You’re doing it wrong. Yes, you, the professional, or the aspiring pro. You’re hurting your chances of success.
Allow a brief introduction, my name is Sean Gough, I’ve been a pitching coach for over six years and an instructor for longer. I am an athletic trainer. If you’ve ever watched a professional sporting event and saw an athlete get hurt, the first person that runs onto the field is typically the athletic trainer. As an athletic trainer I specialize in evaluating orthopedic injuries and getting people back healthy and on their feet. I’ve worked at the collegiate level as well as high school. Currently I work in the industrial setting with a fortune 500 company. I’ve been playing video games all my life, played Starcraft 2 semiprofessionally for compLexity Academy as well as took second in WCG USA 2013 for League of Legends.
Let me tell you right now that you are hurting your chances of improvement because you’re not looking at the bigger picture. Mid-tier pros, aspiring pros, the casual. You’re looking at winning but winning isn’t everything. I’ll paraphrase the great Vince Lombardi quote of winning isn’t everything, but making the effort to win is. Why is that so important? Because not every single game is winnable, but if you can give yourself even a half a percentage point greater to succeed, you should want to seize on that. Furthermore, as an aspiring professional, winning isn't the be all end all. It's improvement. If you can show improvement and a strong mental set, you have set yourself apart from the sea of faces that are out there. You become much more asset to the team.
One thing that I think that quite a few teams and coaches get wrong is that they try to eliminate failure. Failure is key to success. Failure is needed to improve. Failure is needed to test the mettle of a player. We should not be trying to eliminate failure. We should be trying to eliminate repeated failure, as this shows that learning and improvement are not taking place. If you continue to repeat the same mistakes then that means whatever it is isn't sinking in – this could be on the player, or the coaching staff, but ultimately, you're stagnating as a player because of it.
Success for teams and players mean different things. Not every player wants to be a champion. That may be a shock for some people (as it was to me when I first learned it while working on my undergrad), but I've been around plenty of people who work with professional athletes and quite a few of them would rather take being respected as the best of their position among their peers. Some would also say money. Not everybody's goal is a championship.
Building a championship team means getting like-minded people on board with set goals and motivation to not be content with, "Hurray! We're the #1 team of our region." For some teams that should be a legitimate goal. If you're in last place, I wouldn't be thinking, "WORLDS!" even if I really wanted to get there. You set smaller attainable goals before moving onward.
This is also true for a game of League as well as life in general. Therefore, you need to have good coping skills as a player. If this 'A' doesn't work, my second-best option is then doing 'X' instead of 'Y' because the opponent reacted different to what was expected. You're not banking on failure; you are being prepared for the alternatives if such arise.
This also helps prevent tilting and an overall toxic environment. Being able to predict and prepare for problems will produce better tolerance to it if it occurs than if you were blind-sided. Even if you haven't practiced for it, if you're aware of the alternative possibilities, it won't be as much of a surprise. This leads you to a better chance at winning your professional match.
A lot of this boils down to how are players being set in a position to not only succeed, but to continually improve. Whether you're a professional right now or semi-professional, your attitude before you start scrims/games will determine your effort. If you go into it half-assed or not all there, you're doing not only doing your team a disservice, but yourself as well. You're just there wasting time. Your effort will determine your investment which will give you an opportunity to showcase you are ready to execute. Take that and play with a sense of urgency. The vowels of success = A E I O U.
As a player, if you stay up until three AM and then skip breakfast, I don’t care how many extra hours of practice you get… you are not serious about getting better. If you don't take care of yourself and don't get a lot of sleep, you don't care about whether your team wins or whether you improve or not.
Did you know that being awake for 22 hours straight can impair you more than 4 cans of beer? Yes, there are physiological differences between being intoxicated and being fatigued; however, if an athlete wouldn’t reasonably expect to have peak reaction times after putting back four beers, they can’t expect to perform their best on less than a full night’s sleep either. Williamson & Feyer (2000) found that moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication.
Robson-Ansley, Gleeson and Ansley (2009) looked at different factors in managing fatigue in Olympic athletes and hit on the importance of sleep as lack of sleep can impact, in a negative way, performance and mood. Reilly and Edwards (2007) as cited by Robson-Ansley, Gleeson and Ansley (2009) found lack of sleep affected mood as well as motivation to exercise and train.
Sleep loss impairs judgement, it messes with motivation, focus and memory. Without sleep the brain struggles to consolidate memory and absorb new knowledge. Remember at the beginning I said it's all about percentages? If you are actively sabotaging yourself by not getting good sleep, you're setting yourself up to lose – even if it's a 1% greater chance of losing. At the highest level we need what we can get to win, so if you're doing the opposite of what is needed to win, that becomes an issue.
