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  • Writer's pictureMindy McCarthy

Give Yourself a Home Field Advantage

Over the past few months, we have seen sports come back to us. This is certainly a good thing for many people’s favorite past times and fun competitions with friends. However, sports do certainly look differently than they did at this time last year.

With coronavirus still spreading around the world, the sports world has adapted to hosting games without fans or very few fans in order to keep playing the competitions in a safe manner. This has brought up the discussion of home field advantage and what that actually looks like in the sport’s world this year.

The NBA decided to finish their season in a “bubble” format where the players, coaches, and team staff all stay in the same areas and play in the same arena night after night. This has been a very effective and safe manner to hold the games, and they have certainly done an excellent job with disciplining players who did not abide by the rules laid out to each team. Even though there is not one team traveling to the other’s home court, the arena is putting decals and playing the same sounds that these players are used to hearing in certain arenas trying to make it feel as close to a home game as possible.

The NFL has continued to play their games as normal traveling to one another’s home fields. However, most stadiums are not allowing any fans in at all, and the ones that are allowing fans are at a minimum capacity with the few fans spaced out throughout the stadium. While the stadium announcers are still able to use the same sound effects for the home team, the players are no longer hearing the home team fans heckle the visiting team trying to throw them off their game.

This has led many announcers to discuss the irrelevance of home field advantage for these seasons. I certainly think home field advantage looks differently this year, but I think teams still have some kind of home field advantage despite these changes.

There is something about hearing your team being cheered for when you are playing that can help pump you up. Even if this noise is artificial or now coming from speakers, it can still help motivate you to keep grinding throughout the entire competition.

Teams like the NFL that are still having to travel to play at someone else’s home field have to deal with that as an obstacle in itself. They are having to make travel plans that take time away from their recovery or rest time or even some meeting times that they could be running through plays with their teammates. It also makes players sleep in a different bed than their own the night before, and many of us understand what changes in our sleep can do for our performance.

Some players have even said they do not get as amped for away games anymore because they used to thrive off of being heckled by other fans or being able to silence a crowd with a big play that they created. Their drive or adrenaline is not going as high as it used to being away on someone else’s field as it did before. This again works to the home team’s advantage if they are playing someone like this.

With all of this being said, I do not think it is as simple as saying the home field advantage is not something to worry about this year. The good news is that mental skills training can help you compete no matter where you are, so incorporating that into your regular training will be beneficial for you as you continue to endure this very unusual year.

Here are some tips to help you in competitions:

1. Focus on the tools that you use regularly at home

When you are playing at home, what are some things that you do to help you get ready for competition? If that involves adequate sleep, make sure you are doing that for yourself. You may even need to give yourself some more time than usual in case it takes longer for you to fall asleep in an unfamiliar place. Do you usually eat something before you compete? Make sure you have a plan for what you are going to eat and a place picked out to pick up those foods or pack your own foods to take with you. This gives you full control over what your plan is before the competition. If you are used to speaking with someone before playing, thanks to technology that is even more accessible today for you to still accomplish that even if you can’t chat with the person face to face.

2. Research and mentally picture yourself at competition

Some opponents may have certain things that they do in their arenas like change the look of the flooring or field or have their fans do certain cheers to throw off their opponents. Taking some time to mentally picture yourself competing in that kind of atmosphere is incredibly helpful for you to accomplish your goal of playing well. This allows you to feel as if you have already accomplished your goal even before you step into the competition. When closing your eyes to mentally picture yourself in the competition, make sure to add as many details that you know about the arena. Can you hear the opposing team’s fans cheering? Can you see yourself playing on the type of field or floor that they have? Can you picture the scoreboard in relation to where you are on the field? Even the smallest details can help you with this tool of mental preparation.

3. Establish pregame routines that can be accomplished anywhere

When getting prepared for a competition, having a pregame routine is important for competing in your optimal state. It sets your mental focus on the task at hand as well as warms up your body to get ready to compete. These routines should include things that you feel is important for yourself and your own competition. It is important, though, to find pregame routines that you can accomplish no matter where you are competing. For example, basketball players can put up shots from the same ranges anywhere they are playing as the courts have the same distance marked with their lines on the court even if the hardwood looks a little differently. However, these players may not always have that same padding underneath the basket that they use to bounce some passes off of or use as part of their stretching routine.

4. Find something that is a constant everywhere to help you refocus when needed

If you are concerned about losing your focus in a competition, develop some kind of signal that you can see at every competition to help you refocus on your goals and how you can get there. Evan Longoria, currently playing for the San Francisco Giants, discussed working with a mental skills trainer to figure out what this item could be for him when he is batting and feeling that he missed a pitch. This item was a reminder to leave the last pitch in the past and focus on the next one that was coming his way. The object that he chose to help him was one of the foul line posts that are found in every outfield that he has the opportunity to play in. He picked one and would simply look at that when he was needing to refocus his mind on the upcoming task at hand.

While home field advantage may look a little differently this year, what are some things you can use to help yourself mentally to have an advantage no matter where you compete?

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