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In my personal experience through more than 6000 online games I have learned several lessons about what it takes to fully enjoy playing Madden. Being able to compete is paramount, but being competitive isn't an overnight thing. There are no shortcuts to excellence. It takes effort, dedication, attention to detail, the proper mental perspective, and support. I enjoyed playing Madden, I didn't enjoy losing.  So I set off to find the path to better Madden performance.

Before November 2002, I thought I was a good Madden player. I could consistently beat all of my friends who were Madden fans, while crushing new challengers who were not. Then I played my first online game, got ripped 56-3, and I realized my thoughts about my skills were unduly inflated. To avoid similar losses I sought the support of players with similar challenges. The solutions suggested were less than I'd hoped in many cases. The goals of players with similar challenges were different than my own.

In the NFL, I knew players spent the week leading up to a game preparing for their specific opponent, but I wasn't sure how to prepare for Madden games against Play Now competitors. While lifting weights wouldn't do me much good, I knew that perfecting my technique and being critical of my practices was a good place to start. The chore became figuring out which training methods were applicable to Madden, but once I found methods that worked my abilities increased.

Since then, I've been able to hone my skills enough to be competitive in most games and my mental attitude to continue fighting in the games when I'm not. In the end, I feel better about wins and losses because of the the 10 steps I use to improve my Madden performance. Once I made the decision to continue playing Madden, I made a commitment to myself to not cut corners.

There are many paths available to players seeking to improve their online Madden experiences. Whether limiting play to a select few trusted players or taking a chance on ‘Play Now,’ the lengths that Madden players go through to enjoy the game are amazing testaments to human pride, sportsmanship, and resiliency. It’s just as common to see Madden players seeking shelter from ‘cheese’ as it is for them to seek out kooky tactics. Some simply prefer friendly contests while others enjoy braving the elements amongst the wildest player antics.

Part of the effect of the voluntary Madden community segregation is the rarity in which players shed their pride and genuinely ask others for help. When players do make a heartfelt plea, it’s difficult to turn a blind eye to the need. Swallowing one’s pride is impossible to ignore on one hand, but it’s the most essential step to making a breakthrough that increases enjoyment of the game.

Lots of websites sell help, tips, and cheats but few prepare players to be good decision makers. More often than not, players are given a dry list of instructions without the reason why plays work. Most teach enough to keep players coming back, instead of preparing them for the reality of a sustained fluid strategic effort. When the tactics don’t work, the players using them may not know what or how to adjust because they were never trained to be strategists.

1. Be honest with yourself.

This is the starting point for all improvement. Without honestly acknowledging our own performance flaws, it is impossible to even begin making positive changes. One must accept and recognize one is off course in order to readjust one’s bearings.

When I started playing online there was much I did not know about football. Having read and watched football at several levels for a number of years as a spectator, I was able to see good football but was completely unaware of what went into creating it. I didn't know anything about pass protection, attacking defensive fronts, or how to attack scrambling threats. Nano blitzes were killing me, my offense was stagnant, and I couldn’t keep quarterbacks in the pocket. Had I not been honest about what I didn't know, I would not have sought a solution to my specific personal Madden gaming issues. But with all the available Madden sites, where should players get the best long-term advice?

2. Watch who you listen to

Players should be cognizant where they get their advice. There are many places to get Madden help, but avoid the advice of people who aren't improving. In the Madden community, there are many players that look for reasons to not improve. Typically, they don't. Taking advice from players who are working harder at finding excuses than at tightening their skill set not only stunts your Madden growth but can also crush your spirit. Getting better is a process that requires focus on the goal. Naysayers are only distractions. If you want to be better, boldly seek out help.

Of all the potential sources of football instruction, players do well to lean first on the greatest football minds. Some of the most valuable football information isn’t available from Madden strategy sources, but rather from real football coaches themselves.

In my personal mission to improve, I make it a habit to get my Madden advice from real NFL coaches like Bill Walsh, Vince Lombardi, and Don Coryell. 99.9% of the challenges we face in a Madden game have already been met and overcome at some point in the history of football by the NFL’s legendary coaches. Ignoring their advice and adjustments can cost us, but heeding it pays rich dividends as football history has the key to beating every strategy a Madden player might use. But how can real advice help you in a Madden game?

3. Apply what you learn

Like most resources, knowledge is useless without some fruitful means of applying it. Often people post reasons why Madden isn't like real football instead of applying what they know about real football in a useful way. Keeping in mind that football strategy hinges on the three elements of position, personnel, and tempo; players can do much to simulate the adjustments of legendary coaches in their own Madden games.

