Playing to Win vs Playing to Avoid Losing
Sports focus is an important piece when it comes to athletic success, and the way athletes perceive their competition and chances for success are important, mediating variables that often play a big role on the final outcome of a game. Breaking this sport psychology idea down further, athletes will often talk about the importance of “playing to win” and how different this type of focus is compared to playing to avoid losing. In the first example, playing to win, athletes focus on the next play and maintain a healthy confidence while quickly forgetting about previous bad plays (as well as other irrelevant factors – like a hostile crowd). On the other hand, when athletes play to avoid losing, confidence often dips while focus is directed at protecting a lead rather than continuing to play hard.
When athletes (or teams) focus on bleeding the clock rather than competing just as hard as they did at the start of the game, many bad outcomes often occur, the least of which includes losing a game the athlete (or team) should have won. This is especially frustrating for coaches, as these types of losses have little to do with athletic strength, speed, or talent, but instead all to do with mental toughness and the ability to focus on the only thing that matters in sports: The next play!
Below are a few quick tips for coaches and athletes designed to help maintain a “playing to win” athletic mindset:
- While it is easy to get caught up with bad calls or other distracting things in sports, the truth is the next play should always be the focus. Yes, it’s an easy lesson, but also a very important one.
- Coaches, be sure to regularly practice various types of situations you are likely to encounter, including when you have a healthy lead near the end of the game. Are your players still playing hard? Or do they seem to let up and tend to “cruise” to victory? Herein lies a great opportunity to teach the importance of finishing strong.
- Both coaches and athletes can benefit greatly by understanding that “choking” is a fear-based response – in other words, when athletes begin to fear situations their focus changes, anxiety increases, and confidence decreases — all resulting in poor mind – body synchrony and tense, tight movements. Learning specific sport psychology mental toughness techniques like imagery, self-talk, breathing, and cue word utilization will help in these situations.
The difference between playing to win and playing to avoid losing is really all the difference when it comes to sports success. Athletes who play with confidence and forward-thinking focus will often make up the differences between themselves and other seemingly more talented athletes, making this sport psychology lesson a very important one!
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