Do you ever wonder why your team suddenly begins to come back or loses a large lead after one play; how did the tides of the game turn so quickly? Momentum is one of the many psychological wonders of the sports world, changing history and igniting incredible moments like the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51 or the Red Sox 2004 ALCS comeback. It is the deciding factor of these games, series, and championships. But why do these seemingly miraculous moments occur? How can someone shift momentum in their favor, and what happens when these momentum shifts occur?
Momentum shifts can occur for many reasons, but mainly as a result of an outstanding play or series of plays that give a team the energy and willpower to push itself to play better. Regarding the previous example of Super Bowl 51, the ignition of the Patriots’ comeback was Dont’a Hightower’s strip sack near the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Although the Patriots had already scored nine unanswered points, the momentum was not in the team’s favor. In fact, it was in neither team’s favor. The game’s momentum was essentially at a standstill, despite the Patriots’ 19-point deficit. But, after Hightower stripped the ball from Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan’s grip and the Patriots recovered the ball on the Falcons’ 25-yard line, you could tell by the excitement on Tom Brady’s face that the game had drastically changed. In that moment, the Falcons players and coaching staff became visibly worried, while the players and coaches on the Patriots’ sidelines looked elated; the fire of momentum burned hot within them. The Patriots felt a new sense of possibility, fueling them to secure both the largest Super Bowl comeback ever and the largest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL playoff history, all a result of a strip sack.
We, as student-athletes, see this story all the time, whether it be on the field, court, pool, or in the classroom. One crucial play in a sport can cause a chain reaction where one team crumbles, while its opponents push forward towards victory. Yet, momentum can appear in many different aspects of our lives, even off the field. I know that I have had my fair share of bad outcomes on tests at Andover, and I can certainly attest to the fact that momentum plays a huge part in how I perform on test day. If I continuously answer the problems effortlessly, I feel focused and I am able to go from problem to problem with ease, whereas if I am struggling with the test problems, the momentum shifts away from me. I slow down exponentially from question to question until I’m lagging so far behind that I can only think of the previous problem. These shifts in mentality are momentum at work off of the field.
It is imperative to remember that momentum shifts, though they might seem to be written in the cards, can be both generated and prevented mentally. Momentum is always a factor during a game or even a test, and to begin a momentum shift, you must gather your team or your thoughts and rally them with energy and confidence. To keep the momentum burning, continue to bring a high level of energy to your team, through encouragement and effort. When I feel myself becoming overwhelmed during a test, I remember the hours of preparation in and out of class that have solidified my knowledge of the material, and I convince myself that I will do my best. As my confidence grows, the momentum shifts towards me, and I feel unstoppable.
Remember that momentum is never stagnant or balanced; it can be shifted towards or away from you. For instance, one of momentum’s kryptonites is doubt. When you doubt yourself or your team, you extinguish that fire that you worked so hard to ignite. Your chances of success dwindle until the last ember of your fire fades and you’re left in the dark. Whenever you feel as though you might lose a match or do poorly on the test, the best course of action is to remember your preparation, maintain focus, and display confidence, because you may just make a historic comeback, too.