As a college football fan I enjoy my Saturdays during the fall, but as a professional it kills me to watch teams who have everything it takes to pull off an upset flounder in the final quarter or half. Sometimes the loss doesn't rest on the shoulders of the players, but instead the coaches who are calling the plays.
Miami fans everywhere were stunned that after the team's stellar performance during the first half that they were unable to pull off the upset and knock Florida State out of the #1 spot. So what happened? Simply put, the game plan went from playing to win to playing not to lose. Unfortunately, when a team plays not to lose, they often times get the outcome they were desperately trying to avoid.
When a team plays to win, they play aggressively, and often confidently. This was clearly observed as Miami outplayed FSU the whole first half. For those of us that are old enough, we started to see a glimpse of the Miami past. Going into the half, the team and fans were elated and expecting to leave the stadium having pulled off the biggest upset of the season. That is until the second half started to unfold. Play calls started to become more conservative, cushion was given to allow the opponent to catch the ball before tackles were attempted, and big plays that defined the first half were a distant memory. Slowly the momentum started to shift, as well as the score.
When a team shifts into playing not to lose, coaches and players begin to fear making mistakes, doubt begins to set in, and ultimately they become fearful of losing the lead they have gained. The problem is- Champions don't protect the lead, they seek to increase it! Unfortunately for players sometimes, they are helpless because champions do not only exist on the field, but also on the sidelines. If the coaching staff is fearful and beginning to doubt their ability to secure a win, they miss big opportunities.
Playing to win is important for athletes of all sports. Everyone loves the story of the underdog pulling off a big upset (well, everyone but the fans of the losing team). So if you find yourself fearing to lose the advantage you have created in a game/tournament/meet, change your approach; keep your foot on the gas and your confidence high and you just might be the headline of a great win!