Mental Toughness

Winning a tournament requires more than just strategy and execution. It requires being able to look past all the distractions. It’s requires being able to grit your teeth and come back from what looks like an insurmountable lead. It’s being able to consistently stay on top of your game, and face down the best players in the country. And that takes mental toughness. In analyzing what tournaments (rather than just “winning”) require, this is almost invariably overlooked by scrubs- its not something that you can “see” on a video, and it’s often the missing ingredient that keeps otherwise excellent players from having any real shot at winning where it counts. Maintaining your focus is essential. Here are a few of the most common pitfalls:

That “not so fresh” feeling:
Tournaments (if youre not planning on losing early, and retiring to the fabulous snack bar) are almost tailor-made to sap your strength. Youre in an arcade. Youre tense. Everyone else there is tense. The music is loud. The lights are annoying. People smell. And youre there for between 10-15 hours straight, usually eating highly crappy food (or none at all), subsisting on sugarwater.

Every hardcore player has, at some point, felt that deep sense of burn-out you get from playing a little (or a lot) too long. Its the Street Fighter equivalent of futilely reading the same sentence over and over again after studying too much. You slip into a minor coma, unable to do anything but the same stupid, ineffective thing you did two seconds before (“I know! Ill throw another fireball!” … (eats vicious super as opponent reads him like a large-print book for the elderly)). This is actually a non-minor problem for a lot of intermediate players- when you miss a certain move (especially fireballs), you’re seized by the urge to “prove” (to yourself? to anyone watching? god knows…) that you CAN do the move (as if anyone really doubted it), and you jump at the first opportunity to do it. Its like youve got some ridiculous “rep” that you have to “defend” (your rep as a player so good, hes actually able to do the fireball motion on command!). So you go for a FB, and get a standing fierce or whatever- you’d be AMAZED at how many otherwise smart, competent players will IMMEDIATELY try ANOTHER fb. Its as though theyve deviated from the mental script they had of how the match was supposed to look, and cant proceed until they get that part “right” (the part where they were supposed to throw a FB). I can’t tell you how many free jump-in combos just looking for this has netted me over the years. If you thought about it for even half a second, you’d realize this was a dumb play, but that’s exactly what you don’t do when you’re burned out.

This may sound stupid to the uninitiated, but over the course of a tournament, not having been forced to think about your early-round wins can be a big advantage as you progress. If you dont have to think to win, you can stay loose, and fresh. Mental fatigue is a very real, though often overlooked danger. A lot of people actually tend to play WORSE after they’ve advanced to semi-finals and beyond because of this (another reason that tournament footage isn’t always the stellar display you might expect- people are burned out- they’ve been there for 10+ stress-filled hours).

Here’s one way to help alleviate the fatigue: Develop a basic technique for winning. Against players who arent capable of overcoming your little algorithm, you can virtually play on auto-pilot. Beating someone “out of your book” is usually done most easily with fireball characters (a perennial choice of strong players), but can be done in lots of ways. If you can implement an simple, effective technique like this, weak early-round opponents will spend all their time worrying about just getting past that (dodging your FB barrage, or looking for an effective anti-air to stop your Zangief from jumping in for the 43rd time in a row). They’re vastly more likely to do something stupid just trying to get into position to actually attack your character (which is the only thing that counts). This is very nice, if you can manage it.

Please note: If you are a scrub, this technique is not for you. It requires not only having a gameplan, but also having a secondary, simpler (yet still effective) gameplan. Some people use different characters to accomplish this earlier on. This not only lets you play on “autopilot”, it also hides the best techniques of your main (“bidness”) characters until necessary. It’s also a perfect example of why you don’t necessarily want to be flashy. If you want to win “by any means necessary”, you first have to realize exactly what
IS necessary. If you have some stupid pattern that’s killing the opponent, don’t bother doing anything else (“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”). This also has the added bonus of driving people absolutely nuts. Someone getting beat by a single, repetitive tactic usually gets really angry and short circuits, causing them to play even worse, making more mistakes, getting angrier, and so on. A vicious spiral.

