Mind Over Sports

A number of years ago I was working with a high school coach who was coaching a girls’ soccer team. They had a good team but were not performing up to their potential. Then, an accident happened. One player’s boyfriend was killed in a motorcycle accident. The team rallied around her and comforted her, which resulted in the creation of good team chemistry and at the same time enhancing the performane of the entire team. The team went on to win the state championship.

Something similar happened at Missouri State University. On February 1, 2015, MSU volleyball player Tatum Marshall experienced personal tragedy when she lost her step father, Alex, who she had known and was close to since she was three years old. Alex worked at a Thriftstore in Fayetteville to support a ministry and help underprivileged children. He was loved by everyone who knew him.

A life-saving support system came into being with her teammates, coaches and fans. There was off-court bonding between her and her teammates. Fantastic team chemistry developed and still exists today.

Volleyball coach Melissa Stokes had developed a friendship with Alex and the two of them often visited after matches. She also wears her “#LiveLikeAlex” wristband every day. “We take it as a great responsibility that when you become a Bear, we not only look out for them as volleyball players, but as people as well,” coach Stokes said.

The team is on its way to the NCAA tournament and should have great success. They have something no other team possesses: the memory of Alex.

Ten year old Campbell Faulkner, who has a rare genetic disease, is friends with Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber, who was the hero of game two of the series, is now being benched by his manager because of the designated hitter rule. In my opinion, this is a bad judgement call. Schwarber should be starting because his relationship with Campbell is the Cubs’ secret weapon. Schwarber’s relationship with Faulkner is what I often refer to as “excelling for a higher order” which enhances an athlete’s self-esteem and performance. Schwarber even wears Faulkner’s green “Campbell Crew” wristband. If I were managing the Cubs, I would make every member of the team a member of the Campbell Crew and each would wear a wristband. I would also let Faulkner sit in the dugout with the team.

When I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, I did some volunteer work with Pima Indian cross country runners. They were very nice young men but they told me about some of their experiences in the public school system where they were prejudged by their teacher who insisted on the first day of school, without even knowing them, that each would have to sign an agreement assuring her they would not be disruptive in class. Where did she get the idea they might be disruptive? It was a belief she developed over the years by observing negative images our society has created of Native Americans. Such as the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo. I wonder how many Americans, many of whom are fine Christians, would feel if there existed the “Jersey Jesuses” or the “Jacksonville Jesuses” and show a cartoon of Jesus on their caps and jerseys. I doubt they would look the other way and not give the idea much attention. You would see an explosion in the media about what a horrible thing it was to use the Jesus image to promote a sports team. Perhaps those same Christians (and Jews) should stand up and complain now about the Native American image that is being promoted in America.

In my opinion, Maria Sharapova is not telling the truth. According to the New York Post, she is serving up bitter criticisms of tennis authorities on a gloating victory lap after getting her drug suspension reduced. But the International Tennis Federation returned the shot Thursday, essentially saying Sharapova is using revisionist history in her criticism of the ITF’s handling of her ban for using the prohibited drug meldonium. Even Maria Sharapova’s ex-boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov on Wednesday suggested she deserved her ban from tennis for a doping offence — an incident that sent shockwaves through the sport.

The administrator of the Tennis Anti-Doping Program denied it had sought a four-year ban for Sharapova, as she had stated, and rejected suggestions by the Russian that its independent tribunal was “not neutral.” The ITF also emphasized it had not known, prior to this year when the drug was put on the banned list, that meldonium was in common use by Eastern European athletes.

In an interview with Charlie Rose on national television, Sharapova was seated directly across the table from Mr. Rose, and when she discussed her use of the drug meldonium she continally broke eye contact and looked away from Mr. Rose which, based on my experience, indicated she was not telling him the truth.

Too bad. She is a fantastic athlete. But like many Russian and Eastern European athletes, decided to cheat the system. Unfortunately, she got caught.

When the Oakland Athletics introduced “Moneyball” focusing on the importance of getting runners on base, I made a prediction at the time that the idea sounded good, but if there was not good team chemistry, it wouldn’t work. And it hasn’t. This past Sunday the Oakland Athletics released designated hitter Billy Butler despite still owing him $10 million for next season. Last month, according to the Associated Press, “Butler went on the concussion disabled list after a club-house altercation with teammate Danny Valencia.”

“Butler acknowledged frustration with a diminshed platoon role in Oakland after playing every day most of his career. He believes he still has a lot to offer”…and I’m in total agareement. Oakland’s manager, Bob Melvin, obviously doesn’t understand the importance of tapping into an athlete’s belief system. If an athlete, such as Butler, believes he performas at a higher level if he plays every day rather than being part of a platoon system, the manager should allow him to play every day. The athlete’s beliefs affect performance, not the manager’s.

Had the A’s contacted me, I probabely could have saved them $10 million. And the first thing I would have recommended would have been to convert the team into one big support group allowing players to air their grievances, something I’m sure they’re not now doing. And if they were, they would not be sitting in last place, 24 games out of first.

When NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick made the choice to kneel during the national anthem, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he disagreed with Kaepernick’s choice. “I support our players when they want to see change in society,” Goodell said, “On the other hand, we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL. I personally believe very strongly in that.” Unfortunately, Goodell didn’t believe strongly in the right of his NFL players to know the truth about the research conducted by Dr. Bennett Omalu, the Nigerian forensic pathologist who fought against Goodell and the NFL when they tried to repress his research on CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy, suffered by professional football players.

Have you ever noticed how, when there’s something in life you want to happen and push and push to make it happen it seldom happens. Then, when you back off and “let go” and begin to move on with your life, presto! It happens!

You see this quite often among hunters of whitetail deer. They positon themselves in treestands and are constantly looking around for a deer to come close to them. Finally, they decide to sit back and enjoy the moment not caring whether they see a deer or not, and just like that, a huge buck appears within sight.

The detachment principle also works in male-female relationships. A young man is interested in dating a particular girl and keeps trying to line up a date with her but she continually refuses. Finally, he says “the heck with it” and shortly thereafter the phone rings and it’s her, wanting to meet him for a date.

The power of detachment generally works after you go afer something with great intensity and then finally acknowledge it’s not going to happen and “let go.” This is also sometimes referred to as the Theory of Pardoxical Intentions.

But what about Rory McIlroy? According to the Associated Press: “Three holes into the Deutsche Bank Championship, Rory McIlroy had to make a 15-foot putt just to escape with triple bogey. He already was 4-over-par and had every reason to believe this tournament was headed for an outcome that was becoming too familiar for a player of his class.” But then, something surreal happened. McIlroy went from a miserable start to a memorble finish, closing with a 6-under 65 on Monday to make up a six-shot deficit and win the Deutsch Bank Championship. Is it possible he unknowingly practiced the concept of “detachment” and had accepted the fact he was not going to win and decided to “let go.” And when he made that decision, his game vastly improved.

So remember, when you go after something in your life, with great effort, and it doesn’t happen, you may need to back off and become detached by “letting go.” Take Rory McIlroy’s word for it. It works.

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