Team on a losing streak...

By the very nature of competition, it's very unlikely a team will win every time they go into a competition - sometimes they'll win and sometimes they'll lose. But what does it mean if a team makes it to the finals many times in a row, but doesn't get to hold the trophy aloft? What can we read into this?

Consistency is something we want to aim for, but we don't want to consistently lose! Losing tells us we are 'close to winning', and if we think we're just as talented as the other team, our mental processes may need to be examined in more detail to see what we can improve, but how do we do that?

Of course if we were winning, it would be a mistake to think we couldn't improve and therefore we have no need of self-examination. We should want to improve to be the best we can be, and try to not be too concerned about the outcomes like 'winning', 'trophies', and 'accolades from others' (however nice these are to receive). I can't recall who said this, but it's worth reminding ourselves that 'we're probably not as bad as people make us out to be, and nor are we as good'. Don't get caught up in counting the wins, or the hype around performances - work on improving yourself and your team to be as good as they can be and the wins will look after themselves. It's the 'process' that matters, not the outcome (else you'll never be happy). Try and enjoy the experience doing something you love with people you like; try to keep improving yourself. So how do you know if you are, or get to be, consistent? Consistency needs to be measured.

Measuring the Key Performance Indicators

It is always worth 'taking stock' after a match, to see what could be done better. Even winning teams can learn something more from their win, as it is highly unlikely everything went totally smoothly and was without error. That would make you 'robots' if that occurred :)

But if you are the losing team, and are disappointed that the team didn't win, try to work out what could be improved for next time before you start blaming everyone else (or take on blame yourself). There's 'individual stats and analysis' and 'team stats and analysis' to be looked at, and probably the best place to start is looking at the team stats first.

Do you have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) worked out for your team? These are 'qualities' - at it's most rudimentary they are 'wins' and 'loses' - that you use to measure how your team is progressing. In AFL for instance, KPIs might be kicks, marks, tackles, inside 50, clearances etc. In esports, you might have Maps that your team play particularly well, or outcomes when players use particular equipment - you should decide what things are going to be measured (so that at the end of the match you can say whether you played better or worse than expected). Each individual would have KPIs too, and if all players are playing at their best, with luck your team might come out with a win. (Luck still does sometimes turn a match and there's just nothing you can do about it except to minimise the ability of luck to affect the outcome in the future by becoming a better player.)

But what happens when you play a better (more skilful, or sometimes just luckier) team? That's where your KPIs allow you to see where you (as individuals and as a team) might improve, taking the emotion out of the equation. It's easy to start pointing fingers at team mates you feel they aren't pulling their weight if you don't use KPIs and just go on 'gut reaction' (which is likely inaccurate anyway). And even if a team mate's KPIs are on the low side, you need to assess if you and the other team members are or are not some way responsible for those too by your/their style of play.

So, now I've convinced you to try to quantify key moments of the game so that you can record and measure how you went in a particular game, so that you can see if you are improving over time and against different opponents, your role should now be to look at the way you and your team prepare for competition.

Your Physical and Mental Preparation Before a Competition

As I said in the last blog, sport psychology is all about looking at patterns of behaviour and working out what it is that you do that leads to better performance (and do it more often) as well as working out what you do that leads to worse performance (and do it less often). Lots of angles can be used here, from looking at the amount of rest (sleep and mental down time) you get, nutrition, exercise (got to keep the blood going to the brain for good decision-making), and hydration (drinking enough water - and avoiding alcohol - is important for memory and attention). Even how you approach the coming match is important, especially in the lead up to finals where you may be spending way too much time thinking about possible outcomes (ie what will a win mean to me? how much more will I be worth if we win? I can't wait to get on the plane to 'Country X' when we qualify!)...these are all distractions which do not help you become a better player because it means you are not focused on the things you need to do to be the best player you can be at that moment.

