Mind Over Sports

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.

I don’t get it. As I am writing this, it is Thursday evening and the Kansas City Chiefs are playing the Oakland Raiders on the radio. Notice I said “on the radio” because if you want to watch it on television you’re SOL (Sure Out of Luck) because in order to do so you must have a paid subscription to the NFL Network. Maybe they’re trying to boost their radio audience? Or maybe they’re just being hogs. But one thing is certain, there are a lot of frustrated fans who are missing the game on television because they don’t subscribe to the NFL Network. These are the same fans who have stuck with the Chiefs over the years no matter how many games they’ve won or lost. Many are the same fans who have season tickets and are happy to pay inflated costs just to attend the games, especially for food and soft drinks and beer. Shame on you Clark Hunt. I doubt that your father would have allowed this to happen. And if there’s anything to this “Karma” stuff, then I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Raiders win.

The NY Times recently wrote: “The former wives of two players said they felt isolated and powerless when they were urged to stay quiet about violence and avoid causing disruptions
The two women who left their husbands — Mercedes Sands, who was married to the Cincinnati Bengals player Robert Sands, and Brandie Underwood, who was married to the Green Bay Packers player Brandon Underwood — described abusive relationships in which they felt trapped, in part because of each team’s close-knit culture and a protocol that emphasized avoiding disruptions.   It was better to endure indignities like infidelity, other wives told them, or to keep quiet even if the hostility in their marriages seemed unbearable, than to cause a ruckus that could upend the success and harmony of the team.”

I’m sure most of the NFL teams have on-staff marriage counselors (or someone who fills that position when the need arises) but based on my own personal experience, I ‘ve found that there are very good marriage counselors and very bad marriage counselors. And if I were a woman contemplating a divorce from an NFL player, an on-staff counselor would probably be the last person I would want to help me because his (or her) primary goal would probably be to avoid any situation that might negatively affect the success and harmony of the team, rather than my welfare.

Words of Wisdom from former UCLA coach John Wooden. From a personal perspective, every time I conduct a workshop/seminar with athletes and teams I always learn something new. And that’s been happening for the past 27 years. Some of the things I’ve learned: How beliefs impact performance, both positive and negative; The importance of religious beliefs to an athlete’s high performance; How high self-esteem lays the foundation for an athlete to be successful in sports and in life; How athletes’ problems and unresolved issues negatively affect their ability to visualize; How helping others less fortunate than yourself enhances athletic performance; When athletes are happy and their lives are in harmony they perform close to their skill levels on a consistent basis; What takes place away from the field of competition affects what takes place on the field of competition; How coaches’ expectations often become self-fulfilling prophecies; and finally, How coaches who believe they know everything are not open to suggestion and are depriving themselves and their teams from learning. In the words of Zen Master Suzuki Roshi: “There are many opportunities, but in the expert there are few.”

We all remember that famous story about Coach Knute Rockne and the speech he made to his Notre Dame football players at half-time which many refer to today as “Remember the Gipper,” Well I think history may have repeated itself last night during the San Francisco Giants – Kansas City Royals game. According to the Associated Press report: “Pitching with the initials of late St. Louis outfielder Oscar Taveras on his cap, 23-year old rookie Yordano Ventura allowed three hits over seven innings for his first Series win.” The Royals’ Ventura and Taveras were good friends.  They grew up together in the Dominican Republic and Ventura had dedicated the game to his memory. I call this “Excelling for a Higher Order.” It’s when athletes acknowledge emotional issues in their lives they want to excel for. By doing so, they enhance their own feelings of self-worth and thereby enhance their performance.

If you’re a baseball manager or coach, you have at your disposal one of the most powerful performance enhancement mechanisms that any manager or coach could wish for. That is, the expectation of high performance from your athletes. An expectation (assuming the athlete has the skill level to elevate his or her performance to a higher level) will almost always become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, the opposite is also true. You as a manager or coach can also create a negative expectation. Such as that created by San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy before World Series Game Six that he was “keeping (starting pitcher) Jake Peavy on a short leash.” And sure enough, his expectation fulfilled itself when Peavy was pulled from the game before the end of the second inning.

If a baseball pitcher is having a difficult time on the mound and looks over at the bullpen and sees another pitcher warming up, is that a sign that the manager is expecting him to fail. And if so, would it not be better if a partition were set up between the pitching mound and the bullpen so the pitcher can’t tell if his manager has confidence in him or not. A manager’s expectation often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The following appeared on the Internet today regarding Game #2 of the 2014 World Series:

“A two-run double by Kansas City’s Salvador Perez followed by a two-run homer from Omar Infante off Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland in the sixth had the intense rookie hurler yelling at Perez as players from both teams walked out of the dugout, poised in case a confrontation broke out.

“I think it was just frustration on his part,’ Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ‘He’s an intense kid and it got away from him a little bit. He’s a competitor. That’s one area where he’s going to have to learn to keep his poise. It’s an area he has to work on.”

Managers and head coaches often make excuses for the public behavior of one of their players but few are privy to what’s actually going on in an athlete’s personal life. This could be a classic example of misdirected anger brought on by his not confronting a problem away from the baseball diamond. If true, and had Strickland received help prior to game time, who knows? The Giants might have won Game #2.

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Marv Fremerman
Mind Over Sports
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