Sports Psychology
 Information & Resources

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Effects of Momentum changes
in sports events

How is Momentum Defined and What are the Implications?
       The term "Psychological Momentum" is commonly discussed by athletes, coaches and commentators in sport. Its existence has not been scientifically tested and therefore, is not universally recognized within the academic sport psychology community.

       Players, coaches and spectators often see the players and teams winning or losing a string of points during a match. A team that is playing well and seeming gained dominance can suddenly experience a reversal of fortune.  Such shifts may occur multiple time during the game. 

       For coaches, athletes and applied sport psychologists, there are obvious reasons why they want to learn how to control the game's momentum. What actually changes occurred when the psychological momentum shifts? What is the cause that initiates these changes? What can be done to swing the momentum in our favor?

       Clearly, there is a change in what athletes think and feel, which consequently affects the way they behave. The psychological momentum involves athletes sense of control, confidence, optimism, motivation, focus, and energy.

       Coaches, athletes, and sport psychologists are aware of the negative spiral that often develops. It normally starts when a mental mistake occurs. The athlete who committed the mistake usually starts to analyze the mistake and thinking about its affect on team performance. Such an athlete is highly motivated not to make another mistake, which causes he or she to start trying harder. This invariably leads to even more mistakes.

Can an opponent affect the swing of momentum in their favor?    
       The change of momentum is initiated as a result of actions of both teams involved in the shift of momentum. One side is gaining momentum and the other is losing it.    

       Athletes who are on the defense will often attempt to force a high risk shot, in order to break the status quo. The defensive player may cause a forced error if opposing players are slightly out of position, stretching for a ball or caught off guard by a particularly precise shot.

       Committing a number of forced errors can cause players to begin to doubt themselves and get frustrated with themselves. Soon after becoming frustrated, they start to make additional unforced errors and the negative performance spiral occurs.

       Very subtle changes are normally initiated. However, even multiple small changes eventually add up, and then are reflected in player frustration. During this process, athletes begin to lose their sense of control, confidence, motivation, optimism, focus, and energy. This momentum can become self perpetuating and be enough to determine the result of the competition.

Recommended Reading:

The Reality of Momentum in Sports | LiveScience  Oct. 6, 2008 ... Does psychological momentum really come into play?

Momentum in Sport Momentum is always conserved in a closed system, but most sporting situations in the real world are not a closed system.

Sports psychology: the role of momentum in sports performance The concept of psychological momentum in sport and ways to trigger, maintain and reverse it.

Momentum Momentum is a commonly used term in sports. A team that has the momentum is on the move and is going to take some effort to stop.


Heuristics as beliefs and as behaviors: The adaptiveness of the "Hot Hand"   by Bruce D. Burns

The Hot Hand in Basketball: Fallacy or Adaptive Thinking?   PDF format (80k)

Spectators' Perceptions of Positive Momentum While Attending NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Regular Season Contests: Exploring the Antecedents-Consequences Model
by Kevin L. Burke, Mark W. Aoyagi, A. Barry Joyner, and Michelle M. Burke

Winning streaks in sports and the misperception of momentum
Citation of article by R.C. Vergin, published in Journal of Sport Behavior (JSB), 23(2), 181 - 197. The article has to be purchased to be viewed.

Momentum in Sport As momentum is the product of mass and the velocity, you can increase momentum by increase either of these elements.

Athletic Insight - A Review of Psychological Momentum in ... The concept of momentum in sport contests is commonly referred to by athletes, coaches, and commentators alike,

Sports psychology: the role of momentum in sports performance ...  In sport, psychological momentum has been defined as 'a bi-directional concept, affecting either the probability of winning or the probability of losing


The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

Flow/Peak Performance
Focus & Concentration
Goals and Objectives
Goal Setting
Personal Sabotage
Self Fulfilling Prophecy

All materials are copy protected. 

The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.

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