Spieth Becomes Second-Youngest Masters Champion Through Poise and Killer Instinct

On Sunday evening in Augusta, Georgia, Jordan Spieth put the final touch on an outstanding four-day performance to win the 2015 Masters Tournament. In doing so, he became the first golfer since 1976 to lead a Masters from start to finish. He tied the tournament scoring record of 18-under par, set by Tiger Woods in 1997. He set records for the lowest score after 36 holes and 54 holes, and for most birdies (28). Most impressively, at 21 years old, Spieth became the second youngest Masters champion in history. After going into the final round last year tied for the lead before losing to Bubba Watson by three strokes, Spieth was determined to see this year’s tournament through to the end. “It was something I watched slip away last year, and I had a chip on my shoulder,” he said on Sunday. This mentality helped Spieth remain composed under pressure throughout this year’s Masters. On Sunday’s par-five 13th hole, with a five-stroke lead, Spieth had the opportunity to play it safe by laying the ball up in front of a body of water, rather than hit a more difficult shot towards the hole. Instead, he chose the more difficult shot from 200 yards away, and landed it flawlessly onto the green, 14 feet from the pin. “He’s fiery…he’s got that killer instinct,” said Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller. According to three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for second, Spieth’s poise under pressure sets him apart from his competitors in a unique way: “…He has that ability to focus and see things clear when the pressure is on and perform at his best when the pressure is on.”

The poise and killer instinct Spieth showed over the weekend was especially impressive given his inexperience compared to many of the veterans he was competing against. Under these circumstances, it would have been easy for many young athletes to play it safe, rather than continuing to push themselves and take chances. However, having a killer instinct as an athlete means that that you choose to compete with assertiveness, rather than a fear of failure, and it requires the ability to maintain a high level of focus while you perform. Staying focused during competition allows you to consider all of your options in any given moment, and recognize when the time is appropriate to take risks, and it also helps you execute when you decide to take those risks. All of this starts with the habits you build during training. While it may be easier to allow your focus or concentration to drop off when you train, because there is less pressure to perform well, using refocusing cues or other strategies to maintain your focus when training will increase your ability to do the same during competition.

When it comes to competition, athletes who stay poised under pressure are able to stay focused on the process, rather than any future outcome. This means knowing exactly what you need to do to have success and staying in the present moment so that you can perform to the best of your abilities. Despite wanting to stay in the present moment throughout a performance, there will be times when your mind strays to the future and starts thinking about what it will feel like to win, or how important it is to not make a mistake or to avoid falling apart. When this happens – when you notice that your thoughts are carrying you toward the future, or keeping you in the past after a mistake – the use of a refocusing cue (e.g., “Stay present”, “Here and now”, or “In the moment”) can help redirect your mind to what you need to do to perform well. Having won his first major at such a young age, Spieth seems to have a long successful career ahead of him, and his poise and killer instinct under pressure will go a long way in helping him continue to perform at his best on golf’s biggest stages.


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United Closes Premier League Gap With Killer Instinct

With its sixth consecutive Premier League win, Manchester United suddenly seems poised to challenge for a Premier League title. After a rocky start to the season with only 3 wins in 10 matches, United has now climbed to 3rd place, after a convincing 3-0 win over Liverpool at home on Sunday. While Liverpool had the majority of chances throughout the game, United’s strikers were clinical in their execution, and took advantage of their chances. The game was, perhaps, best characterized by two back-to-back opportunities in the first half – squandered by one player and seized by the other. About 11 minutes into the match, Liverpool striker Raheem Sterling had a golden opportunity to score from close range, but was unable to finish, partly due to the heroics of opposing goalkeeper David de Gea. United was on the attack only 25 seconds later, and after Antonio Valencia beat his defender on the right side and slid a pass across the top of the box, Wayne Rooney ruthlessly scored to give his team a 1-0 lead. De Gea’s ability to preserve the shutout with several outstanding saves, combined with the finishing ability of his teammates, was enough to guide Manchester to a comfortable win over one of its main rivals. After the game, despite his team’s impressive performance, United manager Louis van Gaal pointed out that his players could have still done more in the second half to see the game out.

