Every time that you step onto the blocks, field, court or wherever you compete, there are two games that simultaneously go on. There’s the more obvious, outer game of physical talent and conditioning. That is, the skilled execution within your sport, i.e. the pitching, hitting, shot-making, speed, strength, and strategy. Then there’s the less visible, inner game which is composed of handling pressure, dealing with mistakes, managing psych-outs & intimidation, maintaining concentration, withstanding momentum shifts and being able to come back when your back’s against the wall.
Successful athletes know that winning the inner, mental game is key to winning the outer, more physical one. In fact, a mentally stronger athlete will almost always outlast a physically more talented, but less mentally tough competitor. Simply put, when you win the inner game, you’ll win the outer one! Nowhere is this more visible than when an athlete stages a seemingly impossible comeback.
When your team is way down and things look the bleakest, when your opponent is seemingly inches away from victory and your back is hopelessly against the wall, this is when you want to do everything in your power to stay in the mental game. At this point, far too many athletes get frustrated and discouraged. They lose their intensity and heart. Their focus wanders and they give in.
Your opponent can sense when you quit inside in the same way that he/she can detect your rising levels of frustration and tension, and your falling levels of confidence. The instant that you allow your opponent to see and feel that you’re giving in, the game is over and you’ve lost!
When you’re losing the outer game, you must never, ever give in mentally. As long as you maintain your focus and intensity, as long as you refuse to quit, the only way that you can lose is if you then run out of time. While that may frequently happen when you find yourself in this position, just as often you may pull off the impossible.
Friday night the Red Sox were down two runs in the ninth to the New York Yankees and facing their dreaded closer, the “sand man,” Mariano Riviera. Things didn’t look good for the Sox and then Jason Bay calmly stepped up to the plate and hit a two-run, game tying home run to send the game, which the Sox eventually won, into extra innings.
Now you may think that being down two runs in the bottom of the 9th is no reason to give up in the first place and that many teams have pulled off far more spectacular comebacks. This is very true. However, the point that I want to make here is simple: There can be no comeback at all if you allow yourself to be beaten mentally.
So when you’re hopelessly down and out, the way that you get yourself back in the game or match is NOT by focusing on how far behind you are and how badly you’re being beaten, (this will only cause you to lose the mental game), but by keeping your concentration on one point/play at a time in the NOW. Comebacks happen when you refuse to quit and narrow your focus to only what’s in front of you, one play a time.
It’s the old, “eat an elephant” trick. You eat an elephant one bit at a time. You come back from a hopelessly lost cause by staying focused on one play at a time, moment by moment.