Mental Toughness On Display
at Super Bowl XLV
What an exciting contest between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers! While both teams had to consistently refocus and rebound from mistakes, it was the Packers that ultimately came out on top.
"We've been a team that's overcome adversity all year," said Green Bay WR Greg Jennings who caught 2 TD passes. This is true as the Packers squeaked into the playoffs with late season-must wins and then defeated 3 playoff teams on the road, including #1 seed Atlanta. Then in the game key starters WR Donald Driver and CB Charles Woodson went out with injuries. The key for them was remaining focused on their job, in the present moment, and blocking out the things they cannot control.
Rebounding From Mistakes
The best demonstration of mental toughness was by WR Jordy Nelson who had 9 catches for 140 yards and a TD. Nelson had three big drops in the game, but came back to make even bigger catches on the plays that followed. To do this athletes can only get upset for a moment, imagine what you would do differently to correct the mistake, then forget about it and move on to the next play. If Nelson kept the mistakes with him, his mind would have been distracted from what is essential for success on the next play and more mistakes would have followed.
... but not in the NBA
The two-time defending NBA champs recently fell to the worst team in the league, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, those Cavs who lost to the LA Lakers 112 - 57 the last time they played on January 11th in the middle of their record 26 games losing streak.
"I think they took the break before the game started," criticized Coach Phil Jackson. "That's our problem overall," added Lamar Odom. "We take teams lightly at times."
The Lakers own the 4th best record in the league and may have gotten overconfident against a team that had not won in regulation for an NBA record 39 times.
My advice for the Lakers? Play to your own standard of performance, not up or down to the level of your opponent. If you keep your intensity independent of your opponents performance, you can avoid upsets like this.
Once the losing streak was over in an overtime win vs. the Clippers on Feb 11th, the Cavs may have experienced a decrease in pressure. Teams riding a losing streak can become so focused on the outcome of a game, that their attention to the process of playing the game suffers.
Cavs forward Antawn Jamison said, "It shows you when we focus for 48 minutes what we're capable of doing. The biggest question is how do we be consistent doing that?"
Well, Antawn, I have an answer for you ... Focus only on what you can control: your own thoughts, feeling, and behaviors. This is your "circle of control". The score, the refs, your level of fatigue are all important, but not while you are on the court. These belong in your "circle of concern" and can be addressed (if necessary or helpful) during breaks in the action. Everything else is irrelevant.
Athletes do not "lose focus" - they choose to focus on the wrong thing at the wrong time. Hold yourself accountable and choose wisely.