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The Invisible Game
Mindset of a Winning Team
By A.D. Zoltan Posted in Non-fiction 13 min read
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The Invisible Game

by A.D. Zoltan

10 | Waking up as a winner

Cycles of performance

Our ability to perform at peak level in a given match is cyclical. Weightlifters often encounter the phenomenon wherein they have the same muscle mass, their diet and energy levels are the same, and yet their performance level is nowhere near their usual best. We call this performance a cycle or wave.

This term is quite descriptive because even though it’s more or less independent of the athletes, the cycles are observable and predictable.

Minor peaks and valleys of performance are a daily occurrence and are in sync with a person’s mood that changes from day to day. There are also weekly and bi-weekly fluctuations that indicate the athlete’s general condition.

Such phenomena well match human nature, because everything is in constant flux in our environment. Change is in our surroundings as it is in our bodies.

The waves of changes propel advancement.

As we ride on waves, willing or not, sooner or later we find ourselves on a crest. The view from there may be a bit frightening but it is still thrilling.

In eSports, the player describes when this happens that things happen almost too easily, winning is a breeze, and a sense of invincibility comes to the surface.

When the opposite occurs, and the player suddenly finds themselves in a hole, overly harsh self-criticism is definitely not the right course action. Better concentration and more energy gets the participant through the same course, but what is a plus is that this is the time when the e-Athlete advances most in their skills.

Investing more energy during training may not have the same effect, but once over the trough, this plus propels the player noticeably better in matches (A). On the other hand, without training, decreasing tendencies become the norm (B). The difference between continued training and the lack of it will be clearly apparent after just a matter of weeks.

The last afternoon

The last afternoon prior to competition should be spent resting and allowing the brain to relax while doing some sort of calming activity.

For e-Athletes, doing light physical exercises, watching a movie, or enjoying any pleasant activity is a perfect way to get distracted from thinking about the upcoming challenges.

Many people are under the false impression that even the last minutes should be used for preparation. Yet the truth is that if the necessary skills weren’t honed during the practice period, then the last day won’t make any difference either. On the other hand, a proper rest will help to perform optimally.

Sleep as part of preparation

After a relaxing afternoon, the most important physiological necessity, sleeping, should be considered as a necessary part of preparation. During sleep, the body and mind switch to recuperation mode. Regular sleep of 7-8 hours is essential to wake up the next morning ready for the competition.

Two types of sleep patterns can be differentiated:

During NREM (Non-Rapid-Eye-Movement) the heart rate and breathing slow down significantly, and the body recharges the most effectively.

REM (Rapid-Eye-Movement) sleep is typified by involuntary eye movements and fast, shallow breathing. Sleep researchers call this the dream state.


Dreams have certain significance in our lives and even though many people claim that they don’t dream, in reality they simply don’t remember them after waking up (Hobson, Pace-Schott, & Stickgold, 2000).

Our dream world is often populated by fears, hopes, and unresolved conflicts left behind from our waking hours. By no coincidence, during more difficult periods in our lives, we have more frequent nightmares, because our mind is attempting to work through them by reliving those encounters. Yet those bad dreams aren’t simply the slavish replays of prerecorded events; they’re rather a combined construct of what happened and how it reflects in our psyche. Persons participating in our dreams take on significant roles equal to their importance in our real life, such as with the appearance of parents and other loved ones. Also, because dreams aren’t bound by laws of physics nor linear time, the structure and storyline of these constructs have more to do with our psyche than with physical reality.

Still, experiences gained while dreaming have as much significance as the ones encountered during waking hours, except that they’re processed differently by the conscious mind.

In our dreams, the ego is also more of a passive watcher than an active participant. It, however, interprets the dream and that’s the version we remember when we wake up.

The purpose of dreaming is to organize, as well as generalize, our feelings or desires and apply our experiences. Our wishes often first take shape in our dream world, just as much as we can realize the subject of our daydreams, so dreaming and waking hours are closely tied together. Lucid dreaming, as a discipline of controlling our dreams, has a strong correlation with how well we can control our conscious desires.

The role of the e-Athlete on D-day

As the day of the contest arrives, we wake with a nervous stomach even though we went to bed early the night before in order to get up rested.

We’re burdened by the expectations put on us by our coach, teammates, and fans. We feel the significance of the day because we’ve been waiting for it to arrive.

In all honesty, such anxious thoughts only stress the e-Athlete and do more harm than good.

The best (and only thing) we can do on this day is to give it all we’ve got. The important thing is not to live up to the expectation of others, but to be able to look into the mirror the night after the competition and say, “I did my very best.”


Routines are mental tricks that help the competitor to better concentrate and tune into the upcoming event. The only thing that we need to watch out for with respect to routines is that they shouldn’t become automatic, because then they would lose their intended purpose. For many e-Athletes, routines are morphed into obsessive compulsive behavior patterns or become a subject of superstition.

A few of these routines that are observed in the world of eSports:

  1. The tight gripping of a hand warmer before a deciding match.
  2. Saying a prayer or mantra before the game with the team.
  3. Doing a signature move with a character at the beginning of the match.
  4. Reading, one last time, a self-penned reminder.
  5. Quickly mumbling the game plan one last time before starting.