How about with exercise? I still see some team's exercise routines and it's laughable. Truly, it is. And I'm not saying that because I think every player should be built like a brick house, but the whole point of exercise is to impose stress on the body so that it'll have to adapt and change. Specific adaptations to imposed demands (SAID principle).
If you're sitting there exercising and you're doing everything you enjoy doing, how are you challenging yourself? Likewise, if you're sitting there playing league – and you're a professional with a small champion pool – and you're just doing what you're comfortable doing, how are you challenging yourself? How are you helping the team's chances of success?
Pushing yourself physically helps you learn how to embrace uncomfortable situations. It also improves self-control and willpower by teaching you how to keep going even when your brain may be telling you to stop. As a result, research shows that people who undertake and endure exercise challenges tend to perform better in hard, yet ostensibly unrelated, areas of their lives, such as quitting smoking or being calm for an exam. Exercise imposes stress on the body, yes, but it also helps to decrease stress. Pushing yourself physically also helps you learn how to view stress as a challenge and strengthens your social ties – so you can foster the inner resources needed to effectively confront stress in all areas of life – and become a more resilient person in the process. With this, you can see yourself as someone who can choose to engage in difficult things, get through them, rather than to shy away and stay in your comfort zone.
Exercising also makes you more tolerant to mental fatigue, so when you're playing a 50-minute game or you're playing an important BO5 (split finals or world's baby!) you're able to better handle it. Something outside the game a player can do is increase their aerobic fitness, as that increases mental alertness and helps in making better decisions, so that you're not thinking, "Hey, I can go ward this bush with no surrounding vision/teammates." and then, "Oh yeah, I'm dead now."
What good does it do the team if two of your five members are already checked out by the time your first or second game of a scrim rolls around? How much beneficial practice are you going to get out of that? Not very much, which is why getting in good physical condition and maintaining that already gives you a leg up on someone who isn't doing that.
There are other things that can help give you those percentage points to win, such as focusing on breathing (inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, pause for 2 seconds). And positive self-talk to stay grounded in the here and now. Being able to breathe and stay grounded in the moment is key to not get too amped up to the point where you start missing things because of all the adrenaline that's flowing and all the information you must process. This is true for professional sports; this is true for League.
Being able to stay grounded, positive self-talk, breathing, realistic goals so you can cope when something abnormal happens, working out correctly, eating well, sleeping, being adequately prepared and set up to succeed, these are all things that help increase the percentage points of winning a game. They can't be overlooked because you didn't know it was important. It is 2019. Professional sports know about these things. It's not always easy to get pros to buy into it but there's no excuse to blow it off and not give a shit, because this isn't League of Legends 2010. These are huge franchises that give a shit, and if you don't, there is always young talent ready to make a name of their own.
Let’s take for a minute April 23rd, 2017. A tweet from Jensen, stating, “I always fall short when it matters most, I’m sorry to all my fans & especially my team. Game 5 was 100% on me. Ggs”
Those are the words of a super star leader. Nothing is 100% on anyone in a team game. Ever. It’s good to take onus to use it to motivate and fuel you, but you can’t let it crush you. You have to take your experiences and learn, knowing that next time you will shine in the spotlight because of what you went through. You will not curl up; you will not buy into the “always fall short.” mentality. You are strong.
And these are the kind of words that have to go through your head, this is why having a strong supportive structure (teammates, coaches, peers) is key, because that person from two years ago could have crumbled and thrown in the towel and said, “I’ll just never be able to get over that hump. I’ve had a good run,” but he didn’t.
He wasn’t afraid of failure, because he knew he would come back stronger the next time. I want to really hit this point home and reiterate… there are teams that struggle to improve, whether it is collectively, with decision making, whatever, almost to the point of they're afraid to make a mistake and you can see it in their performances. You can't be afraid of failure. As a player you need to make decisions, that's the only way you can learn and improve on those decisions. Having the support of your teammates and coaching staff is also critical so that second-guessing and hesitation doesn't fester, as that can lead to a toxic environment.
These decisions and working with failure and practicing with a purpose and improving are all vital to round out a player. Practicing efficiently is more important than just practicing a lot. Korea, with Starcraft especially, didn't always practice the best, but they had the best environment to help players improve. If they made a mistake in practice, they were punished for it by the opponent. That shapes you up very quickly – provided good feedback from your team and coach. This has carried over with League and even Overwatch.
The best method to improve your game is to play with proper feedback. You must identify your faults so that you can focus on fixing them. You can't just blindly play ranked and hope to improve (although for a select few this will work, it's not typical, there are faster, better ways to do it). You can't half-assed go through scrims (remember the vowels of success?) and expect to improve. You cannot stay in your comfort zone and expect to improve.
