Mind Over Matter: Crafting a Winning Mental Game for Upset Victories

Mind Over Matter: Crafting a Winning Mental Game for Upset Victories

What is the most significant mental factor that helps athletes pull off the upset?

Competing against a significantly higher-ranked opponent or a team with a better record is not just a physical challenge but also a mental challenge.

The main mental ingredient in upset victories is belief. By belief, I’m not just talking about pie-in-the-sky belief, but belief steeped in reality.

The first step in understanding belief is to know the effect of a lack of belief.

Athletes who lack belief constantly experience doubts such as “How can we beat them? That team is undefeated!” or “How is victory even possible when that athlete is ranked No. 1?

When a team or athlete doesn’t believe they have a chance for victory, their preparation, confidence, effort, and focus will fall significantly below 100 percent. After all, why would an athlete be fully committed if they believe a loss is a certainty?

How can an athlete build belief?

To build belief, you need a mixture of work, effort, preparation, confidence, positive self-talk, and mental toughness:

  • Work – Developing your mental and technical skills to their fullest helps build trust in your ability to compete.
  • Effort—When you put maximum effort into training sessions, you know you can produce the same level of effort in competitions.
  • Preparation – Out-preparing your opponent, mentally and physically, gives you a significant edge heading into the competition.
  • Confidence – To beat the best, you must have the confidence you can compete on their level.
  • Self-Talk – Belief requires sending yourself positive messages that enhance performance, competitiveness, and production.
  • Mental Toughness – You need to build your mental toughness to the point that you know you can overcome any adversity that comes your way.

Building belief is the first step in athletic success.

During the 2024 March Madness NCAA tournament, No. 14 Oakland University upset No. 3 seed Kentucky, 80-76, in the first round. However, Oakland didn’t see the win as an upset.

Oakland head coach Greg Kampe stressed the team believed in themselves, no matter who they faced.

KAMPE: “We wanted Kentucky because they’re the best.”

Kampe fueled his team’s beliefs throughout the game with consistent positive messages, such as “We win close games.”

Oakland guard Jack Gohlke, who made ten three-pointers, reaffirmed the level of belief when he exclaimed after the game, “We’re not a Cinderella.”

Even if other people believe you are the “Cinderella,” it doesn’t mean you have to buy into their opinion. Nobody but you knows what you do behind the scenes to prepare. Nobody sees the work you put in to compete against the very best… and nobody’s belief matters except for yours.

Crafting a winning mental game starts with building a positive belief system.

Every day, during training sessions, you have the opportunity to build belief in your game. Your thoughts and actions either add or detract from your belief level.

The most empowering component is that the content of your thoughts and your actions in practice is a choice you make every day!

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