Hey there, everyone! It’s Daniel Altavilla here to speak of an extremely crucial yet underestimated topic: Nervousness.
In this article I will speak of nervousness and anxiety and how to slay these feelings, regardless of how daunting the tournament may be, along with examples of superstitions and rituals and how they can aid in overcoming your nerves.
I’ve also asked five top-tier players (Brandon Smiley, Jose Marrero, Ryan Sabelhaus, Brit Pybas, and Justin Sanchez) some questions regarding nervousness and how they deal with it.
Whether you’re attending a League Challenge or a National Championship, nervousness may be your adversary. This feeling can cause stress to stockpile, players to become ill, and the idea of a long day ahead hard to swallow. If you allow your emotions to get the best of you, you could perform poorly, much to your chagrin.
For the record, I also deal with anxiety during big tournaments. If I make top cut, I can misplay heavily and do stupid things that could be avoided with some simple strategies. I’m constantly shuffling my hand around and biting my nails; it’s truly appalling. But recently I have developed ways to get around the bad feelings, and you can too.
With that being said, let’s get the ball rolling with a bit of research I did on anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of inner discord achieved through overreaction to a situation one might find intimidating. It often comes with fatigue, nervousness, fretfulness, tension, and worst of all for the Pokémon community, inability to concentrate.
Anxiety has the ability to spark nervous reactions within a player, which could be in the form of shuffling your hand non-stop, constantly moving your legs or fixing your chair, or biting your fingernails, to provide a few examples. These are what I see in most nervous Pokémon players, including myself.
We all know this information for the most part, but what we don’t know is how to prevent this feeling.
How to Handle Anxiety
Tournament anxiety is something only a handful of players can fix on their own, through their specific rituals, but for the rest of us, what can we do? We have limitless options, but I’ll discuss my top four:
1. Avoid caffeine in the morning.
Yeah, I know – we all can’t “function” without that morning cup of coffee. The truth is, caffeine can make one jittery and restless, which can heighten the effects of anxiety. It’s actually been proven that anxiety can be reduced by the elimination of caffeine.
Meditation is the practice of putting all of your concentration into one area, through different poses and positions. This is done by releasing all thoughts from your mind, and chanting. There are different chants and poses done in order to open different “gates.” Opening one “gate” can grant you the strength to hold your ground, another “gate” can give you peace of mind, etc. The simplest form of meditation is sitting with your legs crossed, overlapping your hands onto your lap, palms up, and slowly chanting “mmmmmmmm.”
Meditation has been the panacea for an uneasy mind for millenniums. Wake up in the morning, take a shower, fill out your decklist, and then meditate for a while. Even if you only perform meditation for 10 minutes, it should put you in a better spot mentally than beforehand.
3. Find your happy place.
If you’re happy telling everybody about your last game and talking strategy, do that. If you’re happy playing some fun games with friends, be my guest! Even if you’re happy just scrolling down Facebook or Twitter on your phone, go ahead and do it, because anything that you can do to make you feel more comfortable between rounds can really remove some of the stress and help to defeat your anxious worries.
4. Get proper sleep.
If you don’t get sufficient rest, you can’t perform to the best of your ability, and not being able to play like a champ means not being able to feel like a champ, thus the anxiety will strike. Get to bed by midnight, or ten o’clock if you’re a younger player. (And make sure not to oversleep, either!)
A good friend of mine and the 2011 US National Champion, Justin Sanchez, has always been one to get beaucoup sleep the night before a tournament, and the day of, he never worries about nerves or anxiety getting in his way.
With these strategies, and many more not mentioned, anxiety should be the last of your worries. But if not even meditation can help, you might have to turn to some of the personal relaxers, such as superstitions and rituals. In order to elaborate a bit further on these, I’ll share my own:
Superstitions are the beliefs that one event is linked to another simply by chance. Examples of superstitions are forgetting your dice at home and consequently attributing the absence of your dice to a poor performance, or dominating a fun game before the tournament and drawing a horrible hand your first round, placing blame on the fun game for using up your luck.
I personally have a few good luck charms that I bring with me to tournaments to make me feel more in control. First, I feel that I MUST use the burgundy Dragon Shield sleeves in tournaments. My two big Regional finishes happened in those babies!
I have these two Naruto CCG mats, a Kankuro and a Jiraiya, which I alternate every few tournaments. If I play with any mat besides one of those two, the luck just doesn’t seem to be there. Also, I have the same dice which I set up a certain way, and finally, if I make the top cut, I’ll wear a hooded jacket and my South Broward High School gym shorts for good luck.
