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TILT—Why your brain jumps in to mess with your performance, & how to fix it!

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“They were so bad. I saw all their mistakes. But I played down to their level.”

“I can do this 9 times out of 10. Why do I fail when it’s actually important?”

PROBLEM: We learn skills like this:

unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence

…and then our brain gets in the way and moves us back a stage.

You literally step back in time to when the skill was less coordinated, less automatic, less “skillful.”

Why does it happen?

  • Self-doubt and nervousness that you can pull it out.
  • Obsessive self-focus on executing the skill–remember it was unconscious, and you are conscious of it again.
  • Suddenly having an audience, and trying to not fail.

Here are my best tips on how to conquer each of these quickly.


The best method to get over being watched: desensitize yourself.

Here’s the normal track for pro players. It’s familiar to you as a fan.

  1. Super good online, get on stage for first time and choke
  2. Get accustomed to being on stage, play in high-stakes match on stage and choke
  3. Get accustomed to high stakes matches, play at worlds and choke
  4. Get used to playing at worlds (win worlds?!?!)

I trained this myself in soloQ by creating simple rule.

RULE: Play only ranked games.

NOTE: This was only until I accustomed myself to the pressure.

When every game is ranked, none of them are.

When you have to perform under pressure, your body automatically learns different coping techniques. I’ll list here the correct ones so that you can guide your self-teaching.

When you feel pressure facing your opponent…

  • DO lean into it and try for the outplay, accept the failure, and improve.
  • DON’T use an excuse to release the pressure and cope by escaping the situation mentally, physically, or emotionally.

When you are scared or have anxiety about queueing up for a game…

  • DO visualize your end-goal and how this next game fits into your ambitions for yourself, and your future.
  • DON’T just blindly mash the queue button as a way to cope with your frustration with the last game in hopes you’ll luck out and get a good game.

When the game is loading, and your mind is racing with all the stuff you are stressing to remember…

  • DO take deep breaths, focus on stilling your body (not your mind) and focus on the present. Expand your focus to every thought and every thing you can see in the here and now.
  • DON’T alt-tab out to an internet forum or social media network.

Get the general idea?

Obsessive self-focus

This will naturally go away as you use do the things I listed in the previous section. But that doesn’t help you right now, in the game you are playing.

“Hey don’t worry. You’ll be able to relax and perform once you try and fail a few times on stage.”
“um.. ok. But my team said they’d fire me if we lose, so can you help me out NOW?”

So, what is the neurological hurdle?

You are focusing on only a small number of parts that are involved in the successful execution of a complex skill.

What you self-focus on when you are panicking:

clicking your button

What your brain needs to focus on to execute a simple in-game skill:

judging damage, activating your shoulder and back, upper, arm, wrist, and finger muscles in response to visual stimuli in order to place the cursor in the exact correct position while simultaneously timing the button click to match the cursor overlaying that pixel, predicting opponent reaction to your movement, taking account for other tactical variables like npcs, secondary targets you have to deal with, teammate location and communication, activation and coordination of your keyboard hand, confirmation of button clicks and adjustment if timing is off, planning for after the event, adjustment and adaptation to opponent reaction in real time. Also breathing, blinking, communicating with teammates, adjusting posture to anchor your arm movement, and some bad stuff like tapping your feet in nervousness, worrying about the future, worrying about failure, thinking of scenarios of what will happen if you fail, imagining the glory of pulling off this sick move, judging your teammates reactions to your play and coming up with pre-excuses and emotional barriers if they accusing you of sucking and trying to make a stupid play, worry if you are good enough to pull it off.

Self-focus drags too much of your attention away from the complexity of your learned motor reflex, and you step back a stage and play like you are consciously competent or worse, consciously incompetent.

You can also see there are some bad things mixed in there. Those just take mental focus away from your muscle control and reaction.

Find a way to rehearse your skill, and try to broaden your focus to include as large a present-state awareness as you can.

Focus on your senses, and as much of your sensations as your senses can track. Overwhelm your mind with the present.

You accomplish 2 things when you try to focus on the here and now. You train

  1. ignoring all the worries about the past and present.
  2. to feel what it is like to automatically execute a skill.

Try to execute it unconsciously, but you watch and feel yourself doing it. Then when you take over conscious control in a pressure situation, you are more able to replicate the whole suite of necessary actions.


