One of my favorite all-time pre-game locker room stories took place during the World Games in Baltimore during the summer of 1998. I was fortunate enough to be playing in those games for the English National Team. As I look back now I am able to realize how special a time that was for me, not only on the field but off it as well. A funny thing happened just prior to our game against the United States, my teammates called them the "Yanks." During the week of the games each country would be assigned a different locker room for each game. For this game my teammates and I were lucky enough to be assigned the Hopkins Men's Lacrosse Locker Room. Now, if anyone has ever seen this locker room you can attest that is one of the tops in college lacrosse; big screen TV, state of the art sound system with ten compact disc player, enormous lockers with stools for each one, and enough room to fit sixty people comfortably.
Well, back to the story. We all gathered in the locker room and met about forty-five minutes before the "big" game. As the team shuffled in I thought it would be appropriate to crank some heavy metal, you know get the blood pumping a little bit. So I turned on Guns n Roses "Welcome to the Jungle." So I turned it on full blast. The concrete began to tremble, the steel lockers began to rock, and the stools began to slide across the room. At this time the Managers for the team came running over to me, through me out of the way and began their search for the volume control. After a few seconds our assistant coach found the control and shut it down. So I said in a very casual manner "Sorry for playing it so loud but, you didn't have to turn it off." The team physician replied "Don't you know stupid, what in the hell could happen if you turn this music up too loud?"
I said, "I don't know, maybe blow the speaker?"
He said " No, you horses ass! Last year we were competing in the Euros (European Championship), and right before we gathered up to go to the pitch (the playing field) Alistair was playing some heavy metal punk crap and one of our older players (he was forty two) got so excited he began to jump up and down until he collapsed with a heart attack!"
I was at a loss for words.
He continued, "Luckily, he didn't die, one of our players revived him before it was too late."
So ever since that moment I changed up my pre-game rituals just a little bit.
When most people ask me how I approach game day I usually tell them that it's not a very exciting process. I usually wake up early, around eight thirty in the morning, and get up to the athletic center or stadium before anyone else. I like to get there very early to make sure everything is in order. The last thing that I would want to happen is right before a big game realize that I left my cup on the practice field the day before. After I put myself in order I usually begin a very long drawn out stretching ritual. It starts during a hot shower and continues through getting dressed. All during this time we have music playing on the system (not at a terribly high level, of course) usually some hip-hop or heavy metal, even some pop music as well.
Another mainstay in my pre-game ritual is to make sure I have properly hydrated myself. I usually drink ten to twelve glasses of water or sport drink. In my opinion stretching and drinking tons of liquids are the most important part of pre-game. It is so important to take care of your body before a game, you have to make sure that your body is going to be able to do everything it is able to and some things it's not supposed to.
Mentally, I try and think about the game itself and its ramifications as little as possible. What I do think about is what the players are going to do and how I am supposed to react to their actions. I guess you can call it visualization. I always tell myself that no matter how many balls I stop, what the game is going to come down to is if I can make the big play and help my team win.
While writing this piece I couldn't help but think of the strange pre-game rituals some of my my lax buddies have done. I have collaborated these rituals into a top ten list. It goes as follows:
#10- Billy Evans, the All-American midfielder from JHU, is notorious for eating French toast and sausages before a big game.
#9- Matt O'Kelly, another All-American midfielder from JHU, made famous the "sleeping in method" sometimes waking up minutes before our pre-game team meetings.
#8- Adam Lodewick, the University of Maryland defensemen, would carefully paint his face before each big game, always the colors of the opposing team.
#7- Josh Waldbaum, the Pepperdine University lax coach like Billy Evans, chose another pre-game meal, a little bit healthier…grapefruits!
#6- Matt Caione, the All-American midfielder from Syracuse, got so pumped up for the annual Hopkins Syracuse game he got his nipple pierced in Miami!
#5- John Gagliardi, the All-Everything defensemen from JHU made sure that he always wore two fresh new pairs of Champion socks before each game.
#4- Steve Kisslinger, the indoor/outdoor professional, according to eyewitnesses down in Towson, would shave his legs before the big games.
#3- Rocco D'Andraia, the MVP of the ACC tourney and UNC grad, would eat dog bones before his big games.
#2- Rob Doerr, the two time first team All-American and recent Hopkins alum would lay his equipment/uniform in the shape of a person next to his bed right before he went to sleep the night before any game.
#1- The Yorktown High School Lacrosse teams from 1969-1993 would raise the banner of the Grateful Dead steal your face graphic along the fences of the now storied Charlie Murphy Lacrosse Field playing the beautiful sounds of the legendary band led by the great Jerry Garcia, sporting their own vibrant tie-dyes and collecting win after win after win.