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Getting your head in the game

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Conversation leads to collaboration

Last week there was a fantastic discussion in the comments after I posted my article on pre-performance. One of the topics that came up was simply, “Where do I start?” That’s a good question to ask, because on a site that is filled with new information it is hard to find a beginning. There are so many tools, theories, and discussions flying around that one is liable to spend all their time reading and thinking about things, but never actually doing. Unless you are Kaleopolitus, whose middle name is apparently “doing things.”  If you want to learn how to turn your life around, I’d go read the story.  For my own part, I want to continue in the same vein and contribute an easy method to get ones head in the game, instead of letting the game play with their head.

Yesterday during the discussion, Yagamoth identified several things that contributed to his not enjoying LoL to its fullest extent. They were: stress, pressure to perform well, not wanting to let teammates down, hating losing, and hating making mistakes. He shared a story about how he sometimes plays on a smurf account so that he can relax and take games less seriously. However, one day he forgot he was not smurfing and had an awesome game where he was ‘in the zone.’ Suddenly he realized that it was all mental, and maybe he could find a way to be ‘in the zone’ on his main account as well!

Worrying about worrying?

Most of us spend time worrying about playing perfectly, then more time worrying about the mistakes we make. The crazy thing is, the League of Legends team or Starcraft 2 player that wins the IEM World Championships in Hanover is going to make a loads of mistakes during their tournament. Mistakes are part of every competitive sport; the difference between competitive athletes is how they handle those mistakes. Here is a simple example from tennis:

Situation Reaction
Professional Bad backhand in tennis “Mistakes happen. Breathe and let it go. Step in, eye on the ball, follow through.”
Normal Bad backhand in tennis “I missed my backhand. Dang it, I know I can do this. Get serious.”

The professional player actually used a formula called the Three R’s to delineate his reaction. The formula is not magic, it is the simple result of comparing mental coping skills from many successful competitors and discovering what reaction lead to the least chance of making a repeat mistake, and the biggest chance of reversing momentum. Think of the Three R’s as a tool, and do not worry if it does not seem to fit your personality. Remember that angry people and happy people all use hammers, and when they swing them nails get pounded into wood regardless of the wielder’s disposition.

The Three R’s

The Three R’s are respond, relax, and refocus. The gist of it is 1) an immediate, positive response, 2) a quick relaxation and 3) refocusing energy on fundamentals. If you look back at the table above, you can see the pro uses three simple sentences, and each corresponds to an R. The principle is quite clear. The number one goal after a mistake is to not repeat it. The second goal is to regain the momentum. The best way to prevent a repeat error is to focus on the fundamentals and play confidently instead of being apprehensive if the same dangerous situation were to arise again. If you look at the normal response, it does not seem to promote either of those goals.

In other words, accusing oneself is generally a waste of time. The normal player reacts by 1) recognizing the mistake, which is partially OK, 2) accusing self of letting self down, and 3) accusing self again of not focusing enough. His suggestion to “get serious” is not useful. How does one “get serious?” Do I frown more and smile less? Think really hard about not screwing up? The pro player uses best practices from goal setting to make sure she has actions, not ideas. Her plan is specific, relevant, and measurable. She will most likely step in, keep her eye on the ball, and follow through on her next backhand. Whereas our normal player will hit it “seriously,” whatever that may mean.

The gaming mind

In Starcraft and League of Legends the first two R’s, respond and relax, are fairly easy to accomplish. Most people are full of positive statements to boost themselves up. Just pick your favorite and use it. Similarly a lot of people know how to best relax themselves. Deep breaths, a quick stretch, changing position, or even some simple imagery are all common techniques. The third R, refocus, depends greatly on the ability of the player, and whether or not they know what fundamentals will prevent the error from occurring again. It is important to note that this is very different from knowing why the mistake happened. For example, I know I died to a gank from Skarner. However, I don’t necessarily know what will prevent that from happening again unless I really understand the game.  In Starcraft I know that I lost to a stim-pack timing push, but I may not know what fundamentals to focus on because my knowledge of the game is not deep enough.

Here is a simple example of the three R’s applied in League of Legends. In this example Vladimir is being played in the top lane.

Situation Reaction
Mind Games Reader Ganked top as Vlad “Mistakes happen. Breathe and let it go. Don’t miss a CS, save pool, ward river.”
Normal Player Ganked top as Vlad “I died. Dang it, now this lane is poop. Gotta get serious, where is my jungler.”

Next time you play, prepare a handy response and a simple relaxation technique. You could even write them down on a notecard by the computer. Some athletes carry a list of such phrases in their pocket for those stressful moments when they can not think of one. See if you can easily employ the three R’s in-game, and let us know how it goes!