Within the sporting context, momentum is viewed within research as a function of the preceding event - a short term reaction to one or more elements within the game. Little is known on the dynamics by which psychological momentum emerges and develops over time (Briki, Hartigh, Hauw and Gernigon, 2012). Indeed, much of the research into momentum is divided, providing insight into momentum that struggles to take into account the individual nature of the sporting experience and how this can spread across a team. A reason for this is a lack of consistent empirical evidence to suggest a correlation between perceived momentum and actual performance (Crust and Nesti, 2006).
The most commonplace models applied to momentum include the Antecedents-Consequences Model of Psychological Momentum (Vallerand et al, 1998) and the Multidimensional Model of Momentum (Taylor and Demick, 1994). The prior model considers that the extent to which psychological momentum influences performance is based on personal (motivation, anxiety) and situational (crowd) factors and suggests that the issue of control is important. Going somewhat further, the latter model proposes that previous experience influences how events are interpreted by the individual and that the athlete compares events against what they consider to be the norm. Indeed it is experience that enables athletes to initiate, maintain and interrupt momentum sequences so as to re-establish high levels of performance. One of the more important factors of Taylor and Demick's work was the recognition that an increase in positive psychological momentum for one player/side is reflected in a negative psychological momentum for the opponent.
The Projected Performance Model (Cornelius, Silva, Conroy and Petersen, 1997) however posits that momentum is nothing more than a performance label, the result of performance changes rather than the cause. Research therefore struggles to agree on pinning down the influence and cause of momentum within sport. In contrast, research has been able to show the effects of a positive or negative momentum shift. Through a process that amplifies the psychological impact, psychological momentum seems to decrease efforts if a win or loss appears inevitable (Briki, Hartigh, Hauw and Gernigon, 2012). Furthermore, negative psychological changes during negative momentum are stronger than positive counterparts (Hartigh, Gernigon, Van Yperen, Marin and Van Geert, 2014). They go on to explain that both effort and team co-ordination decrease during negative momentum, indicating a positive or negative efficacy-momentum sprial during performance.
History and experience further amplifies the effect of momentum upon psychological states. A history of progress or regress play a particular role when a team is suddenly losing, having been winning, has a disproportinally strong psychological impact in comparison with never having had the lead (Hartigh, Gernigon, Van Yperen, Marin and Van Geert, 2014). Other research highlights that this initial success is critical for psychological momentum and a change in this success during performance will be further impacted by perceptions of self and the opponent (Iso-Ahola and Dotson, 2014).
In trying to apply the research to my own coaching, I feel that the following factors are worth considering:
- Sporting Intelligence. I want to facilitate a training environment that reflects performance and encourages athletes to make decisions. I would hope that this gives them the opportunity to attribute events in a match correctly (eg. Was their early lead 'earned' by us playing well or rather the result of uncharacteristic mistakes by the opposition?) and thus resist sinking into the feeling of a momentum swing.
- Control. You'll hear many coaches espousing the wisdom to 'worry about what you can control' and there is good reason for this. It gives the players an internal and contextual reflection and awareness that could help to steer them through periods of negative momentum without allowing their own performance to crash.
- Process over product. Pete Carroll's work with the World Champion Seattle Seahawks focuses on being at one's best all the time, with less of a focus on winning. Getting the players to buy in and trust the process can arm athletes with the ability to let go of past positive or negative experiences. Furthermore, knowing they are part of a process removes the pressure on them to deliver immediate success and may enable them to cope better with short-term negatives in performance.
- Experience. The Multidimensional Model of Momentum in Sports places an emphasis on the role of experience within sport. As a coach I therefore see it as my duty to give my players as much contextual experience as possible (given I can't simply give them a shot of ten years' experience!). Encouraging players to problem-solve in training and have an understanding of WHY they are doing something will give them the opportunity to understand the flows of the game and make better decisions. If they don't understand how and why something SHOULD work, then it is unfair to expect them to understand why it IS or ISN'T working.
- Confidence. One thing that stuck out for me when reading through the research was the impact of the individual's confidence - their perceptions of self and of the opposition. As a coach I am constantly trying to build the task confidence of my athlete's as much as possible.
Whilst momentum itself may not be a tangible product that can be managed, or that players can necessarily be coached to manage, I do believe that considering the above factors in coaching would put a team or individual in a better place to cope with negative performance or momentum swings within performance. If they have a strong self-confidence and buy into the process, then the sporting intelligence built up through their experience could make them better placed to stay in the moment and focus on each individual skill (aspects they can control) - this may mean they can surf short-term swings in momentum and maintain high standards of performance, without a crash in effort and cohesiveness.