The Psychology Of A Win Streak

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The victories keep piling up, 23 of them in a row now, and the milestones keep turning into blurred signs along the side of the freeway as the Heat blow past to build the second-longest win streak in history. This has been some party on wheels.

And this has been a unique emotional challenge. It usually is for Miami anyway, with opponents particularly amped to face the defending champs, only now beating the Heat would be even more of an occasion than usual. The next team to knock them off would own one of the biggest regular-season single-game outcomes in years.

What has emerged to sports psychologists, though, is that the Heat are not playing with a burden. If anything, they have looked smooth despite the extra burden, a very positive statement while ramping up for the playoffs, the actual pressure time.

Monday night in Boston was a double-win in that way. Not only did Miami rally from 17 points down to beat the Celtics in a difficult road environment, when the Heat could have walked away in defeat but feeling very good about all that had come before, but LeBron James had an insightful statement after No. 23, as quoted in the Miami Herald: “We grew again tonight and that’s big for our team.”

Nearing the end of the third regular season with the core of the roster together, with the invaluable experience of the 2012 title run in the bank, and they’re noticing growth from a March game against an opponent that won’t touch them in the playoffs.

Heat upcoming schedule
Day Date Loc. Opponent Time (ET) TV
Wed. 3/20 @ Cleveland 7 p.m. League Pass
Fri. 3/22 vs. Detroit 7:30 p.m. League Pass
Sun. 3/24 vs. Charlotte 6 p.m. League Pass
Mon. 3/25 @ Orlando 7 p.m. League Pass
Wed. 3/27 @ Chicago 8 p.m. ESPN
Fri. 3/29 @ New Orleans 8 p.m. League Pass
Sun. 3/31 @ San Antonio 7 p.m. NBA TV

“When athletes are on a streak of any kind, the challenge is to keep their focus on the game at hand,” said Dr. Eddie O’Connor, a clinical sports psychologist in Grand Rapids, Mich., and a fellow and certified consultant through the Association for Applied Sports Psychology. “The context and pressure of winning/losing streaks can distract players from what is essential. So a streak could help or hurt, depending on is the athlete uses the streak to improve concentration or if it becomes a distraction.

“In much the same way, when teams are gunning for you, you have to be at your best. I work with athletes to ‘play to your own standard of excellence, not up or down to the level of your opponent.’ This develops a killer instinct against lesser opponents and establishes a performance routine of consistently playing at a high level. This attitude insulates players from putting forth effort based on expectations…. Having teams always challenging you can get you ready for playoff basketball. Again, the key is the athletes’ ability to focus on the moment and let go of distractions.”

Said Dr. Ross Flowers, a San Diego-based psychologist with an extensive background in sports and performance from kids to several United State national teams: “One of the things that can be great about it and is probably why they have this streak is because they’re performance focused. When you’re playing that well, there’s definitely a synergy. And from what I’ve seen and heard through the media sound bites, they’re well-connected. All their comments are about how well they’re playing together. It’s not about one individual, it’s about them working together as a team. I think that’s what we’re seeing. They’re performance focused. And so when there’s all this talk about a streak, they’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’ But if they continue their focus on performance, that streak can go on through the title game.”

Can a streak of this length also become a burden?

“If they allow their attention to be about the streak and not about performance, absolutely,” Flowers said. “If it happens, we’ll see the play change. It will be more about LeBron taking every shot or Dwyane Wade taking every shot. That’s when things can become more of a problem, because it’s less about performance. It’s more about ‘Let’s make history.’

“I think there’s definitely pressure there. And it’s up to them as the professional athletes that they are to manage it by a singular focus: play the game. Let the commenting and the media and all the tweets happen after the game. But when they’re on the floor, focus on being consistent players.”

10 Comments

  1. MJfromOKC says:

    All they have to do is play eastern conference teams. Notice how the teams in the west have similar records but with phenomenon of streaks out the equation. Miami needs some competition. They are one hell of a tight ball club but I think throwing some west teams like Memphis, Denver, OKC, San Antonio, Clippers or Lakers against them more often would have put a severe dampening on that streak.

  2. ELISEO SORIANO OLDPATH says:

    YES… MIAMI 2ND BEST IN NBA HISTORY…
    WE ARE PROUD AS A HEAT FAN….
    MIAMI HEAT ALL DAY….

    –DANIEL RAZON OLDPATH

  3. Holden says:

    The Heat is playing great basketball and, with two superstar players, has to be considered the team to beat, particularly after some of the battles they’ve won to keep the streak going. I’ve got to tip my hat to the Nuggets, too. Without the Heat’s worries of even approaching the salary cap, they have toppled the Clippers, Grizzlies, the Thunder–TWICE, and are within percentage points of the Clips and Griz in the standings.

