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Streaks In Sports Are More Mental Than You Think

There is a common belief held by athletes and fans, as well as sports analysts and researchers, that streaks, otherwise known as momentum, play an important role in sports competitions. Many fans are intrigued by the statistics when teams and professional athletes demonstrate any type of streak, whether good or bad. According to multiple experiments done by universities and doctors, such as Gur Yaari, a computational biologist at Yale, there are many psychological reasons why athletes tend to gain momentum in their sports. There may be more mental aspects to these streaks and slumps than you think.

The article “Winning Streaks on the Brain,” from The New York Times, points out that the hot hand in sports, also known as a streak, happens because players believe that it is real and that it has been a strategy for teams to win games. I also use the “hot hand” in my own strategy for all three sports that I compete in: baseball, indoor track and field, and football. In one scenario pretty recently in a baseball tournament of mine, I couldn’t get a hit using one bat, so I switched up my bat and got a hit in my next plate appearance. I truly believe that the mental aspect of the game can influence any athlete in a positive way. Also, if my team is winning games, we tend to believe that doing the same thing as the previous week before games will improve our game play and lead the team to victory. Many athletes today use these strategies to win games. In another article called “Winning Streaks in Sports and the Misperception of Momentum,” baseball coaches admit that they often adjust their batting lineups game strategies to use the athletes that have apparent momentum. In an ESPN article, it stated: “Indians manager Terry Francona made several lineup changes Sunday in an attempt to turn around the team’s struggling offense.”

On the flip side of this, many athletes and coaches will change things to try to get out of the bad streak. If they are losing games or not playing well, they will change little things. Baseball coaches will change a batting order if a player is in a hitting slump. The outcome of a losing streak could result in a coach being fired. This can be unfair. The coach is not always responsible for players performing poorly. They believe that any modification to what they have been doing will help turn things around. Little things like wearing a different colored shirt or putting socks on the right foot before the left mentally impact a player’s performance. These things could shift the momentum in the opposite direction.

According to an article in the New York Daily News, Jason Giambi, while playing for the New York Yankees, wore a gold thong to get out of a batting slump. After Giambi’s success, teammate Derek Jeter tried it. He hit a home run on the first pitch after an 0-for-32 hitting slump. Another instance in which momentum was altered was in 2002. In this year, the Oakland Athletics signed brand new players to their team. These players had a very low salary, but the team had to deal with the adversity of three of their top players leaving the franchise after the previous season. This team beat the odds even with new athletes that weren’t expected to win many games and pulled off a 20 game win streak.

Many people feel that momentum has a great impact on a team’s or player’s performance. It is a mental situation. These streaks can be positive or negative. Whichever is the case, we must realize that it is inevitable. Streaks happen, and will eventually be broken, regardless of which sock you put on first or what color your underwear is.