When the Opponent Becomes a Mental Distraction

It is quite common that athletes pay attention to whom they will face the next game. A lacrosse or ice-hockey game brings a slightly different mental approach depending on whether the game will be played at home or away field. There is an unspoken and sometimes spoken message that the home team “owns” the gymnasium, stadium, or rink where the game will be played. This sense of “ownership” is aimed at promoting a sense of passion and motivation that can lead to raising emotions and enhancing focus.

For many years, the professional tour golfer has been distracted by one specific player who consistently chose to wear black pants and a red shirt on Sundays. Just that image alone provided an extra sense of intimidation that was strong enough to cause golfers to be emotionally distracted as they kept looking how this player wearing the red shirt was doing. There was a partial reason for this concern. That player in black and red was Tiger Woods, one of the greatest players the game has ever had. Nevertheless, the choice of his outfit was done on purpose. It elevated the distraction factor. It would have been different if Tiger chose to wear different colored outfits every Sunday, but he knew that TV and other media would enhance his presence if he wore the same red color every Sunday.

Sometimes, athletes pay too much attention to the ranking position of the player they will face next or on the result of their prior encounter. Some athletes feel intimidated if they lost before to that opponent whereas others may feel extra motivated. Stepping on the field to play a higher ranked opponent can lead to mentally “lose” or “win” even before the game starts.

The beauty of sports and competition is in the thrill of facing another athlete using the same tools. Yes, skill and technique matter. We all want to win and a defeat often brings disappointments. However, maybe one way to reframe our disappointment is to do a self-assessment to find out if we truly performed to our 100% potential.

At the end of your performance as yourselves:

1 – Did we stay focused on our task?
2 – Did we come prepared to do our best?
3 – Were we positive and remained optimistic during minor setbacks?

If we focused on our efforts and take control on what we can control, then chances are that we will walk out of that field with the chin up. Your opponent will become your distraction as long as you allow this distraction to be entertained. Shift your attention back on you and on what you control and can do. The rest is called competition. There is a lot we can learn every time we compete.

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