Speed Secrets: Getting Your Game Face On

By Ross Bentley

April 13, 2015

I think there's so much to be learned from other sports and other athletes that can apply to performance and race driving. So when Ingrid Steffensen sent me her article about what she observed at a hockey game (and how it related to driving), I couldn't wait to share it with you. - Ross
Here is as close to fame as I am ever likely to get: there are only two degrees of separation between me and Henrik Lundqvist, goalie for the New York Rangers. Even though I have never actually met the man and I’m not a huge ice hockey fan, I went to a game recently and watched him with great interest. My favorite part? That would be the pregame warmup he engaged in after he skated up to the net. It went something like this:
First, he crouched absolutely motionless for a few moments, staring down at the ice. 
Then, he scraped up the ice in front of the net, like a rooster claiming territory, across one way, then back the other; once going forward, then once again going backwards.
After that, he took on a series of invisible adversaries, arcing his stick before him and going down on his knees and then bouncing back up again, in a series of angles, making a clockwise half-circle of blocks around his net.
Finally, he bent down again, assuming the same stock-still pose as at the beginning.
The Rangers won.
Watching King Henrik go through his pregame ritual made me think about what things we as drivers can do to maximize the precious short moments we get out there on the asphalt arena, and how the best drivers I know engage in their own pregame rituals. The specifics for driving might be slightly different from ice hockey, but in essence a lot of the same elements are there.
First, there’s the very enactment of the ritual itself—as in, getting to your car well ahead of the actual face-off (or pit-out, as the case may be) in order to allow time for all of this preparation to happen. Scrambling to your car as they’re making the last call for your run group is a sure way to go out there with your chinstrap flapping in the wind and your brain still out to lunch (or to drive over your buddy’s duffel bag on the way out—yup: seen it).
Henrik came out onto the ice with every aspect of his uniform, protective gear, and equipment in place. So should you. Before you ever get in the car, you should also have ample time to make sure you can do a walk around your car, checking the tires and making sure there are no funny bits hanging off anywhere, and then firing it up so that the engine has a chance to warm up a little, and clocking all your gauges (especially, y’know, gas). Not rushing through the process of getting your own protective gear in order is the best way to make certain you haven’t tightened your harness before, say, closing the door, or forgetting to tether your HANS device to the sides of your helmet. These preparations of your equipment and protective gear should all happen in a leisurely, systematic fashion—the same way each time—so nothing can be forgotten. Knowing that all of this is in order also gives you a sense of control and calm. 
I bet even Henrik gets the heebie-jeebies before each game, and I’m sure he follows the same routine in the locker room before he ever gets onto the ice. Once he gets there, though, the first thing he does is: nothing. Or so it appears. Those seemingly interminable moments when he does nothing but stare down at the ice are, I suspect, moments of great effort and impact in his brain. I can’t know exactly what’s going on inside his helmet, of course, but here’s what I think is happening: he’s taking the time to focus his thoughts and set his intentions. He’s tuning out the noise of the crowd and the even louder noise in his head, whether that’s big business like the Stanley Cup or something as seemingly inconsequential as a tiff with his wife.
I always work toward that moment, myself: time (usually in the pit-out line) to tamp down my busy thoughts and focus my attention on the task ahead. A couple of deep breaths usually helps with this process, and if I’m feeling anxious, I use a Speed Secrets trick of touching the tip of my tongue to the roof of my mouth. The bonus? No one can see you do it!  If the wait allows, I’ll sometimes also engage in a seated version of Ross’s “cross-crawls”: alternately lifting and then patting each knee with the opposite hand.  Ross says it integrates the brain. I say it keeps my legs from shaking with nervous energy, but either way—it works.
I also set my intention. What do I want to accomplish this time out? Not something vague like, “go faster,” but something concrete: more speed through that left-hand sweeper, or nailing the rhythm through those short esses, or not lifting (or not so much) at the top of Turn Two. 
Remember how Henrik goes through the motions of fighting off some invisible attacks? That’s something a driver can do, too. Running through the track in your head, especially those places you’ve designated as places to work on, will—studies prove it—make it more likely to happen for real. Sometimes I even close my eyes and move my hands to mimic the path I want to take, or I sway with my head and shoulders.
Finally, the last thing Henrik does after all that scraping and posturing is he gets still again. He goes back to that bowed-down posture and refocuses and/or resets his intentions. If you could see his face underneath his goalie’s mask, I have no doubt he’d have his game face on: concentrated, intense, but impassive. Put yourself back in the present moment as the time to get out on the track actually comes, and as they’re rolling out onto the track, you’ll be as ready as you can be.
Game on, baby!
- Ingrid Steffensen
Web: www.ingridsteffensen.com 
Exerpted from Ross Bentley’s Speed Secrets WeeklyFor more tips and additional articles on the art and science of racing, click here to subscribe 
+Speed Secrets: Managing Your Emotions Behind the Wheel