To some, being the underdog might be considered a position of weakness. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. An underdog can take a “nothing to lose” attitude that tends to promote less nervousness, pressure or tightness. The result… more zone experiences!
Through adversity we all learn more about what it takes to perform well. In the case of one of our young tennis clients, we identified several keys that bring out her best in tournaments: higher than average drilling on-court; outstanding fitness; getting consistent sleep; making few if any technical changes in the weeks leading up to an important tournament, and, entering matches as the underdog.
So how do athletes do that? Our professional and Olympic clients consistently apply mental “tricks” that bring out their best performances. There was a fascinating interview recently with Cal Ripken Jr., the Hall of Fame baseball player. During an important playoff game, his self-talk centered on how he was a poor 3-0 hitter. The count had just gone to 3 balls and no strikes, and in the past he rarely performed well. A simple base hit would win the game, but a walk would only prolong the game. Instead of giving in to his negative thoughts, he chose to convince himself it was a different count! This relaxed him and he hit a homerun to win the game.
Similarly, Aaron Rogers, the 2011 Superbowl MVP, reduced nervousness prior to the game by telling himself it was just another game, no more important than any other game (obviously the Superbowl is the most important game of the year, but he temporarily chose to believe the opposite!).
Think back on your best performances – were you expected to play well, or were you “surprised” by how you played? Ripkin and Rogers became relaxed and played from a place of comfort, calm and confidence. The “trick” comes from what they chose to think and believe in the moment. There are many mental tricks athletes use – here’s how you can develop an often-used one, “The Underdog Mentality:”
Look for facts that may not be in your favor, like muscle soreness, coming back from an injury, being younger/older than your opponent, having less experience, believing others don’t know or respect you, etc. There is always something you can find to focus on.
Next, say to yourself, “Because of this factor, the outcome is in question.”
This immediately takes pressure away by removing all “expectations” about the outcome.
Remember the difference between confidence (a collection of past positive memories) and expectations (future thoughts that typically cause nervousness).
Choose to stay in the present, focused on ideal strategies, and having fun.
As an underdog, you will enjoy competition and increase the chances of performing your best.