This New Year’s Day, the University of Central Florida will play under one of the most glaring spotlights in college football: the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Whether the players can tune out the distractions that accompany a top-tier bowl game may mean the difference between preserving their undefeated season and ending with a loss.
As the official hospital for UCF Athletics, Florida Hospital has sports medicine professionals who work with the team yearlong to keep their body and at the peak of health.
As the bowl game approaches, this 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.
With years of experience working with the UCF football team and as the on-campus Florida Hospital physical therapist who works assists with the treatment of many UCF athletes, 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.”
Especially in one of the top bowl games, called the “New Year's Six,” it takes discipline to focus on the game itself. There will be a parade, pep rally and other high-profile events in Atlanta in the days leading up to the game, 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 nation’s only unbeaten team. The Florida Hospital sports medicine team weighed in on four tactics they will use to help the team 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 double-overtime 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.
Thanks to a relatively light schedule, the Knights’ 12-0 season was only good enough to earn a No. 12 ranking. Observers are wondering whether their high-scoring offense, with a first-in-the-nation 49.4 points per game, will measure up against a defensive squad like Auburn’s.
Beating the Tigers would show the skeptics that the Knights were a first-class team all along.
Plus, the Peach Bowl is Scott Frost’s last game as coach before moving to Nebraska.
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 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, Florida Hospital is proud of everything they’ve accomplished this season. We’re honored to have our sports medicine team working with them through this bowl game prep and can’t wait for the big game! Click here to for more information on Florida Hospital and UCF’s partnership.