    The Nuggets are young, growing, improving, believing and winning. Their bench players oft-times play starters’ minutes and they are relentless. Even teams with good enough defenses to curtail Denver’s starters, fade when Chandler, Brewer, McGee and Miller come in.

    Streaks are great, but what they really indicate is, these teams find different ways to win, no matter the competition. Watching Lebron do whatever he wants to do IS reminiscent of Jordan…and he attracts so much attention, his teammates get better looks. The Nuggets, on the other hand, play good-enough defense to fuel a great transition game, yet win the low-scoring, grind-it-out games, too. Every game finds another hero, unlike OKC, for instance, which relies on at least 60 from Durant and Westbrook.

    The Nuggets hold the tiebreakers over San Antonio and OKC. I doubt either the Spurs or Thunder relish a seven game series with Denver, nor do the Grizzlies. My out-on-a-limb prediction? Heat beat Nuggets in six…

    • Marco29 says:

      13 in a row is nothing comparable to 23. Denver is playing great but their streak is not as outstanding as Miami’s. Concerning playoffs, I guess no other West team will really want to face them.But home court might be key as most top teams have very good records at home while Denver has a 0.472 record on the road. And for that, the tie-breaker they have does not mean much with 6 more losses than San Antonio and 4 more than OKC and only 14 games remaining. They would need to win almost all their remaining games, to catch up those 2 teams. . Their 2 games against San Antonio will be crucial but getting #3 spot seems more reachable

  4. Rubin Turner says:

    I love what Miami is aiming to achieve. That great Bulls Jordan dynasty was the same way. In fact, I’m on the spot saying this team resembles them a lot. Like almost identical although Wade isn’t exactly Scottie Pippen he plays on the same tier as a great beta to James’ alpha. When you have already won a championship as Jordan once alluded to as the reason he retired the first time, you need additional motivation just to keep up playing on a super high level that goes beyond a team and player even of Jordan’s stature and drive moderately difficult after already winning one title that takes a lot out of you to accomplish. Like gas in a car, the only way to keep the car at 90 is to constantly put more gas in it with another goal of achievement to strive for and make the game engaging as well as fun. To go after the win streak goal, this is precisely why they were at first probably not chasing it, but the historians that LeBron and Pat Riley upstairs are realized after say 10-12 wins in a row that it could give them a reason to keep their edge and also work on the little habits to reinforce that had them as the last standing after last year. Other teams you see are either in rebuild and development mode, nursing injuries and trying to find an identity and chemistry, but Miami already has that and no injuries to play through like say the Knicks. The streak keeps them from getting complacent, lethargic and BORED which we also know the Heat looked these two and half years together when the competition they get isn’t engaging and capable enough to really challenge them or the MVP. Just like the Jordan years where MJ needed critics, slight, trash talking from his opponents and his war with management and Krause to keep his chip and edge to be the game’s best.

    • TheStarMiddleschooler says:

      I dont understand how you can compare Wade (SG) to Pippin (SF) ? Lebron (SF) to Jordan (SG) ?

      • Marco29 says:

        I gues the comparison was not position for position but as a dominating duo LBJ+Wade is comparable to MJ+Pippen.
        For the rest, the point is very valid. Miami plays in the weakest division and in the weak Eastern conference. The competition they face most is not very challenging so they need to find the challenge elsewehre: beating top teams in the West (OKC, Memphis, Clippers, Lakers) and teams they have a certain rivalry or history against (Boston, Cleveland) or those who had won the games against them so far in the season (Indiana, Chicago that they beat twice).
        Yet, I think the streak became a motivation as the W kept coming but maybe later than win 10 or 12. Other teams have had streaks of that kind but when you reach 18-20, you know you are achieving something special.
        Now, it is not sure that they will push to beat 33. In their remaining 16 games, only 4 (San Antonion, NYK, and Chicago twice) are really challenging and interesting. So either they want to make history and it will be their motivation for the weeks to come and they might achieve it (knowing win n°34 would be at home against the Bucks), or, since they have secured their N°1 place in the East and almost the home court for the entire playoffs, they will rest the Big 3 a little bit a accept to jeopardize their chances to overtake the Lakers. Maybe that was their strategy all along: making a strong push in February-March to rest their key players in April to start the post-season fresh.

      • TheStarMiddleschooler says:

        I Agree Marco…But the camparison I thought about and still doesnt make any more logic then the first guest…. LBJ and Wade isnt a real Power Duo….Jordan and Pippen have 6 rings…Cant really comapare them untill Equal rings…Its a PROOVEN FACT that MJ+Pippen is a perfect Duo with 6 rings and is More domanint then LBJ and Wade

  5. TheStarMiddleschooler says:

    Wow…..Streaks going on until San Antonio, then im not sure about the streak, One thing im sure of is that they have a easy schedule…