Step 1: Accept it.

I’m not going to teach you to be confident, nor ask you to be confident.

Confidence is over-rated.

Plenty of confident athletes screw up and lose matches every day. And lots of nervous and unsure underdogs outperform their own doubt.

I want you to be able to have self-doubt, be nervous that you can’t pull it off, and just do it. Use your nervous energy as fuel for focusing on what you can control:

  • your growth, and
  • maximizing your skill in the here and now.

Technically you can’t really ignore things. The signals still get to your brain, you just don’t pay any attention to them.

I want to to train your focus so hard that you don’t notice your self-doubt, or don’t care about it.

You do that by tying it to your ambitions and values. You do that by leaning into self-doubt instead of away from it. You do that by recognizing that your nervousness provides a kind of sharpness that brings you your best performances.

Don’t waste your time trying to learn and bluster your way to confidence.

What happens when you screw up? Are you just going to lie and tell yourself “Oh dang I had that. Such an unlucky day.”

(Meanwhile all those luckers who are consistently better than you are grinding away at their weaknesses because they hate feeling that self-doubt and also being in-capable, so they do something about it!)


Find your competence.

Can you improve? Are you competent at that? Now you don’t need confidence.

Can you outplay a player higher rank than you consistently? Are you competent at that? Great, now you don’t need confidence.

Confidence a useless metric that makes you relaxed when you should be nervous and sharp, or it makes you choke when it goes away if you train yourself to rely on it.

Here’s a few steps to help re-define your nervousness and self-doubt as a performance enhancing emotion.

  1. Notice when you become nervous. Train yourself to start paying attention.
  2. Watch your performance afterwards. Push your limits.
  3. You’ll see a lot of success and a lot of failure.
  4. Notice your progression as you pay attention to those moments.

Nervousness promotes attention and memory!

You will learn more when you play under those conditions. You’ll get better, faster.

You want to use coping mechanisms like deep breathing and focus control to harness your nervousness, and not train yourself to try to be false-confident or eliminate your nervousness.

Learn more!

I go more into depth on tilt in my podcast.

Episode 1: Tilt — Why your brain jumps in to mess with your performance, & how to fix it!

Listen on iTunes


Listen on Stitcher


Listen on Soundcloud


Choke vs Clutch: Focus on the Right Thing at the Right Time

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When I was in the sixth grade, I had my first experience with choking. I was at a track meet watching the 4 x 100 meter relay. One team had an amazing start and quickly took the lead. They held a comfortable lead for the first three hundred-meters and seamlessly passed the baton onto their anchor leg. It looked like they had the race in the bag. About 50-meters left in the race, the lead runner made a fatal mistake. He turned his head around.

You might be able to guess what happened next. Two runners ended up passing him, and the favored team finished third. The lead runner started to tense up. It was as if the other runners were able to smell the fear in him. The lead runner was doing so well, but fell apart in a matter of seconds. By giving into his urge to turn around, he shifted his focus to the wrong things at the wrong time. Imagine some of the thoughts that might have been going through his head?

“I hope they don’t’ catch up”   

“How far ahead am I?”   

“Am I going to win?”

“I’m so close!”

“Oh no! They’re catching up!”   

“What’s everyone going to think if I lose?

Instead of focusing on finishing the race to the best of his ability, he was focusing on not losing. Here are some things that could be more helpful to focus on:

Read More >

2 Keys to Boost Happiness and eSport Performance

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We all know how important happiness is. You read books and magazines where authors discuss how important it is and you watch movies featuring characters’ epic struggles in the search of happiness. These works make it clear that the question “how do I become more happy?” is something many people ask themselves at one point or another. This is also an important question for gamers and eSport athletes because happiness, or rather being unhappy, is known to negatively affect performance.

How can you avoid this? In a recent MGTV episode Weldon Green proposed two 2 keys to discovering happiness…


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Why it is essential to build team identity as an esport coach—and how to do it right

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From Values to Victory: Keys to Self-motivated Goal Setting

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People always say that setting and achieving goals is essential for increasing your performance. I hate to break it to you, but they’re not wrong.

When you first set a goal, you are usually pumped about it. Why, then, do we often have trouble sticking with our goals through obstacles and setbacks?

