biggest distractions that we have in today’s society? Technology and social media! It may be in your best interest to stay off social media while you are competing and to turn off your phone before you sleep. What if you got a text from your crush saying “Let’s just be friends” right before the final match? Would you be able to focus your full, undivided attention on the game? Your phone, your gossip, your social media…it can wait.
Trust What You Have Learned: You have already done all the hard work. The last six months have been about learning, changing, competing and preparing for these last few tournaments. This isn’t the time for big changes like new systems or techniques…this is simply the time for fine tuning. You know how to play the game. You have established your strengths and have identified/improved your weaknesses. Now is the time for you to trust what you know and let it go…JUST PLAY.
Be Yourself: I have been through the recruiting process and understand how stressful and nerve wracking it can be to play in front of a collegiate coach. While I am sure that it goes without saying, Nationals, AAU’s, The Summer Soiree, all draw in a large demographic of college coaches. Rather than seeing this as a stressful situation, see it as an opportunity to showcase yourself…to show who you are, but more importantly, who you have the potential to be.
College coaches, of all levels, understand that you are nowhere near your fullest potential. You are young, you are developing and you WILL make mistakes. So, try not to dwell on the things “you did wrong” while they were watching and focus on bringing the best version of YOURSELF. I emphasize the word yourself because a lot of young athletes believe that they need to fit a certain mold to attend a certain school. Bullcrud…college coaches are looking for skill, depth, originality, personality, grit, leadership, followership, authenticity and trueness. Could you imagine if a coach stacked a team with 13 players who were all loud and aggressive? It would be a train wreck! Coaches are looking for depth, so don’t undermine the power of being you…of being a good teammate or a good person. Most coaches are looking to recruit people, not players. Why? Because skill can be taught, personality can’t.
Punch Adversity in the Face: Nationals is a long, intense tournament! A lot can happen in a very short period of time and the champions are usually the ones who have the ability to be resilient…those who refuse to be knocked down and defeated without a fight. Don’t worry so much about ‘having a bad game’ or losing a match in pool play. Focus on learning from your mistakes and winning when it counts.
Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Journey: We are all given this amazing opportunity to compete in the sport that we love against some of the best teams in the country. We are all given this amazing opportunity to play alongside some of our best friends, to represent something bigger than ourselves (our clubs), to be coached by professionals, to showcase our skills to colleges and to make our families proud. In the heat of the “big” competition, don’t forget to take a step back and appreciate the journey.