Sports Psychology - Winning Ugly
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I recall talking to Tommy John, the ex Yankee pitching ace, a few years ago at Ann Liguori’s clam bake in the Hamptons. As I stood next to him at the bar I asked him the obvious question, “What is the secret to your success?” He quickly replied, ‘I knew how to win with my B game. I even could win with my C game.  It was a rare day that you don’t pitch with injury or pain. And I learned how to adapt to the problem.’   

This comment is reminiscent of nearly every post-tournament interview given by Tiger Woods.  He would always say, “Well, I only had my C game today but I managed it pretty well”.  And who could forget his win at the US Open at Torrey Pines when he actually won the tournament with a broken leg?  He limped around the course and winced on every shot but he won.

There are many stories of athletes winning when injured or when ill.  I recall Sean Lane, the great distance swimmer from Long Island who flew out to California and won a long distance ocean swim while suffering with the flu. He was on antibiotics, his doctor said “don’t fly out,’ but he ignored it all and won the race. Martina Navritilova was being fed intravenously before the finals of a US Open at Flushing Meadow and went out on the court and beat Chris Evert.

Every athlete has been sick and has been injured. I won a big college match while having an aching toothache. So how do you explain this stuff? Is it that the athlete is tough and can tolerate pain more than the average person? Probably yes but there is more to it then just mental toughness. Here are some of the reasons for this strange dynamic.
If you happen to be sick or injured you will naturally slow down to protect your body. And when you slow down your performance relaxes and improves.
That upper respiratory infection or pulled muscles will serve to distract you from any performance anxiety you may be prone to and with less anxiety your performance always improves.
Your expectations will be far less when playing ill or injured and so you will likely be less harsh on yourself during play. So for once you will be kind to yourself on the fled, be less angry and this will definitely improve your play.
Players who are hurt or ill will rest more prior to a game. And since most players are always near burnout and are almost always over trained, this rest will mean you will have more energy to perform.

So, there are the four very good reasons players often play better when injured or ill. But do not take this as an endorsement to play injured or ill. If you are ill or hurt you need to visit your family doctor and get proper treatment. He may tell you to rest and you should listen to him. But if, and only if, you get medical clearance to play with a tweaked muscle or a chest cold you can expect to perform pretty well for the reasons outlined above. As they say, the injured athlete is a dangerous opponent. So watch out when you run into one.

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