I’m a big fight fan and in the past month, I’ve seen two champions lose their belts in violent fashion. Yes, I’m referring to Ronda Rousey and Jose Aldo of the UFC. Both were considered the most dominant champions in their respective divisions: Rousey was the world’s most dominant athlete according to Sports Illustrated, and Aldo was never beaten in the last 10 years. Who would’ve thought they would a) lose, and b) in jaw-breaking fashion, at that?
From a technical and physical perspective, Holly Holm was the more experienced and complete fighter than Rousey, and Conor McGregor’s laser-and-sniper-like left hook was too much for Aldo. But from a mental perspective, it’s a much simpler explanation. Rousey and Aldo lost because they both “played mad.”
Rousey, UFC’s female version of Mike Tyson, wanted so much to destroy Holm in her usual “14 seconds” fashion, while Aldo, who was seriously and deeply pissed at all the insults and trash-talking that McGregor had unleashed on him months before their fight, wanted to rip the Irishman’s head off with his first punch. Before they knew it, they were counting sheep in front of thousands of fans.
We, Filipinos, have a word for “playing mad” — gigil. Aside from playing mad, I would describe gigil as “intensity on steroids.” You need intensity to perform well, but with gigil, you lose control mentally and physically. And in any sport, playing with gigil always leads to disastrous results.
It’s quite easy to see the negative results of gigil on the mental side – you forget your gameplan, you abandon rational thinking, and you rush all your moves. But equally as devastating is its effect on the physical side. Because of the “anger,” your muscles tighten more than necessary, your body uses up more oxygen which your brain needs to think straight, and you lose the natural movement and form that is vital to every sport (except maybe for chess, all other sports have a proper form and technique that you must master to optimize results).
Go ahead and try it. Flex your muscles while you swing your 9-iron, or when you shoot free throws, or when you take the first few strides of your marathon. Not only do you go out of form (or out of technique), you actually end up gassing out earlier than usual. While combat sports literally opens you up to a knockout when you play gigil, you’ll probably get the same painful feeling playing gigil in other sports.
How to counter? That’s where mental skills come in. It’s easier said than done because gigil is a natural human feeling and reaction in sports. But with the proper mental routines and relaxation techniques (pre-during-post) in place, you can manage your gigil such that it doesn’t hamper your performance. With constant mental practice, you can even eliminate gigil altogether when you play.
Oh, and please don’t forget the most basic and fundamental rule of sport: it’s a game, it’s play, so have fun before anything else.