While Liverpool earned the majority of chances in the match, United’s win was a testament to the value of a killer instinct. While it is commonly used to describe a striker, the term ‘killer instinct’ does not only apply to a team’s attacking players, but also refers to the mentality of any player, playing any position on the field. Player’s with a killer instinct are constantly looking for ways to improve their performance, compete, and to have success. As such, they recognize the importance of focusing on the process of improving as a player, but they also put emphasis on the outcome: trying to win. As a player, it is important to recognize that this outcome is not always under your control, and your killer instinct has a lot to do with your mentality when it comes to preparing yourself for competition. Are you putting your full effort and focus into training every day and getting the most out of your preparation? Are you seeking out feedback from coaches and teammates on what you can do to improve some part of your game? If you are a defender, developing your killer instinct may involve improving your ability to win 50-50 balls in the box off of corners or free kicks. A killer instinct also means that you are confident and assertive when you step onto the field for competition. You recognize that you have done the work to prepare for this moment, and you are ready to take advantage of the opportunity when it arises. While United’s recent performance has the club steadily moving up the Premier League table, Van Gaal’s call for further improvement shows the need for his players to continue bringing a killer instinct to their preparation and competition.



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Auburn Football: Discipline and Anticipation in Late Game Heroics

Over the weekend, many Americans witnessed one of the greatest endings to a college football game in history, as the 4th ranked Auburn Tigers upset their biggest rival and two-time defending National Champion, the Alabama Crimson Tide in heroic fashion. In the game’s final second, previously top-ranked Alabama attempted a 57-yard field goal, with the game tied at 28. As the teams lined up for this final play, Auburn senior Chris Davis stood 60 yards away under his own goal posts. The Auburn senior shocked the football world when he caught the missed field goal attempt and returned it 109 yards, untouched, for the winning touchdown.

Even when a game seems over, or out of reach, the athletes who remain disciplined and take advantage of a competitive opportunity are often the ones who are ready for a “heroic moment.” Players with courage and confidence take action under pressure situations, choosing to take risks and chances. To be an elite player, it is important to take advantage of every opportunity you have on the field and remain focused until the final whistle – not a second less. Maintaining discipline and focus in games starts in training sessions and the training habits of a player, as well as behavior off the field, in preparation for performance. For example, during training sessions, you should play with focus and intensity during each drill, whether or not the coach is watching or if you are getting tired. Focusing on these training habits will help you develop a competitive mindset.

Davis’s heroism in this game’s final play also demonstrated another important mental skill for elite athletes: having a killer instinct. Ultimately, by maintaining high focus and intensity in training day-in and day-out, a player develops the courage to approach late game moments without a fear of failure – to meet the challenge of a situation with full confidence that you can overcome it. The discipline and intensity you have practiced on a regular basis will give you the hunger and drive to take chances and perform at an optimal level with no hesitation when you have the opportunity to do so. This type of discipline and competitive mindset were on full display in Davis and his teammates, and helped them achieve the near-impossible and make history.

Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo Compete for 2014 World Cup

In a 2014 World Cup qualifying match this past Wednesday, Portugal and Sweden played a scoreless first half. The highly anticipated game featured Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo and Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Unlike the first half, the two acclaimed strikers and captains did not leave the second half scoreless. Five minutes into the second half, Ronaldo scored his first goal off of a through ball. With twenty minutes left in the game, Ibrahimovic scored two goals within four minutes, giving Sweden a 2-1 lead. Only five minutes after Ibrahimovic put Sweden ahead, Ronaldo scored two goals in five minutes, completing a hat trick and securing Portugal’s spot in the 2014 World Cup with a 3-1 victory over Sweden.

