You can’t see or feel it, and no amount of money can buy it, but it’s something every sports team and player wants. Momentum is fast becoming one of sport’s biggest buzz words, with many coaches and players referencing it consistently in press conferences. But how do teams get momentum, and is it as important as it’s made out to be?
The mythical zone
There’s an argument in sports that momentum doesn’t really mean much, that when teams go on hot streaks it’s all within the statistical probability of what we should expect. Whilst the statistical element can’t be denied – scoring streaks do fit comfortably within a normal distribution – there’s more to it than just that. When a team or player gains momentum they also gain confidence, which causes them to make more good decisions. This creates a positive cycle, which increases the likelihood of more good things happening for them. Also, when a sportsperson is performing at the peak of their abilities and they’re full of confidence, they can enter the mythical ‘zone’.
|Ayrton Senna - one of the greatest|
“I was already on pole, [...] and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel."
How to turn around momentum
A momentum shift usually occurs with a precipitating event, such as a fumble or mis-hit, or a moment of inspiration. This can cause a change in the mindset of the athletes involved, which leads to a change in behavior and outcome. As such there’s no magical solution to turn around momentum; as with most things in life it requires hard work, dedication and a little bit of luck. Perhaps the most important factor is to remain positive, because when you start to doubt yourself you’re more likely to make poor decisions which won’t bring about the necessary precipitating event.
Experienced athletes have been shown to be better at handling the ups and downs of sport than novices, and are thus often better at limiting the effects when the opposition has momentum. Whilst it may sound obvious, the key really is to keep doing the right things with a positive mindset, which gives you the maximum possibility of creating the necessary momentum shift
Whilst momentum in sports is in essence a psychological thing, its importance is obvious to anyone who regularly plays or watches sport. The growing increase in sports psychology is a sign of this - if you can prepare a team to have a steady, positive mental attitude you'll have already taken the first step towards victory. Whilst momentum is not the be all and end all, it's certainly one of the most important factors in sport.