Momentum in sport

With Team GB, today (1 August 2012), winning its first gold medals of the Games, Great Britain appears to be gaining momentum.

(Photo of London 2012 Olympic medals. Photo credit: London 2012)

When watching many sports, the spectator will experience a range of feelings and emotions as athletes, players and competitors progress head-to-head towards the final whistle, the end of the race, match point or the finish line.  

However, one of the most predominant feelings that both spectators and athletes can experience is the sense of momentum. 

In head-to-head, individual and team sports, momentum acts like water: flowing backwards and forwards between opposing individuals and teams; sometimes fast, sometimes slow or, at times, not moving at all.

Perceptions of momentum stem from the flow of energy between competitors and, of course, the current scoreline in a match or the positions on the leaderboard.

However, these figures do not always reflect who has the upper hand or the state of play. A player or spectator can feel things going for or against her or the team.

They can sense who holds the balance of power at key moments in the match, race or competition. The scoring systems of certain sports (e.g. tennis, which has no finish line and no time limits) can feed our perceptions of momentum, heightening the sense of unpredictability, which is why spectators remain fixated to the action and why athletes require strategies to control their thoughts and emotions.

A key strategy for athletes in terms of managing the momentum of the match or event is to always respond positively and calmly to potential turning points or events that could cause a shift in momentum (e.g. a player loses three points in a row; a team loses a player to injury; a team takes lead with 10 minutes to go).

The players or team should plan for these events and how they want to react to them so that their mental and physical energy remains resilient and forward moving. Respond effectively and the momentum shift to an opponent may not happen at all or be short lived.