This may sound like a bunch of junk for a measly Pokémon tournament, but I feel that we’re all entitled to our idiosyncrasies and that we should do what we must to feel comfortable.
Other superstitions I have are mostly in the way I shuffle. Back in 2008, I used to shuffle 8 piles, and then 4 piles. During the 2008 World Championship Last Chance Qualifier, I omitted the 4 pile and only did an 8-pile shuffle, consequently drawing into literally the worst hand of the entire tournament. Nowadays, you’ll see me shuffling 7 piles, simply because I feel that I won’t have an adequate shuffle using any other technique.
We then have the way that I draw cards from N. I normally deal out the cards I get from an opposing N face down next to my Active Pokémon, and I won’t pick up the cards to see what I’ve obtained until I absolutely must. Strange, right? It’s just what I do!
Rituals differ from superstitions because they are actions that people take in order to mentally feel ready for a tournament. There are some crazy things people do to “guarantee” the best tournament experience and avoid nervousness, like brushing their teeth a couple extra times, doing push-ups, playing practice games, or even singing the Poké Rap the morning of a tournament. For some, these actions are mandatory in order to obtain luck, and for others, rituals are unnecessary.
Some of my personal rituals involve playing music, kind of as if I am turning my morning into a montage of sorts. I’ll eat light or even skip breakfast, in case my anxiety gets the best of my stomach. Most tournaments I feel that my list is not the way I want it to be, therefore I find myself making some abrupt changes the morning of the tournament. For some reason, this has become part of my ritual, as every tournament I do well in seems to be one in which I’ve made an impromptu change.
As you can see, I don’t do much in order to slay the nerves, but I’ll do what I can to make myself feel better. If you require all of these precautions, so be it, because we as a community play this game for the fun of it, and not being able to create memories and laughable moments due to an emotion is a shame.
How Others Handle Their Anxiety
I have picked five of my Pokémon friends and gotten the scoop on what they do to fight their emotions. These five have their invitations to the 2014 World Championship already and are awesome players, so we could all learn a thing or two from them. Here are the questions and answers given:
“What do you do the night before a tournament? The morning of the tournament?”
Brandon Smiley (585 Championship Points)
Normally, I try to get as much sleep as I can possibly get. I feel like if I don’t get enough sleep before a tournament, I’m destined to fail. I try not to play any games of Pokémon, because I usually get nervous if I draw poorly and end up changing decks at the last minute (which seems to happen anyway).
The morning of, I like to wake up before everyone else in my room and take my sweet time getting ready, and try to put myself in a strong mental state. I always try to make sure I get a good breakfast to prevent headaches and fatigue throughout the tournament. Staying energized is huge and can really improve your performance throughout a long tournament.
Jose Marrero (626 CP)
The night before a tournament, I usually play a few games to see how the deck I’m using runs. Honestly, I don’t play that many games the day or night of a tourney, but I play-test more a week prior.
Ryan Sabelhaus (635 CP)
The night before the tournament is usually just play-testing and making sure that I’m prepared for every starting hand imaginable. I usually draw about 500 test hands throughout the night (not even a joke). I always like to listen to music and relax before the big tournaments.
Brit Pybas (587 CP)
I generally try to play as little as possible the night before a big tournament. For things like League Challenges or Cities, I never really worry about them and generally am building a deck during registration. However for bigger events where testing is required, I try to test a bunch leading up to the event but not right before. I am superstitious about this kind of thing but am always worried that if I test poorly, I might get scared off a correct deck decision. Tragically, this exact situation happened to me at Worlds this last year and I ended up not playing HoverToxin which I had spent the summer preparing and of course my good friend Dustin went on to place fourth with the deck.
It’s important to know your deck, but also enter the tournament environment knowing that you can only control so much. Take all the variance and what not with a grain of salt and just play the cards you are dealt (pun intended).
The morning of, I go through a lot of rituals. Sleep is always important but of course we never get as much as we want. I take a shower (cleanliness is key!) and try to be ready before we need to leave. I like to try and eat something light like a yogurt and some fruit, but generally do not have a big breakfast.
Justin Sanchez (539 CP)
Nothing special. I always make sure to take a shower, put on some deodorant and brush my teeth as my hygiene is important to me and others around me.
“Do you have any good luck charms or anything of sentimental value on you during tournaments?”
For sure, I think my number one good luck charm is my Lucario deck box that my good friend Milan Patel gave me a while back. I’ve used it for every single tournament for the past three or so years, so it’s been through a lot of important moments with me.
For this entire season, I’ve used the same set of pink Dragon Shields for every tournament. I consider them a good luck charm, as they’ve helped me shape my best season to date.
