The ability to engage in and focus on a task in the present time, or as I say “lock in on the moment”, is absolutely necessary for performing well in big moments. Mario Manningham gave us a shining example of being locked in. For three quarters of Super Bowl XLVI Manningham was not noticeable. Eli Manning, quarterback of the New York Giants, had not thrown Manningham’s way much, if at all. Giants’ receivers had not taken charge of the game by making big plays down the field despite the predictions that they would be the difference in the game.
What transpired in the fourth quarter can be chalked up to being prepared and locking in on the moment. Manningham went from forgotten to the center of Manning’s attention. He was ready. Manningham stayed engaged in the game so that when the most crucial moments arrived he was ready to capitalize on the opportunity. Manningham’s circus catch on the sideline during the Giant’s final drive to take the lead was eerily familiar to David Tyree’s “helmet-grab” in the game-clinching drive of Super Bowl XLII. Manningham being ready to play and locked in allowed the Giants to win the Super Bowl.
How was Manningham able to stay focused and be engaged when he had not seen any balls prior to the 4th quarter? How might we learn from what Manningham did? How did he
stay focused despite two players bearing down on him, the ball spiraling into the sideline, and his feet tapping just inside the white-green line that separates him from one of the greatest catches of all time to just another incomplete pass? You have to lock in on one focal point! Manningham stayed engaged in the game and capitalized on the opportunity.
Like many of us you might find yourself distracted by numerous things throughout the day. A fight with a friend or what your father said to you before you left for school about keeping your grades above a C can stay on your mind. You could be distracted by a poor performance in your last game or the anxiety of taking the SAT’s. For many student-athletes the school day is a constant battle to keep the mind on the task at hand with tons of distractions all around.
And then you play hockey. You put aside the homework, the discussions of the day, the upcoming test, and the fact that you are tired. As you rush from thing to thing on your overscheduled day how could you possibly lock in on a game like the Giants’ hero Manningham? Playing the game with whatever energy you have left is acceptable because you have had a busy day. Not the best way to prepare, is it?
The key is to understand that success comes from being engaged in the moment, from being all there when you are performing. Whether it is during the game or taking a test you have to lock in. To do this requires good planning and discipline.
Chunking Your Day to be More Engaged in Each
First, plan your day in chunks. Think about your day as multiple events that you need to lock in on. The typical day may have you involved in as many as 20 different activities. Instead of focusing on the large number of tasks you have to do it is better to break things down and put them in chunks (or compartments). In this way, instead of thinking “I am constantly doing more than one thing”, you begin to look at your schedule and realize that from 3-5 pm you have hockey practice, and then a break until 5:30 when it is dinner, then homework from 6-8 pm. Thinking about your day in chunks makes it more manageable if you see the time in between! So, write down your schedule and chunk out your time. The less you multi-task on important activities like studying, the better you will perform!
Eliminate Unnecessary Activities and Lighten Your Schedule
Like Manningham, if you want to be great you have to be ready to perform. There are many ways to enhance your focus and get the most out of yourself throughout the day, but it may be best to write down your schedule and attempt to eliminate unnecessary activities and lighten your schedule.
You can start by not trying to do so much in one day. Eliminate tasks or activities, or push back unimportant tasks to a lightly scheduled day. If you want more time in the day find your time wasters and either eliminate them or reduce the time spent on them significantly. This may include playing video games, texting, tweeting… Sorry! I write this because none of these things are likely to help you lock in and perform well when you get to the rink, because you will not feel satisfied with the time you spent on academics or with your family. You may also not feel prepared for the game. Remember the goal is to be less busy and focus on the most important things. This reduces stress; stress that carries over from life to the rink.
Plan for Mental Breathers
Now let’s say you have checked your schedule and you still are quite busy with important tasks and activities. Okay, do not panic. You can engage in each one of these chunks by taking some mental breathers. What is a mental breather? It is relaxing, clearing your head, and focusing your mind on one thing such as an upcoming trip, your family, or just on counting slowly as you breathe deeply. So, take a mental breather by going for a walk, exercising, listening to music or relaxing by doing deep breathing. If you plan these mental breathers between activities you can take a break and then focus at the right times. Otherwise we find ourselves taking mental breathers during class. Not good!
Moving from One Activity to the Next: The Locking In Process
The main question of this article is, “How can you lock in and be engaged for a big game, and keep that focus?” In the previous paragraphs I focused on ways to lessen the overwhelming feeling from your schedule. Now I want to focus on advice for moving from your day and into your game and being locked in.
Planning your transition from activity to activity.
Before arriving at the big game, an important test, or any event that you want to be fully engaged in you should plan your transition from the previous event. For example, if you have a big game 30 minutes after
school arrive at the rink and take 5-10 minutes to breathe deeply and slowly. Clear your head of the distractions. Listen to some music to focus you. Think about what it is you want to achieve at the game. What is your game plan? And see yourself executing it successfully.
What I find helps for those of you that are distracted by stuff from the day is to summarize the day in your mind. Take 5 minutes to see the day and then let it float away. Then you can focus on your goals and tasks for the activity you are about to engage in.
Plan ahead as to what you will do to clear your head of the distractions of the day, even if they include your worries and doubts about the game, and focus on success and performing the details. Focus on how you want to play the game.
Become a master of triggering your 100% focus.
Too often players enter a game with less than full focus. Instead of being locked in at the drop of the puck they are trying to work their way into the game the first period. Big mistake! You can be down 3-0 before you get locked in.
Pregame should be a time of funneling the focus to 100% game-only. To lock in I find it helps to have a strategy to trigger full focus. Listening to a favorite song, visualizing, reviewing your tasks in your head, doing a particular activity like puck handling, the warm-up… Know how and when you are going to fully focus on hockey. You don’t need to have 100% focus on the game an hour before necessarily, but you do in the last 5-10 minutes before the game.
In conclusion, the ability to stay engaged and locked in to a game like Mario Manningham comes down to having the discipline to focus. By eliminating time wasters and lightening your schedule to focus on the most important chunks, along with taking mental breathers and planning your transition to the big game (including a full focus trigger) you can lock in and be your best when the game is on the line. By taking control of your life and schedule you will be able to better lock in whenever you want to. Imagine how good your life will be when you can bring your best focus and energy to school, family, friends, and hockey? Begin working on your ability to lock in today and you will see the benefits!