The connection between a person’s spirit and their success is a clear one. It is the spirit that has motivated the human race, from the dawn of its history, to prevail and overcome challenges and face down difficulties.

Fighting Spirit is a concept that describes the mental state in which a person is prepared to cope with a challenging situation and does not shy away from the difficulties they face, even when the odds are against them. A warrior will demonstrate fighting spirit when training or in battle. A patient with a severe illness will display fighting spirit when coping with the disease. An athlete will show fighting spirit when faced with a difficult and challenging opponent. Fighting Spirit is a supreme and revered expression of the human soul’s ability to overcome, transcend, and attain the unattainable.

The fighting spirit is a clear example of a case where several mental states coexist simultaneously. These mental states may include feelings of anger and frustration along with feelings of optimism and hope. All these feelings coexist with the perception that one can overcome and successfully cope with the challenges ahead.

The question then arises as to what additional factors might determine whether or not this condition will support optimal performance. For example, stress, because of its stimulating effects, may have a positive effect under certain circumstances, while under other conditions it may have an adverse effect.

Research in the field of sports psychology shows that the mediator variable that regulates the relationship between the mental state and the quality of performance is the degree of perceived self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is an individual’s perception of their ability to adopt behavior that will lead to a particular outcome. In other words, it is one’s belief in their capacity to perform a task. A person with high self-efficacy is someone who recognizes and values their ability to cope with a particular task.

Another division in the study of performance and their connection to the mental state is the nature of the task. Different jobs require different motor skills on the part of the performer; these motor skills are defined as gross and fine. Under the category of gross motor skill are crude activities that include running, walking, crawling and other physical activities involving the large muscle groups. As a whole, gross motor skills do not require much accuracy or coordination on the part of the performer. Under the second category are actions belonging to fine motor skills that require high coordination and precise muscle control.

Studies show that a high physiological arousal – expressed in increased heart rate and muscle tension, cold sweat, rapid breathing, and tunnel vision – can have a different effect on the quality of performance of various motor skills. Fine motor skills can be harmed by an increase in physiological arousal, whereas gross motor skills are less sensitive. For example, in a study by Robazza and Bortoli (2007), successful rugby players experienced anger as a useful emotion because the players felt confident in their ability to constructively control, and possibly channel, its energizing effects towards their performance. These rugby players, who, in addition to the feeling of anger, also had a perception of high self-efficacy, utilized the effects of elevated arousal toward better performance.

The fighting spirit consists of several mental states that interact and exist simultaneously. A performer may be stressed and angry in addition to being determined and enthusiastic. Performers who perceive themselves as highly capable of carrying out the task and possess control over their abilities will better channel the energies that this variety of emotions evoke within them and will benefit from this ability.

Therefore, a coach, leader, manager, and teacher who can cultivate among their students and peers a sense of authentic high self-efficacy will further instill within them strong foundations of self-control. This foundation can then help them to cope with a broad range of tasks successfully.

By Itzik Zur, Ph.D.