Not only does this help you to preserve brainpower, it also minimizes the chances of anything “traumatic” happening that might haunt you later. This is another major pitfall for players at every level: Getting stuck in the past. They get hung up on something that’s already happened, mentally focusing on it, instead of the match at hand (“How could I have been so stupid?”). Bad idea. You’re taking a mistake (which is already bad) and making it even worse by focusing on it. This is not going to help you, and no one else impressed
by your willingness to yell at yourself. For instance, when I’m playing against a shoto as Chun Li (always a challenging fight), and I finally bait them into throwing a FB when I have super charged and ready, NOTHING frustrates me more than missing it. They’ve handed me the round on a platter, and I didn’t take it. In cases where this has happened, even if the match is still close, I used to almost always throw it away entirely, disgusted with myself, feeling like “If I can’t even super through a FB, I don’t deserve to win anyway”. Dumb. The same thing goes for when you pull some lucky win out of your butt. Don’t sit around punishing yourself for not having earned it (“I only won because he missed his DP”). If you believe you don’t “deserve” to have advanced, you’re likely to prove it by losing the next match, stuck in the past. Best play is to laugh it off, thank/curse the deity of your choice, and move on. Luck (or the simple failure of your opponent to execute) is a real part of every tournament. Be happy when it goes your way.

That’s getting stuck in the past. Not where you want to be. Where else don’t you want to be? Major pitfall #3: Worrying about the future. While this probably isn’t something that you’d think about if you’ve never been to a tournament, once you’re there, it’s easy to get preoccupied.

Not worrying about the future means not fretting about which bracket youre in, with who (something people seem to obsess over when they get there, and always a major cause of traffic around the organizing table). This will help avoid fruitless focus on the enormity of your task. If Luke had stopped to think about what he had really been up against, he never would have left Tatooine. Sure, you may be freaked that Dominator#47 is in your bracket, but if you spend energy worrying about it, you’re handing him a big advantage before the match even starts. Lots of people psych themselves completely out. While it’s true that these players have their reputations for good reasons, it isn’t true that they’ve got some kind of magic powers, or are going to pull out some secret move that kills you instantaneously (actually, even if that was true, worrying about it would still only make things worse). Concentrate on the match youre playing, and beyond that, your next opponent at most. If youre new to tournaments, or are merely guilty of the sin of not knowing every players history and profile, it may be worth your time to ask around a little. Knowing that Scrub#212 plays Ken, Ken, and nothing but Ken may be very helpful, especially when choosing your initial character (Advanced Tip #2: Try to have (at least potentially) alternate characters/teams- avoid being a one-trick pony, unless you are a mighty, terrifying, Pony of Death. This will prevent your opponent from being able to select a character who they wouldnt have otherwise picked, but who beats your only guy (or team) “for free”. This is a good thing.)

Matchups aside, however, you should always (almost always, anyway) pick the characters you’re most comfortable with. I didn’t start playing Chun Li because I thought she was #1 (she isn’t even close)- I picked her because I felt comfortable with her. Even if it may open you up to a slight mismatch, you want maximum execution, and playing with “your” character is the easiest way to make that happen. Don’t rely on someone else’s “rankings” to decide your teams for you. Just because the theorists on SRK have decided that “X beats Y” doesn’t mean you can’t win (note: this does not mean I think rankings are worthless- quite the contrary. It’s just pointing out that rankings assume evenly matched players, playing at full capacity, which is (obviously) not what you get in every tournament match. Duh.). Playing “your” character also vastly decreases chance of being paralyzed when you’re put into unfamiliar situation- something that top players are good at doing to you. You don’t want to have to stop and think about what technique is going to get you out of this one- you want to know reflexively- automatically. The hesitation that anything else brings on will cost you.

To maintain mental toughness, you want to stay fresh, be in the moment, and stick with what you know. Focus on your match, and you can hold on to the motivation required to win.

This is actually the best kind of mindset you could have. It can relate to this in a way. If you’re going against top player #x and you’re just a no-name, then just go for it. You have everything to win and nothing to lose, so just take your best shot and you might just get it all.

And you can’t believe how many times I’ve done this part:
-*!). So you go for a FB, and get a standing fierce or whatever- you’d be AMAZED at how many otherwise smart, competent players will IMMEDIATELY try ANOTHER fb- <-- I’ve got that controlled now at least, so yay me.

BTW Seth, if you still visit around here, what brand of cigs do you smoke? I’m trying to get something new.


I love reading these articles! to good!..except for the fact that Seth has no “[” key, it’s an easy read

**The brave defeat the cowerdice, the fearless defeat the brave, the flawless defeat the fearless. **
I say it all the time. If your fearless your not stressed, if your not stressed your damn ok. Let everybody be brave by feeling fear and nervousness while you simply empowre your self with positive thoughts.
Fear is but false expectations appearing rule.
Fearing something only makes it more likely ot come true. if you really dont want it to happen then believe with all your thought and convictions that you will succeed. even if you dont, you will do a better job with this mindse than the other.

