Now what? Stamps remaining games have meaning psychologist says

It’s a problem that eight other teams would love to have.

With a win over the Toronto Argos this weekend, the Stamps will clinch a playoff spot with five games left in the regular season. Which leaves not much to play for in a season where the only thing that matters is the final Sunday in Edmonton.

The question needs to be asked then: how do you motivate a team to continue to achieve during regular season games that no longer impact your main goal of securing a chance to hoist Lord Grey’s chalice at season’s end?

It’s a question I posed to Calgary psychologist Dr. Patrick Keelan who works with athletes regularly in his practice.

An avid CFL fan, Dr. Keelan suggests that the coaches need to start breaking the game down.

“You have to be creative in looking for goals that you can focus on,” he said.

Keelan suggests that the rest of the regular season isn’t quite without meaning yet as the Stampeders still need to wrap up the West Division. With a two-and-a-half game lead on Saskatchewan, the earliest the Stamps could clinch the division could be as little as two weeks away should they win both of their games and the Riders lose to either Montreal or Edmonton.

Following that, it should become less about the results of individual games, and more about individual results according to Dr. Keelan. He suggests the team needs to start focusing on the stats that make teams successful.

Winning the turnover battle, passing for over 300 yards, rushing for more than 100 yards are all things the team should be focusing on as those are big contributors to winning or losing individually regardless of the score at the end of the game. Settling for wins can’t be enough and pushing to achieve those goals will keep the team mentally sharp.

Also important are the process goals for the individual players. Dr. Keelan suggests that often the process gets lost in the pursuit of outcome goals. Reminding the players of the impact of a dropped pass or a fumble and reinforce even the most basic of skills has value in what becomes several dress rehearsals for playoff games.

“If you can focus on some things you have control over like looking the pass into your hands as a receiver or securing the ball to prevent fumbles, that takes the pressure off and makes it more likely you will achieve your results goals,” Keelan said.

The other question that arises once those playoff spots get clinched becomes rest vs rust. Should a coach sit his starters to prevent injury? Dr. Keelan says it is completely a player specific situation.

“I might be looking at particular individuals…what is their track record when coming back after extra rest?” Noting that each individual responds differently and the risk of them coming out flat might outweigh the risk of injury while playing in a nothing game.

One of the benefits that Dr. Keelan sees in the Stampeders, they do have the mental strength to see this slate of mean-nothing football ahead of them. “They do have a track record of winning the West Final despite clinching with two or three games to go in the season.”

Which of course brings up the topic of the Grey Cup and two consecutive losses. “Those were two cases where they were the heavily favoured team and they lost. I’d be looking at…what are the various factors that played into them losing the big game despite being heavily favoured and what are some things they can do in these remaining games to try and address those factors so that when they get into the Grey Cup this year they are less likely to be tripped up by those factors.”

Dr. Keelan suggests treating every game from here out as though it is a playoff game mentally so that players can be prepared for what may occur in those games eventually. Playing from behind is a perfect time to test that playoff mentality rather than shrugging it off as a game that has no meaning.

In past years, the Stampeders have taken their foot off the gas during games towards the end of the season losing the last three games last year, and coughing up the opportunity to set a league record the year before so it seems that Dickenson and the Stampeders coaching staff have valued rest.

It paid off with a pair of trips to the big game but didn’t come with any jewellery.

With a clinch possible with three games to go on the schedule, focusing on the little things may be just the right tonic for a team that needs to stay sharp, despite games they are playing lacking meaning from a win/loss standpoint.

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