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"I try to do it on a daily basis," says Washington's Don James. "If you wait till the last minute, it's going to wear off before they get out of the tunnel."
Mental preparation, like physical preparation, is a year-round proposition. "In the final moments before a game," says Georgia Tech's Curry, "you try to bring everything into focus that you've talked about all season and direct all the energy in the right direction." Curry boils down his theory of mental preparation to "repetition, faith and expectancy." That is, doing something correctly again and again, growing to believe the result will be victory and then, after a few wins, expecting you'll be victorious.
In his Wednesday team meetings, Bryant talked to his players about life, dedication, sacrifice—and quitters. The world is full of quitters, and the Bear didn't want any around him. "You might quit just a little bit," he would say, "tomorrow in practice or maybe in a game. Then you'll quit in college and soon you'll be quittin' on your job and quittin' on your family."
•No. 8: Power of Positive Thinking
Every optimist from Norman Vincent Peale to the Little Engine That Could knows that a positive thought—I think I can, I think I can—often helps in times of stress. "You've just got to make them believe they're good all the time," says Clemson's Danny Ford. "That's what our talks during the week are for."
Says Sweeney of Fresno State, "This whole business of, 'You gotta get up, you gotta play better than you are,' is wrong. The idea that you have to rise to great heights to beat somebody implies that you really aren't that good. You have to build the feeling with positive thoughts that you are as good as anybody."
One of the chief means of planting positive thoughts is through visualization: The athlete envisions future success as a means of helping achieve it. "People have built-in ideas of what they can and can't do," says motivational guru Lou Tice, a former high school coach whose disciples include Sweeney and Akers of Texas. "When you exceed your expectations, in your subconscious you say, 'I'm not this good,' and your mind compensates by bringing your performance to the level it's more accustomed to."
West Virginia coach Don Nehlen has gone so far as to produce a radio broadcast of a game and then have his players listen to—and thereby experience—approaching victory. Likewise, the summer before Southern Illinois won the I-AA title in 1983, coach Rey Dempsey ran through the whole season with his team, describing each win and the playoffs and how the players would all contribute to the effort. "You have to see the victory before it happens," says Dempsey. "What you visualize and talk about is what you get. The players know that something good is going to happen. They are not going to quit."
Akers is known for his Saturday morning lectures, though he wouldn't want you to call them "pep talks." In a darkened room he'll tell the Longhorns to relax every muscle. Then he might say, "I will be like a scorpion when the ball is snapped. I will be absolutely electric. I do not know what the word 'quit' means."
•No. 9: A Community of Interest