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Is there a Momentum Effect in Sports and in our Lives?

Baseball players celebrating the momentum effect

I’ve heard many sports talk personalities debate the existence of a momentum effect. It’s also sometimes called psychological momentum. Some will swear it exists and then immediately dismiss their credibility by suggesting there are also curses and responses to not keeping superstitions.

A momentum effect is that point in some sort of contest where the tide obviously turns. A tipping point of sorts. If we’re scripting it, it’s that point when Hulk Hogan turns it around after a long and relentless beating at the hands of King Kong Bundy or Andre the Giant.

He clenches his fists and puts his head down, quaking and stockpiling his angst while the opponent lets loose of one last thud to the head.

Oh no you didn’t!

It’s your turn boy, says Hogan’s body language as he points and the big man. A few fists, a body slam and a leg drop later and, yes, Hulk rules.

Real Examples of Momentum Effect

Before they were the 2016 World Series Champions, the Chicago Cubs were on the wrong end of a momentum effect multiple times. Few will ever forget the infamous Bartman game in which a loyal Cubs fan became the most hated man in Chicago simply for going after a foul ball hit near him.

It prevented the Cubs player for having a chance at making the catch. A bobbled play at shortstop and a few misfortunes later and the Cubs lost the game. Meanwhile, the Florida Marlins (as they were then known) went on to win the game, the next game and, later, the World Series.

It was a similar scenario in 1984, when the Cubs were in the playoffs against the San Diego Padres. Opening the series with a day game at Wrigley Field, which had no lights at the time, the Cubs crushed the Padres 13-0 in game one. They took game two with a 4-2 win and were just one win away from the World Series.

San Diego hosed game three, and the Padres responded with a  7-1 win.  Game four saw a questionable intentional walk, a passed ball and some Steve Garvey heroics, lifting the Padres to a game four win.

On to game 5, with all the momentum on the Padres side, and momentum going the other way for the Cubs. Despite the turn of events, Cubs fans felt good about a game one rematch of starting pitchers, Sutcliffe for the Cubs and Show for the Padres.

The Cubs regained momentum, striking early and hard to take a 3-0 lead. Show left the game and the bullpen took over.

San Diego’s Carmelo Martinez drew a seventh inning leadoff walk and took second when the next batter bunted. The next hitter, Flannery, hit a ground ball right at first baseman, Leon Durham. When Durham went down for it, it skipped right through his legs.

The game was tied and the unlikely momentum would carry the Padres on to the win.

Baseball players celebrating the momentum effect

Is there a momentum effect in sports or life? Whether it’s Hulk Hogan or the Chicago Cubs, we’ve seen it. Here’s how to “clear the mechanism” to get it going in our favor. (photo taken by Chad Gramling at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne, IN on June 21, 2010)

Countering the Momentum Effect with Focus

Is there such a thing as a momentum effect or psychological momentum? That’s a tough question to answer. There are probably as many skeptics as there are believers. This article at LiveSports (The Reality of Momentum in Sports) points out many of those positions.

What I find particularly useful in it is the five conditions necessary for momentum shifts. First, there is a precipitating event, such as a fan interfering at a pivotal moment of the game, or a usually reliable first baseman missing a ground ball hit at him. Second is a change in cognition, psychology or affect. In other words, the Marlins got pumped up and more confident at that moment, just as did the Padres in 1984.

The third condition for momentum change is a behavioral change. A renewed enthusiasm for the team at a pivotal moment provides new confidence and hope.

Fourth is the notice in a change of performance. In both playoff instances,  Cubs players might have felt their entire season spiraling away from them. They may have been playing tighter, over thinking their actions or being in a hurried state.

This fourth circumstance obviously, can’t occur without the other three conditions. Even more important, though, is it is the one area where YOU have control. It comes down to self-awareness.

Momentum, as the article says, is a two-way street with a need for “contiguous and opposing change for the opponent.”

So how do we do that?

Countering the Momentum Effect – Clear the Mechanism

Keeping with the baseball theme of today’s post, I’ll reference one of my all-time favorite movies, For Love of the Game. In this movie, the Kevin Costner played Billy Chapel is a veteran pitcher for the Detroit Tigers.

He’s facing a ton of inner turmoil as he goes out to pitch a game that is otherwise meaningless to their losing season. As he stands on the mound, surrounded by the lights and sounds of the stadium, he has just one job: to get the batter out.

He focuses in and says to himself…

“Clear the mechanism.”

The theatrics of the movie vacuum out all the sounds and focus the viewer’s attention in on the target for the pitch. I’ve often found myself trying to emulate that focus on the important aspects of my day. How great it would be to be able to just “clear the mechanism” of all external chatter as you attempt to focus on your work or other meaningful tasks!

Applied to our walk in Christ, clear the mechanism and focus of God – even when life is spiraling out of control.

In life, we are asked to focus on what God seeks for our lives. There is a lot of external noise, perhaps loosing God’s signal amid it all. We must clear the mechanism.

The Apostle Paul knew our thoughts also influence and determine our actions. So he encouraged a focused perspective at Philippi…

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.Philippians 2:2 (ESV)

Paul shared Jesus as the example for clearing the mechanism. For right thinking.

Where do you need to clear the mechanism today? What can you change about how you think? Go to God. Serve him and serve others.

It might just get your momentum going in a better way forward.

About Chad Gramling

Chad Gramling makes his home in Indiana with his wife and three daughters. He's the founder and primary blogger at 1Glories, a vision cast onto his heart and detailed in Listen Up Kids: Foolish Dreams, Syncing with God & Running to Win.