How much of a role does confidence play in a one-on-one matchup? Can an individual athlete be too confident? How much ego is enough ego? With the Mayweather VS Pacquiao fight behind us we reflect on what went down and attempt to answer some of these questions in this blog-post…
Looking back on the #FightoftheCentury, we must admit we’re secretly disappointed with the result. As good as Mayweather is, we would have loved to have seen him taken down a peg, and Pacquiao seemed like the perfect man for the job. Following Mayweather’s victory, there was a lot of talk in the media about his ego, his bravado and his arrogance. The consensus appeared to be that while most people could respect Mayweather’s skill, there weren’t many fans of him and the way he conducts himself. This shows clearly in the overwhelming support Pacquiao garnered at Mayweather’s ‘home ground’.
However, despite all the critics and anti-Mayweather sentiment, nothing seemed to dent Floyd’s confidence. He didn’t feel obligated to anyone - not his fans, not Manny and not the media. He knew what was needed to win the fight and he did it. He was utterly confident in his ability and his game plan. He boxed the perfect Mayweather fight, didn’t open up, landed the important punches and left with the title. According to him that’s all that matters and any other opinions are like water off a duck’s back. Some may call it harshly egotistical, but if that is what’s required to take home the win then there can be very little argument against it.
And that’s exactly what is required. Very often success has a strong correlation with obstinate, pig-headed and almost delusional levels of self-belief – i.e. the smack talking of the #TBE Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather. Often cited as the foundation of any winning mindset, confidence is an elusive and fragile state, and an extremely difficult one for us sport psychologists to foster in our clients. While most professionals in the field of psychology help their clients to establish and maintain health, when it comes to sport psychology, health is often a secondary concern to success. Successful athletes are often exceptionally adept at playing sleight of hand with attributions when it comes to performance results, attributing failures exclusively to luck and chance, and successes purely to ability and skill. In this regard strong narcissistic traits help some athletes to maintain high levels of self-belief in the face of alternative evidence. Something that can be exceptionally useful in their chosen area of performance – but often destructive in other areas of their lives, especially their relationships.
Clearly success involves more than just confidence, and we’ve seen numerous other stars who seem to succeed without the external arrogance epitomised by Mayweather (Sachin Tendulkar is one who comes to mind). Nevertheless confidence and self-belief are clearly vital, and in developing these components in our athletes sport psychologists might be required to encourage the kind of thinking that would not be seen as normal or even healthy in traditional settings, something that places sport psychology in and interesting and challenging sphere of practice.
In the same way as getting up at 4AM to beat a boxing bag is not considered “normal”, the competing athletes’ mindset does not fit into the sphere of routine behaviour. For those of us looking at developing successful performers, there’s much to learn from ‘The Mayweather Mindset’, but it’s clear that his route to success isn’t without its price.