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Eyes on the Prize: Bowl Game Prep Means Tuning out Distraction

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With the end of the regular college football season comes one of the most challenging times in a college football athlete’s career: bowl season. Whether or not the players can tune out the distractions that accompany a top-tier bowl game may mean the difference between bowl victory and ending with a loss.

As the official hospital for UCF Athletics, Camping World Bowl and the VRBO Citrus Bowl, AdventHealth, formerly Florida Hospital, has sports medicine professionals who work with the teams on game day and yearlong to keep them at the peak of health. As the bowl game approaches, our UCF sports medicine team concentrates on helping the players meet this exciting post-season game with the same level of focus as they did during the regular season.

Having years of experience working with the UCF football team and serving as the on-campus AdventHealth physical therapist who treats many UCF athletes, Sheila Klausner is dialed into the obstacles these athletes face during bowl season. “The biggest challenge faced by college football players before a bowl game is distraction,” says Klausner. “The players are challenged to stay focused and realize their objective is like any other game: to win.”

With all of the excitement of bowl season, it takes discipline to focus on the game itself. There will be a parade, pep rally and other high-profile events in the days leading up to the games, and plenty of free time. “Players have to really stay committed and stay focused on their goal of playing football just like they’ve played all year long,” Klausner says. “That’s harder than it looks. The public sees all the fun and excitement, but this is business, this is real.”

Finding discipline will mean preserving the routines that have so well served the teams leading up to this point. The AdventHealth sports medicine team weighed in on four tactics they will use to help UCF and the visiting teams during the post-season.

Reviving the routine

Like all bowl teams, the Knights had a hectic end-of-semester schedule. In UCF’s case, that meant coming off the high of a conference championship win, but with final exams fast approaching. “Every football player has to shift gears and focus on exam week, which means a week off practice,” Klausner says. “Afterward, they have to return to their normal practice schedule and start with a fresh focus on the bowl game.”

The NCAA allows bowl teams to practice for four hours a day or 20 hours a week in the span leading up to a bowl game. Key elements of staying in sync physically and mentally are eating and sleeping right, especially on the road, Klausner says. “Staff work so hard to help the players preserve the same meal schedule and same sleep schedule.”

That also means avoiding temptations such as staying out late and celebrating excessively. In the week leading up to a bowl game, visiting teams will typically find a local high school or college to mirror their normal practice schedule, Klausner says. “They want players to have that sense of consistency and to go through a normal routine, just like in the regular season,” she says.

The mental game

The Knights are under the regular pressures of a premier bowl game, but they’re magnified by other factors. To some, at least, they may have something to prove. The Knights’ 12-0 season was only good enough to earn a No. 7 ranking. Observers are wondering whether their offense will measure up against a defensive squad like LSU’s. Beating the Tigers would show the skeptics that the Knights were a first-class team all along. That said, rivalries and intense scrutiny can be a distraction or motivational fuel. Which it becomes is up to each player.

“It’s your choice: You can choose to let it bother you or you can choose to let it psych you up,” Klausner says.

Meanwhile, athletic trainers are also feeling the stress and pressure of a major bowl game. Klausner manages it in part by staying as positive and upbeat as possible. The bowl game is a reward, like icing on the cake. 

Staying in shape

Even when the players aren’t practicing, they still spend time in the weight room and track to keep their bodies engaged. “It’s important to keep your body performing at a high level, even with decreased practice time on the field,” Klausner says. On game day itself, the routines of the regular season tend to be largely unchanged, she says. “Stay with what works. The routine is successful, so use the same routine.” Plus, habit can be a healthy counterbalance to the spectacle of a bowl game, she says.

As the official hospital of UCF athletics, the Camping World Bowl, and VRBO Citrus Bowl, AdventHealth is proud of everything these teams have accomplished this season. We’re honored to have our sports medicine team working with them throughout the bowl games! For more information on AdventHealth and UCF’s partnership please visit our website.

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