Before the Big Game: The Role of the Coach
After spending months training tirelessly, the final few days before the big game can be nerve-racking, not just for players but for coaches as well. This can sometimes manifest in making grand motivational speeches, taking hasty last-minute decisions or sometimes even in anger and temper outbursts.
At these times, it’s important to bear in mind that players look up to coaches, not just for technical and tactical support but also for guidance to regulate their own emotions during testing times. As a coach, be a role model – to nurture an athlete who is calm and confident and who looks forward to challenges.
Stick to a clear feasible game plan – before an important match, it’s important for athletes to feel confident and in control of the situation. It’s therefore important to dispel any form of doubt and uncertainty by reinforcing a specific game plan which the player has already mastered and is comfortable with.
Guide athlete towards performance and away from results – Performance is in our control, results are not. Be careful to stay away from conversations around results and medals. Instead, steer the player’s focus to controllable factors – their preparation and performance.
Avoid big tactical chats – it’s natural for a player’s attentional field to narrow prior to the game. Therefore, this isn’t the best time to have big tactical conversations. Instead, stick to short, specific and familiar instructions.
Deal with free time – For a player who is anxious, there is nothing worse than having too much free time before the game. In the days and hours leading up to the game, encourage the player to engage in some fun and relaxing recreational activities to keep the anticipatory anxiety at bay.
Encourage pre-game routines – having a structured pre-game routine once again brings in a sense of certainty and control. Focusing on simple pre-defined routine helps an athlete get out of their head, focus on the present and gradually zone in to the competitive state.
Be relaxed yourself – It’s only natural for athletes to look up to and mirror the feelings of the coach. Be calm and relaxed both before as well as during the game and where required, intervene in an operative and decisive manner.
Be compassionate – Don’t judge your own efforts by the results of the game. The role of the coach during a tournament is not to win medals. Rather, it is to create an environment that promotes self-confidence so that players can perform to the best of their abilities without any fear.