As I often remind readers, "winning" isn't always about the scoreboard—especially in youth sports. But in this article, I want to focus on the more traditional concept of winning and some of the game day factors that influence a competition's outcome. More specifically, I'll discuss the less obvious, non-physical aspects of a player's performance and provide a few illustrative stories from my personal experience.
Winning—It's Not Just About AthleticismIn sports you can win or lose a game in many different ways. Sometimes seemingly overwhelming advantages evaporate when confronted with a particular combination of skills, strategy, and tactics. Injuries and other fateful events can sometimes play a role in determining a victor. Not all outcomes are predestined—no matter the apparent advantage.
This reality can provide you with your greatest victories. And it can also bring you heartbreaking losses.
Whether you’re favored to win or are the overwhelming underdog, always keep this principle in mind. Your opponent may look physically superior, either in athleticism or skills, but lack in some other less visible area. He or she may not handle pressure well or may make too many unforced errors. Likewise, your opponent may appear physically inferior, but still have an understanding of the game and its tactics that far exceeds yours—providing your opponent with an advantage that is not fully evident until the contest is well under way.
For me, this lesson was driven home during my junior year in high school. To win a singles spot on our high school's varsity team, I needed to beat another teammate in a playoff match. I was clearly the better athlete. I possessed more powerful groundstrokes. But in our match for that spot, my teammate won, playing better angles and varying the pace of the game. His command of game tactics was superior to mine and provided him with the edge that eventually led to his victory.
Beware of GamesmanshipGamesmanship can also play a role in determining who wins a contest. As it relates to playing your sport, you or your opponent may have a better understanding of human nature and attempt to use it to gain advantage. Player actions, comments (trash talk), and attitude displays will sometimes affect an opponent’s state of mind, disrupting that player’s concentration. Players susceptible to these tactics are easily taken out of their games, neutralizing their effectiveness.
Don’t let your opponent distract or upset you. Once your opponent realizes that trash talk and other intimidating antics can affect your play, you will receive more of the same abuse. Ignore any trash talk and continue to concentrate on playing within each moment. If you do get mad, translate your anger into positive actions—play harder with more focus. Use insults as motivation.
The "Elements"Sometimes the environment in which a game is played also affects the contest’s outcome. Fan support, home field advantage, and playing conditions can all play a role in determining a winner and a loser.
At the close of my high school tennis career, my partner and I played in a local doubles tournament. Although we were seeded number one, we played two players from a private city school in the finals who clearly possessed better strokes and a more refined game. It only took a few minutes of warming up with our opponents to realize that we were in trouble. But there was another external factor that would eventually help determine the match's outcome. The weather. It was an extremely windy day.
The match began and we played poorly. While the wind carried our misplaced shots well out of bounds, our opponent’s superior ground strokes seemed to cut through the wind and give them winner after winner. At first we were grumbling and moaning over our misfortune, then yelling in frustration, and finally laughing in disbelief at our incompetence. But the wind, our wild shots, and visible behavior began to work to our advantage—our opponent’s game slowly began to fall apart. The stop and start, erratic nature of the match disrupted our opponent’s flow and concentration. As they began to make unforced errors, we pulled ourselves together, raised the level of our play, and eventually walked away with the championship trophy. Our opponents were disgusted with themselves, unable to comprehend how they lost a match to "less-talented" players.
Avoid Over-confidenceApproach your contest with confidence, but don’t overlook the possibility that events may conspire against you. Live in each moment of the game, letting your skills and ability naturally exert their dominance, building your advantage over the course of the contest. Never grow too confident in your physical ability or skills—realize that game tactics and other factors may play an important role in determining a contest’s victor. Always seek to understand the different ways in which a game can be won or lost.
Copyright © 2013 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved