Mind Over Sports

If you want to know how you’re showing up in the world, all you have to do is look around you. If you see those around you as kind, pleasant and nurturing, they are only reflecting the signals you’re sending out. If you see them as hateful and mean-spirited, then you can be sure those are the signals you’re sending out.

I’m reminded of the story of two young Jewish couples who moved to a new town and met with the local rabbi. When the first couple asked the rabbi, “What are the people like here in this town?” – the rabbi responded: “First, tell me what the people were like in the town you just moved from.” And the first young couple told the rabbi that the people in their former town were very kind, very helpful, and were good neighbors. And the rabbi responded: “Well, I think you’ll find the people here in this town about the same.” And then the second couple asked the rabbi what the same question: “What are the people like in this town?” and the rabbi again responded, “First, tell me what the people were like in the town you just moved from.” And the second couple told the rabbi that the people in their former town were mean and vindictive, always looking for an argument and not good neighbors at all. And the rabbi responded: “Well, I believe you’ll find the people here in this town about the same.”

We are often quick to blame others for our own shortcomings, and we often see ourselves as victims. I once received a letter from the mother of a college-level volleyball player and the mother told me what a difficult time her daughter was having with her teammates. It seems they were treating her daughter badly and the mother asked if I would meet with the coach and explain the situation and then meet with the team to straighten out the problem. I explained to the mother, in as gentle terms as I could, that more than likely the problem wasn’t with the team but rather with her daughter. Her daughter should be looking at her own behavior rather than blaming her teammates.

There’s an old Hebrew saying that “Liars believe everyone around them are lying.” So the lesson to be learned is that if we feel good about ourselves and our lives are in harmony, then we will see the world around us differently than if we don’t feel good about ourselves and our lives are in disharmony.

If you’re an athlete and see your teammates as pleasant and nurturing, they are reflecting the signals you’re sending out. Another player on the same team may see the same set of teammates as being hateful and mean-spirited, because those are the signals he or she is sending out. So if you’re a coach, and notice a player is not getting along with teammates, it’s important to step in and help solve the problem by having your team become a support group. Many times you will find that the person who is negative is having problems in his or her personal life, and a support group environment will allow him or her to interact with other team members in a positive way. The result will be better team chemistry and cohesiveness.

When working with a team or an individual, I emphasize they must not withhold. My experience has been that sharing personal and team-related experiences in a controlled group environment often results in a “connectedness” among team players. The bonding that takes place surfaces to the outside world as “good team chemistry.”

In his book, Sacred Hoops, Chicago Bulls’ coach Phil Jackson relates what happened in a team meeting immediately following a 1993 playoff game when Scottie Pippin refused to enter the game, with 1.8 seconds remaining. After Coach Jackson made a few remarks, team member Bill Cartwright took over.
“Look, Scottie,” he said, staring at Pippin, “That was bulls**t. After all we’ve been through on this team. This is our chance to do it on our own without Michael (Jordan), and you blow it with your selfishness. I’ve never been so disappointed in my whole life.”

Coach Jackson goes on to say: When he finished, tears were streaming down his (Cartwright’s) cheeks. The room was silent. Bill is a proud, stoic man who commands the highest respect because of his ability to endure punishment and not back down. None of us had ever seen him show the slightest hint of vulnerability. In fact, his wife, Sheri, later told June (my wife) that in fifteen years of marriage, she had never seen Bill cry. For him to break down like that in front of his teammates was significant, and Pippin knew that as well as anyone . . . Visibly shaken by Bill’s words, Scottie apologized to his teammates, explaining the frustration he felt during the final minutes. Then some of the other players said what they felt.

Later, teammate B.J. Armstrong said he thought the whole thing brought them closer together “because we weren’t going to let one incident, no matter how big or small, break down what we had worked so hard to build.” Athletes with high self-esteem — such as Bill Cartwright — usually do not withhold. They deal with issues head-on and bring them to completion.

Nonetheless, if an issue is related to their coach, they sometimes hold back and do not reveal their feelings. How often I’ve heard: “It won’t do any good to tell the coach how I feel. He won’t change.” Maybe not. But the point of talking about an issue is not to change another person. The point is for athletes to let go of issues distracting them from performance. Resolving issues helps athletes get on with their work, regardless of whether anyone else changes. When this idea is made clear during a workshop, players immediately begin to interact with their teammates and coaches, bringing issues to completion. Many athletes harm their performance by withholding their feelings. When athletes release their feelings they begin to perform with greater proficiency. Only after this “unloading process” do visualization techniques become effective.

