End game jitters be gone

You can’t help but console the players of the University of San Jose Recoletos Baby Jaguars who are currently competing at the Rebisco Volleyball League 2018 National Finals. All of their three games so far went the distance, only to lose them all in the deciding third set.

They have stood their ground against some of the best high school women’s volleyball teams in the Philippines, only to come up short. USJ-R fell to the University of Mindanao Tagum College despite dominating the second set. The squad of head coach Roldan Potot also faltered in keeping the momentum after winning the first set in their match against Kings Montessori School.

It won’t be accurate to pin the blame on inadequate physical training for they must have sacrificed countless hours to condition their bodies and to train for the game. They know the plays that their coach have designed like the back of their hand but they couldn’t seem to execute them well under pressure. But why does it seem that a different script is being played out from what they expect?

What matters is how you finish, not how you start

Outcomes like these give importance to handling end game situations well. That’s why St. Alexius College head coach Rolan Dela Cruz can’t emphasize it enough during their timeout when the Z-Air Maori of New Zealand was in a midst of a scoring rally. But even though the players in the RVL Nationals are champions in their own right, could it be that the stage where they are performing now is big for them to handle?

The bright lights alone of the Ynares Sports Arena can cause a young athlete to shiver. Add to that the crowd that wants you to either do great or choke. Then there’s television coverage that broadcasts your game nationally and livestream that introduces you globally. You have to look out for college coaches who are in the hunt for talent too.

The situation could be insurmountable if you think of it all at once. But preparing for the end game should be just as important as physical and tactical training. Here are some ways that can help you deal with grueling end game situations. Yes, physical conditioning can help you down the stretch. However, preparing your mind for situations like these can spell the difference between winning and losing.

Perform for yourself

People can put pressure on you especially when important games are about to be played. There’s nothing wrong with hearing words like “I hope you do good” or “Wish you the best” before a big match. But it can condition you thinking that you have to perform well for them. That’s pressure that you can rid yourself off if you perform not to please anyone. Just focus on the game and listen to only one inner voice: yours. Coaches can only motivate you so much to play well. But the extra mile comes from pushing yourself because you want to be better.

Always focus on the now

It is unavoidable to ponder on implications of a big game. But trouble brews when you let it sink in your mind before the game itself. It can get you nervous thinking of the goal too much might cause you to do things that do not help your game plan. Therefore, forget about implications or scenarios or results.

Play in the now. If you are serving the ball, focus on how to get it right. If it did not fall according to expectation, forget about it and focus on the next ball coming your way. If your team did not win the rally, focus on how you can win the next one and nothing beyond that. This lessens the burden that you put to yourself and to your squad especially in team games like volleyball.

Pause for a while

It’s fascinating to look at teams in the Rebisco Volleyball League 2018 National Finals who kneel down together and making a sign of the cross before entering the court. It maybe just be a few seconds of silence but it can help shake off the tension that a fast-paced game gives. Even the Creamline Cool Smashers or the Ateneo Lady Eagles perform meditation during some timeouts. Because the game goes by quickly, having a few moments of pause can recharge your weary mind and let go of thoughts that might not be game-related. It can also help you refocus on on the game plan you have prepared for that game.

It still is a game

Games are played for fun. That should be the riding mentality of an athlete coming into every game. We’ve heard several times about players retiring because the game is not fun for them anymore. Yes, time will come that you will perform in big arenas and noisy crowds that either cheer or jeer you.

But at the core of it all, it is still the same game you have played either on concrete, grass, or any other surface. It still is the same game you played even before big aspirations started to sink in. Never forget to smile whether you score or not. Not only does it take the tension off yourself but also from your teammates as well.

You are not alone

Even for individual sports, you still have coaches and trainers who help you along the way. Talk to them as much as you can especially when you are feeling the strain of the end game. In volleyball, you have five other teammates who will pick you up especially when you committed an error. Knowing that they have your back is a big boost of confidence. No end game stress is insurmountable with a team that thinks, acts, and plays as one.