How to Have a Great Game: After the Storm

16 Jul

We’ve talked about getting ready for a game, and game day – let’s talk about what to do after the game, an essential part of preparation that is often overlooked.

photo courtesy of Sean Murphy

Recovery is not just the icing on the cake as far as performance goes – it’s a key ingredient for longevity and, when done right, can give you and your team a competitive edge.

Derby is a tough game and leads to all sorts of fatigue:  Physiological – your body is tired of using its energy systems, you feel sluggish and used up.   Neural – your brain is tired of sending high-intensity signals to your muscles. Ever go to practice the day after a bout and feel like you forget how to skate?  BAM – neural fatigue.  Damage – Perhaps it’s DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) from working so hard, perhaps it’s an injury sustained in the game, either way, your body is tending to it.  And finally, Psychological – we invest emotionally in each game and are bound to be psychologically impacted whether we win or lose.

After you take your victory lap and shake hands with the other team and the refs, have a plan to look after yourself that starts in the change room and ends when you fall asleep that night.

Gear Down.  Once you’re back in the change room, about 5 minutes after the game, rehydrate and refuel.  Now is the time to indulge in those carbs you’ve been craving, along with some protein.  Post heavy-workout is when your body can best use those carbohydrates to rebuild what you’ve used up in competition.  You can keep healthy, appropriate snacks in the room, or you can bring a shake.  Make sure to get something in your body to refuel as soon as you possibly can after the bout and hydrate like your life depends on it.

Cool Down.  5 – 20 minutes after the bout, your team should all be in the change room gearing down.  Now is not the time to complain about what went wrong or who did what to whom.  Once you’ve got your gear off, try to engage in a cool down.  Move lightly, bringing your body back slowly from its high level of engagement to a normal resting level.  Spend about 5 minutes just moving around.  Next, stretch it out while you’re still warm.  Take 8-10 minutes to stretch.  Often, we skip these steps (and definitely skip the ones following) because we want to see folks who came to the game, or have to get out of the arena, or want to get to the afterparty.  I beg you, take the time to help your body recover.  All in all, it’ll take about 15 minutes of your time.  Gear down faster, chat less (or move and stretch while chatting) and give your body the attention it deserves.

In other sports, athletes have a full complement of tools to help them recover immediately post-game.  In derby arenas, half of the time we don’t even have showers.  So, while it would be ideal for these next steps to happen within a half-hour of playing, sometimes that jut won’t be the case.

Once you’re back at home or the hotel (before the afterparty or dinner or whatever), help your tissue recover.  Use contrast showers (1 minute as hot as you can stand, 30 seconds as sold as you can stand, repeat three-ish times).  I love/hate my contrast showers, but they keep me from feeling like I got hit by a truck.  If contrast showers aren’t your jam, you can try a cold bath.  Indulge in some self-massage (shaking, active massage, not so much deep tissue), and keep drinking all the water.

Fuel Up.  Within the first hour, eat a meal.  Don’t underestimate the power of fueling with awesome, good food after a hard bout.  Not only will your body be craving it, the pleasure that a great meal gives your brain will help you to start relaxing.

Wind Down.   Once you’ve looked after your body’s immediate needs, you can focus deeper on your psychological recovery.  Have a ritual to unwind after every game.  Maybe you seek out a beautiful meal with some of your teammates, maybe you listen to music and go for a walk, maybe you get changed and go to the afterparty to dance.  Whatever your strategy, put the focus on relaxation, rather than rehashing what just happened.    Also, keep hydrating.  Key point: Drinking beer, while fun, is not hydration (match it 2:1 with water).

Write It Down.  Ian Jeffreys, a rugby coach, uses a great recovery ritual tool with his players, having them write a performance review following each game.  Each athlete writes down their thoughts after the game, and consequently those thoughts lose their power to distract performance in the next game.  The act of writing them down helps the player to start to disengage from what just happened.

As a captain, I like to compose an email to my team after each game, noting what we did well, what we can work on, how awesome we are and, win or lose, how proud of them I am.  Writing it is part of my ritual, and it helps me to shake off any bad feelings I might have about the game, replacing them with love and admiration for my teammates.

Lastly, right before bed, do a recovery check.  How does your body feel? Does anything hurt in an unusual way?  If so, deal with it.  Do you feel calm?  If your thoughts are still racing, keep trying to unplug before you go to sleep.

Remember your recovery – it will keep you in fighting form, ready to face the next game and be awesome all over again.

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