To truly understand what makes “good” goal setting, we need to first understand motivation.
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How to Develop a Wise eSport Mind

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Have you had a time where it was difficult to interact with someone because they were either too emotional or devoid of it altogether?

Maybe it’s not just others that you have seen this in, but yourself as well? This could have happened when you were having a discussion with your significant other, at your job when you tried to show the work you have been doing, or at times when you have been competing in your favorite esport.

You wanted to express your frustration, but the way you did that was through an aggressive tone or body language, which limited the effectiveness of your speech. Or maybe it was that no one could connect with you as they felt you were a computer spitting out information due to no emotion or creativity.

If this resonates with you then continue reading, as I will be showing you that what you just read are examples of both reasonable mind and emotional mind. After those are described I will explain how the Core Mindfulness Skill of Wise Mind can be used to allow both reasonable and emotional mind to be integrated together so that balance occurs. This is a powerful tool that can enhance your gameplay and can also be used for experiences outside of your esport too!Read More >

The Comeback Mindset: The Basics of Mental Resilience

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In the first round of the EU LCS playoffs, team ROCCAT pulled off a seemingly impossible win, while 2 games down in a best of 5 series.  With all friendly turrets gone, and multiple inhibitors down, how in the world did they keep their cool, and hold their focus to eventually win that game?

Mental fortitude and resilience are not easy to come by.  For some, it can take months or years of mental training to solidify the skills necessary to stick with it when the going gets tough.  However, here are some beginner’s tips for gaining the Comeback Mindset.Read More >

Elite eSport Coaching: 7 Qualities of a Championship Team

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If you’ve been keeping up, July at Mind Games has been all about eSport coaching.

Let’s wrap the month up discussing the qualities of an excellent team. It’s one thing to develop your coaching skills, but without a proper team environment, your coaching abilities only go so far. In this article, we’ll discuss how it isn’t necessarily about having a full team of the best possible superstars that distinguishes championship teams. In fact, teamwork can be built upon seven fundamental team qualities.

Before we look at each quality possessed by the best teams, we’ll first wrap our heads around what teams might look like that aren’t great yet.
(WARNING: This might hit close to home for some of us!)

Then, we’ll get an understanding for what great teams do that average teams don’t.

Finally, we’ll think about some strategies to move from average to great.

The 7 Cs of Championship Teams are:

  • Common Goal
  • Commitment
  • Complementary Roles
  • Clear Communication
  • Constructive Conflict
  • Cohesion
  • Credible Coaching

(Janssen, 2002)

1. Common Goal

AVERAGE: Let’s say a team recently won their promotion tournament matchup to make it from the North American Challenger Series to the North American League Championship Series. Morale is high. The team sets a goal of making the playoffs. Everyone is behind the goal, except their mid-laner is happy to just be in the LCS. As a result, he gets complacent and doesn’t put as many hours into getting better personally. His lack of personal drive impacts the team’s larger goal.

GREAT: Championship teams rally behind one united goal. An example would be having a particular tournament they want to win, or a rank they want to achieve in the regular season. All members of the team, including players, coaches, management, and support staff must embrace the goal. Also, all members of the team need to understand what personal goals they can set to help the team meet its overall goal. Great teams set goals for everyone that help move the team closer to its overall goal.

HOW TO GET THERE: It’s important to properly set goals for where you want your team to be. When considering your team’s big common goal, brainstorm what the benefits of achieving the goal will be, what obstacles stand in the way, and what plan can be put in place to overcome any obstacles. While doing team-wide goal-setting, it’s important for players to understand what individual goals they can set to help the team’s goal.

2. Commitment

AVERAGE: An example could be that an amateur CS:GO squad sets a goal of going pro. After losing one small tournament, however, the team begins to doubt their ability to compete with the top teams and puts in less and less effort to improving. The players might have the mindset that they’re always going to be amateur; that trying to go pro is pointless.

GREAT: Another quality that separates OK teams from great teams is the ability to stay committed for the long haul. It’s relatively easy for most teams to enter a season with the goal of winning it all. It’s a much harder feat to stick with a goal after losing or encountering setbacks. A committed team understands at every level how individual decisions impact the team’s success. Committed players see their individual practice as the work needed to make the team better.

