Sweaty palms, fidgeting legs, heart pumping...
Man, I miss those feelings.
That's how I used to feel before a big game.
I never felt like it was out of nervousness, but more out of excitement. The excitement of being on the big stage with something important on the line.
Now, in a perfect world we could say that we get those feelings every game. That same rush of nerves and excitement, but the reality is, some games just carry more weight than others. That's just a fact. It doesn't matter how good you are, or what level you're playing at, some games will always feel bigger than others.
Even in the NHL, I guarantee that Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals feels a lot different than a Sunday afternoon game in Florida in the middle of January...
While the end may be close for some, or already happened, for others some of the biggest games of the season are about to take place.
I was talking with a former player that I coached the other day who is now a head coach (wow, that makes me feel old...). His team is about to play in the state semi-finals. He asked me for advice on playing in those big types of games. What they should do to prepare and be ready...
My message to him was simple: Seize the opportunity. Remember what got you there and play your game. Don't try to change and be someone that you're not. And enjoy the hell out of every minute.
For coaches and players alike, I think this message holds true. I think way to often as coaches and players we get to a big game or a big moment and feel like we need to change what we're doing to get us over the top.
I've never looked at it that way.
I've always had the mindset of sticking to the things that have made you successful and driven you and your team to that point. That doesn't mean that you don't have to adapt and game plan for specific things that the opposing team does, but rather, that you stick to the core strengths of your team.
A better way to explain it might be that you game plan on how to defend a specific teams powerplay, but don't try and change your whole style and way of playing. If you're a team that is physical and plays heavy, play that way. Don't try to turn into a finesse team just because it's a bigger game on a bigger stage.
I think this message is important for both coaches and players. And honestly, like so many things, it can be related to real life too. Be confident in who you are and what you bring to the table. In the end, I guarantee you'll make it a hell of a lot farther being true to who you are then trying to be someone you're not.
I've talked a lot in this blog about making the most of opportunities. Playing in big games is just that... another opportunity. Don't let fear control you. Embrace the situation and embrace the moment and leave it all out there. I know that sounds cliche, but I think so many times we can hype big moments up in our head so much that we end up missing out on the experience and not performing how we would have hoped.
My advice for anyone about to go into a big game is to keep things in perspective, stick to the things that have made you successful, leave every ounce of yourself out there, and most importantly, enjoy the moment.
Speaking from personal experience, big games in huge moments are hard to come by. So every chance that you have at one, enjoy it and realize how fortunate you are to experience it.
Good luck to everyone about to play in one of those big games...