Never Quit While You’re Ahead (Unless You’re Gambling)
May 12th 2007 – A day I remember well. Stevenage Borough (as they were then) were off to Wembley to play against Kidderminster Harriers in the FA Trophy Final. Hopes were high and the buzz of excitement was in the air. I had flown from the US to watch my beloved Boro play in the first competitive game at the newly built Wembley Stadium. The kick-off was at 2.15pm, and by half-time at 3pm it looked like it was going to be a disappointing outcome, with James Constable scoring the first and second competitive goals at the new stadium to give Kidderminster a 2-0 lead going into the break. The Kidderminster fans tried to get a Mexican wave going but we weren’t really up for it.
Boro weren’t looking overly competitive and didn’t seem to have much to offer by way of resistance. The second half was going to be long, the flight home even longer. However, 6 minutes into the second half and man-of-the-match Mitchell Cole scored to make it 2-1. Maybe…
An inspired substitution saw Craig Dobson hit the field and score the equalizing goal in the 74th minute. At this point the belief was there for Stevenage, but doubt for Kidderminster. In theory it was a tied game, but in reality Stevenage were on the ascendancy. When Steve Morison scored the winner from a rebound in the 88th minute it was confirmation of what we all felt could happen from the 74th minute – Stevenage were going to win. Now it was Boro fans starting Mexican waves.*
Why? Because of belief. This game was won and lost because of what happened in the player’s minds. For Stevenage they came out fired up, got an early reward and believed they could repeat it. For Kidderminster they saw their lead cut, and if Stevenage could come out and get a reward so quickly once, why not twice? Kidderminster quit while they were ahead at half time, believing they had done enough. Stevenage knew they had to increase the work rate and fight harder. At 2-1 Kidderminster should have played moment by moment, reset after the first goal, and remember that they were still in the lead. They were still winning, but didn’t act like it and belief was failing. A slice of confidence was taken. At 2-2 the Harriers had no answers, but Stevenage, knowing the results that came from their efforts pushed on.
Here are the three takeaways for today:
1 – Competitors are often defeated before they even enter the fray. Their opponent is bigger, stronger, faster, has more experience, is the world record holder, or any other number of factors that can sow a seed of doubt. When the seed of doubt is watered, when the game plan is altered, when accommodation is made for the opponent, and when the opponent dictates the rules of play, the game is lost.
2 – Stay focused on the goals, and above all else, focus on the moment by moment activities. Forget what just happened, look forward. There will be time for analysis later – during the game focus only on what comes next to complete the game plan.
3 – Unless you’re gambling and have something to lose, don’t quit while you’re ahead. Keep pushing, don’t let off the gas until the final whistle blows. One more goal from Kidderminster in the second half would have taken the wind out of the Boro sails, but at half time they thought it was all over and struggled to find their mojo after the first Boro goal.
In the 2017 Champion’s League Round of 16, Barcelona played against PSG. At 4-0 down after the first game Barcelona could have been defeated already, but instead they were up for the fight. It seems that PSG walked into the game thinking the tie was already won. With 29 minutes to go, Barcelona were 3-0 needing just one more goal to tie. With 28 minutes to go PSG scored making it 3-1 and meaning Barcelona needed 3 more goals in just 28 remaining minutes to win. PSG switched off, why not? They’re home and dry and had nailed the coffin shut on Barcelona’s comeback. It would have been easy for Barcelona to have given up, they had made a respectable and valiant attempt, no way were they coming back from this…
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* This should not be seen as an endorsement for Mexican waves.