You saw it, and you probably couldn’t believe what you witnessed.
In New England, Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32 yard chipshot to send their game against the Patriots into overtime, while in San Francisco Kyle Williams fumbled a kick return that resulted in the Giants beating the 49ers in overtime. If you are a Ravens or 49ers fan, you are probably scratching your head wondering how these outcomes that never should have happened could have ever occurred.
Of course, as fans and onlookers we can now speculate what might have happened. From a sport psychology perspective, it’s plausible (and quite likley) that both Cundiff and Williams found that battling their own anxieties and insecurities ended up being much more difficult than ever expected. For Cundiff, the 32 yard field goal that he probably makes in practice with his eyes closed all of a sudden turned into goal posts with an opening seperated by mere inches. Williams, similarly, probably never felt a more slippery football in his hands than any time in his life as he fielded the kickoff in overtime.
Interestingly, anxiety accounts for both of these situations, meaning that the way in which each player perceived his respective situation had a direct impact on the subsequent behaviors that followed. More simply, it’s quite probable that each man came up short not because of a lack of talent, but instead due to a momentary loss of confidence and increase in fear and self doubt. It’s what sports fans call “choking.”
While nothing in each game “changed” per se (meaning the goal posts did not become more narrow, nor did the football become any more difficult to hold), what did change was the way each player perceived his situation. Rather than thinking about the success each man was about to experience, it’s likely each said the most end-all, be-all negative word in sports: DON’T
In Cundiff’s case, he likely told himself “don’t miss,” while Williams probably said “don’t turn the ball over.” While it would seem logical to tell yourself “don’t do something bad,” in reality the opposite usually occurs — like what happens when you tell yourself “don’t think of a big purple gorilla.” See what I mean?
Sports anxiety can be the difference between average and good; and good and great. Sports anxiety is also probably what most impacted the games this weekend, resulting in the Ravens and 49ers now being on the sidelines with the rest of us getting prepared to watch the Super Bowl.
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