An appropriate metaphor explaining this concept might involve an airplane, flying from destination A to destination B. Most people believe an airplane flies in a direct line. Not true. Airplanes fly in corridors and, when the pilot gets too close to one side of the corridor, the control tower tells him (or her) to make an adjustment. And should the plane get too close to the other side of the corridor, the control tower tells the pilot, again, to make an adjustment. So the plane flies within the corridor and the control tower gives the pilot “feedback.”

Now, we often don’t give feedback because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. And, of course, you have to be careful. I’m referring here to “feedback” – not being “critical.” There is no feedback when you don’t care. But when you experience someone who is having a personal problem – perhaps a teammate – give him (or her) feedback and let him (or her) know you care. This will also allow him (or her) to open up and release to you, sharing his (or her) problems with you. The result? Team bonding and good team chemistry.

She finally did it. She was finally successful in breaking up Tiger’s relationship with Lindsey Vonn whom she was insanely jealous of. And how did she do it? By using her children as pawns. By poisoning their minds against Lindsey which made life unbearable for Tiger. But what his Ex doesn’t get is that it’s bad for the children to be programmed to hate Tiger’s girlfriends. She’s doing irreparable damage to them. And as for Tiger? As soon as he finds a new girlfriend, someone who fits the mold of being a beautiful, intelligent statuesque blond, he’ll get back to his old form of winning tournaments. So in that respect his Ex did him a favor.

A friend of mine who used to play baseball told me that it’s his understanding that quite a few Major League Baseball players today, those who are looking for that “edge,” are using Adderall, a drug that speeds up the brain function so that a 95 mile per hour fastball appears to come across the plate at a much slower speed. He said that if the drug had been available when he played he might have made it with a major league team. Adderall, as many know, is a drug normally used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy sleep disorders.   Even though it’s been banned in Major League Baseball recent reports are that it’s use is rising as a means of improving batting performance. Unfortunately it carries with it a number of side effects including a suppressed sexual drive. So even though a player might be using it to make more money he could also be jeopardizing his relationship with his wife at home.

Have you ever noticed when you tune in to a post-game television show covering a baseball game that had just been played and how they praise the home team for great plays and great athletic ability? Well it’s almost always a hoax and frankly it makes me ill. The announcers, who want to keep their jobs, heap praise on the home team even though the home team made multiple errors and their players got almost no hits throughout the nine innings. What they don’t tell you is that the visiting team was even worse. Not only were they having chemistry problems but their star player was having personal problems that affected his performance. The truth is never known. Casey Stengel said it best: “Most ball games are lost, not won.” But can you imagine what would happen if an announcer on a post-game sports show told the truth? Announcer: “Well folks, the home team was lucky to win today. They played really badly and a lot of them should be sent back down to the minors. But here’s the good news: The visiting team played even worse! They looked and played like a bunch of high school kids who had consumed too much alcohol from the beer company that sponsors this show. I won’t mention their name but you know who they are. We’re doing a bit of checking to find out if it’s true that there was a fistfight in the visiting team’s locker room just before game time. And if it’s also true that the star player on the visiting team found out just before game time that his girlfriend back home is pregnant. And that his wife is filing for divorce. Other than those two items there really isn’t much to report.”

A few years ago, before chewing tobacco was banned in college baseball, I had the opportunity to walk inside a Division I college baseball team’s dugout and couldn’t (at first) understand why the floor of the dugout was so sticky. Then it hit me: Spit from chewing tobacco. But there’s a reason chewing tobacco should be banned in MLB that’s much more important than sticky dugout floors: Cancer. There’s no question that chewing tobacco damages healthy cells in the body and causes them to become cancerous. Normally, the immune system would be standing by to gobble them up Pac-Man style. But when a ball player experiences stress in is life (and make no mistake about it, playing major league baseball is a stressful business) the body gives off hormones such as Cortisol that impair the immune system and the cancer cells begin to multiply at a rate faster than they can be devoured. Just ask Tony Gwinn, Sr. Unfortunately, you can’t ask him because he passed away June 16, 2014 of salivary gland cancer. And before he died he attributed his habit of chewing tobacco to his being diagnosed with cancer.

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Mind Over Sports
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