There are routines too that aim to retrace the path that leads to a mistake, correct it, and recoup from there. For example, touching a virtual object on the course signals the mind about a new start.

Also, there are routines that remind the player to make a conclusion about what has just transpired.

The above are just a few examples, but they have the same familiar pattern that shows their users’ intent of putting some thought into forming them. The number of repetitions varies for each routine, but normally it takes 12-20 occasions in different situations for each to become a standard routine. Once that happens, the routine makes the proper emotional connection.

The purpose of routines is to be used as a means to an end and not as tools to replace a missing skill set or crucial knowledge. Regular coffee drinkers use the bitter brew to wake up, but after a while they often consume two cups instead of one to get the same effect because of their built-up tolerance to caffeine. The same tolerance may be noticed to a set of routines with athletes, and when it becomes overwhelming, the person is labeled as severely superstitious or even suffering from OCD. So, if we know we can win without a specific routine, then it’s time to drop it. As our habits and skills change we can always try out new ones that help with focus, warming up, or calming the nerves.

Before every game

Many teams have a set of routines to close a match and get prepared for the upcoming one in the time allowed. The following are a few examples of mental and practical routines.

  • Getting refreshed – Bathroom break to wash face or getting some fresh air
  • Clear the head – Closing the past match, putting aside the worries and focusing on the present
  • Walk – Leaving the station and taking a walk to get the circulation going
  • Energy replacement – Eating some easily digestible food and properly hydrating
  • Tuning to each other – Many teams use a motto or a group cheer to get the right cohesion and achieve a common vibe.
  • Game Plan – The team rehashes the practiced game plan, helping to recall the different points to be reached in the game. This serves as munition that helps to focus the team on the proper course. Chanting the game plan doesn’t help the mind within the game; it only helps to calm the ego down before the event.

Call outs and Recalls

There are short expressions that have direct associations or deeper meanings for team members. Depending on the person, some prefer to say them out loud or just in their head. These terms are mostly cryptic and easily identifiable by their users but rarely uttered without additional context in everyday conversations.

Some examples:

  1. Praise – after a successful round or particularly good move, giving a compliment to self or to a team member (“Yes, that was outstanding!”)
  2. Command – when the heat of the action is driving the team (“Turn now!”)
  3. Change – when the current tactic isn’t working and a complete change is required (Let’s try something new!”)
  4. Recall – when a previously practiced move or tactic needs to be recalled for a teammate (“Go with the ‘vacuum-echo’ combination!”)

Believing in our abilities

If we know that we’re sufficiently prepared to go against the best teams, then we have to believe in our abilities too. Physical and technical preparedness is not enough without mental readiness.

The latter is important to help our mind to have the confidence to utilize our full abilities during the contest. This sense of self-assurance assists in recalling all that was learned when we engaged in intense training sessions.

Don’t believe in beating your opponent but believe in your own abilities

There are inexperienced teams that choke during a match or game, and the viewing public, along with the commentators, while watching this unfold, conclude that the team is still green. A few months later, after the team goes through intensive training, it’s tested once more against a well-known team with similar abilities – and it loses again. The outside observers assume that the team didn’t improve at all without seeing what has been happening in the background. The team, in fact, advanced quite a bit through ample amounts of practice, and its capabilities became more optimal. Nevertheless, in the match they couldn’t deploy what they had learned during training. They simply lacked the necessary confidence to use the learned moves in a live contest. For this very reason the coaches remind their teams to “do as in training.”

Leader’s motivation

If we lose today we continue until we become the best;
if we win, then that day has already come.

The purpose of a motivational speech is to induce the proper emotions in the listeners and help them muster the extra effort necessary for winning. It is similar to warming up the muscles before a game, except motivational speeches warm up the mind.

Most leaders don’t know, they only assume, that they can motivate their players, which is already sufficient.

Humming calms the nerves

Some athletes when going into deep concentration forget to breathe and suddenly start to suffer from apnea. This may happen more often than one might think, even at top competitions, such as in the Olympic games.

What helps in an episode like that is if we take our mind off of the game. In the last nervous minutes, focusing on the tactics can result in the opposite effect, and not thinking about it is much more helpful. It’s best to remember: our muscle memory already knows what to do.

One surefire method to draw our attention away from the tense final few minutes is to hum a favorite tune. Since humming is a focused activity and it regulates the breathing, it calms the nerves and gives the brain the extra oxygen it needs by forcing a deeper form of breathing. Perhaps even the people surrounding the performer will respond positively to such performance.

Get the needed plus out of excitement

If we feel that something is important to us, we often respond by becoming excited even if we feel calm in our head. Our bodies signal this excited state, and we have no other choice but to accept it as normal.

People close to us at times ask whether we’re nervous when we face an important event in our life. And we naturally respond with “Of course not!” while having sweaty palms.

Nervousness physiologically is a crucial state because that’s how the body is preparing itself for an extreme event. The sweaty palms, faster heartbeat, and narrowing concentration are all signs of a body in stress.

Taking the first step in the game shows a special type of courage, and by choosing an aggressive strategy, we force our opponents to respond to our initiative. We must jolt the adversary off balance, knowing that they’re just as nervous as we are. Being the first to move also activates our fight-or-flight instincts and relieves our anxiety that in extreme cases can cause complete paralysis.

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