Mind Over Sports

Archive for December 2006

wade-boggsAn article appeared in the May 27, 2005 issue of USA Today stating that major league baseball player Wade Boggs consumed chicken at 2pm on game days throughout his 18-year career. (When he was inducted into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, he thanked his elderly father who was sitting in the front row, but shouldn’t he have also thanked Kentucky Fried Chicken?)

On the last day of events he plays in, Tiger Woods wears a red shirt. Swedish great Bjorn Borg never shaved during the Wimbledon fortnight, which he won from 1976-80. Tennis star James Blake wore the same Nike baseball cap without washing it for three weeks in a 14-match winning streak.

An article in The New Yorker Magazine explained how Chinese parents are superstitious to the point where they hesitate to praise their children, because they believe pride brings on misfortune. One has to wonder if NBA star Yao Ming was ever praised by his parents while growing up in China? Some athletes believe a particular jersey number is important to success. If they have the number, they have extra confidence that enhances performance. In baseball, no one speaks to a pitcher who is in the midst of a no-hitter and often they won’t even mention it to a teammate. I once worked with a NCAA Division I men’s basketball team. Halfway through their season they had a dismal 3-15 record. The coach allowed me to take them into a room where they proceeded to “unload” all their issues in the privacy of a team meeting, which was followed by visualization exercises. They won 8 out of their final 10 games and the coach thought it was because he wore the same under shorts every day, without laundering them once.

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ai-miyazatoUSA Today, in their February 16, 2006 issue, made the following observation: “The LPGA’s newest stars certainly don’t lack for confidence, and rookie Ai Miyazato of Japan already belongs near the top of their ranks.

Miyazato signs her autographs ‘Ai 54,’ reflecting her belief that she can make 18 birdies in a round (thus shooting 54 on a par-72 course). She also named her website http://www.ai-miyazato54.com. Annika Sorenstam ‘her idol’ and several other LPGA players subscribe to the same philosophy, called Vision 54, which helps athletes focus on accomplishing larger goals by perfecting the little things first. Indeed, Miyazato lists concentration as her biggest strength. ‘It works very well,’ she says in an e-mail interview. ‘I always expect improvement.'”

Athletes often make psychological assessments about what they can or cannot achieve in their sport. What is a psychological assessment? It’s a story we tell ourselves so we can be right. And it becomes a self-limiting belief. The classic example of breaking away from a self-limiting belief, as Ai Miyazato is attempting to do, was Roger Bannister, the first human to break the four-minute mile. And there’s a psychological basis for this type of achievement. In his book, “The Silent Pulse,” George Leonard refers to the process as “positive physical transformation” dealing with the power of, what he calls, “intentionality.” This is often identified as the placebo effect, an effect that is derived not from the potion but from the process, which is one of authorization. The trainer or coach simply authorizes the athlete to do what he or she is already capable of, based on his or her skill level. Roger Bannister was capable of breaking the four-minute mile, as were many other runners, and when Bannister finally broke it, that was an authorization for others to do the same.

Golfer Ben Hogan was determined to avoid being held back by self-limiting beliefs. After Hogan shot 10 birdies in a tournament someone noticed him practicing his putting. The person asked why Hogan didn’t call it a day. Hogan’s response was: “You know, if a man can shoot 10 birdies, there’s no reason why he can’t shoot 18. Why can’t you birdie every hole on the course?” Hogan did not allow his skill level to be limited by the belief of others. Nor is Ai Miyazato. One has to also wonder why a major league baseball player can’t get a hit four out of every ten times he comes to bat? What’s holding him back? His belief system, and the beliefs of others. I predict that as soon as someone hits .400 or more consistently, others will follow suit. Just like Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile. And just like Ai Miyazato is destined to do. Or Tiger Woods.


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