Momentum. Or the perception of momentum. Does a change in momentum just come down to your ability to re-focus when things aren’t going your way?
I remember staying up late as a 7 year old to watch Superbowl XX with my older brother. It was brilliant. The Chicago Bears hammered the New England Patriots 46-10. We had popcorn. Twenty-seven years later and still in love with the sport, I stayed up late again, on a school night, to watch Baltimore and SanFrancisco compete in Superbowl XLVII (uh… 47?) and I’m so glad I did.
It had everything: two teams with perfect Superbowl records, Ray Lewis looking for a Superbowl win in his last ever game, sibling rivalry, fake field-goals, and Destiny’s Child.
But it also had some major swings in momentum. Momentum can be a significant factor in sports. Or at least the perception of momentum can be. Setting the Scene
The Ravens came out firing, with QB Joe Flacco leading his team down the field to score on their first possession. The 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick made mistakes, the Ravens capitalised, and when Flacco found Jacoby Jones for a touchdown just before half-time, the Ravens went into the break 21-6 ahead… with momentum.
The 49ers needed a good start to the 2nd half, but instead, they got just about the worst start possible. When Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones ran back the 2nd half kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, you could literally (figuratively) see the 49ers deflate.
Judging by my Twitter feed, most of Europe assumed the game was over and went to bed. The 49ers were losing 28-6 in the biggest game of their lives and had zero momentum…. and then the lights went out.
Nobody knew how long the power cut would last. Players talked, stretched, looked bewildered, stretched some more, mostly looked serious, and did some more stretching. It was kind of a strange time for everyone involved, and I felt that there were a couple of different things worth noting:
1. There are times in sports when the unexpected happens.
You concede 2 goals in the first 3 minutes of a match. You get knocked on your ass in the first round against a ‘weaker’ opponent. You get stuck in traffic and arrive at a game 2 minutes before tip-off. For the Ravens and the 49ers a power surge knocked out the stadium lights for 34 minutes.
Do you plan for situations like these? Not carefully considering the “what ifs?” can result in a great deal of anxiety for athletes if the unexpected does actually happen. Think of the boxer who get’s knocked down early and then overcompensates by trying too hard. The gameplan goes out of the window, the relaxed concentration is gone.
It’s so important to plan for everything that could happen, and for things that probably won’t happen. Having pre-planned responses to all eventualities can reduce pre-competition anxiety levels and allow the athletes and coaches to focus on the here and now. Not planning for a 34 minute blackout is forgivable I guess, but I bet next year’s teams will.
So how do you recover psychologically from unexpected (or expected) distractions. How do you refocus when it’s time to play?
2. There’s a lot to be said for pre-performance routines.
Most athletes and teams will have some sort of pre-performance routine that they use every game, every week, every night. Routines can bring a sense of familiarity to an unfamiliar environment, allowing athletes to prepare in exactly the same way, whether it’s a pre-season friendly or the Superbowl.
Similarly, most athletes will have re-focusing routines, allowing them to use breaks in play to compose themselves, and to focus on what’s important right now. But are these routines adjustable? If you have an hour-long pre-game routine, that you use every week, do you also have a 10 minute version in case you get stuck in traffic? Do you have a plan for when your game is delayed for an hour and you have to sit around waiting, thinking, contemplating the competition ahead?
Did the Ravens’ and 49ers’ players (and staff) have a 5 minute refocusing strategy they could go to when they knew the game was about to restart? Where’s your reset button, and where does it take you?
Resetting your focus
Back to the Superbowl. Although both teams later said that the blackout wasn’t a factor, it seemed as though one team handled the distraction significantly better than the other. The result: an immediate swing in momentum.
Colin Kaepernick the young 49ers QB looked a different player in the second half. The 49er defence made some big plays. The Ravens’ offence couldn’t seem to do anything right, and from being 28-6 in front, the game came down to the last couple of minutes, and the last couple of yards. The Ravens held on to win, and I think “held on” is a fair comment on what happened.
So, momentum. What is it? How do you get it back when you’ve lost it? How do you keep it when you’ve got it? Or is it all just about perception? Does good play lead to increased levels of confidence, resulting in better performance, resulting in the perception of momentum?
Continuing to focus on the details and staying in the present moment are important factors here. Failure to focus on the present can lead to a shift in mindset, so instead of concentrating on doing the right thing, we can start focusing on not screwing up (think about the team that goes 2-0 up in the first few minutes and starts playing not to lose).
The way we play can change as a result, and any momentum we felt we had can be lost. So when you think you’re losing momentum, what are your refocusing routines? How do you use breaks in play to change your mindset? Have you planned for the unexpected and do you have adjustable individual and/or team pre-performance routines that you can go to?
Where’s your reset button, and where does it take you?
Just some things to think about.