Remind yourself before the game that all athletes, even huge superstars, have bad days…
There is a lot of talk in sports about underdogs. Either you are the underdog and you’re supposed to lose or the other team is the underdog and you’re supposed to beat them. For all that talk, every sports fan knows that underdogs often upset favorites.
So what does it all mean?
In my opinion, all this talk of underdogs and favorites boils down to two simple ideas for an athlete.
The first is, if you are the favored team you will still have to prove you are better on the field but you have an advantage in that your opponents may truly doubt that they can beat you. If you can jump on them fast and confirm their doubt, you may win a game that otherwise could have turned against you. Their fears—though unspoken and denied—can often work in your favor. As the “over-dog,” you may have an opportunity at the beginning of a game to take advantage of your reputation and their doubts. You can never count on it, but it’s the favorite’s edge.
Every athlete who was ever a favorite (or an underdog) knows how things can level out if the favorite fails to take early advantage. As Rocky said, as the fight wore on and he began to build his confidence, “He ain’t so baaad.”
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As the favorite, you should prepare yourself mentally to take advantage of the underdogs’ frame of mind. If you don’t, and if you let them get that you-ain’t-so-baaad feeling, you could be in for a much tougher struggle.
The second is, if you are the underdog you have to remind yourself before the game that all athletes, even huge superstars, have bad days, and you have to concentrate on doing everything in your power to help their bad day be today, in their game against you.
Don’t bother consoling yourself with statements like, “We have nothing to lose.” Of course you have something to lose—the game. That means you have a game to play, and that’s what you’re there for. Maybe you will win and maybe you will lose.
Those are the possibilities whether you are the favorite or the underdog. There are no guarantees in sports. So you go out and give ’em hell. If they beat you, they beat you. But you ought to cut out all the psychological stuff and reaffirm what you’re all about. You need not be an underdog to anyone. At least you shouldn’t bother thinking like one.
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You are simply an athlete. You are tough, tenacious, and relentless, regardless of whom you are playing. Strive to attain that championship level of consistent performance and let others talk of favorites and underdogs. You should not only avoid talking about it, you should have no need to think about it.
Performance is everything. Whipping up fear of an opponent to avoid being surprised is misdirected effort. So is bolstering yourself with talk about how good you are. Focus strictly on performance and let reporters and fans tell you, after the game, who was favored and who should have won and lost.
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“Underdog” is a commentator term, not a concept for champions. Before a game you are neither an underdog nor a favorite. You are just an athlete with an unshakable commitment to lay it all out there. If you play in that way, practice after practice, game after game, you will enjoy a lot of happy results, regardless of what the commentators call you along the way.
—Excerpted from the book, “Think Like a Champion.”
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