Mind Over Sports

Archive for October 2007

The idea of excelling for a higher order originated with the legend of “win one for the
Gipper.” It began in 1920 with the death of football legend George Gipp, Notre Dame’s first All-American selection who died at 25 from a strep throat infection. The Fighting Irish were 19-0-1 in his final 20 games. According to Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, Gipp, on his deathbed, said: “Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.” Eight years passed before Rockne did so, before a 1928 game against unbeaten Army at Yankee Stadium. “This is the day, and you are the team,” Rockne said. The Fighting Irish scored two second-half touchdowns to win 12-6

Athletes can benefit by excelling not only for themselves but for a higher order. When players take on a cause to help an individual or group otherwise unassociated with the team, there is a valuable by-product because the effort builds each player’s self-esteem, and thereby improves performance. The technique can work in team sports and in individual competition. And often it involves the memory of an individual. Which brings me to Clint Hurdle, manager of the Colorado Rockies.

clint-hurdleAccording to USA TODAY, in an article entitled “Hurdle remembers young friend,” the newspaper reported the following: “Since the end of August, Colorado manager Clint Hurdle has been writing and circling the number 64 at the top of his Rockies lineup card every game. It’s in memory of a young cancer patient that Hurdle befriended a couple of years ago. The youngster, 15-year-old Kyle Blakeman of suburban Denver, died August 28, a few days after Hurdle asked him for ‘a little something meaningful number-wise to put in play somehow.’ Blakeman said his baseball numbers had changed frequently but he always wore 64 in football so the two decided to adopt that. ‘It’s more meaningful than magical,’ Hurdle said. ‘It’s important that we just also pay attention to the other side of life at times and not get so wrapped up in sports 24/7 that we miss things that are right in front of our face every day. And when I see that No. 64 on the lineup card, it keeps a very good perspective for me throughout the game,’ he added, emotion in his voice. ‘That this game’s been played a long time, I’m not going to come up with anything new, and I got a buddy watching me that’s kind of pulling for the Rockies. It’s kind of a cool thing.’ Hurdle said it was brought to his attention after that game that the score of the NL pennant clinching victory against Arizona was 6-4. ‘It gave me goose bumps,’ he said.
And then he was reminded that the Rockies scored their six runs in the fourth inning. ‘That did not register on my radar during the game, either. That gave me goose bumps to some degree,’ he said.”


rick-lavoieA few years ago I appeared on a call-in sports talk radio show and made the comment that there really isn’t any such thing as a motivating coach since no coach can motivate his or her players. Inspire, yes. But not motivate. One coach who was listening called in and read me the riot act insisting that he was a great motivator. Once he calmed down I explained to him that motivation must come from within, and what I’ve found over the years is that the higher an athlete’s feelings of self-worth (self-esteem) the more motivated he or she is. Athletes with low self-esteem are not motivated. But what a coach can do is create an environment on his or her team that fosters high self-esteem. This often involves turning teams into support groups so that team members can discuss their personal issues with each other. Once they’ve aired their feelings and issues, they will then begin to feel better about themselves and will automatically become more motivated. This can also be accomplished when coaches have an open door policy and are always available to listen to their athletes’ issues and problems without being judgmental. Once I explained this to my “call-in coach” he agreed and told me that he fell into the latter category; that his door was always open to his athletes. And of course, these are the coaches who are most successful with their teams, assuming their teams have the skill level to be successful.

Which brings me to a discussion of a new book that has just been published entitled: “The Motivational Breakthrough: 6 Secrets for Turning On the Tuned-Out Child” and unfortunately, I couldn’t disagree with the author, Rick Lavoie, more. Mr. Lavoie maintains that if you want to motivate kids 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 kids 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.

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