When I started playing online, there were many that doubted the availability of reasonable coaching adjustments in Madden. It took months of mental work to adjust real coaching methods to the electronic environment before I found a common thread between the real world and the virtual one. In order for players in both arenas to execute the way coaches want, coaches must tell players how they should to execute. Learning to instruct players on how they should perform was a huge step in my development. Football is such a complicated game, how will you know where to start learning?

4. Keep a journal to track your improvement

One Madden player’s needs are not equal to another. Each player must determine his own path to improvement, and documenting where you are currently is a good way to figure out where to go next. We are creatures of habit - especially bad ones. By writing down notes about games, it’s possible to document progress and chart poor techniques.

Be sure to review your journal periodically. After a while you will have information to chart your own habits to figure out why and how we win or lose games. Whether the reason be managing the clock poorly, not being balanced enough, or user skills are to blame; recording the experience helps reveal habits – good and bad – that will certainly lead to making better decisions in the future. Once you find a pattern, what should you do to improve?

5. Act Fast!!!

Correct problems immediately. Players that persist in bad habits may have difficulty shedding them once the habit becomes part of muscle memory. Don’t wait until poor technique become instinctive or it will take far longer to recondition oneself.

I once played several games without being aware of my own weaknesses. After much agony, and many lopsided losses, it was revealed to me that my pass coverage skills were inconsistent enough that I was easily beaten by anyone targeting the receiver I covered. I immediately formed a plan to improve that entailed employing the DB Swat drill for 15 minutes before playing the day’s first online game. The process not only improved upon my weaknesses, but helped me to be aware, pinpoint, and eliminate my bad habits. How can you find problems quicker?

6. Watch film

Film doesn’t lie like our pride does. Players who are serious about enjoying Madden may want to invest in a capture device to record games. Much like NFL players and coaches, watching film allows players to objectively review and critique performance in a sterile environment. Film gives players a spectator's perspective without having to control the game. You can SEE your mistakes and triumphs more objectively when you're watching than playing.

In my development, I've found it instrumental in helping me spot receivers I missed in my normal progression, spot weaknesses in my defensive fronts, and pick up blitzes better. Film lets players scout success we want to duplicate and failure we want to avoid. We can use film the same way an NFL professional does - to grade our performance, evolve a new strategy, and adapt our execution for the threats ahead of us. After watching film how should you go about improving?

7. Establish an identity

Find your style and become the best at it. Only you know that your style is. If you're a pound the rock guy, find ways to pound the rock. If you're a spread 'em out guy, spread 'em out. Whatever you do, no matter how good you are, be the best you can be. Whether running 1 play or 1000, the victor is the player that consistently executes better than his opponent. Run your best plays and run them well. What about when your best plays aren’t working?

8. Fight through adversity

Stay in games. Don't quit when you're getting crushed. Regardless of our opinions of the tactics our opponents are using, anyone that beats us is ultimately doing us a favor. Most games are won and lost based on a strategic weakness. The bigger the loss, the bigger the weakness. Instead of quitting, disconnecting, or seeking friendlier confines; players do well to tinker until they find success.

I personally struggle less in the 4th quarter of most any game. Even if I'm too far down to win the current game, I can figure out how to beat a particular play so it doesn't beat me the next game. In that every loss is a valuable learning experience. But if you keep losing, how will you know if you're better?

9. Find ways to measure success

Find ways to measure success. Finding out what a player does well is just as important as discovering what needs improvement. Players must be creative in how they measure small victories when wins are tough to come by. Not only is this important to improvement, it’s essential to morale while on the journey. To maintain focus, minor successes should be both recognized and celebrated.

For me, this may be one of the toughest things to do consistently. I was so accustomed to judging success by wins and losses that I missed the importance of the plays that net the final result. When I began making mental notes of 3rd down distances, I was able to successfully lengthen my opponent’s while shortening my own throughout the course of a game. While this minor success may not have always translated to wins, it was a positive tangible goal. Now I focus on turnovers, time of possession, special teams, and 3rd down distances as my path to victory because they are where I can be most successful.

10. Rinse and Repeat

Players that make it to step 9 will be more aware of the entirety of the competitive Madden experience. Namely that winning a single game of Madden may be a fluke, but winning consistently is not an accident. As a cycle of self-awareness, this process of self study has done me much good in the past 7 years.

It has enlightened me to a level that allows me to enjoy all of my games - including against cheesers. My background in historical football tactics teaches that most Madden ‘cheese’ strategies are really OLD football strategies that have little been seen in the modern era. When faced with an old strategy, it sometimes requires strategy that is equally as old to combat it. I just go back to the era when 'cheese' was standard NFL play and revert to the strategies from the era.

Using this cycle I've developed into a much better player than I was years ago. I fully expect to be a better player next year than I am now. Understand that it's a process and you to will have more success and more blissful Madden games.

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