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AFM Magazine

Letter to the Editor

Become A Good Swimmer
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Watch any basketball game and you'll see some of the best swimmers in the world. Men and women who truly understand how to navigate through the ebbs and tides of emotion that run through every athletic contest.

Take for instance, what happens if a game is tied and one team steals the ball goes for a break away and slams the ball uncontested through the hoop. Then, this same team steals the in-bounds pass and scores an easy lay up. Next, they force a turnover and score quickly (let's say the team scores six points in this sequence in 15 seconds). Everyone knows the opposing coach is going to call a time out as soon as he can. He wants to "stop the bleeding." Why does he do this? Because he has been trained to understand momentum shifts and how to stop them. Why don't football coaches do this?

Why not call a timeout after a huge turnover to get every player on your team refocused and to slow down big "mo" on the other sideline? But, I am not simply advocating using a timeout when things are going bad. Momentum shifts are more than that.

What about when the other team's defense is good, and you drop back for a pass and they sack your QB? If the game clock, field position, and all other variables allow it, why not run a "safe" play or two and get your offense back on track?

Understanding momentum is more than realizing when things are going wrong. You want to keep momentum on your side, and I think there are ways to coach this very effectively.

For example, Kentucky's Hal Mumme, on two separate occasions last year displayed both a great understanding of the need to change momentum, and a tremendous disdain for maintaining momentum. Same coach, same team and same season; but far different results.

Against Indiana at home, Kentucky was trailing 27-10 with 5:45 to go in the third quarter. The Wildcats were facing a fourth-and-21 from the UK 21-yard line. Both the crowd and team were in the doldrums; Mumme knew he had to do something to change the momentum.

He called a fake punt, which gained not only the first down, but 79 yards and a TD. The play re-energized the crowd and the team, igniting a 21-point rally that resulted in a 31-27 win.

Four games later vs. Georgia, a huge momentum shift turned the balance of that SEC contest. For almost the entire first quarter, nothing had gone right for Georgia. UK scored on its opening possession. The Bulldogs then went three and out. Kentucky got the ball, moved down the field and kicked a field goal. Georgia got stuffed on the kickoff return, and freshman QB Quincy Carter proceeded to immediately throw an interception deep in Dawg territory. Georgia was reeling; nothing was going right and the UK crowd was growing louder.

UK drove inside the five where they reached a fourth-and-goal at the one. Mumme, known as a gambler, decided to have QB Tim Couch attempt a naked bootleg rather than kick an easy field goal. Couch got stuffed and Georgia was "sky high." Kentucky eventually lost. Mumme is a good coach. But on this day, his failure to understand he was riding the crest of a tidal wave of momentum might have cost him a game.

In one game understanding the need for a shift in momentum perhaps won a game, and in the other gave Georgia new life.

By thinking about and planning for these things, coaches can increase their chance for success. Coaches plan for every other eventuality, why not these situations? Why not get a trained sports psychologist to work with your staff on this critical area of game-day coaching? It's better to learn how to swim rather than drown, especially when you know you're jumping in the water.

Sincerely yours,

Barry Terranova


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