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Beating the Odds

Why Expecting to Win Helps You Win

Winners expect to win.

That’s more than a cliche. It’s science.

For evidence, look at a poison ivy test done by researchers in Japan. Many thanks to former NHL star Ryan Walter for passing along the info.

“Researchers blindfolded a group of students and told them their right arms were being rubbed with a poison ivy plant,” Walter says. “Afterward, all 13 of the students’ arms reacted with the classic symptoms of poison ivy: itching, boils, and redness. Not surprising…until you find out that the plant used for the study wasn’t poison ivy at all, just a harmless shrub. The students’ beliefs were actually strong enough to create the biological effects of poison ivy, even though no such plant had touched them.

“Then, on the students’ other arm, the researchers rubbed actual poison ivy, but told them it was a harmless plant. Even though all 13 students were highly allergic, only two of them broke out into the poison ivy rash!”

Ryan, who played for the Washington Capitals, Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks during his NHL career, goes on to cite the work of Dr. Marcel Kinsbourne, a neuroscientist at the New School for Social Research in New York.

Kinsbourne suggests that our expectations create brain patterns that can be just as real as those created by events in the real world.

In other words, thinking that you are going to succeed actually makes it more likely that you will succeed.

What if you truly don’t expect to succeed? Act As If. Act as if it were impossible to fail. If your body language is confident, you mind will follow.

Remember, whether or not you get poison ivy depends a great deal on whether you expect to get it.


2 comments for “Why Expecting to Win Helps You Win”

  1. Hi Coach Tully. I heard you speak yesterday in Dayton and was interested in what you had to say, so I came here to check out your page. I found this article to be fascinating, but also challenging. How does a coach help an athlete to really believe that he/she is going to perform well? I am familiar with positive self talk and visualization, but some athletes manage to go through the motions and STILL not really believe what they are saying and visualizing because they know that it’s mental training and not actual reality (yet). Any thoughts? Thanks!

    Posted by Mary Beth | November 16, 2013, 4:53 pm
  2. Hi!

    Thank you for your email. Your question is an excellent one. The first thing to understand is that mental training is just that — training. Skill does not come without practice. The key phrase in your email is “Going through the motions.” You can’t do that in any form of practice and expect to be successful. In our program we use a technique that gets good results. After every drill, we ask the athletes to rate their engagement on a scale of 1-10. In other words, “How hard and well did you work on what we were working on?” When the athletes give you their number, challenge them. “Why only a seven? Why not an eight?” Make them be specific on why they did not apply themselves fully to the training. Emphasize that they have full control over the level of their engagement. Affirmations and visualization work if you work them. If you’d like to discuss further, please email.

    Posted by Coach Tully | November 18, 2013, 6:08 pm

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