Intimidation adds an interesting aspect to competition, and depending on the sport, it can come in a variety of forms.
Take car racing, for example. Aggressive driving or having a faster car can quickly intimidate the competition. In football, size and speed can be intimidating. In baseball, a high-percentage slugger can intimidate a pitcher and his outfield.
Our sport is no different. Intimidation clearly exists, and it occurs more often than you might think. Case in point: During an event on Lake Guntersville, I watched as Kevin VanDam approached tournament leader, Kelly Jordon, just prior to takeoff on the final day of competition. At first, I thought he was going to wish Kelly good luck. Instead, he delivered a very stern warning — telling Kelly he better not slip up, otherwise he would bury him at the scales that afternoon.
Another more publicized instance occurred when KVD repeatedly jabbed at contender Jeff Kriet during the 2010 Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake. Referring to him as “The Squirrel,” Kevin preyed on Kriet’s nervous nature. It worked, too. Kriet eventually folded under the pressure.
Considered by many as the Dale Earnhardt of competitive fishing, VanDam has repeatedly used intimidation as part of his strategy.
He’s not the only one either. I’ve seen it happen many times with other competitors as well. And though it’s sometimes presented half-jokingly, the intent is always the same. It’s a direct challenge, no different than a dominant fighter facing off against a lesser opponent — deliver the right psychological blow and the fight is all but over.
Whether these acts of intimidation are leveled more to destroy the competition or to build self-confidence, who’s to say? I believe in many cases it’s both. And interestingly, it occurs at every level of competition.
Back in my bass club days, there was always plenty of trash talking going on. No one really paid that much attention to it. It was simply a part of “friendly” competition.
Or was it?
Looking back, I can see how it served not only as a proving ground for competitive development, but confidence building as well. Just as angling skills can improve, so can self-confidence. And with self-confidence comes the ability to intimidate others.
Intimidation can come in other forms, too. It can even be self-inflicted.
While most competitors possess the skill set to excel, a large percentage will falter when things goes awry. Whether triggered by a lost fish, mechanical failure or a late draw in the takeoff order, these types of setbacks can defeat even the most seasoned anglers. And as in other sports, those competitors who are able to overcome the adversity are more likely to rise to the top.
Here again, it’s guys like KVD who excel. He knows breakdowns or lost fish can be costly, but he never gives up. And he won’t be intimidated by things beyond his control. Instead, he tries to find a way around them.
For me, the most rewarding tournaments are those where I’m challenged to make adjustments. Whether those adjustments are performed on the water or back at the hotel looking at a lake map, successfully finding some way to bounce back provides the greatest sense of achievement. And it doesn’t require a high money finish either. Sometimes, scrambling just to make the last check can be extremely rewarding.
So whether you’re a man of steel or a passive-aggressive, it’s how you respond to intimidation that will ultimately control your fate.
For the guy whose mantra is, “it’s all about the attitude,” it truly is all about the attitude. And that’s why KVD is the sport’s most celebrated angler.