You cannot stay in your comfort zone and expect to improve.
Now, here are some additional things that a lot of individuals are misinformed about.
First is stretching. It is hard to find any study that definitively says stretching reduces the chance of injury. Andersen (2005) looked at studies trying to determine if stretching had an effect on delayed onset muscle soreness, as well as risk of injury. Not only did he find a non-significant impact on delayed onset muscle soreness, but also that you'd have to have a large group of people stretch for a very long time (3 months) to prevent one muscle injury. In fact, Law et al. (2009), and others, have found that individuals can have an increased tolerance to stretching, rather than changes in the muscle itself. So, in trying to target any sort of morphological changes, that may not be the case and may just be increasing their tolerance to stretching.
What does this mean? It means that stretching really does not do much to prevent chance of injury. However, if it feels good and gets you to move around a bit and not be stationary at the computer for 8 hours, then go ahead and keep doing it.
Look at gaming in terms of volume and intensity, how much are you loading the tissues of your wrist, shoulder or cervical spine? If you sit with a forward head lean for 8 hours and don’t move around much, that stress is going to add up on the structures. So, what are some things to combat that? Moving around! Taking breaks. This was even discussed at the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine on April 14th, https://twitter.com/MizzouSportsDoc/status/1117537877762744320 as you can see on one of the slides here.
Andersen et al. (2014) looked at high-intensity exercise for those with chronic trapezius neck pain and found increased strength capacity, increased muscle fiber hypertrophy and increased capillarization per muscle fiber, which theoretically should help decrease dysfunction, though the study didn't look at improvements with regards to pain.
So, as a professional – or aspiring professional – gamer, what are you doing to optimize your physical performance to keep yourself healthy?
Everybody knows of caffeine, and with regards to caffeine, it offers increased focus and reduces fatigue, as looked at by Davis et al. (2003) cited by López-González et al. (2018). It helps to lower the perception of fatigue, as looked at by Doherty & Smith (2005) cited by López-González et al. (2018), and increases glycolytic activity which leads to more energy, as looked at by Simmonds et al. (2010) as well as Davis & Green (2009) cited by López-González et al. (2018) again. With more energy and being less fatigued, it can help keep focus during crucial moments of a best of series.
Last, you still see it on some streams, the hydration bot, stating it has been so many minutes of streaming so you must drink x amount of water. Now with hydration, an athlete is encouraged to drink ab libitum (meaning drink when you’re thirsty) during training and competition. For the gamer, you’re not losing as much water as you’re sedentary, but you should be leading a somewhat active life, moving around, exercising, and you want to make sure that throughout the day you’re not becoming more and more dehydrated. After a training session it is recommended by Shirreffs, Armstrong, and Cheuvront (2004) as cited by Robson-Ansley, Gleeson and Ansley (2009) that athletes drink 1.2-1.5 liters of water for every kilogram of body weight that is lost during exercise, with an emphasis of sodium in the water. This is especially pertinent in athletes that sweat out more sodium than others. As a gamer, staying hydrated helps keep everything functioning at top levels. Motor function, reaction time, mental processes. Remember, again, it’s all about those percentage points. Give yourself and your team the best possible chance at succeeding.
Andersen, J. C. (2005). Stretching Before and After Exercise: Effect on Muscle Soreness and Injury Risk. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(3), 218-220. Retrieved January 27, 2019.
Andersen, L. L., Andersen, C. H., Skotte, J. H., Suetta, C., Søgaard, K., Saltin, B., & Sjøgaard, G. (2014). High-Intensity Strength Training Improves Function of Chronically Painful Muscles: Case-Control and RCT Studies. BioMed Research International, 2014, 1-11. doi:10.1155/2014/187324
Law, R. Y., Harvey, L. A., Nicholas, M. K., Tonkin, L., Sousa, M. D., & Finniss, D. G. (2009). Stretch Exercises Increase Tolerance to Stretch in Patients With Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Physical Therapy, 89(10), 1016-1026. doi:10.2522/ptj.20090056
López-González, L. M., Sánchez-Oliver, A. J., Mata, F., Jodra, P., Antonio, J., & Domínguez, R. (2018). Acute caffeine supplementation in combat sports: A systematic review. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1). doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0267-2
Robson-Ansley, P. J., Gleeson, M., & Ansley, L. (2009). Fatigue management in the preparation of Olympic athletes. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(13), 1409-1420. doi:10.1080/02640410802702186
Williamson, A. M., & Feyer, A. (2000). Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(10), 649-655. doi:10.1136/oem.57.10.649
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