Have you ever wondered why some fighters can look so good in training, but when it comes to the fight they completely choke? Why do some average fighters exceed expectations and perform much better when it matters the most?
Taking the right mental approach to a fight will give you the best chance of performing your best. If you perform your best, the results don’t matter. What you don’t want is to walk out of the ring knowing that you didn’t put your best foot forward.
What Mental Approach Should We Take?
The best thing you can do going into a competition is to learn how to manage your expectations before the fight and understand what is involved in the fighting process. To give you a better idea of what I am talking about, here is an example of two expectations that someone may have going into a fight.
Expectation #1 – Easy Opponent, Easy Fight, Easy Win
In our first example, you are going into the fight expecting that you should win. Maybe you are training well and have had a streak of wins. Perhaps you have beaten that fighter already and are supremely confident you can do it again. You might be thinking the match is already in the bag before you even step into the ring.
While confidence in your abilities is a good thing to have, over confidence can make you vulnerable when things don’t go your way. Perhaps you have good reason to be confident going into the fight, but it is important that you don’t become OVER confident.
Expecting yourself to have a perfect fight is a recipe for a disaster. Even if you know deep down that you are better than your opponent, you still need to set the right expectations for the fight.
Over confidence is dangerous because you don’t give yourself any room for error. What happens if you expect to steam roll your opponent and suddenly he puts up a fight? You may be playing around with your ‘weaker’ opponent when suddenly BAM, you get caught with a hard punch and your knees buckle.
If you go into a match expecting an easy win, and that ‘easy win turns into a hard fight, suddenly alarm bells will go off in your brain. All that confidence you had moments before, will start turning into fear and panic.
Your opponent was supposed to go down in round 1, why is he still standing? This isn’t supposed to happen. Now what should you do?
When the scenarios play out differently than we expected, it opens the door for doubt to enter our minds. You would be surprised how fast you can go from a state of confidence to panic, when things don’t go to plan. Once things start panicking in your mind, things can unravel very fast.
Expectation #2 – I am Going to Lose the Fight
On the other end of the spectrum, imagine you end up facing someone you are much better than you on paper. Perhaps you got coaxed into fighting when you didn’t feel ready or you are fighting someone who more experience.
When you realize that you are fighting a Thai fighter who has a reputation for knocking their opponent out, suddenly your expectations may change.
Perhaps you have seen a highlight clip of your opponent looking like a beast. Leading up to the fight you start thinking, “This guy is too good, he’ll beat me.” These are natural thoughts to think, especially when you are an underdog going into the fight.
When you go into a fight thinking you are going to lose, that can result in you not putting forth your best effort. If you don’t give it your best effort in the fight, it gives you can excuse to blame the loss on an external factor, rather than giving credit to your opponent for beating you.
Instead of doing everything in your power to win the fight, you will put forward a bad effort and then give yourself an excuse as to why you lost.
Both examples showcase a mental approach that can result in you not performing at your best.
While it is important to go into a fight confident in your abilities, being over confident is just as bad as being under confident. When you go into a fight expecting a Round 1 knockout or an easy win, when those outcomes don’t happen it will affect your performance.
The Right Expectation: Maximum Focus, Effort and Intensity
To perform your best in the ring you need to learn how to set the right expectations for yourself. Expectations that focus on outcomes are not productive because you don’t have full control over what happens.
Rarely will you ever walk out of the ring thinking, “wow, that was the perfect fight.” There will ALWAYS be things that you could have done a little bit better, even if you won by knockout.
My good friend Dane once told me that the more times you fight, the better your worst performance becomes. This means that someone with 30 fights, is less likely to have a bad performance than someone with 5 fights. Both fighters can still have bad performances, but someone with 5 fights is more likely to have one.
It is important to realize that many factors are OUT of your control. You cannot control how good your opponent is and how well they perform. You can’t control the crowd, the ref, the judges, or even if you get caught by a hard shot.
If you want to set yourself up for success, your expectations for the fight should revolve around 3 things: your level of focus, your Intensity and your effort.
All three of these factors go into execution. Executing your offense and defense is the only things that matter. You can’t control how well your opponent reacts to your strategy, but you can control how much focus, intensity and effort you give in the fight.
Avoid thinking about winning, losing, knockouts, or any other outcome.
Focus on staying in the moment. When you are fighting you shouldn’t worry about what happened 10 seconds ago, focus on the NOW. By learning to focus in the moment, you will be able to execute your offense and defense more effectively.
When you keep your expectations focused on factors you can control, it will give you a blank canvas heading into the fight. Giving yourself a blank canvas will remove a lot of pressure and allow you to fight without worrying about the outcome. You don’t have to paint the outcome you imagined, you can create a picture that will evolve as the fight moves along.
This mindset can help give you the best chance of winning the fight.
Going into a fight we can never truly predict what will happen. You could fight someone tomorrow that you should beat on paper, but that doesn’t mean you will beat them. If we go into a fight focusing on the outcomes and having a perfect performance, we put too much pressure on ourselves which can affect our performance in a negative way.
Don’t worry about what you think should happen in the fight, worry about your focus, effort and intensity. This allows you to fight freely, without any preconceived outcomes or expectations that should happen. As long as you put forth your best effort in the fight, the outcome will take care of itself.
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