Mind Over Sports

When Mike Singletary took over the head coaching job at the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, everyone expected great things from him and the team. I have met him personally and he is a very nice person.  But unfortunately, Mike’s “tough love” approach didn’t work because his team members were scared of him and were constantly trying to avoid bringing down his wrath upon them rather than playing the game of football. But don’t get me wrong. A tough love approach can work but ONLY if team members sense their coach genuinely cares about them as human beings first and then as athletic performers. This was one of Bobby Knight’s greatest gifts. His players knew he loved them and cared about them.

Now comes the new head football coach at Missouri State University.   His name is Dave Steckel and he’s a lot like Singletary. Coach Steckel is a former U.S. Marine and appears to be a no-nonsense type of guy. Which is good. But he also needs to learn from Coach Singletary’s failure. That is, tough love works if it’s accompanied by genuine love and caring by their head coach. And this is something that can’t be faked. Either you have the empathy or you don’t…and if you don’t, your players will know. The results will show up in the won-lost column and you will eventually fail

I just read in this morning’s USA Today where a former NFL player, Christian Peter, who had been plagued with aggression problems throughout his career, including rape, had been fed a steady diet of steroids while in high school by his high school coach. He felt that the steroids he took in high school may well have been the origin of his behavior involving the physical abuse of women.  Perhaps I’m a bit naive but it never occurred to me that high school coaches were dong this.  One has to wonder if this situation exists in school programs throughout the country and if yes, why aren’t there drug testing programs in place similar to the NFL and the NCAA? Those coaches who are caught giving their players steroids or have been looking the other way while their players have been taking steroids, should not only be banned from coaching forever but should also be strung up by their thumbs.

Missouri State University’s Dorrian Williams, has become one of his team’s best rebounders this season. According to the Springfield (MO) News-Leader: “Dorian Williams calls it a ‘want to do it’ mentality that allows him to excel in a facet of basketball that requires grit, sweat and sometimes a bit of bloodshed. The 6-foot-2 Williams is one of Missouri State’s smallest players, but one of its best rebounders…’It’s a will,’ Williams said of the first requirement of rebounding. ‘It’s also understanding the angles of a basketball when it misses.’” But what Williams didn’t mention is that his belief system had changed from last season. And what brought about the change? Probably the fact that he lost almost 40 lbs during the off-season. (Not sure if that’s the exact figure, but his weight loss was substantial.) From a psychological perspective, losing that much weight changed his beliefs about himself, and his belief in his ability to rebound. What an athlete believes to be true is true for him (or her), regardless of how it plays out in the real world. If a basketball player believes that watching a video of himself or herself making free throw after free throw after free throw will improve his or her accuracy at the free throw line, it will. Providing, of course, that he or she has the skill level.

Once when the University of Missouri football team was playing the University of Oklahoma, the Tigers were trailing by 21 points at half-time. But during the third quarter Oklahoma’s All-American quarterback sustained a game-ending injury and had to be carried off the field. His injury energized the MU offense which proceeded to score three touchdowns, only to lose the game by a single point. The Tigers’ offensive unit hadn’t changed, but their belief they could win did.

A particular belief can limit or enhance performance. A professional golfer may have played a particular course many times, yet feel a need to play the course one more time the day before a tournament. If the need is satisfied, it will aid the player’s performance. But if the need is not satisfied, the player may feel unprepared.

A major league baseball manager may believe that his team will face a greater disadvantage from a wet infield than the opposing team will. His players will know that. The manager thereby establishes a self-fulfilling prophecy that excuses low performance. And to excuse low performance is to promote it.

Some athletes believe a particular number on their jersey is important to success. If they have the number, they have extra confidence that enhances performance. If the team manager assigns a different number, the player loses confidence and that loss is reflected in performance. Same belief, different outcomes. A wise coach takes advantage of an athlete’s beliefs, no matter how crazy they seem, in order to build a team’s strength.

The athlete’s belief system controls performance, not the coach’s. If athletes believe that being sexually active the night before a big game will make them more relaxed and that they will therefore perform better, they will – regardless of what their coach believes. Coaches often try to force their own belief systems on their athletes and it just doesn’t work. The best coaches, the most successful ones, are those who instinctively tap into the belief systems of their players and use those beliefs to the team’s advantage.

Beliefs can also be a powerful tool in the field of health. When I lived in Kansas City a few years go, I worked with children who had been diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia. People who have sickle cell have sickle-shaped cells that, when under pressure, coagulate in the blood stream, forming a beaver-dam effect resulting in extreme pain. An audio visualization tape recording was created with slow relaxing background music and a narration by an announcer describing how their sickle shaped cells were becoming whole and round and flowing effortlessly through their veins and arteries. It wasn’t necessary that their cells were actually becoming whole and round only that they believed they were. And that they believed the use of the recordings would reduce their pain level. And when those beliefs kicked in, their pain level was reduced substantially, so much so that most of them were able to replace morphine shots with the use of the recording.   Sometimes what a patient believes about the potency of a particular medicine or treatment is almost as important as the medicine itself.

