If you watch the top players, you’d notice there’s something different about them. They have an arrogance, a swagger to them: while everyone else wants to play, the top players are there to win. They are focused on achievement, even at the cost of social involvement, hanging out with friends, etc.
To win a major Scrabble tournament, it requires more than technical prowess: it also requires understanding how to optimize your performance so you can play your best throughout the tournament. There are many factors that any competitor must successfully juggle, and neglecting these components can spoil both your skills and mental fortitude.
Within any competition, having the right attitude is essential. Most players approach tournaments with a mindset that makes it impossible for them to play their best. To win, you must focus on process over results, avoid distractions that might be presented either from inner players or your own internal monologue, and prepare for and handle adversity. To do this, you must learn to handle several key components.
The first component is self-belief. Winning requires complete confidence in your toolbox: word knowledge, strategic understanding, etc. Trust yourself, and leave any refinement until you are at home. Avoid situations or players that can shake your confidence in these tools. Thoughts like “I am outmatched”, “I don’t want to look/feel stupid” or “I’m not going to win because I’m not drawing well” are death knells in any competitive endeavor. You can’t let nerves, self-doubt, or others’ opinions of you stand in your way. You need to be in your own element: in your own world. Think of the board and the tournament room as your own place in virtual reality.
The second component of a good attitude is to avoid being results oriented. While goals can help you focus, goals should be centered on the actions and intentions (demeanor, etc.) instead of corresponding results. Good goals include maintaining your focus, eating well, persevering when behind, and maintaining emotional control, while bad goals include winning 20 games, winning challenges, and missing less than X bingos.
Another important aspect of Scrabble is self-awareness. Every successful Scrabble player understands and accepts their strengths and weaknesses. This is crucial: it can help you to change your mindset when you are in a rut, and better deal with the mental hurdles and mistakes that you face during the tournament, since they will not come as a surprise to you. Self-awareness helps players deal with word knowledge mistakes, strategic mistakes, or mental mistakes, as these mistakes are inevitable.
Self-awareness also helps players deal with nerves. It’s one thing to play at home, with friends, online, or at small tournaments: it’s quite another when the focus and the lights are all on you. Worse yet, you just have to work through your nerves and learn on the fly, being sure to acknowledge and accept the various mental and physiological factors that can affect your nerves. Despite how it might seem, everyone has nerves: ignoring or trying to fight your nerves is much worse than acknowledging your nerves and either counteracting them as best as you can or accepting them and moving on.
The last component of having a top player mindset isis a laser-like focus in both play and demeanor. Scrabble is not a sport where trying harder will cause you to win more often: quite the opposite. To win, you need to preserve your energy, and that means abstaining from things that could detract from your focus later, such as playing additional games or variants, drinking alcohol, or staying up late.
Tournaments are full of distractions, ranging from awkward or confrontational social experiences, regrets about previous plays, to thoughts about your reputation and/or your friends. When these thoughts creep into your mind in the middle of the game, they interrupt your ability to play to the best of your ability.
The best way to improve your focus (by far) is to develop a routine to help yourself focus. Setting a routine will help you become a more efficient thinker, and help you get into “the zone.” For most people, the process of getting into a routine starts even before the game starts. Players use the restroom, meditate, and use the time before the game starts to calm themselves down and focus on only the game and their opponent. Once the game starts, every second of every game is only used to think about the game, in an almost mechanical way, sort of like clockwork.
Thoughts should be kept as orderly as possible, so that you never think about the same thing twice. Manual processes such as tracking, drawing, and alphabetizing your tiles as well as strategic processes such as making strategic goals and opponent range finding must be automated and consistent.
These are the three major aspects of keeping a good mindset. While a good mindset alone won’t allow you to play amazing Scrabble, it WILL enable you to play Scrabble to the best of your abilities!