Everyone who has ever been involved in any kind of sport knows that there are games that you circle on your schedule when it is released. Every big time coach you have ever heard speak reiterates the same message though, one game at a time! I couldn’t agree with them more, you have to take one game at a time, you absolutely cannot ever get ahead of yourself when preparing your athletes for the season, but there are still those games that you circle.
Why do you circle them? We circle them because those are the games that you plan on being the “big games”. These are the games you will be tested by stiff competition, by great athletes, by large crowds, by a ton of distractions, by news station coverage and sometimes by a modified schedule to a usually common pre-game routine. We circle them because we know that those are the games that will gives us an idea of what kind of team we really are this season. We circle them because when it boils down to it, we live for these type of games.
The feeling is a bit different for big games. We don’t want it to be, but it is. There is something in the air. There is a buzz among the athletes, among the media, and certainly among the crowd the night of the game. There is usually a calm before the storm. There are usually a few reminders from coaches to the players, that this is still the game we play every week, nothing different, 4 quarters and hopefully at the end we have more on the scoreboard than the opposing team. This is what we prepared for all week. This is what you live for as a high school football player, the lights, the smells, the cheers, the hits, the catches, the runs, the oohs and the ahhs. These games are circled for a reason, these games are the “big ones”, or are they?
We still prepare the same, we still expect the same from our athletes and we still expect the same result. We treat the circled games the same as every other game. We set goals at the beginning of the year, and unless the game is a direct correlation to meeting one of those goals, there is no sense considering it a “big game”. Even if it does meet the criteria to play a critical role in our goals, we still keep it as routine as possible. I remember reading Sean Payton’s book “Home Team” and him addressing the issue of his Saints team playing in the Super Bowl. He tried to keep everything as normal for the team as possible, but it just wasn’t the same. Sometimes it is impossible to keep everything routine, but the key is to not put the pressure on the players. Keep a level head and keep working on goals set forth by the staff and team.
What are some of your keys to playing in those games that are circled on your calendar? How do you keep everything routine, when you have a different schedule than usual? Share some thoughts and experiences! Would love to hear what other coaches have to say on this topic.