4 Things to Consider When Facing a Superior Opponent

posted on: February 4, 2014
author: Brian Lomax

Football Team in a Huddle

There are times in competition in which we face opponents who are better than we are.  They may have a better record than us or perhaps they have more achievements.  Regardless, that’s not nearly as important as how we react to the challenge of facing this opponent.  In this type of matchup, our mental attitude and approach is critical in determining if we’ll be competitive or not.  Let’s review some less than optimal mindsets when facing a superior opponent.  Some of them are clearly related and intertwined.


When we over-respect an opponent, we put them on a pedestal that makes them seem unbeatable.  They are no longer human, but are instead invincible opponents with few flaws, if any.  This attitude basically leads to losing the competition in the locker room.  The result has been decided before the event has even begun.

Lack of Effort

“If we’re playing somebody who’s better than we are, what’s the point of even trying, right?  They’re better than we are and they’re going to win anyway.”  Obviously, this attitude is not that of a great competitor and it represents one of the most basic emotional responses to competition – quitting.  Your opponent will love this attitude as they’ll barely have to sweat to win.


As I mentioned in a previous post on Succeeding in the Critical Moments, we can often become satisfied with ourselves once we’ve pushed our superior opponent to a certain point in the competition.  We’ve made them work a little bit and perhaps we’ve done better than we thought, and now we can lose without shame.  Our effort and focus at the end of the event will wane and the superior player will emerge victorious.  Others will know via the score that we were competitive and our self esteem is intact.

What Should Our Mental Approach Be?

1.  Respect everyone, fear no one.  My friend Steve Host said this to a group of junior tennis players a few years ago, and while he may not have coined the phrase, it is right on in terms of the competitive mindset.  Superior physical skills do not necessarily mean superior competitive skills.  You have to bring a 100% fighting spirit to every event you play.  Don’t lose before you’ve even begun.

2.  We are all human.  None of us are perfect and that includes our supposedly superior opponent.  We all have bad days and we all make mistakes.  This might be the day that our opponent isn’t feeling his or her best.

3.  Make Your Opponent Work Hard.  One of my mantras when I play a tennis tournament is that no matter who I play, I want them to remember me because I made them work hard.  I may lose the match, and I certainly lose plenty of matches, but the match will have taken a physical toll on my opponent. Make it your goal to let no team or opponent ever forget how hard you made them work. You may be rewarded for that the next time you face them.

4.  Not all great players are great competitors.  There are many teams and athletes who are great front-runners.  They are used to dominating opponents and blowing them out on the scoreboard.  Because of this, they may not be quite so confident when the event gets close and the pressure is on.  Do your best to keep the score close and you may be surprised at how the supposedly superior opponent reacts under pressure.  At the very least, expose them to as much pressure as you can and keep working hard.  Don’t be satisfied and let them off the hook.  Make them prove that they can succeed.  It’s possible that they may choke.

In these situations, what is your typical reaction?  Write it down and see if there is any faulty logic that matches the typical reactions I mentioned above.  Next, write down what you want your approach to be in the future when you face better opponents.  You need to prepare for this because it will happen. Discuss it with your coach and incorporate this new approach into your training.  This situation is a clear example of when competitive skills can trump physical ones.

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About the Author

Brian Lomax founded PerformanceXtra™ in 2009 with a mission of helping athletes achieve their goals and their top performances more consistently through a progression of mental skills that enables them to focus on what is truly important.

Learn more about the author: https://performancextra.com/brian-lomax/

One response to “4 Things to Consider When Facing a Superior Opponent”

  1. Hi Brian,
    I may have just prematurely sent an email. I’m sorry. Happy New Year. Just wanted to send along my compliments on a well written article with meaningful points for consideration. I tweeted it~
    Hopefully our paths will cross in the near future.
    Eat well. Be well,

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