As seen in Wednesday’s game, fierce competition can bring out the best in great players. Although Sweden lost to Portugal, both Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo performed exceptionally well, particularly in the second half, demonstrating their killer instincts. Players with killer instinct possess a competitive drive and the ability to be assertive and work hard no matter the obstacles they may face. For example, when down 3-0, killer instinct pushes these players to persevere and remain assertive, rather than lose their intensity, determination, and passion for competition. On the contrary, when beating a team by a significant margin at halftime, players with killer instant continue to play with all their effort and drive, not allowing themselves to lose focus or intensity; in this regard, they are respecting their opponents and the game by continuing to put forth their best effort. Players with killer instinct love to compete, regardless of the score or their competition. One way to develop your killer instinct is to set challenging goals for yourself. Think about what your ultimate outcome goal is as a player; maybe you want to win the championship or play at the professional level. Use this outcome goal as motivation to guide your play and the process goals you create and focus on during each training session. For Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo, the goal of playing in the 2014 World Cup may have fueled their killer instinct and phenomenal play in Wednesday’s qualifying game.

Developing a killer instinct

Chicharito (Javier Hernandez) is currently one of Manchester United’s forwards. Recently, he has been on a goal-scoring streak; he has scored 7 goals in his last 5 games. Two of these goals came from the latest shocking win over Aston Villa. He came in as a substitute in the second half of the game when Manchester United was down 2 to 0. He managed to score two goals, and caused an own goal by opponent Ron Vlaar. Even though he did not have much time to create these three goals, he had the killer instinct required to trump Aston Villa and make one of the biggest comebacks of the season.

The benefits of having a killer instinct apply to other settings besides sports, such as school or work. No matter the setting, having a killer instinct means you’re not afraid to fail; you set challenging goals and confront them head on. You continue working hard to achieve your goals even when faced with obstacles. To develop your killer instinct, envision where you want to go. For example, with soccer, what’s your ultimate goal? Picture yourself achieving success and get hungry to work as hard as it takes to reach that goal. Mentally prepare yourself for training and games by reminding yourself of your goals and committing yourself to putting in the effort it takes to reach them. Like Chicharito, stay focused and work hard every chance you get. Although he came in off the bench and did not get to play the full match, he worked hard with the time he had and illustrated his killer instinct.

Sisu, is it in you?

Sisu (n.)— determination; tenacity; the will to win; an inner fire; guts.

What does it take for you to win? Is it your coach? Your team? Your skill level? Although these all play major factors in winning a game, when it boils down to it, it takes an internal will that drives you no matter how many obstacles you must face to come home victorious – a “killer instinct.” This inherent “killer instinct” has been coined by the Finnish culture as “Sisu.”

The term sisu is a Finnish term used to describe facing adversity. Sisu loosely translates into English as “tenacity,” “having guts,” or “having a killer instinct.” It can be explained as an inherent internal characteristic that one possesses. The Fins take such pride in the term that it has been described as “their favorite word.” Sisu carries certain underlying “hardness” or “grit” that makes it unique to any other word when describing someone facing adversity – they are not faltered by emotions nor do they give any empathy towards others.

Sisu has been used in several different situations, but is mainly used by athletes and the military in Finland as a mantra to which they can motivate themselves to keep fighting to win:
The Finns have something they call sisu. It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win. The Finns translate sisu as “the Finnish spirit” but it is a much more gutful word than that. (Time, 1940)

Sisu is an excellent word to describe that killer instinct that you as an athlete need to win the game. Sisu describes that inherent desire to give 100% effort to be successful. Sisu means that your will to win will always push you past the obstacles that may arise in a game, such as a poorly passed ball, being down by 2 goals at half, or feeling tired at the end of the game. As an athlete, you can use the concept of Sisu to motivate you to always drive towards becoming victorious. Some ways that you can do that are:

  • Say it as a mantra several times throughout the game
  • Write it on your hand
  • Have it written where you can see it at halftime

Whether it’s on the practice field or during the game, you can ask yourself, “Am I playing with sisu, the killer instinct, necessary to compete at my highest level?”

(1940, January 8). NORTHERN THEATRE: Sisu. Time Magazine. 34 (2).