Making a mistake before the game really starts is very painful. I had this experience several times. The game gets going and I am not fully into it yet. Because of lack of focus I quickly run over a critical moment or mess up my opening. What happens when I trust half-knowledge you can read here.
When I started to look at other sports more attentively, I saw one big commonality: everybody has a pre-game routine.
Rafael Nadal is famous for his ticks before every single serve.
In skiracing you see the athletes mentally going through the track before the race several times.
The most famous example is the routine performed by the New Zealand “all blacks” Rugby team. If you have never seen it, go watch the haka now. It is very impressive.
Everybody has their own way of achieving the same goal: Getting ready for showtime!
So I started putting a routine together for myself. After many trials I came up with the following one.
How I Do It
Being on time is very crucial for me. This gives me the time and space to perform my routine without any stress. So no matter where I play, I want to sit at the board 5 Minutes before the start of the game. Having accomplished that is the first small win.
Then I fill out the scoresheet (in classical games only). Now that everything is in place, I can start my mental routine.
I mentally go through a recent successful tournament of mine. The emphasize is put on the positive emotions. I want to feel the confidence the tournament gave me. Replay the good decisions I took.
Remind myself that I can play very good chess. Negative feelings or events have no place here. It is all about getting a good feeling before the game.
After going through the tournament in my mind, I usually have a slight smile on my face. And I sit more upright. Nearly ready for battle.
In order to focus on the process, I will define one key point before a tournament. Again, this is always formulated positively. The last time I told myself “Have fun and play with confidence”.
I will repeat this key point several times.
Now I am really ready for battle. From move 1 I am into the game. My brain is working. The adrenaline kicks in. Not too much, but the right amount to care enough and still be focused.
Create Your Own Pre-Game Routine
If you want to create your own pre-game routine, there are some things that can help you.
Repetition is key!
The more I perform this routine, the more powerful it gets. Mentally revisiting an experience needs training. I can remember incredible details of tournaments years back. And anytime I need some boost, I can access the feeling I had back then.
Before you use something in tournament play, try it in training. You will soon realize what makes you feel really good. Toss away everything that does not serve this purpose. Re-define your story so that it gives you maximum confidence.
Formulate it positively!
I have catched myself many times saying “don’t blunder” or “don’t fuck this up” before a game. This is very problematic, because our brain does not understand the word “don’t”.
Instead of “don’t blunder” it registres “blunder”. Not a great way to start the game!
That is why, whatever you come up with, formulate it positively.
- “Don’t blunder” becomes “stay alert from move one”
- “Don’t get into time trouble” becomes “trust your intuition and play with confidence”
- “Don’t play stupid irrational moves” becomes “ask yourself if your move makes sense”
I hope this helps you get into a good mood for your next game.