Whereas having a Common Goal is a team quality, having Commitment involves every person individually championing the responsibility of making a goal a reality.

HOW TO GET THERE: It’s easy enough to set goals as a team about where you want to be in a month, year, season, etc. It takes more work to stick with goals through setbacks. Players should constantly check-in on what else they could be doing to help the team overall. We should also remember that when we first set a goal, we were probably excited about it! Don’t let the value of a goal be diminished by setbacks and obstacles.

3. Complementary Roles

AVERAGE: Most of us have probably been on teams that have one hotshot who seemingly gets all the fame and glory. What that player often misses is how many people contribute to his success. If left unchecked, a spotlight-hog can make the other players on the team feel unimportant. This often leads to the team disbanding or players/staff jumping ship to a better situation.

GREAT: On a great team, every member should have a role. The most important part of this quality is showing that all roles are necessary for the team’s success. For example, the player on your team who gets the most kills might receive the most spotlight and praise, but that doesn’t mean he has the most important role. Great teams realize that every role is critical for winning.

HOW TO GET THERE: One thing organizations can do to demonstrate the importance of every role is to praise the success of team members when they do something right by naming the strategy or behavior that led to the success. This method of praise allows people to continually succeed in their roles by knowing what they did.

4. Clear Communication

AVERAGE: I’m sure you’ve heard a glimpse into some team’s comms, as it’s more and more common for streams to show that now. I’ve had the opportunity to hear what some top teams (and not-so-top teams) sound like over the course of a match. The best teams have ways to stay communicating even when the game isn’t going their way. The average teams are usually silent once the game starts slipping out of their control.

I bet if you looked at how average teams talk out-of-game, you’d see similar silence/avoidance when someone is unhappy with a match result.

GREAT: Communication takes two forms on an eSports team. First, great teams must be able to communicate effectively in-game. The shot-caller needs to make the right calls. The other players need to appropriately communicate pertinent information. Effective strategy execution cannot happen without everyone on the team communicating well.

Secondly, while out-of-game, players need to be able to discuss team goals, strategies, game analysis, and whatever else effects their team’s success. This is especially true in eSports, as most teams share a house together.

HOW TO GET THERE: One strategy that can help structure in-game communication is helping each player learn his style of communication. There is actually a survey to help learn your style. Out-of-game communication can be fostered through teambuilding exercises. The coaching staff should help develop the team’s communication by promoting at atmosphere where sharing gripes and successes is allowed.

5. Constructive Conflict

AVERAGE: Average teams often either avoid conflict entirely, or don’t handle it properly. In some ways, avoiding it might actually be worse. You can’t make emotions disappear, so they will instead bottle up. Usually this results in an explosion of negative emotions. How many of us have been on teams where two players have major gripes with each other, everyone knows it, but nothing is said? Think back to how toxic that environment feels.

GREAT: Building on communication, great teams understand that conflict is eventually going to happen. Whereas ineffective teams avoid conflict, or see it as a weakness, great teams use conflict to build the team even better. As long as teams can see the resolution of conflict as another step toward reaching their overall goal, they can create an environment in which conflict is allowed, but not toxic.

HOW TO GET THERE: Teams need to have a deliberate forum for expressing conflict. Having a scheduled “gripe-fest” isn’t necessarily the answer, but a team that is proactive with handling negative situations will be better for it in the long run. Consider scheduling a short window of time after each match to address what went wrong and what to do to change it. If an issue arises between two players, have them express it. In these situations, it’s best to have the players use “I” statements (that is, how they themselves are feeling) instead of “you” statements, which are often accusatory.

6. Cohesion

AVERAGE: Some teams show up for practices, scrimmages, and game day, but go do their own thing 100% of the off-time. While players absolutely need personal time, average teams fail to capitalize on building cohesion outside of the game.

GREAT: While most successful eSports teams spend hours upon hours practicing their game together, the best teams also find opportunities to spend time outside of the game. This doesn’t mean that every team member needs to hang out with every other team member all of the time. Building cohesion outside of game, though, allows relationships to develop without the stress of in-game performance.

HOW TO GET THERE: As a team, figure out activities to connect with outside of the game. If there are key in-game relationships that can benefit from better communication, find ways to work on those in other atmospheres. For example, if your mid-laner on a League of Legends team is a strong carry, it might benefit your team by having him and your jungler have a better relationship.