'Getting your head right' is a really important concept, because we ourselves have the most influence on how well we play (much, much more so than the opposition players or team has on us). You've heard athletes say 'control the controllables, and leave the rest alone'? Don't worry about things you can't control. Probably those things affect other teams just as much as your team, so everything is equal any way. Plus, if you are travelling with a coach or manager, let them worry about the bomb scare in the venue that causes a delay to the start of the matches etc. Players should concern themselves with getting themselves in their right frame of mind to play their best...and that's it.

So this is where the player needs to work out if they are a person who plays best when they are 'hyped up' or 'cool as a cucumber' (or somewhere in between). Some teams will have a mix of temperaments. If all players are the same, then it's really easy to work with that group because you pretty well 'wind them up/down and let them go'. But for teams where some players like to be hyped up and others do not, players have to take responsibility for their own mental preparation (and not distract other members of their group). Listening to music is one way to regulate emotions. Your heart beat will take on the beat of the music you listen to, so if you need to calm down, the music on your playlist might be slower than your team mate's playlist. In the last blog I spoke about using breathing as a tool to become calmer. Taking three deep breaths that fill your lungs right to the bottom sends oxygen to the brain, tells itself that the body is becoming calmer, is an important but quick strategy to use. Stretching muscles between matches is crucial too, to loosen tight muscles that might not react quickly when required if not relaxed. That includes neck, shoulders, back, arms, wrists, fingers as well as legs and feet.

Do you feel 'rushed' before matches start? Can you start the process of preparation earlier so you are giving yourself enough time to go through the steps you need to get your head right? You probably shouldn't expect to prepare yourself in exactly the same way as your team mates. Everyone is different, and coaches/managers ought to be aware of how each player needs to individually prefer to prepare themselves, so that environment (if you are playing in the same venue) can be provided as much as possible. Players who are in their own venue need to be responsible for their own preparation schedule. It comes down to working out what works out best for the you need to pay attention to what goes into making you play better or worse and try to replicate the conditions where you play your best.

Knowledge of the maps, and your roles in the maps, are practiced in the scrims. Coming to training sessions with you being prepared to put in 100% effort is expected as a minimum (but doesn't always occur due to distractions of the day). Knowing how to 'park' those distractions until after training is a useful skill.

During a Match

How you communicate with your teammates (encouragement, instruction) is also a vital skill. In training, 'instruction' would probably comprise the greater percentage of communication, and in matches 'encouragement' should be the more frequent communication. People perform better when they are encouraged. It's easy to fall into accusatory mode when things aren't going well, so it is especially important when losing that encouraging phrases are used to try to get back into the match. 'Trying harder' is often self defeating, because loss builds on loss (especially with tight muscles that get tighter under stressful conditions) and things spiral out of control pretty quickly.

Using a 'key word' (see previous blog) that snaps attention back to the things that matter in a match is a good 'shorthand' way of communicating what is needed. Can you or the team come up with a word that is meaningful to the team, that reminds them that this is a time to stretch, breath, and regroup one's focus? (Sport psychs generally are loath to suggest a particular word, because the word has to be generated by the person/team because it has meaning for them.) You don't have to be confined to just one word...a team might have 3-4 different words that they use at particular times of the match that reminds players what they need to do to be switched on for that portion of matchplay.

There is such a thing as being 'too switched on'. Being 'on' requires loads of mental effort, so ensure you know when and how to 'switch on' in match play and 'switch off' and relax, during the various phases of a match. Usually, the maximum time a person can be totally switched on lasts for no more than 60 seconds at a time, so you need to pick and choose carefully where and when you use this special power!

Enjoy the Journey

Especially in esports - which is still quite volatile, given it is an industry still in its infancy (certainly here in Australia) - 'the journey' represents the time you spend with certain individuals going for a common goal. You may end up in opposing teams, or the same team, but you all should learn to work together for the team's goal while you are together, and make the most of your opportunities to learn and work in an industry you enjoy. It's not all about the number of trophies you win, or how much you end up earning (though a basic wage would be nice for all of us, right?). If you keep your eyes on the prize (trophy) it means you aren't thinking in the present (and doing what is needed to get you to the summit), so you are not likely to win. Take care of the processes (ie do all the steps in between that help you be the best player you can be) and the prizes will look after themselves.

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