Winning the pregame is a necessary step in positioning a team to win the actual game. Pregames are won through routines. Behind every great coach, there is a pregame routine. The same goes for our leadership world.
“Straight line, look straight ahead, helmets in your right hand, not a word.” That was how our pregame routine started when I coached football. That is when the switch flipped from unstructured to structured, from a regular day to game day.
We headed over to the pregame certification sixty-five minutes before game time. Once we completed the process, we walked over to our warmup area. Upon arrival, we stretched the same way, ran through our offensive plays the same way, walked through defense the same way, and lined up special teams the same way. Then at ten minutes to game time we marched over to the field, you guessed it…the same way.
We always entered the field at the corner of the end zone, the team ran along the end zone, down the sideline, to the ten-yard line where they met the assistant coaches. From there, I paced along the sideline while spinning a ball on the palm of my hand, thinking ahead to every possible scenario that I could conjure up. The team ran through the banner, we locked arms at the fifty-yard line, the coin was tossed. Game time!
Little rigid I know! Not all coaches have a pre-game routine so structured. Some prefer to be looser, but I guarantee they have a routine. So as a leader, what is our pregame routine? How do we prepare for the day? Maybe your morning routine includes a cup of coffee, breakfast, working out, quiet time, reading, or listening to music.
Let’s look at five benefits of having a solid pregame routine and how we can apply it to our leadership:
The pregame routine we developed produced consistency. It did not matter who we were playing. Whether it was the worst team in the league or the best, the routine was the same. It produced consistency in the final product on the field.
In our leadership worlds, opponents are disguised as unfinished tasks, mounting pressure to complete a project, tough conversations to be had, or the crisis of the day. The days I do best are when I stick to my pre-game routine. Get up, shower, take my vitamins, make a cup of coffee, read my bible, grab a snack for breakfast and head out the door. Sometimes though, I cut it short in order to try to get a head start on these opponents listed above. Getting out of routine can fluster me, rattle me, and disrupt my ability to lead that day. I prefer the consistency a routine provides!
The routines we developed as coaches lessened anxiety. Over twenty-one years, we developed teams that were competing each year for a championship. So, we played in a lot of big games. Having a solid pregame routine allowed us to focus more on the system than the anxiety of the big game. It is what we knew, what we were comfortable and familiar with. The comfort and familiarity that comes with routines lessens anxiety.
I tend to find myself less anxious when I stick to my routine. Anxiety generates fear and negative emotions. Following my routine gets me in the groove. A groove filled with an intentional plan and optimism. Routine lessons anxiety, if you stick with them.
Sets the Tone
We were playing an away game and headed over to the pregame certification. The boys were in a straight line, looking straight ahead, helmets in their right hand, not saying a word as we marched over.
I will never forget this moment. A mom from the other team was walking towards us, stopped in her tracks, looked at me, and said “wow, you guys are good.” Do not miss what she said. She didn’t say we, “looked good”, she said we, “are good.” She didn’t know our record or who we were. We could have been the Bad News Bears for all she knew. Our pregame routine set the tone.
Having a solid routine for our game day of leadership is critical to our success. People see the discipline you create in your life and want to replicate it. It sets the tone. Setting the tone early in the day is how you win the rest of it.
Repetition Develops Muscle Memory
I strongly believe that the key to the development of young athletes is repetition. You teach them the right way to do it and do it over, and over, and over again. When they are prepared this way it develops muscle memory. Then, when they get in a game situation and things move fast, muscle memory takes over. They react the way they were prepared to.
When we develop routines, we are game ready when we walk into the office. When you win the pregame, those opponents can throw whatever they have at you, but you are prepared for it.
The outcome of winning the pregame is preparedness. Whether it is pregaming for your day, a meeting, a presentation, or a speech, people sense preparation. Others will notice. When we come prepared with an agenda, we have our talking points, or we rehearse the speech, people will sense our preparedness or lack thereof. Being prepared for the big moment goes a long way towards winning the next phase of the game.
Winning the pregame doesn’t always guarantee victory in the actual game. What it does do though, is places a team in a position to win. We can all agree that we do not win every day. Some days, the opponent gets the best of us. The task remained unfinished, the pressure broke us, the conversation was tougher than expected, or the crisis of the day impeded us from getting anything across the goal line. We left the playing field battered and bruised!
That is leadership though and it comes with the turf. The easiest thing to forget as leaders is someone appointed us head coach, CEO, principal, senior pastor, director, assistant director, you name it…for a reason. The reason you were chosen is because of all the game experience you have. The good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between.
Your leadership journey to this point is merely your pregame. Today is the big game, let’s go!