Lesson 4: Mastering game time

Game time is where the proverbial rubber hits the road, where you get the opportunity to convert all your skills, training, planning and preparation into results. This is the time to fade distractions into the back of your mind, or better still, to rid the mind of them completely, engage the correct focus, and ideally, hand control over to instinct, body intelligence, and your trained skill as you enter the flow state.   

Each sport and moment of competition has its unique version of correct focus, which may differ from switch-down time as you prepare for the moment of performance, and switch-up time of actual performance.

You learnt that focus can be internal (focussing on what’s happening inside the body and mind) or external (focussing on what is happening out there, such as opponents, teammates, fans or any number of environmental factors). It can also be broad, taking in lots of information, or narrow, taking in only a select few pieces of information.

In moving from switch-down to switch-up time, there are a range of ways to help correctly focus your mind on the task at hand. Key to this is a fine-tuned pre-activity routine that helps set up the best possible chance of being correctly focussed, especially in those key moments when your performance is most consequential. Some ways to help correctly achieve this include, but are not limited to:

  • Focus on your breathing. Choose a rhythm of breathing that sets up the ideal state you are seeking, whether it be calm (short inhale, long exhale), neutral (equal in and out), or excited (long inhale, short exhale).  
  • Sing or actively listen to music (or the sounds around you).
  • Adopt the ideal posture and facial expressions.
  • Use positive trigger words or trigger movements, such as confidence, trust and W.I.N. Make sure you cultivate a deep understanding of what these words mean to you.  

Finally, you explored the holy grail for athletes, the flow state —  that magical and elusive zone of peak performance. This is a higher state of consciousness where the thinking brain hands over control to the instinctive brain. This then translates into you delivering at your highest level of skill, with a sense of effortless, precision, and clarity where you can literally predict what will happen next. Some of the pre-conditions that are known to accompany the flow state include:

  • Have consistent deeply-ingrained pre-activity routines that lead to you being correctly focussed in competition time.
  • Less thinking and being more instinctive.
  • Have deep trust in your skill, preparation, game plans, and ability to meet the challenge.
  • Focus on what’s happening out there and on the task at hand (not on your body, skill, mind, etc.,).
  • Have a clear process focus, on the task at hand and in the present, with no focus or awareness on results.
  • Be optimally challenged by the task, in that it is not too easy or too difficult.
  • Have high intrinsic motivation, meaning this is what you want to be doing and enjoy doing.
  • An environment where there are high levels of trust, cooperation, support and teamwork.
  • A sense of curiosity, being open-minded, and having a strong desire to learn.
  • Low self-centeredness (lack of ego) as opposed to the performance being all about you, your needs and your wants.