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Fans, coaches, players and play-by-play announcers love to use the word momentum to describe the turning point of a game or a match. Gaining momentum is thought of as a positive outcome while losing momentum is the opposite. This is more evident during a 7 game series where one team can erase a 3-0 series deficit and win the series leaving the losing team questioning where they lost their momentum. In psychology this turning point is known as psychological momentum (PM).

Psychological momentum has been defined as added or gained psychological powers that give the person or team a feeling that they have an edge over the opponent. PM is still not a well-known concept in sports psychology but several theories have been presented to help explain this phenomenon.

The antecedent-consequence model of psychological momentum explains that PM refers to the athlete being aware that they are striding towards their goals. The awareness of achieving their goals strengthens the level of motivation, sense of control, confidence, optimism, energy and synchronism. This awareness is influenced by personal factors such as skill level, motivation and anxiety levels, and situational factors such as spectators and the magnitude of the game. The model also explains that in order for these factors to happen, there has to be a perception of control.

Another theory widely used is the multidimensional model of momentum. The model postulates that there are several elements that lead to the “momentum chain”. First, a precipitating event occurs such as a big block in volleyball. The effect of the block depends on the athlete perception of the game, confidence and self-efficacy. These perceptions lead to changes in cognition, physiology and effect, which influences changes in behavior and performance, and culminates in an immediate change in outcome. The model also indicates that experience and opponent are important factors. Athletes with experience are more able to control and understand momentum due to their knowledge of the game, mitigating the effect of momentum. As for the opponent factor, performance and outcome factors can only be influenced when the opponent experiences negative momentum as a result of the precipitating events.

How does a player get momentum?

  1. Have a game plan – Establish your goals and strategies to help you attain these goals.
  2. Expect the unexpected – They might be bad calls, unwarranted mistakes, weather changes etc. When the unexpected happens control your emotions. Do not let these changes interfere with your goals, stick to the game plan and adapt accordingly.
  3. Take it one play at a time – Be in the moment, in the state of flow, and do not worry about situations that have happened or are going to happen.

Though the research on momentum is minimal, it is important to understand that it can have some influence in the outcome of a match. Lack of experience on the team can lead to negative momentum, but making that big shot or scoring a last-second goal to send the game into overtime, can change the momentum of a game and probably influence the outcome of the game. However, how your opponent perceives the situation can also influence momentum as evidenced by the Women’s hockey gold medal game in Sochi. After being down 2-0 to the USA, the momentum changed and Canada ended up winning the gold 3-2 in over time defending their Olympic title.

References Available from the SIRC Collection:

1. Janet A. Y. Seeking momentum. / La búsqueda del “momento”. Coaching & Sport Science Review. August 2012;57:18-22.

2. HUGHES M, BÜRGER P, HUGHES M, MURRAY S, JAMES N. Profiling in sport using momentum and perturbations. Journal Of Human Sport & Exercise [serial online]. July 2013;8(2):S242-S260.

3. Mack M, Stephens D. An Empirical Test of Taylor and Demick’s Multidimensional Model of Momentum in Sport. Journal Of Sport Behavior. December 2000;23(4):349.

4. Moesch K, Apitzsch E. How Do Coaches Experience Psychological Momentum? A Qualitative Study of Female Elite Handball Teams. Sport Psychologist. September 2012;26(3):435-453.

5. Perreault S, Vallerand R, Montgomery D, Provencher P. Coming from behind: on the effect of psychological momentum on sport performance. / Venir de derriere: sur l ‘ effet de la dynamique psychologique sur la performance sportive. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology. December 1998;20(4):421-436.

6 .Vallerand R, Colavecchio P, Pelletier L. Psychological Momentum and Performance Inferences: A Preliminary Test of the Antecedents-Consequences Psychological Momentum Model. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology. March 1988;10(1):92-108.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.