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How to be successful in the playoffs

The regular season is officially over, and the most exciting time of the year is about to start - high school football playoffs. Congratulations to all our high school football players who made the playoffs this year! It was a long season, and we know how much you all worked for this. We're proud of you for all your hard work, and we can't wait to see how well you do in the playoffs.

Success in the playoffs doesn't happen by chance. There are a few key things you can do to prepare yourself for success in the playoffs. Here are 5 tips for success in the playoffs.

1. Stay healthy/get your body right.

The playoffs are the culmination of a long season, and your body will be feeling it. You don’t want to go into the playoffs with an injury that could have been prevented if you had taken care of yourself throughout the year.

If you have done a good job recovering this season, you should already have a list of habits, tools, or professionals that help you stay healthy. As a rule of thumb, you should be doubling down on those recovery tools and increasing your use or frequency with them. If you haven’t been taking care of yourself, it is not too late. Start now by creating a plan and beginning to implement it. Get plenty of rest, stretch before and after practice, hydrate, and see a healthcare professional such as a chiropractor, massage therapist, or athletic trainer for any nagging injuries.

Do you have an injury that is nagging you going into the playoffs? Check out our partner company Hybrid Performance and Wellness! We have athletic trainers and chiropractic care available for high school athletes, and even a recovery room to get your body feeling right for the playoffs. We also offer a free consultation!

2. Get rid of distractions

Congrats! You’re in the playoffs. The biggest games of your life are coming up. If you want to perform well individually and as a team in big games, the first step is getting locked in mentally.

The most common reasons players fail to mentally prepare themselves to play at their best in the playoffs are distractions.

Distractions can come in many forms — social media, school, girlfriends, and friends and family who are not on the team.

You cannot let these things distract your focus from the job you have to do. Ever wonder how NFL athletes handle the stress surrounding big games? They remove all unnecessary distractions.

Now, this doesn't mean you should break up with your girlfriend, stop doing all your homework, or tell your parents to not talk to you. Rather, it means prioritizing what is important and necessary at that exact moment, and clear everything else.

Doing your homework ahead of time frees you up to watch film, save hanging out with your girlfriend for the day AFTER your game when you should be resting and recovering anyways. Athletes who perform well know how to eliminate distractions so when they step on the field, they have only one thing on their mind. They are not worrying about studying for a test or the last text they got from a friend. They are focused in the moment.

Be sure to set aside time for yourself before games to visualize yourself playing well on the field. Performing well relies on your brain to interpret and react instantaneously. Visualizing yourself doing your job and executing to perfection before a game can be a huge game-changer.

3. Execute at practice

It's the playoffs, big games are often won or lost because of little details that are easy to take for granted. Gaining an advantage on Friday night and avoiding an early end to your playoff run hinges on you and your teammates executing.

How you pactice is the biggest predictor for how you will play. You need grind like it's like your last practice - because it just might be...

After a long season, it's easy to get complacent and coast through drills during practice or neglecting to work on fundamentals. But the reality is, you need to double down on the things that got you here. That means spending time on fundamentals and treating each drill with the respect it deserves in helping you win on Friday.

***Tip: Grab your teammates and get some extra individual work in before or after practice. This will keep your technique and fundamentals sound***

Old sayings are old sayings for a reason. You absolutely play the way you practice. So if you want to win big games and have a historic run in the playoffs, it starts in practice.

Don't just watch your opponent's best plays; watch their worst plays too! You can learn a lot about your opponent by seeing them make mistakes and seeing how they react when things go wrong.

4) Study your opponent

The secrets to beating your opponent is always on film.

Don't just watch a few games of your opponent and then call it a day. Focus on the information the film is showing you. What does your opponent do well? What do they struggle at? Where are they weak points in their play. Don't just watch their best plays, watch their worst plays too! You can learn a lot about your opponent by seeing them make mistakes and seeing how they react when things go wrong.

The better you get at watching film, the more you will start to see the tendencies of your opponent, both individually, and as a team. You'll start to notice that a D-lineman uses only two or three pass rush moves or that he has trouble getting off a down block. You may even see him cue a twist before the play even happens, just by looking at his stance and alignment!

Don't feel like studying film? Just remember - your weaknesses and vulnerabilities are on film, too. And chances are your opponent wants to win this game as well, so if your opponent is working harder than you by studying more film than you, they'll probably do just that.

If you need some help structuring your film study, you can download our free film study guide here!

5. The game's not over until its over

Rankings and records are a natural part of any sport. They exist to inform us how successful a team is. They give us a way to try and predict how good the upcoming game will be and maybe even who will win said game.

Rankings and records do matter, but not in the playoffs. Regardless of what seed you pulled in the playoff brackets, if you're a favorite, or if you're the underdog - nothing is ever a sure thing. Any team can play their best, or worst, game on a given night, and anything can happen in the playoffs.

Let me tell you a little story. My senior year in high school, our team was coming off a semi-final finish the year before and ended the season as undefeated and champions of a conference in which we had to beat two other top 10 teams during the regular season. Needless to say, our expectations were a state championship.

In the first round of the playoffs, we had an almost perfect first half, playing well in all three aspects of the game. Offensively we controlled the ball and scored points, defensively we created turnovers, tackled well, and physically dominated our opponents, and special teams gave us good field position and much needed points.

Going into the locker room at half, we were up 24-0, and the feeling was, they want to quit - we've got this game in the bag.

As perfect as our first half was, our second half of football was perhaps the worst half we have ever played. We failed to execute in all aspects of the game. It started with a muffed kickoff. It continued with poor tackling by our defense and an offense that couldn't move the ball to save their life. Everything, including luck, went our opponents way. Our lead was finally erased on our opponent's final drive when they scored a touchdown on us after a 4th down conversion that came from a tipped ball fluttering into the hands of one of their wide receivers. We lost a game that should have been easily won to a team who had no business playing with us 24-27.

Now, in case you were wondering, this is a game that still haunts me 15 years later. But lesson learned from it is clear; no game is over until that clock hits zeros. Whether you're an underdog or favorited, whether you losing or winning at any given point in the game. The outcome is never predictable. Stay the course and play each down with the best of your abilities, and hopefully, you'll end up on the winning side.

P.S. Is your season over? Check out our Post-Season training options for middle school and high school football players!

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