My power in tournaments come from asking the simple question:

“What is more important: lving or winning?”

When one can answer honestly and truthly with winning than they one can channel everything one is, everything one ever was towards the goal of victory with no negative emotions what so ever. When one accepts this mentality ones body no longer tries to make one rest for no longer is self-preservation of any importance. It focuses all it’s energies towards the goal at hand regardless of how damaging it will be afterwards.

True focus comes from the realization that as long as you are alive you wlil focus all your power, all your intent, all your skill towards on these games. Decide to that your mind WILL handle it because it has to. That you will burn out when you die. Care not about mental exhaustion That your brain will focus all its poewr towards supplementing you with ability and focus and if to much strain is put on it let you die before become unfocused.

To expand on your thought about not caring about who you get matched up with remeber the higher you put somebody on a pedastool the harder it is to climb. Never idiolize, for when you idiolize you assume that your opponent is completey and utterly perfect and flawless. and this is stupid. in the end he is just a man just like you who happens to be good in avideogame. when you put him in a mixup situation he still has to guess like everyone else. he has weaknesses like everyone else. Know your enemny and know yourself and you need not fear the outcome of a thousand battles.

What i do is I don’t think of it ias “I have to fight this person damn!”. I say I gte the opportunity to test the fullest extent of my powers against a person of his calibur. Indeed this will be a fun match. a grand and ultimate fight.

I tell people this who play’d DOA all the fuckin time before I retired as the best in world. The only person who ever really listened was the player TheChamp and although he was out of practice he followed my doctrines to the letter and won an ohio tourny even though he wasn’t favorite to win. He found that in this serene state of being that all his rust faded away and he played than he ever had.

another good read - man i love reading these teachings from way back then…

I have never been to a tourney so that was very interesting.

I have felt that “he is strong, shit, what am I gonna do” phase when playing. It kinda sets you up into a fear loop the one where you doubt yourself and are not in your game.

The other one is definatly true, If I lose or win ungracefully I totally kick myself over it.

Still I dont think I’ll ever be in a tourney so I dont gotta worry.

that was a good read thx

That was an amazing read. You have my thanks.

That was probably the most inspiring post I’ve seen written on here.

Much props for the post. Good read.

Mental toughness comes along way but It seems practical enough that people don’t get that concept of tourney’s from the start

nice article

I think the only thing that will make this work mainly is to build self discipline.

Don’t react to mistakes you make. I see guys all the time that miss something with Ken and they get punished by it, throwing their arms up in the air, meanwhile they’re yelling “Oh come on! Hello, super are you there I’m hitting the buttons!”. Maintain a silent vidule one that is unshaken even til the end. And the people playing you won’t know what to think, even if they’re the ones in the lead at the moment. They’ll think you still have control somehow because you’re so calm and collected, not so much as a peep out of you missing the attack and eating a super for it or the rushdown raining upon you. Why? Why don’t you even react a little bit: a snicker, a laugh to let us know you’re having fun like the rest of us?

It was the same for me back at a previous tourney. I played a guy in semi-finals and I used Q, I also let the clock run out on the character select screen while I crossed my legs, took a sip from a soda, cleared my throat, stretched a little and fixed my eyes on the remaining time on screen while getting in the zone to fight.

I noticed my opponent is staring at me impatient and tapping on his stick, there you go, you’ve already got a slight advantage, you’re making your opponent work on your time. Making him do what you say even before the match begins. You’re no longer equals at this point, YOU ARE THE BETTER, how else can you explain sitting there comfortable and enjoying the character select music while your opponent, getting antsy begins tapping his foot on the floor. The game just got more stressful for him because now he thinks he’s playing someone who’s so care free, better, or already knows what he’s gonna do that they just don’t know what to think.

Through the fight I held it down though the crowd watching cheered for the other guy and yes I made mistakes that were punished, to which the crowd cheered and clapped. I retained my focused uncaring gaze on the screen when I hear out of the corner of my ear “What is it with this guy?” The match ends with me the winner despite the other person’s effort, though what’s another person’s effort against a turtler with a character with the best defense in the game.

