Mind Over Sports

Archive for April 2007

Back in 1988, half way through the season, I had an opportunity to work with the University of Missouri/Kansas City basketball team. It was the first year they had gone Division I and they had a dismal 3-17 record. The coach, figuring he had nothing to lose, allowed me to take his team into a room where we created a support group environment, allowing everyone to speak their mind and share personal issues with each other, some dating back to when they were 8 and 9 years old. It was made clear to them that everything that took place in that room was to be held in strictest confidence and not to be shared with anyone outside the room, including the coaches. We even signed a form stating that we all agreed to abide by that rule. Over the next four hours, after they released their feelings (some of it very emotional) I then introduced them to a visualization technique, executed to music with meaningful lyrics, where each of them visualized themselves being successful during competition. They subsequently won 8 out of their next 10 games and the coach thought it was because he hadn’t changed his under-shorts.

Based on that success, I approached the chairman of the UMKC psychology department and told her I was interested in getting a sports psychology degree and provided her with a summary of the program I had conducted with the school team. She informed me in no uncertain terms that the field of psychology was very territorial and that if I became a sports psychologist I would not be able to delve into an athlete’s personal issues and problems since that was the domain of the clinical psychologist and that if I did, I could lose my license. Well, needless to say, I decided not to become a sports psychologist and instead became what I now refer to myself as: a Performance Enhancement Trainer/Consultant. This allows me to do whatever I feel is best for a team or athlete without having any limitations placed on me. And I’ve found that my approach to enhancement in sports deals directly with what is often referred to as “a lack of focusing.”

A lack of focusing is usually the result of unresolved issues and suppressed feelings a player may be keeping inside his or her “self”. Athletes who resolve their issues, and discuss their feelings openly, prior to game time, perform at a higher level than those who do not. And those who do not are more susceptible to error.

Bob Rotella, one of golf’s more successful sports psychologists, was quoted in an article that appeared in a November 1997 issues of the New York Times Magazine as saying: “I believe you have free will, that you control your thoughts.” In the same article, the writer reviewed the technique of another sports psychologist, Deborah Graham, who also counsels golfers on the pro tour: “Graham says that the chief difference between her approach and Rotella’s is that, as a practicing psychotherapist, she brings a clinical perspective to the problems at hand. In the name of golf, she delves into such things as players’ marital crises, their addiction to alcohol – subjects that may lie beyond Rotella’s focus.”

My approach is more in harmony with Graham’s than Rotella’s. I do not believe you have free will regarding your thoughts, but rather, they are products of your beliefs, which come from your feelings of self-worth. And I certainly agree with Graham’s clinical perspective.

Perhaps it’s time that our universities and colleges begin offering a Sports-Clinical Psychology degree, rather than just degrees in sports psychology and clinical psychology.

There’s been quite a bit of media coverage recently regarding the use of visualization as it relates to sports. And much of it is misleading. Based on my experience conducting self-esteem building workshops and positive visualization seminars, I’ve found that in order for visualization to be effective athletes must first rid themselves of psychological baggage and distracting issues in their personal lives. But for athletes who have high self-esteem, who have dealt with or are in the process of dealing with issues in their lives, who are highly spiritual and whose lives are in harmony, then visualizaiton can be a powerful tool for the enhancement of their performance. The sports psychologists who are being trained by our universities and colleges today should really be receiving degrees in both sports psychology and clinical psychology, or perhaps there needs to be a new niche such as a sports-clinical psychology degree. Sports psychologists, once they are out of school, are not allowed to enter the domain of the clinical psychologist since the field of psychology is highly territorial. And it’s really too bad because I’ve found that when athletes have unresolved issues and baggage in their personal lives, their issues and baggage have a powerful negative effect on their performance.


N. V. I.
National Visualization Institute

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