Mind Over Sports

Ever wonder why in sports, the best and most talented team doesn’t always win? In order to explain why, let’s assume you’re a Division I mens basketball coach and your team comes from a mid-major college. And you have a game to play against one of the best teams in the country. You are also aware that the team you’re about to compete against has a 6‘11” center who scores an average of 25 points per game, which includes making 52% of his field goals and 90% of his free throws.

The game begins and you notice something’s different. The 6’11” center is missing easy shots and at half time has made only 20% of his free throws. So as head coach, you make the decision to allow him to shoot and you instruct your team to foul him often, forcing him to go to the free throw line. You realize something is wrong with his game but you’re not quite sure what. When the game ends, your team has won by 10 points and everyone is in a happy mood.

Later, you find out from someone who was in your opponents’ locker room that the 6’11” center had had an argument with his girlfriend about an hour before the game began. He didn’t tell anyone about the problem he was having, including his teammates or his coach. He withheld his feelings and emotions, not realizing that withholding was a form of lying that demeaned him and lowered his self-esteem, creating psychological baggage that affected his ability to focus.

When athletes are happy and their lives are in harmony they perform close to their skill levels on a consistent basis. But when they are unhappy, and bottle up their feelings and emotions, they won’t play anywhere near their skill levels.

That’s why I’m an advocate of a two-phase program: #1, converting teams into support groups with weekly team meetings allowing players to get “things” off their chests. #2, having the team watch a power video of themselves with a special musical soundtrack that has emotional appeal. I’ve attached an example of a power video below that I helped create for the University of Missouri Men’s Basketball Team. The player featured in the video, after watching himself perform numerous times, scored 36 points, his highest point total of his career.

A belief is a powerful tool. If an athlete believes he or she will increase his or her performance by watching himself or herself on a video, it will. A baseball player who watches himself perform hitting home runs will hit home runs, assuming he has the ability to hit home runs. The video I’m recommending: http://youtu.be/CKLmxV5Bkyw.

Without Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs are an average football team and more than likely will not reach the playoffs. Matt Moore is an average quarterback. He does not have the moves that Mahomes has, and I’m sure the team has a lot more confidence and believe they can win any game with Mahomes at quarterback. His presence in the line-up energizes the entire team.

But what I don’t understand is why the Chiefs haven’t changed their play-calling? Whatever happened to the end run? They tried it once in the first quarter and picked up nine yards.

I’m writing this at the end of the third quarter of the Chiefs-Vikings game so my observations are not based on the outcome of the game. It’s true the Chiefs have some great players in addition to Mahomes, but if Moore can’t consistently hit his receivers it really doesn’t matter that much. When Mahomes comes back into the line-up they’ll start winning. But if he gets hurt again, then the Chiefs can kiss being in the playoffs goodbye.

What athletes believe to be true is true for them, 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.

Fast forward to last night’s World Series game between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals.

According to the New York Times, “The Astros’ star pitcher Zack Greinke had a stellar outing, but sputtered in the seventh inning. He gave up a home run and was eventually charged with two hits and two earned runs over six and one-third innings…Taking no chances, Astros’ manager AJ Hinch pulled Greinke from the game as Houston’s lead had shrunk to 2-1. He called on Will Harris from the bullpen and the move proved disastrous, as Howie Kendrick took Harris deep, giving the Nationals a shocking 3-2 lead.”

So the question is, what if manager AJ Hinch had made the decision to call on Astro’s star pitcher Gerrit Cole to enter the game instead of Will Harris? Though Cole pitched Sunday night it was assumed he would undoubtedly come out of the bullpen if needed. How would that move have affected the belief system of the Houston Astros players? It’s possible that by having Cole as their pitcher they would suddenly be energized, believing they had a chance to win with Cole on the mound. And who knows? They might have won. But I guess we’ll never know. But what we do know is that the mind is an amazing tool, especially when it comes to sports.

I was pretty disappointed in the Kansas City Chiefs’ Play Calling against Green Bay this past week when they decided to punt on fourth-and-3, down 31-24, with 5:13 to play in the fourth quarter. It’s true they had Matt Moore at quarterback instead of MVP Patrick Mahomes, but that’s no reason not to go for it. I mean, we’re only talking about three yards. It was pretty obvious to most tv viewers such as myself that if the Chiefs punted there was a strong possibility they would not see the ball again on offense. And that’s exactly what happened. If there was ever a time to take a risk, that was it. And had the Chiefs decided to go for it, who knows? They might have won the game.

But what was even more disconcerting is why head coach Andy Reid, who handles the play-calling and normally is not adverse to taking risks, would back off of this one. It’s possible (and this is only an assumption on my part) that Andy is having some kind of problem in his personal life and the problem is showing up in his play-calling.

Myth #1: Some Coaches are Great Motivators.

Contrary to most beliefs, you really can’t motivate another person. Inspire, yes. But true motivation must come from within and over the past 30 years I’ve found that the higher a person’s feelings of self-worth (self-esteem) the more motivated he or she will become. If I were speaking to a group of people in a room and my job was to motivate them, the first thing I would do would be to organize them into a support group so they could talk about personal issues they may be keeping bottled inside themselves and as they talk about their issues and vent their feelings, they’ll start to feel better about themselves and will automatically become more motivated. The most successful coaches are those who provide an internal mechanism for players to communicate with their teammates and discuss their issues together. And once they do, their performance levels will increase.

