Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Dangers of a Safety-First Mentality

In sports, the "Safety-First" mindset is often characterized by players known to play NOT to lose, rather than playing to win. This occurs when the pressure, fear and anxiety of all the conflicting feelings and emotions get the better of a person. It has become more desirable for the athlete to focus their efforts on avoiding embarrassment or injury, and they sacrifice the glory or victory that could be obtained by being willing to take risks. Being intimidated by the circumstances that the athlete has found himself in convince him that it is better, smarter and safer to stick to the status quo. The downside is that he finds himself tight, stiff and unable to react or make changes to the different "looks" his opponent shows him.

Combat sports bring this mindset to the forefront. It's one thing to be "safety-first" in basketball, where the pain of losing or being embarrassed, while real and traumatizing, is all that is risked. In boxing, grappling, and other martial arts, the athlete is faced with the very real danger of serious bodily injury. He still has the emotional fears that go along with other sports of being up-staged, humiliated, and made to look bad. There is nothing quite like getting your ass kicked in front of people that care about you.

In boxing, there is a whole sub-species of fighter that is known as a "Gym Warrior," who embodies this mindset perfectly. Often very talented, they are known to get the better of top-flight fighters in the relative safety of a hard sparring session. They work hard, train hard and smart, and can often be the most skilled fighter around. However, once you add an audience and the bright lights over the squared circle, they fall far short of their capabilities. The emotional stress overcomes them, and they lose to inferior fighters.

Success in boxing (and everything else) requires us to take risks at the right time. Some will work, some will not, but they need to be taken to have a chance at winning. Preparing yourself physically is a given. Preparing yourself mentally is the harder part. Experienced athletes develop consistent rituals for the days, minutes and seconds leading right up to competition. Some meditate, some focus on deep breathing, some work to convince themselves that it's "just another day," but they all do something to kill the waiting time. Whatever works for you, don't be a gym warrior. Whether your battles are in the ring, in the cage or in the boardroom, rise to the occasion, thrive on pressure, ignore the desire to avoid risk, and perform at your best.


Anonymous said...

" He who dares, Wins."

Bryan said...

Fucken A. I need some of that mental toughness right now...I'm barely sleeping at night I'm so scared.