Mental Training, Inc. Explores the Mindset of an Underdog in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

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Upsets by a big underdog are one of the addictive draws of March Madness and the NCAA Tournament. Mental toughness is the key to these underdog successes, and the critical factor that allows “off-the-radar” teams to put themselves on the map.

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The combination of the belief that you can win, and an opponents fear of losing allows underdogs to experience more joy, less stress, and elevated confidence levels which lead to better performances.

The NCAA Division 1 tournament creates an opportunity for underdogs to become Cinderella stories with program-defining wins over teams stacked with McDonald’s All-Americans and future NBA stars. There have been many thrilling upsets already, and they all have one thing in common - the winning team had a mental toughness advantage.

Mental toughness is simply the ability to find ideal states of mind that lead to peak performances. It allows underdogs to close the performance gap and play their best games at the most important time of the year. It’s no longer enough to just have the talent advantage when your opponent has superior mental toughness. Just look to perennial powerhouses Duke and Syracuse as examples. Both teams were stacked with future NBA talent, both played in arguably the best conference in the nation, both were seeded no lower than a three, both are led by a coach with more than 900 wins, and both were knocked out of the tournament by underdogs seeded in the double digits.

So why do so many underdogs display the mental toughness it takes to upset the national powerhouses? Dr. Robert Neff, Founder and CEO of Mental Training, Inc.(MTI), the world’s leading organization at strengthening the minds of athletes, has the answer. “To some, being the underdog might be considered a position of weakness. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. The underdog’s “nothing to lose” attitude tends to remove nervousness, tightness and pressure,” he says.

The history of the NCAA tournament also provides underdogs with a mental toughness advantage. Major upsets from previous years, and even upsets of high seeds earlier in the day, are proof that underdogs have a chance to win no matter who they’re playing. In addition, this affects the favorites as they know all too well that underdogs are the sweethearts of March. The self induced pressure to advance when you are a top team quickly grows into a fear of losing “to a nobody.”

“The combination of the belief that you can win, and an opponents fear of losing allows underdogs to experience more joy, less stress, and elevated confidence levels which lead to better performances,” says Dr. Neff.

Mental toughness helps the less physical and technically skilled teams close the performance gap. “All of the mental skills that underdogs display are learnable by any athlete no matter their skill level, and at MTI, we teach them to all of our athletes to help them play their best in their biggest moments,” says Dr. Neff.

With several underdogs still alive in the Sweet Sixteen and the pressure to perform steadily growing, it will be the teams that remain mentally tough who will have the best chance to become this year’s Cinderella.

About Mental Training, Inc.
Mental Training, Inc. was founded in 2006 by Robert Neff, Ph.D. with the goal of helping good athletes become great. MTI and its team of Certified Mental Trainers® offer 1-on-1 mental training for amateur, professional, and Olympic athletes. Services also include programs designed for teams, associations and school districts. Extending beyond sports, MTI also works with executives, managers and salespeople, helping them control their thoughts and emotions while equipping them with the mental tools to perform their best when it matters most.

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Sarah Frey
since: 11/2009
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