othing is worse then when you get into a game and can’t remember your plays, pre-snap indicators and rush plan.
This my friends is called “brain fog”. I along with many others have experienced this in their careers and I can tell you from personal experience just how frustrating it can be to put so much preparation into a game plan just to forget it all out on the field.
The key though to fixing brain fog is not what you do during the game, but what you do before in your pre-game routine. How you approach your preparation leading up to the game will set up you to perform at an elite level.
Why a pre-game routine?
Psychologist Jim Taylor, Ph.D. said this about routines,
The fundamental value of routines is that they ensure total preparation in athletes’ efforts. Routines enable athletes to be completely physically, technically, tactically, and mentally ready to perform their best. I don’t know a world-class athlete in any sport who does not use routines in some part of his or her competitive preparations.
Routines prepare athletes to perform at their best and put them into a sense of extreme focus, calmness and confident energy or in other words “flow”.
Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as a state of complete immersion in an activity.
"The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."
It is in this state that your can achieve maximum performance and avoid brain fog, but to achieve a state of flow you need to design a pre-game routine that prepares you mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Pre-game routine example
The first step in designing a pre-competitive routine is to make a list of everything you need to do before a competition to be prepared.
Some of the common elements you should include are meals, review of competitive tactics, physical warm-up, technical warm-up, equipment check, and mental preparation.
Seeing that this is not a simple list to create, I took a whack at a sample pre-game routine that you can use to perform at a peak level.
Visualize the game (7:00 pm - 9:00 pm)
Preparation for the game starts the night before where you can visualize success and give your body the opportunity to perform at a high level.
Eat a regular dinner
No need to eat a “special” carb heavy meal before the game. All you need is your regular dinner. The key is predictability with your performance. If you’re eating something you don’t usually eat you may have an adverse reaction.
To kick off the night run through each of your calls and make sure you know your alignment and assignment for each of them. You can use tools like quizlet to help with memory. Also throw in any tendencies you’ve picked up through film study into these flashcards.
Run through a game
Once you’ve gone through your calls, now fire up the film and choose a call before each snap. From there, visualize the coach signaling the call in, keying your man and reacting to the block you see on film. With this guided visualization you get the chance to play the game before it happens
Go to sleep early
There is quite a bit of evidence suggesting that increased sleep duration and improved sleep quality in athletes are associated with improved performance and competitive success. So don’t stay up late!
Start the day (7:00 am - 8:00 am)
The morning is your time to prime your nervous system, metabolism and mind.
Drink 16 ounces
Drinking water right when you wake up fires up your metabolism, hydrates you and flushes out toxins that contribute to brain fog. Check out this article if you don’t believe me.
It turns out there’s a unique formula to get in the zone and experience what psychologists now call “flow,” and practicing mindfulness meditation can be one of the best ways to do it.
Below is a 10 minute guided meditation specifically for athletes that you can use in your morning meditation time.
Again no need to do anything fancy for breakfast. Eating what you usually eat for breakfast will give you predictable performance for the day.
Take it easy (8:00 am - 5:00 pm)
My former coach Greg Robinson used to say don’t get too excited and “flood your engine”.
If you’re excited all day you’ll secrete too much adrenaline and come to the game tired and foggy. The key then is to stay calm and slowly ramp up excitement so you don’t “flood your engine” with adrenaline.
Take a nap
Napping has been shown to improve alertness, reduce stress, and boost immune response. If you can find time for a quick 10 - 30 minute nap take it!
A regular lunch will lead to predictable performance. Introducing new foods outside of your regular meals introduce risk into your pre-game routine.
Mental warm up (5:00 pm - 5:30 pm)
Use this time to center your mind on making plays out on the field and making sure you're recalling your game plan.
Right when you get to the facility make sure you have all your equipment (pads, cleats, mouthguard, etc). Checking early prevents any freak outs and thus brain fog and gives you the opportunity to find a replacement item if you forgot a mouthguard or thigh pad.
Review game plan
Just like studying for a test you should take 10 minutes to go over your plays, rush plan and tendencies to make sure you’re recalling everything you need to for the game.
4-7-8 breathing (shown below) reduces stress and improves cognition, including attention, retention as well as speed in tasks that merge vision and physical action.
Taking time to breath can also give you the opportunity to visualize playing at the peak of your talent.
Physical warm up (5:30 - 6:00 pm)
Once you’ve prepared your mind, it’s best to loosen your muscles and walk through your technique so your performance is automatic during the game.
Sip energy drink (Up till game time)
There are all sorts of healthy pre-game energy drinks or powders that you can sip on to help you focus. Make sure though not to overdose on energy drinks. Too many can have devastating affects to your focus and clarity.
Prepare lower body
Take 5 minutes to put on your pants, cleats and get your ankles taped (if you prefer having them taped). This will help you from rushing closer to game time.
Dynamic warm up
Whether it’s 10 minutes in the hot tub, A-skips or stretching use this time to warm up your body.
I personally recommend a dynamic warm-up (seen below) as opposed to stretching because studies show that stretching can lead to a decrease in physical performance.
Technical warm up (5:50 pm - 6:00 pm)
Once you’re warm, practice your core D-Line fundamentals of block destruction and pass rush. To do this, first execute quick low contact 1-on-1 recognition reps (5 reps in each stance) to warm up your reactions to different blocks.
Next, practice your pass rush moves from your right handed and left handed stance (5 reps each stance) by working them on air, a teammate or a the goal post (like JJ Watt).
Prepare for battle (6:00 pm - 6:40 pm)
Now that you’re less than an hour away from game time, it’s time to strap on the pads and get a few good hits before you face your opponent.
Put on your shoulder pads, helmet, tape and anything else you don’t already have on yet.
The team will typically do some type of warm up. Again I prefer a dynamic warm-up here vs. static stretching.
The point of any pre-game drills is to get short and violent amounts of contact before the game to prepare for the physical nature of D-Line play. Here’s my list of drills (in sequential order) that’d I’d personally do pregame.
- Get off redirect (3 reps each side)
- Hand fighting (3 reps each side)
- Pods (1 rep of base block each side)
- 1-on-1s (1 rep each side)
Lastly, get the full team together and run through 4 plays. No tackling needed here you just a nice pop at the line of scrimmage and then tag off on the back.
A last look (6:40 pm - 7:00 pm)
Ah yes the calm before the storm. Take this time to review your game plan one last time and then loosen up. It’s hard to perform well if you’re tense and remember football is supposed to be fun!
Review game plan (6:40 - 6:50)
Look at your plays, rush plan and tendencies one last time to make sure you’re recalling what you need to for the game.
Let it go (6:50 - 7:00)
You’ve done all the work. Now it’s time to let loose and have some fun. I’ve personally used this time to do a little dancing in the locker room, but to each their own.
A final word
Now you should have all the tools you need to prepare yourself for peak performance on game day. Although I give an extreme amount of detail above, you have to make your pre-game routine your own so don’t be afraid to adjust the schedule above if this one doesn’t work for you.
Just remember each pre-game routine should have the following elements: meals, review of competitive tactics, physical warm-up, technical warm-up, equipment check, and mental preparation.
That's all for this week! See ya soon!
And whenever you are ready, there are 2 ways I can help you:
- Learn how to develop top tier pass rushers and a lethal pass rush attack here (1,000+ students)
- Learn how to turn your D-Line into a block destruction machine here (1,100+ students)