"It's time to focus and get your head in the game!"
Uttered at many a college football match or soccer practice, this phrase has become synonymous with sporting endeavors and the importance of athletes pushing themselves further both mentally and physically. Indeed, mental well-being and the ability to harness the right state of mind during matches and games can make as much of an impact as physical prowess. Sporting achievements are as much mind over matter as strategy and fitness. A player’s ability to get his or her head in the game will mean the difference between a win and a loss or a triumph and a crushing defeat. It makes sense, then, that the application of psychology can enable players to gain the upper hand over their opponents during a game or match. If state of mind is everything, then it can surely be swayed in another team’s favor.
So, how can players use psychology to outwit their opponents and steal the game?
Dominant body language
Avid sports fans will notice that some players simply have “it,” and their mere presence can be enough to intimidate their opponents. Players such as Roger Federer (still) and Tiger Woods (in his prime), employ dominant body language to affirm their sporting prowess through a phenomenon known as The Superstar Effect. First identified by Jennifer Brown of Northwestern University, this supremacy is often enough to unnerve opponents, outwitting them before the game has begun. Eye contact, a calm demeanor and positive body language, when accompanying skill during a football game, can force the opposing team to resign to its fate long before that final touchdown has been achieved.
Trash talk is rife across college football. Put simply, trash talking is a form of insult used to distract or intimidate a sporting opponent, usually referring to their abilities or physical attributes. Designed to worm into opponents’ heads and upset their game, trash talking can be highly effective when used intelligently. An 888poker infographic features a wealth of examples. Muhammad Ali was renowned for his trash talk, including the now-legendary utterance: “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee...his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.” The ability to affirm such comments with positive results will always keep sports stars in good stead for future sporting occasions.
Focusing on the game at hand
According to some experts, psychological games can only lead to one thing: distraction for the players. Such a train of thought makes sense. After all, if a player is focused only on how he or she can crush the opposition, then where is the time and room to employ winning strategies? One of the best forms of distraction and intimidation is for players to keep their own heads in the game and focus on every move, tactic and margin of error that they can. Remaining unfazed by the opposition is perhaps the best distraction technique of all, in much the same way that the so-called Superstar Effect can take hold of opponents’ nerves. To truly outwit an opponent, college football players should aim to control the pace and play of the game and always focus on playing well as a team.
Of course, attempts to psychologically outwit an opponent won’t always work, and players must be aware that their challengers are just as likely to employ similar tactics – what’s good enough for one athlete will often be good enough for his or her adversary. Mental wellbeing is integral across sports of every kind, and athletes should always be prepared to think and act to the best of their abilities. Then, and only then, should they consider their attempts to slay the opposition with mind games.