I get up and look around and noticed people are talking about me around the room in their own little groups. Probably saying how I’m an oddball but whatever it takes I guess. Meanwhile my next opponent has to be in earshot hearing those people’s thoughts about me. A temporary reputation is established right then and there, another tool for you to use.

Damn kid thats good stuff.

Good shit RPD. Not enough people let their game do the talking. I talk all day on SRK but when it’s time to play in a tournament…all of a sudden I shut the fuck up and just start playing. If you wanna win you gotta have your head in the game. Talking at that point is just to reiterate the fact that you’re great or completely suck ass.

That section about “following a script of how the match is supposed to go” reminds me of amateur piano players. When they make a mistake–hitting a wrong key or even skipping a note entirely–they tend to stop and try to redo that part. It interrupts the flow of the piece and gets them riled up about the mistake they just made. When they just say “screw it, it’s in the past now” and focus on what they’re playing next, the piece as a whole sounds better. I think that correlates pretty well.

Great article ponder:tup:

HAHAHAHAHAHA about the “secondary gameplan”:clap:

I thought i was the only 1 that did this lol on any sf2 game (most notably hf2 for 360) the only char i can play at a high level as in beast on the worlds best is sagat i am a complete beast with him n definitely 1 of the best on xbl but i play on xbl usually 3-5 hours at a time if i am playing that day and it is mentally grueling to be “trying” every match so when i face a low ranked scrub i just have this simple gameplan on throwing low fierce tigershots and standing fierces till they lose it’s only when i come across a topranked guy do i bring out the big guns and use my unbeatable “turtle and adapt to ur playstyle and then turtle some more” strat it doesn’t happen ofte ncuz i am too good with sagat but the few times i do come across a guy who knows what he’s doing (real decoy’s blanka) then i really gotta wakeup, stop talking, and focus EVERYTHING i have on what he’s doing n then quickly go into “psychic” mode and punish my opponent for thinking about getting close and it’s easy for me but doing that consistantly for hours is impossible LOL OMG ponder “autopilot” as u put it is the best way to put it i couldn’t have said it better myself kudos to u.

Its amazingly funny how i read this article after my first serious tournament (super practice opera at web2zone) and at that time i didnt read this and yet i had this same mindset on that day…and if that wasnt amazing enough…when me and my partner entered the 3s 2 on 2 tournament…for my teams first match…it was up against Jwong and mutant XP…i’ve always known how good they were i knew that that was my only chance to prove myself that i can go against the best…and out of all ppl…Jwong himself…before the match i had no fears, no remorse for what i wa going to do…i had my gameplan set up…and i knew that he was a turtle style player…with that in mind…i went into the match sure of myself…but out of all the things i took into consideration…one of the most important ingredients in that equation was the environment…i played the match messing up combos that i perform all the time…i missed genei jin starters after i got the lp,lk,mp connected…and the match was gone for me…but then the beginning of this article showed me my faults when i first read it and it was only then that i realized that im going to be ready next time…i really want to thank Seth Killian for writing this up…without this i would have never been as confident i myself as i am today

In my first ever tournament for HDR, I was so nervous that I went numb in my hands and it still kinda happens to me. Amazingly, I was able to place 3rd despite the intense anxiety I had felt even before the tourney started.

Fatigue only sets in with me if the tourney isn’t going smoothly and I am waiting around, smoking my nerves into submission. Energy drinks will make you crash and food with lots of carbs can make you too relaxed to concentrate as well. In the situation where I have to piss and there is no lavatory for use, well, I just drink less water.

One thing I thought was funny in a recent SFIV tournament I went to was that there were free drinks, including beer. No one who was in the tourney even considered drinking and that’s a very good thing. I have stupidly played high level ST and HDR very drunk and it’s even worse than driving intoxicated (oops), in my opinion. Your brain just doesn’t work that fast for SF if you are plastered.

And, good advice, RPD. Playing it cool with a stoic poker face while never saying a word about anything is the best way. I have felt the vibe of every opponent I’ve played in tourneys and I can usually gauge how good they are based on how cool and collected they are.

I had this exact same experience at Devastation. I finished 3rd as well. I also think the anxiety I felt (and was unable to control) after an upset victory prevented me from playing to my fullest potential in the finals.

+1 on this. I thought the same thing just a few nights ago as I was analyzing my experience at Devastation. It’s good to see I’m not alone!

Nice reading.

People at the tournament DO smell bad and emit so much heat. It’s awful.