Dealing With The Expectations Of Winning

posted on: July 28, 2014
author: Brian Lomax

ca. 2000 — Football Players Celebrating Victory — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

“I should beat that guy.”

“We should beat them.”

The above are statements that we have all made in our lives as competitive athletes and in many cases, we were probably correct in our assessment of the match up. Of course there are games and matches in which we are the favorites and we should absolutely win. However, such statements can be detrimental to overall performance if you don’t have the mindset of a great competitor. I bet you’ve lost one or more of these games or matches in which you said this. I know I have.

When an athlete says “I / We should win”, what happens in the athlete’s mind? Frankly, this isn’t a particularly productive statement. Nothing good happens as a result of you saying this whether it’s true or not. First, it puts added pressure on you to achieve a victory – as if you didn’t have enough pressure already! You have declared to the world that you are supposed to win – what will happen if you don’t? This added pressure can affect your performance in a negative way especially if things don’t go well. You may begin thinking “how can this be happening, I should be beating this guy” or other similarly non-productive thoughts. You begin to tighten up. You start making bad decisions. Fear becomes the dominant emotion and your body chemistry begins to reflect that – high heart rate, jittery and/or tight muscles, frustration, etc. Instead of playing your best against an opponent you should beat, you end up playing and competing poorly. And unfortunately, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Additionally, the statement “I should win” could be construed as being a tad disrespectful to the opponent and that you don’t need to be at your best to win. Let’s address the respect factor first. Everyone who has the courage to compete deserves your respect. It takes guts to go out there and put oneself on the line knowing that losing is a distinct possibility. This is especially true in the internet age in which for many sports, results are posted online for all to see. Think of how many people are afraid to compete in anything in life and you’ll automatically have more respect for those who do. Respect your opponents regardless of their ability level for they are courageous.

One way to show respect to your opponents is to give them your best effort at all times. If you don’t respect them, you may believe that you can get away with less than your best effort and that often leads to a lack of focus on the important factors in your performance. For all you know, your opponent has been working really hard in practice and may even have a specific game plan just for you and/or your team.

So how should we handle the “I / We should win” statement? In an ideal situation and from the mindset of a great competitor, we should try to eliminate this statement from our thoughts. Opponents are obstacles for us regardless of their ability. Our job is to focus on our best performance, compete hard and learn from the experience. Then we tackle the next opponent. It is a mindset in which we acknowledge that if we are not at our very best we could lose to anyone. This is the type of language that you hear from the best competitors in the world like Rafael Nadal.

Eliminating “I / We should win” from your vocabulary is easier said than done and like anything it’s a process. When these thoughts come to mind (and they probably will), your reaction to them must shift from one of creating pressure and expectations for yourself to one of taking control of the situation. How do you do that? When you say “I should win” add some of the following thoughts to the end of that sentence.

“I should win this match, but I’ll need to give my best effort and focus to be successful.”

You could certainly add more detail to the second half of the sentence in terms of what you need to do to be successful as that is what is important. But notice what we’ve done in this sentence. We have inserted the mindset of a great competitor into the second part of it. That mindset allows us to take control over the situation because we are stating what we are going to do. It’s process focused. The first part of the sentence is result focused and is something that we don’t have total control over.

If you can add these types of thoughts to “I / We should win”, you will eventually be able to eliminate even using that phrase in the first place. And you will have taken a huge leap in your journey toward being a great competitor.


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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.

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One response to “Dealing With The Expectations Of Winning”

  1. Steffani says:

    Good post. It can be challenging sometimes to live up to the expectations that you should win and better to take a humble, respective approach to the match up, perform your best and the positive results will happen.

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