As a coach, you can encourage things like team dinner or team workouts.

CLG’s League of Legends team, for example, uses basketball as a method for building cohesion and practicing communication. Many other teams work out in the gym together.

In an interview, Aphromoo (CLG’s support player) said,

We wake up, we do stretches for like 20 minutes or so, and then we go out and do a passing drill with the basketball or do communications exercises in a circle and pass it around. Sometimes we do 3v3 scrimmages with basketball as well.

7. Credible Coaching

AVERAGE: It’s getting better, but many eSports teams seemingly think, “Everyone has a coach. We should get one.” Then, they find the nearest person who has played their eSport before and ask them to coach. Coaching is a skill. We cannot expect someone to be able to help create a high-performing team just because they’ve played the same game before.

GREAT: Finally, championship-caliber teams have a quality coaching staff and leadership. A great coach is able to create an environment in which all of the 7 Cs can be developed. Great coaches foster trust and respect with their eSport athletes.

HOW TO GET THERE: Players spend countless hours honing their mechanics, strategies, and in-game execution. Coaching, too, is a skill. Coaches should put in time to develop professionally. While eSports is a relatively young field, efforts are being made to create an eSport Coaching Network to provide quality professional development.

It’s easier said than done

Creating a championship isn’t as easy as assembling a group of the best mechanically-skilled players. Think about a team like the short-lived Alliance in League of Legends, or any of the number of other “super teams” that have been constructed in any eSport. They usually can brute-force some games due to their combined skill, but teams that are better organized or more strategic usually come out ahead in the long run.

When an organization can foster the development of all 7 Cs, top performances become more likely. Through this process, teams (players, staff, management) can all be more motivated to achieve a Common Goal.

If you are looking to up your game as a coach, or just want to know how to help your team run better, check out the rest of the coaching articles on MindGames from the month of July.

Follow me on Twitter and shoot me any coaching questions you have. You can also send me an email!

Reference: Janssen, J. (2002) Championship Team Building: What Ever Coach Needs to Know to Build a Motivated, Committed & Cohesive Team. Janssen Peak Performance Inc. Cary, NC.

5 Easy Steps to Tame the Blame Game

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Does your team’s communication devolve into a blame game?  You know, when your players point the finger at each other for misplays or losses, rather than using constructive team talk to help win?  If they answer is yes, I’m sure you are aware that this can send your team’s morale into a downward spiral very quickly.

But you’re in luck, because…

It takes just 5 easy steps to tame the blame game!

Whether in a pro-league or in ranked queue, it can be extremely frustrating to watch a teammate make mistakes that cost advantages or the game entirely.  Sometimes, feeling helpless and frustrated, a player might lash out on his fellow teammates as a result.  Unfortunately, this response only serves to tilt the team, and draws attention away from avenues of improvement and on to player toxicity instead.

So, as a coach or a captain, how do you get your players to put their salt aside and work together to improve their teamwork and play?

In the latest eSport Coaching Network (ECN) conference, Counter Logic Gaming’s head coach Chris Ehrenreich broke down how he resolves conflicts between players.  As the new guy on the block, he had to face off against some big names in eSports and even bigger personalities.  But he knew just how to use those larger than life personas to improve CLG’s ability to effectively critique and communicate with each other.

This series gives you everything you need to know about working with the personalities on your team, and how to reduce conflict in team talk.Read More >

Effective Coaching: Building Trust and Respect with your eSport Athletes

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Honesty. Trust. Respect. Love. Good rule to follow in business and in life.

Think about a coach, teacher or boss in your life that you really enjoyed interacting with. Now remember one that you could not stand to be around. Can you identify the behaviors that individual had and how they affected your attitude, mood or performance?

Now ask yourself if you have considered how your behaviors are influencing the players you are looking to lead. Often times it is easier to note how others have affected us but it is not as easy to see how we affect others.

As a coach how do you balance your relationship with your players? When in a position of leadership being aware of how your relationship with your players impacts both you and their performance is important as it can dictate outcomes.

Three ways that you can can interact with your players are:

  • Being too nice
  • Being too harsh
  • Being balanced

Obviously a balanced coaching style is the most healthy way to address your team, but first, let’s look at the potential coaching style pitfalls so you know what to avoid.

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