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Psychological Warfare...Mind Games - The Art of Manipulating Stress Responses

Psychological Warfare...Mind-games - the art of manipulating stress responses...Successful performance in any field, sporting or other, is fundamentally affected by the level of confidence the participant has in their capabilities. Through the review of previous experiences, training and diligent preparation, it is absolutely possible to generate a legitimate feeling of self confidence and efficacy in respect of the forthcoming event. However, it is equally possible to trick and trigger responses in your opponent which can create doubts and erode that self confidence.

Mind games, little behavioural and psychological cues to erode confidence, are common to all sports. Given the individualised nature of the competition however, the erosion of confidence and the creation of self doubt in your opponent, can be hugely destructive to the individuals performance (and conversely beneficial) in the context of combat sports. At amateur levels, it may be that you don't know your opponent until the day of the competition in which case opportunity to play these hands is limited, but there is indeed still opportunity. At a professional level the mind games played may start much earlier than the day of the event, be more elaborate and potentially more theatrical (in order to generate greater publicity, sales and commercial return.

Irrespective of the level of competition, the types of games to be played will generally fit into one of 4 broad categories: 1. Non-verbal communication 2. Direct Intimidation 3. Exude Confidence 4. Affect the opponents mental and/or physical preparation


Non-verbal communication includes the use of visual cues such as body language, distance and physical environments/appearance. Common examples here are maintaining eye contact during weigh-ins, tensing muscles to appear physically bigger or even imitating a threatening gesture. Posture and appearance also fall into this category. Maintaining a open, head high posture, can itself communicate a strong sense of self confidence and capability. One of the most common areas for use of non-verbal communication is in pre-fight weigh ins, sometimes this can be the first time fighters have met and first impressions are quickly  formed from physical cues and generalisations. It is widely accepted (although little scientific proof exists) that maintaining eye contact can be a sign of confidence and trigger anxiety type responses. It is also widely accepted that failing to maintain eye contact is a sign of psychological weakness and demonstrates a state of anxiety. 


Direct intimidation can be verbal or non-verbal. It can be linked to the types of non verbal communication previously discussed (for example, invading your opponents personal space, staring or mimicking their gestures.) Equally it may be verbal, either in the delivery (tone, volume and speed) or vocabulary used. Obvious examples here exist, with fighters directing concerns to their opponents fitness, ability and even more personal comments. Additionally this intimidation may come in the form of more stumble means, through personal presentation or apparent social status. Ring entry music, entourage and support team, branded and sponsored clothing can all provide non verbal signals to your opponent which can affect their sense of self confidence and potentially self worth.


Again this can be achieved through non-verbal or verbal means. Verbally every conversation or comment concerning your opponent should highlight that they are beneath your level. Every comment is directed to your success and the strength of your game over theirs. In addition, non verbally little subtle cues like smiling at your opponent, watching them warm up, maintaining a strong posture and eye contact can all impact to convince your opponent of your confidence and belief in your own capability.


In many amateur competitions fighters will warm up and prepare in the same area (or closely located). Tactics such as 'switching' leads during your warm up can serve to provide a sense of confusion, which can sow seeds of uncertainty for your opponent. As before, being present during their warm up, intently watching is a further non-verbal means of increasing their concern and general sense of uneasiness. For you here however the converse may also be a path to take. Don't let your opponent see anything. Don't let them know anything about your game before the fight and therefore present them with a unknown/unqualified challenge as the fight starts. They need to know you to beat you and it's harder to work out your strategy in the moment, than it is before the fight begins.

Ultimately the goal here is to get into your opponents head and disrupt their plans. Success in combat sports are is about control, controlling your game, your aggression and your anxiety. Anything you can do which makes it harder for your opponent to do this works to your advantage. For a great real life example of successful mind-games look at the first Collins-Eubank fight from March 1995. In the build up to the fight the undefeated Collins made Eubank believe he was being 'mechanically enhanced', using hypnotism to secure his victory and basically played on Eubank sensibilities and concerns. Collins even put the alleged hypnotist in his corner on the night if the fight. Eubank was supremely gifted physically, but Collins won the day through both his tenacity and clever use of psychological tactics.

Investigate. Develop. Keep the useful, discard the useless. It's what we do!!! 

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