UFC 196: Panic versus Composure

For any of you UFC fans out there ‪#‎UFC196 was one for the books! The post-fight conference was just as telling as the fight but not without true sportsperson-ship from all athletes- much respect! There is so much I could share about my observations about these fights but the most telling quote was from Conor McGregor. Starting at the 11:15 in video, Conor said,

“He (opponent Nate Diaz) kept his composure. He (Nate) went into, almost autopilot mode with the shots his face was bust up and I went into panic mode. There was just a shift of energy and he capitalized on it.” Similarly, Holly Holms similarly mentioned, “I let my guard down and it cost me the fight”.

As a sport psychologist I appreciate these candid insights into the minds of these exceptional athletes. It’s a tough lesson to learn but a big reminder that your mind DOES impact your sport performance. Who knows to what degree Conor was experiencing “panic” symptoms and the purpose of this post is not to break it down clinically, but only to illustrate his observation of contrast in how he was interpreting the situation, him being in “panic” and Nate being in “composure.” At some point Conor failed to recognize when his mental defense mechanisms were breaking down which resulted in an over exaggerated reaction leading to increased “panic.”

When in panic an athlete “becomes hyper-reactive to external psychological, 635928324727384117-USP-MMA-UFC-196-MCGREGOR-VS-DIAZ-80269184physiological or chemical stressors due to the excited state of the amygdala, and the limbic brain’s “arresting” of areas of the cortex.” When areas of our cortex are “arrested” our ability to problem solve efficiently, focus, plan and execute goal directed behavior deteriorates. This is a main reason why I start most of my athletes with mindfulness skills training as a fundamental skill and emotion management strategy in sport- so that they can increase awareness and prevent escalating levels of anxiety or stress.

It’s fascinating when professional athletes express having acute awareness that their emotional and mental state, specifically panic and anxiety, in sport specific situations can negatively impact their performance. Take this as a lesson that no matter what level of sport you compete in the mind will always be a factor so train it diligently so that it becomes a your weapon and not your weakness.

“Tate on her mindset going into the fifth round: “I had to go for it. Bryan said you have to go guns a blazing. I’m in it to win it. There’s still fight in me until the last bell. If I’m not down, I’m still in it and I’m going to try to finish the fight. Sometimes you’re fighting the clock too. I think I was down on the scorecard and you’ve got to get it. I went in there with a mindset that one way or another, it’s not going to a decision.”
CONGRATS UFC 196 CHAMPS Miesha Tate UFC bantamweight title and Nate Diaz!
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Dr. Gloria Petruzzelli

Dr. Petruzzelli is sport and performance psychologist and mindfulness meditation teacher located in Sacramento, California and works with elite sport teams and athletes across the country. She is competitive athlete herself and enjoys practicing what she preaches.