This is the second time it has happened. When Tiger was married to Elin, she prepared some noodles for him and seasoned them with Accent or some other type of seasoning that is essentially MSG. The result? Tiger sweated profusely and vomited on the course during a tournament. And now here it is again. This time at the Hero World Challenge and though he’s no longer married his reaction to a food allergy was the same. MSG is a food additive and flavor enhancer and the reason I know so much about it is that for many years I had the same reactions Tiger is having now. But when I finally figured it out, thirteen years had passed. A rocket scientist I’m not. What is confusing about MSG is that most people believe you can only get it in Asian cooking but MSG is also used to enhance the flavor of gravies used on meats and other non-Asian foods. And some restaurants offering salad bars soak their lettuce in it to keep it from turning brown.  After playing through his allergic reaction (which I’m assuming it was) he said: “It wasn’t easy. I fought hard. It’s all I had.” A reaction to MSG is often misdiagnosed as a flu symptom, but it’s not. And for Tiger to have shot a 3-under-par 69 and to be even after 54 holes while suffering from “MSG food poisoning” is an amazing achievement.

We’ve heard and read a lot in the media recently about marital strife and how that strife negatively affects an athlete’s performance. But the opposite is also true. Take the case of Kyle Weems, former Missouri State University standout who will be a starter in the LBN French League All-Star Game January 3rd in Paris, France. According to the Springfield (MO) News-Leader: “Weems, in his first season with the JSF Nanterre in the top professional league in France, is averaging 11.2 points and 4.5 rebounds as Nanterre is off to a 7-3 start. Weems played at Missouri State from 2008-2012, finishing as the school’s second-leading career scorer. ‘It’s absolutely a dream come true,’ Weems said of the all star-selection…’It wouldn’t be possible without my wonderful wife, Jacque, and all my previous coaches. I’m blessed for sure.’”

As I’ve always maintained, when athletes are happy and their lives are in harmony they will perform close to their skill level on a consistent basis. When they are unhappy and their lives are in disharmony, they won’t.

Before Sunday’s NFL game, five St. Louis Rams stood with their hands raised in a show of solidarity with Ferguson protesters. But…THE REAL PROBLEM IN AMERICA IS NOT YOUNG BLACK MEN BEING ARRESTED BY THE POLICE BUT RATHER THE MILLIONS OF YOUNG BLACK CHILDREN WHO ARE LIVING IN POVERTY.

The Rams players and the folks in Ferguson and other areas of the country have been demonstrating about the estimated 37,000 young black men being arrested annually in America by the police and they should be demonstrating about the 5,000,000 black children who are living in poverty in America. NOW THAT IS CRIMINAL!

These are children who receive little education during their early developing years. And according to Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed:

“A lot of what we think we know about the effect of poverty on a child’s development is just plain wrong. It’s certainly indisputable that growing up in poverty is really hard on children. But the conventional wisdom is that the big problem for low-income kids is that they don’t get enough cognitive stimulation early on. In fact, what seems to have more of an effect is the chaotic environments that many low-income kids grow up in and the often stressful relationships they have with the adults around them. That makes a huge difference in how children’s brains develop, and scientists are now able to trace a direct route from those early negative experiences to later problems in school, health, and behavior…The problem is that science isn’t yet reflected in the way we run our schools and operate our social safety net. And that’s a big part of why so many low-income kids don’t do well in school. We now know better than ever what kind of help they need to succeed in school. But very few schools are equipped to deliver that help.”

For the past 20 years I’ve been working on launching a new program that will educate young pre-school children living in poverty and relocate them and their families, on a voluntary basis, onto kibbutzim (plural for “kibbutz”) throughout America. It’s called “Kibbutzim Across America” and anyone who contacts me at marv@mindoversports.com will receive a free e-mailed copy of a news article that explains what a kibbutz is and how the program will work.

What takes place away from the baseball diamond affects what takes place on the baseball diamond. Over the last two seasons Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Howard’s performance has dropped off considerably and I’ve often wondered what the problem might have been. The “problem” recently became public knowledge when Howard reached a legal settlement with his family. According to the Associated Press: “Phillies slugger Ryan Howard has settled a legal battle with his family over its management of his finances and business affairs.” There are still some lingering problems since his father, Ron Howard, maintains that he should receive $5 million himself and that Cheryl Howard, Ryan’s mother, should receive $5 million also. Too bad Ryan didn’t hire Bobby Brett, George Brett’s brother, when he first began making those big bucks. Bobby is not only totally honest but is also a financial genius. No wonder George was so successful at the plate. He was never worried about his personal finances the way Ryan has been.

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If you would like to contact Marv directly, he may be reached at:

Marv Fremerman
Mind Over Sports
669 West LaSalle Street
Springfield, MO 65807

417-773-2695

marv@mindoversports.com

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