UPSETS: They say that at any given time, a weaker opponent can beat a much stronger one. When you look carefully at what exactly causes this to happen, you’ll find several mental factors at play. If you know what these “mental ingredients” are that contribute to an upset, then you can go a long way to insure that this rarely happens to you.
The team or individual athlete about to be upset, the “upset-ee” unknowingly goes into the competition with both the wrong attitude and focus of concentration. Both of these make the upset-ee much more vulnerable to choking and losing. The main problem lies in having an outcome focus, specifically an awareness that the upcoming competition will be one sided in their favor. The upset-ee “knows” that the opponent has no chance to emerge victorious and so does not take their competition seriously. They tend to be over-confident going into the game and, as a consequence, are emotionally flat. Physically and emotionally they are not “up” for the performance.
On another level, just at or below consciousness, is an understanding that the upset-ee has that he has far more to lose than the upset-er. The better, stronger player/team is expected to win. The consequences would be far greater should he lose, including the very powerful embarrassment that goes with an upset. This makes them especially vulnerable to, “OH MY GOD! WHAT IF WE LOSE?!” In fact, sometimes the better athlete/team carries this worry with them just under the surface into the game. The minute that things go wrong, the upset-ee will frequently shift this fear to the center of their consciousness and it’s at this point that they are really in trouble. This fear of losing with its accompanying embarrassment causes nervousness to suddenly shoot off the charts, tightening muscles and wrecking performance.
When you look at the mental headset of the upset-er, it’s the exact opposite. The weaker opponent has absolutely nothing to lose. He is expected to fail and so there is absolutely no pressure on him. This enables him to play completely relaxed and loose. Since this state of relaxation and an obliviousness to the outcome are keys to peak performance, the upset-er has the perfect mental state to pull off the impossible.
So what do you have to do when you face a weaker opponent to lessen the chances that you’ll finish embarrassed? First, you have to go into each and every game you play respecting your opponent. Even if your opponent sucks, then you need to respect the mental demands of the situation that you now find yourself in. That is, that this is the breeding ground of upsets unless you keep your head on straight.
Second, you need to keep your focus completely away from the outcome and instead on the game’s process, one play at a time. Allowing your concentration to drift into the future during an “easy” challenge will get you into hot water. Stay in the NOW! Focus on what’s directly in front of you on the path, not on what’s way in front of you, the goal or destination!
Third, play your own game instead of changing your game to play at the same level of the competition. It’s difficult to maintain intensity and aggressiveness when you’re matched up against a much weaker opponent. Do not allow your style of play to be dictated by the opponent. Instead, stay with what works best for you.
Fourth, stay calm and relaxed no matter how well your opponent plays. Your expectation that a weaker opponent will just roll over and hand you the victory can get you in trouble. When they don’t immediately it’s easy to push the panic button and allow yourself to start to freak out and rush. Instead, keep your composure and stay patient.
Fifth and related, DO NOT BRING PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS ABOUT YOU OR YOUR OPPONENT ONTO THE GAME. Check your expectations at the door before you get onto the field, court or course. If you expect yourself to easily win, then you will likely panic if the competition proves a struggle.
Sixth, NO MATTER WHAT, TRUST & LET IT HAPPEN. Stay away from the panicked, trying to hard trap that so often ensnares the upset-ee. Once he realizes that he;’s in trouble, the over-confident facade cracks and the panicked athlete or team begins to press and force things. The minute you fall into that trap, you’re toast! It’s over!
Upsets will always happen. However, if you stay calm and relaxed, keep your focus on the game/match in the NOW and stay away from the “trying too hard” trap, then you will most often emerge victorious when you’re supposed to.