By Dr. Alan Goldberg
It's always fascinating to me how much emotional and physical energy gets wasted by athletes when they focus on and worry about their competitors. "I used to beat her all the time but now she's beginning to catch me!" "You know, they were undefeated last year and their lineup is even better this year. How can we possibly beat them?" "If I lose to him, I am going to be so upset with myself!"
Concentrating on your opponent and obsessing about winning will do a lot of things for you. It will get you overly nervous. It will erode your self-confidence. It will psych you out. It will guarantee that you play poorly. It will contribute to your losing to this particular opponent. It will always leave you frustrated and disappointed after the game. However, what it will never do for you is increase your chances of performing to your potential.
If you're hung up on winning and losing, and too worried about your opponent beating you, then listen up: you have this competition thing all wrong! If your goals are to win or to beat someone else you're setting yourself up to fail. It's not about the competition. It's about you. Let me explain:
The father of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden used to tell his Hall of Fame son, "Never try to be better than someone else, but never cease trying to be the best that you can be." The true purpose of sport and competition is to put yourself in a situation where you try to push your own envelope, where you try to excel based on your own abilities and potential. Real winning, in other words, is not about the outcome of the match or game. It is about whether you played to the very best of your abilities.
I have a lot of trophies in my office from my days as a competitive tennis player. Some of these represent tournaments where I finished in first place, but didn't really win. That is, a number of these "championship" trophies were given to me after I played some of the ugliest tennis of my life. I had been seeded #1 and expected to win. I was terrified of losing and what people would say if I lost. As a result, I played tentatively and poorly, a mere fraction of my capabilities. I "won" first place, but the "win" brought me no satisfaction.
Being a champion means that you go out every day and compete against yourself. It requires that you stop getting hung up on the uncontrollable and misplaced goal of winning, and instead focus on playing like a winner. It requires that you focus on playing your own game instead of allowing your opponent or the game importance to dictate how you play. It means striving to be the best that you can be.
As a Sports Performance Consultant and internationally-known expert in peak sports performance, Dr. Goldberg works with athletes and teams across all sports at every level, from professional and Olympic caliber right down to junior competitors. Dr. Goldberg specializes in helping athletes overcome sports fears & blocks, snap out of slumps, and perform to their potential. He is the Director of Competitive Advantage, an Amherst, Massachusetts-based performance consulting firm. Dr. Goldberg maintains an extensive Skype consultation service for athletes around the world to more quickly and effectively get athletes unstuck and back on track. For more information, visit www.competitivedge.com.