posted on: January 19, 2014
author: Brian Lomax
There are moments or situations in all sports that are crucial to deciding the outcome. In tennis, it might be a tie-breaker or a 10 point tie-breaker in lieu of a 3rd set. In football, it’s the two minute drill. Every sport has at least one, and to be the best competitor you can be, you need to recognize the importance of these moments because they are both exciting and dangerous when it comes to the result.
Recently, I’ve been working with some competitors who are struggling at these times in games and matches. They’re good enough to get themselves to the critical moment, but lack the necessary competitive skills to consistently succeed in these situations against equal or greater opposition. Let’s look at a few typical responses to reaching these critical moments.
When facing opposition that you believe to be “better” than you are, you can become contented that you have pushed the opposition to a certain competitive point. For example, in tennis you may observe this when a player takes another to 4-all in a set, and then begins thinking to himself that he’s quite happy that he’s won 4 games in a set. Unfortunately, this feeling of satisfaction is deadly when it comes to winning because you’re already happy prior to the conclusion. The motivation to keep competing at your top level is now gone. Invariably, the better player will win this set 6-4 because he isn’t concerned with winning 4 games, he’s concerned with winning 6.
The game is on the line and the spotlight is now on you. How do you react? If you’re like a lot athletes, you don’t want to be in that situation. You don’t want to be the person who let the team down when it really mattered or the one who chokes when the pressure is on. Even if you’re a great competitor now, you’ve been here. You’ve experienced it because it’s part of the learning process albeit a painful one. I remember playing in a Little League All Star Game when I was 12. It was the bottom of the 6th and we were trailing 6-5. There were 2 outs and I was in the on-deck circle. My thoughts at that moment? I wanted the player at bat to make the 3rd out. I didn’t want to be the one who lost the game especially since I had made an error in the top of the inning that allowed the go ahead run for our opponents. This is not the attitude of a great competitor.
The last typical reaction to the important moments in competition is actually no reaction or recognition at all. It’s a lack of understanding that something big is about to happen and you need to pay attention. If you’re competing against an opponent with a lot of experience, he’s going to step up his focus and intensity at this moment in time. If you don’t do the same, you’ll probably lose because you didn’t realize something extra was required. I see and hear this reaction all the time and it can be a difficult hurdle to conquer for up and coming competitors.
1. Do you know the critical moments in your sport? You have to know what these are if you’re going to succeed at them. As mentioned earlier, each sport has some typical situations so talk to your coach if you’re unsure of what they are. Discuss ways of recognizing them when they occur.
2. Love these moments! It’s in the critical moments that we separate ourselves as competitors from the rest of the crowd. You have to relish the opportunity you have in front of you. Even if you typically dread these moments, you must say “I love the two minute drill” or “I love tie-breakers”. While you may be lying to yourself at first, repeating these affirmations will seep into your mind and help you reframe your attitude. Soon you’ll be much more positive and optimistic when the time comes.
3. Raise your focus level and intensity. Getting to this moment isn’t what should be satisfying us. Succeeding in this moment is our new motivation and since the result is still in doubt, we must bring more energy and intensity to the situation. From a mental perspective, we must “go for it!” Since optimal excitement and arousal levels differ for all competitors, this will take some trial and error on your part, but don’t give up. Once you find your optimal level of energy and intensity in these moments, your success rate will improve dramatically.
4. Play your game and simply execute. Just because we are raising our awareness, focus, energy and intensity, that doesn’t mean we should all of a sudden change our game plan. Playing your game is what got you to this point so don’t abandon it now in favor of something that you’re not quite as good at executing. There may be times when you take a bit more risk, but it should only be within the framework of what you are good at (aka, Your Identity).
Work on these 4 steps in practice and competition. It will take some experimentation on your part, but that’s how we learn and improve. Through patience and hard work, you’ll start winning in these critical moments.
Brian Lomax founded PerformanceXtra™ in 2009 with a mission of helping athletes achieve their goals and their top performances more consistently through a progression of mental skills that enables them to focus on what is truly important.
Learn more about the author: https://www.performancextra.com/brian-lomax/