Big Match Temperament

Big Match Temperament… a term thrown about by sports commentators and writers the world over. In essence, it is the innate or learned ability not to choke under pressure.  Often, it is the difference between a well-trained athlete, and a determined one. Big Match Temperament (BMT) is the ability to stare down an opponent, silence critics, turn away from any inner doubt, and win.

How does fear of failure impact on your performance and what will it take for you to perform at your best when it counts? Put simply, you must train your mind as rigorously as you train your body. Creating a stronger mental attitude will benefit more than just your sports performance; it will impact on your entire well-being.

BMT is the opposite of DNF, and the good news is that it can be learned.

A few weeks ago, South Africans joined the global rugby community in watching what will go down in history as one of our most cohesive, unrelenting displays of BMT. The Springboks, led by Siya Kolisi and expertly coached by Rassie Erasmus, raised a poetic middle finger to the politicians, pundits, sports writers, analysts and every armchair supporter who had hung up their supporter jerseys, and proceeded to obliterate the desperately inadequate game plan of the English team. Their display, despite suffocating pressure, was BMT at its very best. At no point did any team member lose sight of the game plan, or end goal. The English team, a well-oiled machine throughout the 2019 Rugby World Cup, stood no chance.

A few weeks prior to that, the world watched Eliud Kipchoge, a humble distance runner from Kenya, take down the remarkable 2 hour marathon barrier. “Anything is possible”, said the magnanimous man, after rewriting the history books. But it was his BMT, and relentless focus on end goal for the past few gruelling years, which brought about one of the greatest finish line moments of our time.

Physical strength, mental metal, relentless pursuit of success, and focus. There is no better winning formula, regardless of whether your “win” is a trophy, world record, or a successful, post-injury lap around the block. Getting comfortable with the discomfort of pressure becomes a beneficial skill for any athlete.

First up, the experts will tell you to master your output. Your self-belief should be so well-defined, that it overrides any gnawing doubt that could creep in during a race. If you have nailed your training and nutrition and created a race day plan, you are only half way there. Now, look at your plan and believe in it. When you have mastered something, you can let your skill take over, and not allow your conscious mind to dictate your ultimate performance.

Here are a few C’s for you to work through, as you go from choker to champion.

1. Concentration

From the moment the gun goes off, or the tape is dropped, nothing else exists. Stay present as you think only of your plan, and the end goal. You have visualised your success, now let it play out, come what may.

2. Confidence

Do some professional sports men or women come across as a little arrogant to you? Without that self-belief, their BMT is nowhere. Humility is a wonderful finish line attribute, but out on the course, confidence is king. Talk to yourself, banish the demons, smile.

3. Control

You will need to control all the controllable elements. Don’t get thrown by someone else’s game plan, the weather, one bad kilometre. Control your output, emotion and reactions.

4. Commitment

Remain stubbornly committed to the end goal. Creating a list of excuses for your potential failure is easy, we’ve all been there. As you approach an aid station on an ultra, you might have a neat list of great reasons why you cannot push through, and people will believe you. They might even give you a chair and help you unpin your number. So stop making those lists, and commit to the finish line.

5. Coping Strategies

Do you suffer in the heat? Work out how no maintain your body temperature during training. Are you prone to an upset tummy, nausea or reluctance to take in fuel? Work out how to overcome that in the many hours you spend training for the big day. If you know that the final 10km of a marathon present your toughest mental challenge, figure out a distraction. Music? A friend on the side line? A mantra?

Not every attempt at glory will result in the perfect combination of preparation and performance, but working towards focussed BMT will bring you so much closer than a vague plan to make it to the finish line.

And what you really want, is to make it to the finish line.

Words: Kim Stephens