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Hurling Final - Favourites or Underdogs? - the Winners Mindset

Hurling Final- favourites or underdogs - the Winners Mindset

Is it the strongest, fittest and fastest team that wins the day?  Is this the team we like to support? Not always – psychology in sport tells a different story.

Yesterday, the All Ireland Hurling Final in Croke Park, was set to be a vicious affair, and it did not disappoint.  A dog-fight from the start turned into a convincing defeat by Tipperary.    On this occasion, Tipperary were favourites and Kilkenny the underdogs. This is in stark contrast to last year’s final where Kilkenny were favourites and Limerick the underdogs. Last year was Limerick’s 8th championship title but their first since 1973 - 45 years in anticipation.  So, are the outcomes of these matches unpredictable?  Is it in the ‘lap of the Gods’ whether the favourite or underdog wins?  By delving deeper into performance psychology it becomes evident that success is more down to the players mindset than chance.

Performance psychology has become a prominent feature in sport and often the question everyone wants an answer to is how to achieve a ‘winners mindset’?  Although multifaceted and complex there is an abundance of pop-psych knowledge, anecdotal evidence as well as robust research available that describes the factors contributing to a ‘winner’s mindset’.  So let’s consider the opposite perspective - the Underdog Effect.  From a psychological perspective - it is widely acknowledged that underdogs can hold advantage coming in to competition and the underdog effect can be powerful for both for spectators and players.

The Spectator’s Perspective:

Recent psychological research tells us that despite our evolutionary hard-wiring to associate with winners, humans invariably enjoy supporting the underdog.   A series of studies published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2008 described the “The Underdog Effect”  whereby the less likely a team or individual is to win, the more we tend to get behind and support them.  A strong emotional connection is formed in the process.  From a neuroscientific perspective, the chemical Oxytocin seems  to be  responsible for our human drive to enjoy favouring the underdog.  Oxytocin  is the ‘Love’ hormone, which promotes feelings of ‘love, bonding and well being’.  As spectators, empathy, the ability to understand what others may be thinking or feeling, allows us to identify with the underdog struggle and as a result oxytocin is released.  Therefore, there is a strong scientific and psychological basis for experiencing that feel-good factor when supporting the underdog (irrespective of the outcome).

The Underdog’s Perspective:

The underdogs are usually applauded for  their strength of  mindset and ‘can-do’ attitudes.  Underdogs are rarely scrutinised for their current performance status (as is often the case for the favourites).  With the emphasis off the underdogs performance - this shift in mind-set can help the underdog use the oppositions weaknesses to their advantage.  Often, for the underdog the focus is more on the ‘process’ than the ‘performance’ allowing focus and attention to remain solely on the task at hand.  In contrast, when attention and focus shifts to the outcome, psychological parameters changes, anxiety increases, awareness of the crowd and the expectation may trickle in and cracks can appear in even the strongest of teams.  Without expectations, the underdog are free from psychological distractors and in this unimpeded space, they have the freedom to focus and excel.  The aim is to position all teams in this psychological space so that they can perform to their highest potential

So, while physical skill and ability is essential, the differentiating factor from the team is their mindset - this determines whether the favourites triumph or if the glory goes to the underdogs.

In the case of Tipp-Kilkenny, the favourites prevailed. We look forward to seeing the outcome of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final onSeptember 1st.


Want to know more about the Psychology of the Underdog in Sport?

Studying ‘Psychology of Individuals and Teams’ provides the knowledge and skill to position you to make a difference in the outcome of sporting events for individuals and teams. As part of our  full-time or blended learning degree courses leading BSc Sports Psychology Coaching degree you learn about the factors contributing to team success specifically through this module.

In this module you also learn about conflict and communication in group dynamics. These applied modules build on a strong foundation in fundamental psychology, covered in the first year of our fulltime or blended learning degree courses leading to a BSc Sport Psychology and Coaching. Students are equipped with knowledge of anxiety, arousal, cognitive skills and personality constructs and how these psychological principles can be effectively applied in the sports or performance domain.  If you would like more information on these degree courses at Portobello Institute  click here




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