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Momentum




2017 Super Bowl between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots looked bleak for the Pats after a 28-3 lead at halftime for the Falcons. All was lost for New England, and it seemed the game was over. Favor was strong for the Falcons, and momentum was on their side.


The momentum shift happened with only two minutes left in the third quarter when James White caught a short touchdown pass. That was the moment it all changed and led to an overtime victory for the Patriots.


Momentum is such an overused term in sports casting that it has a nickname: “The Big Mo”. Dr. David Caldwell, professor of linguistics at the University of South Australia, who has studied language in sports, said momentum used in sports typically includes two fundamental tenets: a feeling of force enacted upon a body, and a direction in which that force is moving. It's both a sensation and a physical push in a new direction. (Hale, 2021)


The sensation is the phenomenon. The sensation is the energy. That energy creates the momentum. Where does it come from?


The sport psychology literature suggest that psychological momentum encompasses changes in the athlete’s sense of control, confidence, optimism, motivation, and energy. (Hartley, 2010) The momentum happens inside a person. It is intrinsic. Internal. Invisible and undetectable. The actionable application of internal momentum then radiates through energy and shifts the energy of the team, crowd, and stadium. Everything shifts. It can be felt, seen, heard.


In sports, coaches can manage and create energetic momentum shifts while also coaching athletes, training skills, creating strategy and managing attitudes. A player can manage or create it too, so can the crowd, so can a referee. The power of momentum can overtake a team with better odds. A team with less skills, less training and less experience can still overcome and have victory over a higher skilled team with better coaching. Overwhelming scoreboards and odds have been toppled by the power of momentum.


Momentum shifts only happen inside in a person’s consciousness. Internal. Not a mission statement. Not in standard operating procedures. From a person’s consciousness, momentum can be experienced, expressed, and resonated out like a note of music or a ripple on a lake and can be “seen” or “felt”. This ripple can be passed on exponentially to other people.


Momentum happens in the space between. The space between the coach and the players. The space between the players and the other team. The space between the players and the crowd. The space between the game and the referees. Its like a wind blowing through a gym or a field, you can see the impact it has on the leaves but you can’t see the wind itself.

You see it by its affect. You can feel it shift. You measure it by outcome and facial expression and energy output.


Robinson and Renshaw call this energy in the workplace Ba, the Japanese word for “place”. Ba is the momentum of the workplace. It happens between people, around people, in culture, around culture and inside people. Leadership as Practice is not about the person leading but about the flow of energy that is happening between persons in the space working together that produces the magic. (Robinson, Renshaw, 2021)


Patriots receiver Chris Hogan talked about how Brady in the Super Bowl game turn around was the leader on the field that set the trajectory for the rest of the team. “[Brady was] laser-focused, and the entire time, there wasn’t a time where we looked at Tom like he knew this thing was over. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. We have one of the best quarterbacks that ever played the game.” (Rogers, 2017)


Brady’s internal motivation, will, purpose and confidence transitioned out of him into his execution of the game and to the players on the field with him. He had Ba and released and shared it with the team. Each member of the team had resonance with Ba and got in the flow.


When a leader resonates at a higher energy level, people of that same energy level are attracted to it. To resonate at a higher level, then sit at the feet of people you admire who do. To experience Ba, you must also have it inside. You must be able to get into the flow of it. Surround yourself with what you want to become and you will become it.


Quantum physicist David Bohm defined human beings as intentionally directed energy. (Tumulka, 2021) Each of us, each person, each employee and each leader are intentionally directed energy. What we have to give comes from inside. It is born from our motivation, our purpose, our gifts and talents added to our experience to create output or achievement. We each house the potential of Ba or momentum inside us. But it is not an individual thing. Ba becomes magical when it resonates with the Ba of others. It

happens in the space between.


Was it Tom Brady or James White who shifted momentum in the pivotal Superbowl for the Pats? Some would say it tracks back to a critical coaching decision of the fearless Bill Belichick on a fourth-and-3 at midfield. Belichick elected to go for it — the Patriots were trailing by 25— and Tom Brady was able to connect with Danny Amendola on a pass just beyond the first down marker to keep the drive alive. The coach called the play to risk it all. In poker, its called “all in”. Belichick bet on his team, his players. Against odds. Against the norms. He got in the flow.


Later in the third quarter, the resonance of this risk by Belichick created a play making moment for Brady. On third-and-8, Brady didn't see anyone open downfield. What he did see was an open running lane. He took off and generated a 15-yard gain to keep the Patriots' hopes alive. The Pats went on to score 19 points in the fourth quarter and 6 in overtime to win it.


Each person, the coach, the players and the crowd were in the flow of Ba or the momentum that won that game. Hard to put your finger on exactly what the pivot point was, hard to measure exactly when, where and what energy or skills or thing was present that caused the game to shift but the results were evident.


Leadership as Practice in the workplace is all about fearless experimentation, and exploratory learning. It is about creating flow and not controlling it. It’s about resonance and what happens in the space between people and harnessing it for forward positive movement.


Resources:

Hartley, S. (2010). Momentum Shifts in Sports – Value the Psychology Behind Them. Podium Sports Journal.


Constantino, T. (2017). 5 Ways to Shift the Momentum of Your Business like Bill Belichick or John Wooden. Entrepreneur. DOI.


Hale, D. (2021). Is momentum real? An in-depth investigation of sports' most overused term. ESPN. DOI.


Camenker, J. (2021). How the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead against the Patriots in Super Bowl 51. The Sporting News.


Tumulka, R. (2020). The man who explained quantum mechanics. Physics Today. DOI.


Robinson, J. L., & Renshaw, P. S. J. Place - The final frontier: Exploring the outer reaches of

collaborative agency using the Japanese concept of Ba. Leadership, 18(1). 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1177/17427150211020850


Rogers, J. (2017). Brady leads Patriots to historic Super Bowl comeback. The Detroit News.

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