If I’m gonna be honest, I actually do have something I carry with me all the time. Most of the time I forget it’s in my wallet and don’t bother to take it out. Kevin Kobayashi drew on a Ducklett card, and for some reason I’ve had it in my wallet for a while. I guess that’s my good luck charm.
I’m actually one of the most superstitious players in the entire game. I have the same routine for every tournament and every game. I always lay out my dice in the same way with the same numbers, along with my coins in a triangle pattern above the dice. If I make top cut, I wear the same clothes for day two. There are a lot more habits that I do, but they all help me feel comfortable and get into my zone.
Oh yes! I have a lot of good luck charms that may or may not brand me as a freak. The first of which is not to shave the morning of tournaments. As pointed out earlier, I always shower in the morning, but stubble is one of my good luck charms, at least for day one. (I always shave before top cut for these two-day events, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do three-day stuff like Nationals.) In addition to this, I also have a couple pairs of lucky underwear and a corresponding deck box that I swear by. Crazy, right?
I do not. I try not to check online pairings out of superstition, but that’s about it.
“How do YOU deal with the anxiety that comes with a large-scale tournament?”
I go to the bathroom a lot throughout tournaments, just to get away from everyone and take a good 5-10 minutes to breathe and try to think clearly. Long tournaments can be extremely stressful, both physically and mentally. I think it helps a lot to give your body a few minutes to relax.
I think I get nervous on bubble matches because they are the do or die matches. But other than that, I try not to be nervous, no matter who I’m playing against.
I’ve been playing for a pretty long time and have been in just about every situation. I love the crowd noise and the reactions. The energy from huge tournaments with money on the line is one of the best feelings in this game.
I used to get really, really nervous at any given tournament. I would sweat profusely and my hands would shake even during the first round of a Battle Roads, but I’ve gotten a little better about it. My mentality is generally just to try to let things happen and so with some deep breathing and stretching exercises, I’m generally very calm.
Outside of these things, I always find that not talking about your games after each round and trying to put your mind somewhere pleasant helps you focus even better in-game. Certainly, there are merits to pondering each and every matchup after your round completes, but I think it compounds the nerves rather than alleviates them.
I try not to take it so seriously. I’m blessed to be where I am and that is good enough for me. I used to be extremely nervous and vomit before tournaments, but that has since gone away with the experience of playing many big tournaments.
“How do you prevent your emotions from getting the best of you in-game?”
I don’t normally have a problem in-game, but I do get frustrated at times. A lot of the emotions come out after the match, during which I try to relax and remember that it’s just a game. I think staying focused and trying to concentrate on the game are both very important when your emotions start to take over – you don’t want to end up making costly misplays just because you’re nervous.
I guess it depends who I’m facing. But mainly I try to chit-chat and make the game more fun. Even joking around can make your game less stressful, thus making you less nervous. Every time that I get that nervous feeling right when I sit across from my opponent, I’ll go into that “let’s get to know each other” mode. For instance, I’ll ask where my opponent is from or make a joke like “gonna be a long day!” Really just anything to get those emotions gone.
The more serious you are, the more emotions will kick in, thus you have a higher chance to make mistakes. So just try to have fun and play the game normally.
Always make sure to plan out your turns while your opponent is playing. Make sure you have a game plan before the match and know exactly how to execute that. It’s never a bad thing to take some deep breaths and calm down before making some of the bigger plays in the game.
I think this goes back to my point about how there’s only so much that you can control. You can have the best deck at a tournament, know your matchups perfectly, and still have a terrible day. Say if I played Virizion/Genesect in a field with lots of Blastoise and only three Rayboar, I could realistically be paired against all three Rayboar and there was absolutely nothing I could do to prevent that. Variance is just an artifact of the game and if we let these things that we can’t control take over us, we’ll never have a very enjoyable experience.
I used to go on tilt over every little thing and now I am able just to smile and laugh at the clutch Catcher heads and topdeck Junipers. If winning is your focus, I think you’re doing it wrong and so I think that you can be emotive in-game, but in a very positive way, if that makes sense.
Nerves create mistakes. I don’t get nervous anymore, so I don’t misplay as often. Find a way to remove the nerves, and you will play better!
There you have it, folks: Five players with completely different answers! I found it very interesting that they didn’t really have much of the same things to say. This proves my earlier point, that there are countless ways to deal with anxiety, and that these methods differ from person to person.
With the 2014 National Championships right around the corner, we all will have to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, and I truly hope that this article has helped to enlighten you on some of the ways to do this. So grab that lucky coin and your pink Dragon Shields – and don’t shave that stubble – because nerves are the last thing you want to deal with the day of a huge tournament!
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