by Don Yaeger
The biggest sporting event in the world: the 2014 FIFA World Cup has begun. Twenty of the best soccer teams from across the globe will compete in the celebrated football tournament in Brazil andonce again, team USA will enter the tournament as underdogs. I’m going to admit I don’t know a lot about soccer, but I love competitions between nations, so I’ll be watching along with nearly a billion others.
As far as international sports go, I have faith in the dominance of the United States national teams in almost any sport…except international men’s soccer. Before the soccer fans out there close this newsletter in protest, though, hear me out. The New York Times published a study this week that said most of the world’s soccer fans, when asked what team they were rooting against, named Argentina. In most other sports, when asked that same question, worldwide fans say they are cheering against the United States. But because soccer fans in the poll give team USA no chance of winning, they won’t even waste their time cheering against our team.
As a country, America is used to being the best (or at least believing we are the best) at just about everything. But here you have the world’s sport…and it’s not ours. Though team USA is not projected to go very far in the tournament, being considered an underdog could be its greatest strength.
Yes, there is an advantage in being the underdog.
In sports, players and teams often happily adopt the underdog role because they thrive and perform better against other’s expectations. This kind of focus and positive reinforcement can be an essential ingredient in overcoming the competition.
Truthfully, the United States is not the best in international soccer—but we don’t have to be beaten by self-defeating thoughts. What makes the Great ones really successful is an understanding that channeling adversity can function as fuel. In my more than twenty years as a sports writer, almost every Great winner I have interviewed has found a way to tap into the underdog role at some point in their career. It can be an important ingredient in the mix that leads to victory—and occasionally leads to a memorable upset.
Tips from the Great ones
Why do we love underdogs so much? Social scientists may have found the answer.
In a 2010 article, Slate published the collective findings of the research behind sports upsets—and how 81% of the time, people have a tendency to root for the underdogs. The article also goes into detail in
how, when labeled an underdog, people tend to work harder to defy expectations. Additionally, the general public also perceives underdogs as more likeable and down to earth, with more hustle and heart.
And it is a great strategy. We like to root for people who are trying as hard as they can, against all odds, to do something most don’t believe is doable. Heck, I think it starts when our parents hand us a copy of “The Little Engine That Could” as children!
The Great ones know that the victory cannot always be gained by being stronger, faster, or better. Fully embracing the underdog mindset is a hidden strength. When adversity comes your way, look at it for the opportunity it may be providing you—to challenge yourself and to overcome expectations. And if you fail, then the lessons that you will learn while facing the best will help you evaluate how to improve.
Being an underdog doesn’t mean that you lack faith or that you don’t feel worthy to compete at the highest level. It’s something you can take pride in by knowing that others underestimate you and—if
the opposition is channeled correctly—it can motivate you to outperform your competition.
Have you ever played the underdog card? Is there a time in your life where you defied the odds, and won a challenging victory?