Mind Over Sports

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.

The following recently appeared on the Internet: “It’s a breakout season, yet it still feels like the 28-year-old has another gear we haven’t quite seen yet. Still, it’s fun to watch a player grow up and begin playing near his potential on the field. It’s also cool to watch them grow up and become men off the field. In that vein, Cain and wife Jenny recently welcomed a baby boy, Cameron Cain, to the world.”

As I’ve always maintained, when athletes are happy and their lives are in harmony their performance level will rise dramatically. And Kansas City Royals’ Lorenzo Cain is a perfect example. When Lorenzo’s new son recently arrived on the scene, his performance level began to skyrocket. The Kansas City Star quoted one of his teammates: “And now he’s a new dad, so he’s got more of a purpose now. That’s what kids do to you, they just drive you up to become a better man.”

Should a coach demand perfection or excellence? Let’s take a look at what happens when you as a coach (or a parent) demand perfection versus demanding excellence, not only from other people, but from your self as well. When we demand perfection, everything has to be right. Otherwise we experience anxiety, the anxiety turns to anger and, to make sure everything is just right, we exercise control. It’s a must. Then, judgments are made, and you begin taking from a relationship – and there is no journey, only the destination. On the other hand, when you demand excellence, you are willing to be wrong – and you are automatically willing to risk. You become more spontaneous – there’s more “aliveness,” more passion, and instead of judgments, you’re more open. And you are giving to a relationship. There’s a journey – relating to each other – and a destination.

When you demand excellence of yourself or another, you provide yourself or the other person with the opportunity to “fail” – and to learn. This process, which requires changing your demands, will help enhance your feelings of self-worth. And as you feel better about yourself, you’ll begin to set higher goals for yourself and actually achieve them.


Since 1986 I’ve been a Sport Psychology Consultant working with athletes and sports teams, most of them African-American, and I’ve found something that really is quite unique to that segment of our society.  That is, and this could be a cultural thing, many African-American parents actually encourage their male children to keep their feelings and emotions bottled up since it’s not “manly.”  In one instance, I even watched a mother discouraging her two year old son from crying and kept admonishing him for doing so.  Again, I could be wrong about this (that it’s cultural) and certainly there are many African-American parents who are loving and nurturing and encourage their male children to talk openly about their feelings and emotions, and these are the athletes I’ve found to be most well-adjusted and least likely to be involved in a domestic violence situation with a spouse.  Also, since some of these young men often make it to the NFL, I don’t understand why the NFL doesn’t require ALL teams to conduct group therapy sessions in the privacy of their own facilities allowing team members to openly discuss their personal problems (and feelings) with each other rather than keeping them bottled-up.  If they did, I think you would find the number of domestic violence cases in the NFL to be greatly diminished

I’m a big believer that relationships in sports can have a positive or negative effect on performance. When the relationship is good, the results in competition are good. But when the relationship is bad, it can be devastating to performance.

That’s why I believe it’s no coincidence that Caroline Wozniacki experienced a three year drought on the tennis courts during her relationship with PGA golfer Rory McIlroy. According to USA TODAY the breakup came about after a phone call from McIlroy after the wedding invitations were printed…”At 25, he’s clearly playing better without her. At 24, she’s clearly playing better without him.” I wouldn’t be surprised if she won the U.S. Open.

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Marv Fremerman
Mind Over Sports
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