It is inevitable - there will be a time where you are faced with a downturn in momentum during your competition. There will be ups but there will also be downs. One of the qualities that great players and great teams have is the ability to limit this rollercoaster of momentum. Something I have heard many teammates and coaches say after a big swing in momentum, whether for or against my team, is to stay in a mental state of emotions that is “not too high, not too low”. This can be difficult as it is a natural part of sports to have these momentum swings. In the documentary Chasing Sarasota, which was just released on YouTube (it is great, go watch it if you haven’t), Seth Wiggins describes the problem beautifully. When things go poorly it makes walking on a path feel like you are walking on that same path but now you are on a cliff’s edge. So here are some tips that you can lean on for when things go poorly to help you down the path along with to the common pitfalls of each tip.
1. Focus on the Moment
Bring your mental focus away from the negative trend in the game and into smaller more manageable moments. This is a popular tenor among Ultimate coaches and captains. You will often hear teams talk about playing to win games of 3, or “ 0-0 game to 1.” This seems more manageable than setting their sights on the more daunting task of getting to 15 first. In keeping with the path on a cliff analogy, don’t look out into the abyss to see the drop off, simply work on taking one step at a time until you reach safety. The only real risk here is losing sight of the big picture or even the score if you are truly focused on the moment, so make sure you have a coach or captain to keep track for you so you are able to keep your focus on the moment in key points.
As Seth mentions, one of the key ingredients to a downward spiral is fear. So the key to stopping that spiral is to battle this fear and surround it with positivity. I suggest using “Fake it til you Make it” strategies, especially putting on a smile and striking a power pose. The antonyms to fear are calmness, assurance, encouragement, confidence, happiness, and faith. If you display these emotions it will boost your teammate's emotions and become a self-fulfilling effort for good things to happen. My piece of cautionary warning here is to avoid acting as if there is not a challenge ahead of you, rather you should seek to shift the focus away from fear of that challenge.
Each one of you as a player has a set of skills and talents that can be used to generate positive momentum. Even if you are new to the sport and consider your throwing skills a weaker part of your game, being able to use a new throw or just a very crisp throw to generate smooth offense can be the boost needed to smooth over the downturn in momentum. The pitfall on this tip is not to go out and force throws, this doesn’t mean stall 2 hammer hucks are the solution. Don’t play “hero ball.”
Working harder than the other team will always give you an advantage. I like to say that you play the sport with your hands but you win with your legs. When things turn south in a game, put some extra energy into running harder down on the pull, setting a better mark, clearing space faster, stepping out wider on a break throw. Ultimately, if you put extra effort into all the little things, you can expect good things to happen. Similar to relying on talent, the danger here is when you try to be a superstar. Do not use this energy on offense to make 3 cuts in the lane, or on defense to poach the lane biting on every fake. Keep the effort to items within your assigned role.
A team’s system will always be there for you. Whenever you need help in a negative situation, run the system your team has created and trust your teammates: good things will happen. The system, whatever your team has established, is designed to make you and your team perform better. It is there for a reason, use it. Putting your energy into running the system well will help prevent the pitfalls of trying to do too much with your talent or effort. I am willing to bet the system does not say play “hero ball.” The danger here is becoming so ingrained in running the system correctly that the offense becomes stagnant and lacks creativity; so remember to stay positive and do not let the fear of running the system get in the way of good ultimate.
In my mind, one of the most important things you can do when competing is to leave the field with a sense of pride in your performance. I hope you are able to use these tips to reinforce the importance of doing the little things well in order to see the results you want and step off the field feeling proud of the effort you put in.