This exhibition game is huge…The team will start making cuts after this game…This could be the only opportunity to put something on film…This may be it…
FINALLY!!! It couldn’t have come at a better time.
There’s a common misconception about players going into their first exhibition game of the year. One gets the feeling that fans have this image of a rookie, or a guy trying to crack a roster spot, pacing back and forth in his hotel room with the lights out and a playbook that’s illuminated only by the hotel desk lamp. This dark image is also accompanied by certain feelings, like having a huge knot in ones stomach, sweating with nervousness, stress, and anxiety.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The thing about exhibition games, is that they’re exactly that…Games.
It’s training camp that gives one the feelings that were illustrated above.
Grinding out practises during the day, with plays moving at the speed of light, and then meeting for hours on end in the afternoon and at night…That’s hard
Even though one is having trouble learning the plays from yesterday, the Coordinator is still installing 2 personnel groups, 4 different stunts, 3 blitzes, and 2 coverages...That’s hard.
Hearing the quiet chatter about who’s putting in work at practice, and what guys need to do in order to make the team. Assessing one’s individual performance every second of the day and comparing it to the guys in your position group...That’s hard.
THIS IS THE EASY PART
Exhibition games are the only part of training camp where players can harness the familiarity of their own process. The way a player goes about preparing for a big game is as unique as he is. From what one eats, to how one spends their down time, to when one goes to sleep; everything is finally back to normal.
The exhibition game allows a player to break away from the monotony of a forced schedule and seek out the emotions and feelings that they've felt before every "big game" that they've ever played in. It's what brings the focus.
Once this "Gameday Routine" is in full swing, players aren't concerned about the same questions that have followed them around since camp started. One is now zeroed in on beating whoever lines up across from them. All the depth chart concerns, all the potential decisions that will be made; all of that gets left at the airport.
It's refreshing to not be carrying the burdens of training camp. Ones pre-game rituals bring everything into perspective. At long last, a player gets to walk around knowing that all the hard work has already been done.
The comfort of ones personal routine removes all the unnecessary noise. All that's left is visualizing success, and mental repetitions.
On Gameday, about 2hrs & 15mins before the first whistle blows, the busses transporting the team will leave from the hotel en route to the stadium. And just as it was the night before, ones pre-game routine guards him from the training camp narrative of having to play well, or go home.
Once on that bus to the stadium, time starts picking up. Before one knows it it's game time, and the opportunity to compete is front and centre . There's a flooding of emotions during this phase of game day, and because of the comforts of ones Pregame Routine, none of these emotions have anything to do with the GMs decision making. All the emotions are game related; they're instinctive. One has gone through all these feelings before. They're the feelings one needs to play at their highest level. Success, or failure, depends on them.
Don't be fooled into thinking that a player hasn't been in this situation before. One wouldn't be on this stage now, if they hadn't gone through it elsewhere.
One of the underlying issues with CFL training camp is having to compete for long stretches of time within the presence of the unknown. For a player, the exhibition games are a chance to get back onto familiar ground.