Sports might be the best place to observe “the intimidation factor.” Whether it trash talking on a basketball court, a high-and-inside fastball from a baseball pitcher, or an after the whistle purposeful shove in football, it’s quite commonplace to witness athletes trying to get in the heads of their opponents and knock down their level of mental toughness. Interestingly, intimidation comes in many different forms, ranging from perfectly legal (and even strategic), to downright unsportsmanlike and dangerous. An inside fastball in baseball is an example of the former, while a purposeful cheap shot punch after the whistle is an example of the latter. As sport psychologists often note, controlled, sportsmanlike aggression may be a good thing, but uncontrolled, illegal, and unsportsmanlike behaviors are never warranted.
In the 1970’s, Jack Lambert was the perfect example of a scary dude. Lambert was a middle linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was known as much for his aggressive tackling as he was for his missing front teeth. While not the most imposing guy physically, Lambert seemed to always be in the heads of NFL quarterbacks for his fearless play. In hockey, The infamous Broad Street Bullies (Philadelphia Flyers) of the 1970’s were also known for their rough-and-tumble play, and in basketball the Detroit Pistons of the 1990’s were known as the “Bad Boys,” primarily for the aggressive play of Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, and Dennis Rodman. And in baseball, just about any pitcher who throws around 100 MPH and isn’t afraid to come inside gains instant respect from hitters. As you can see, intimidation plays a part in nearly every sport — but the big question still remains: Does it work? That really depends on your definition of “works” and how far you will go to win games.
When intimidation “works,” it’s usually because of the following reasons:
A.) It leads to an opponent purposely being knocked out of the game. Obviously this is nothing I would ever encourage, and I hope no coach would ever instruct players to purposely knock an opponent out of a game because of a cheap shot. The reality, however, is that it has now been revealed that some coaches and teams do in fact encourage players to do whatever is necessary to win – including KO’s of the opponent – as evidenced in the recent New Orleans Saints bounty-gate. It goes without saying that intentionally looking to hurt an opponent is at the very least unsportsmanlike, and at worst could even be illegal. As you can see, this type of intimidation “works” only in the sense that it lessens the abilities of the other team, although it also completely circumvents the assumed fairness, integrity, and sportsmanship we should all expect in sports. Fortunately, coaches and athletes that ascribe to this type of “winning” are, in my experience, a very small percentage of sports participants.
B.) The more accepted form of intimidation is when it is kept within the rules of the game – like the pitcher who pitches inside to gain back the plate, or the boxer who engages in a stare down before the start of a fight. In these examples intimidation may work if it does one thing – takes an opponent off his or her game. For example, if an inside fastball prompts the batter to give up more of the plate on the next pitch, most baseball purists would say that makes perfect sense. Similarly in boxing, if the pre-fight stare down leads to the opponent being anxious and scared (and subsequently “off” his game), then most would agree the intimidation “worked.” Conversely, examples of crossing the line would be when a pitcher intentionally throws at a guy’s head, or a boxer takes an unobstructed cheap shot at his opponent during the pre-fight instructions.
Whenever an athlete is able to throw his or her opponent off by legal, sportsmanlike intimidation, then it is left to the individual to decide whether he or she would find it appropriate to do. The potential “payoff” in using intimidation in sportsmanlike ways occurs when the opponent stops thinking about what he is supposed to do (and loses focus and confidence), and starts thinking about how afraid he is of the opponent (and thus increases sports anxiety). In sports, this is known as taking a player “off his game.”
Are sports intimidation tactics good, and do they “work” by increasing the chances for sports success? As you can see there are different ways in interpreting that question, ranging from intimidation being inappropriate and possibly illegal on one end of the spectrum, to smart sports strategy on the other. What we do know is that when an opponent is far more worried about you than he is about what he is supposed to do on the next play, then you can make an argument that intimidation “works.” This does not mean to imply that every athlete should look to intimidate his or her opponent, but to instead illustrate how the mental aspects of sport competition can enter into and impact the outcomes of games. Many factors go into how an athlete should prepare for his or her sport, including how their personality traits are best used to both stay within the rules of the game and get in the head of their opponent (if they feel that is even necessary). Even the type of sport enters into whether to develop intimidation skills — meaning you are far less likely to see evil stare-downs in bowling than you might in football.
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anxiety, Coaching, fair, fear, integrity, intimidation, jack, lambert, play, sports, sportsmanship