Archive for Wednesday, January 10, 2001

In sports, the winner of the game usually controlled momentum

January 10, 2001

When the physical and mental aspects of competition are stripped clean from sports, there are still a few things important to winning that simply can't be placed in either of those categories.

Things like running, jumping, accuracy, quickness and speed are all measurable physical aspects of athletics.

Things like intensity, determination, poise, heart and focus likewise are all measurable mental/emotional aspects.

But one of the most important elements in sports relies on both physical and mental factors, but is actually neither.

Momentum, maybe best defined as competitive inertia, is the tendency that teams and competitors have to keep moving in the same direction they already are headed, for better or worse.

For example, if a wrestler is on top of an opponent, he has a better chance at that point of getting the pin than of being pinned. Even if the opponent escapes or works out of bounds, he steps back up with the knowledge of having been thrown to the ground and nearly pinned.

The other wrestler, on the other hand, steps back up with the knowledge that he has put the opponent down and could have pinned him. This gives him confidence to do it again.

It's the same in basketball. If a team scores and keeps its opponent from it, the team gains confidence in its ability to do both again.

Both examples have two main things in common: Momentum is gained by striking first, and it's maintained by having confidence in the ability to strike again.

Momentum can be positive, negative or both and, at its simplest, can be looked at as a rough equation.

For doing something good a take down, a basket, a block, an escape, etc. a team gets positive points. For bad things being taken down, being scored on, being rejected, etc. a team gets negative points.

For doing consecutive good things, that number is multiplied because confidence builds exponentially. Likewise, a team's momentum is divided when it does consecutive bad things.

Because doing good and bad things late in a game can have a bigger affect on the game's outcome, momentum points increase in value as the competition progresses.

But some aspects of momentum are out of everyone's control.

Luck is probably on of the most significant points. Which way a close call goes, which way the wind is blowing, a dead spot on the floor, or any other bit or random chance can have just as much impact on a competition as a good move or a bad pass.

Regardless of what it is, controlling momentum means controlling the psychological game. The struggle for momentum is the most basic struggle in competition. It's the struggle between playing offense and defense.

And I don't mean the struggle of offense against defense which always happens.

What I'm talking about is the struggle between who has to play offense and who has to play defense, because the winner of that battle automatically has the advantage in momentum.

Whoever controls momentum forces the other to be controlled.

Whoever controls the momentum acts first and causes the other to react.

A basketball team usually can't win if it has to make a basket to tie the game, and a wrestler usually isn't pinned by someone who is trying to avoid being pinned though there are some good reversals out there.

To gain momentum a competitor must attack never defend.

If a team is always defending, then when is it attacking?

And if it's not attacking, how can it hope to win?

Momentum is steadily winning more small battles than you lose.

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