Which brings me to a discussion of a book entitled: “The Motivational Breakthrough: 6 Secrets for Turning On the Tuned-Out Child.” But unfortunately, I couldn’t disagree with the author more. He maintains that if you want to motivate children in school, you need to use the six P’s: Praise, Power, Projects, People, Prizes and Prestige. From my perspective, if you want to motivate children in school, especially those who are highly unmotivated, you need to do what I’ve described above as applied to sports teams. That is, put them into support groups and allow them to talk about issues in their personal lives and what is going on at home. Once they open up and discuss their feelings and emotions in a support group setting with their peers, they will enhance their own feelings of self-worth and will automatically become more motivated. There’s a correlation between High Self-Esteem and High Motivation and Low Self-Esteem and Low Motivation. You have to work from the inside out, not the outside in. And the same goes for so-called “Motivational Speakers” who I believe are a hoax. They should be called “Inspirational Speakers.”

Myth #2: The More We Believe We’re Part of a Team the More Successful We’ll Become.

I call this “The Myth of the Team,” and here’s how it works: The more we believe we’re part of a team, the less productive we become. I want to repeat that because it’s so important. The more we believe we’re part of a team, the less productive we become. The general belief is that the opposite is true – but it’s not. You see it very clearly on a team where one player is superior to others. The players who perceive themselves as less superior allow the more talented player to take over and lead the group. In the case of a basketball team, they allow the one player to rebound, to shoot, and to, in effect, be the team. As a result, their individual performances are inhibited. To counteract this, I always encourage coaches to take each player into their office and privately tell that player what he – the coach – expects of him or her in the coming game. Twenty points, ten rebounds, and so on. This sends a message to each player that he or she is perceived as an “individual” and has goals to achieve as an individual, rather than letting someone else take over his or her function. It also establishes expectations.

Myth #3: Positive Affirmations Always Work.

I once read a book that espoused a theory concerning positive affirmations. This particular book, written by a sport psychologist, maintained that if you say the phrase over and over again “I am a courageous, risk-taking warrior” that you can overcome your fear of taking a risk. This may work fine with people who have high self-esteem, but for those with a low sense of self-worth you’re speaking on deaf ears because risk-takers they are not. There is no affirmation in the world yet devised that can get them to take a risk, until they deal with whatever issues they have in their lives that are affecting how they feel about themselves. Then, the higher their self-esteem, the more likely they are to risk.

Athletes who want to begin feeling good about themselves must identify and begin resolving important issues in their lives before the results of being happy will surface. Relying on positive affirmations is like wagging the tail of a dog and expecting the dog to be happy. The dog must be happy first, and then its tail will wag…automatically.

Myth #4: Visualization Always Works.

I’m a strong believer in the theory that what takes place away from the field of competition affects what takes place on the field of competition. When athletes are encumbered with psychological baggage (issues and problems) visualization and other mental techniques will be ineffective. As a Performance Enhancement Trainer/Consultant I’m able to help athletes with their persona problems and issues and can also teach them visualization techniques. And I’ve found that when athletes are happy and their lives are in harmony, what they visualize will actually be created during competition.

Marvin Fremerman is a sport psychology consultant who lives in Springfield, Missouri. He works with athletes and sports teams and may be contacted at marv.fremerman2@gmail.com or 417-773-2695.

In the world of business, a focus group is a form of qualitative research in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging. Questions are asked in an interactive group setting where participants are free to talk with other group members. The first focus groups were created by psychologist and marketing expert Ernest Dichter.

But focus groups can also be an effective tool as a first phase when working with sports teams, providing team members with an opportunity to express opinions. The second phase is when the team transitions into becoming a support group and teammates begin to share their personal issues and problems with each other. But it’s important to remember that these groups are successful only after participants know that their comments and observations will be kept in strict confidence and will not leave the room. Also, they are only successful as long as there is no authority figure in attendance, someone who can bench them or cut them from the team for being honest. That’s why the services of an outside facilitator are so important. If there is someone in the room who they believe might punish them for being honest, it diminishes and completely eliminates honest interaction among teammates. But when support groups are effective, teammates will begin to feel better about themselves resulting in their enhanced performance.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ phenom quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been dating his high school sweetheart, Brittany Matthews, for seven years, at the time of this writing. And I know this might sound strange, but much of his success can be attributed to his relationship with her since it’s a known fact that when male athletes have a significant other in their lives, and their lives are happy and in harmony, they perform at a higher level than they might otherwise. But if that relationship goes sour, then you can look for the male athlete’s performance level to drop considerably.

So with this background in mind, let’s look into a crystal ball and try to predict what might be ahead for them in their lives. And I hope this doesn’t happen, but it does very often happen in the lives of so many famous male athletes.

Let’s assume that Patrick and Brittany decide to tie the knot and get married. At first, it will have a powerful positive affect on Patrick’s game. Then, let’s assume they decide to have a family and suddenly they find themselves the parents of two small children, a boy and a girl, and everything is wonderful until…the “mommy-daddy syndrome” sets in and creates a problem in the marriage. What is the “mommy-daddy syndrome?” It’s when a married couple has small children and suddenly one day she begins to see her husband as her “daddy” and he begins to see his wife as his “mommy” – and as everyone knows, you don’t have wickedly sexual activities with your mommy or daddy, and suddenly the relationship begins to lose its luster. And before long, the male is looking outside the marriage for a young sexy partner with whom he can have sex without feeling as if he’s having sex with his mother. And soon after, the marriage ends in divorce.

As I stated before, I hope this doesn’t happen with Patrick and Brittany, but it’s very often the situation and is one of the primary reasons there are so many divorces in the country.

N. V. I.
National Visualization Institute

Learn how to visualize, resulting in increased performance.

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