Mind Over Sports

Archive for April 2008

yoculan2If every coach in America followed the example set by Georgia’s women’s gymnastic coach Suzanne Yoculan, they would almost always be assured of having a winning season.

According to an article in USA TODAY (April 24, 2008) Coach Yoculan “has team meetings every Monday to discuss chemistry and avoid division. She tells her athletes they can’t date ex-boyfriends of teammates and wears a T-shirt that says, ‘Save your Drama for your Mama.’ Yoculan, 54, used to throw her athletes out of the gym for emotional impact. Now she sits down and has individual counseling sessions with them.” As I’ve always maintained, team meetings and individual counseling sessions are very valuable to the chemistry of a team since they provide a forum for athletes to discuss what’s on their minds rather than just keeping their feelings inside themselves, which is a form of lying that demeans them and lowers their self-esteem, creating psychological baggage that affects their ability to focus. And when athletes know their coaches care about them as human beings first and then as athletic performers, they’ll play their hearts out for them. And in the words of All-American Katie Heenan, one of Coach Yoculan’s four seniors hoping to lead Georgia to its fourth consecutive title: “She loves us.”


ku_jayhawkThose of you who are familiar with my training program know how important I believe it is for teams to have team meetings at least once a week (without coaches present.) This allows team members to speak frankly and clear the air and not withhold (or repress) their feelings.

When athletes repress or withhold their feelings it’s a form of lying that demeans them and lowers their self-esteem, creating psychological baggage and affects their ability to focus and process information. So when Head Coach Bill Self gave his blessing for the Kansas Jayhawks Basketball team to hold a players-only team meeting, Kansas City Star writer J. Brady McCollough wrote that some thought it might have been the chicken wings they ate at Henry Ts Bar & Grill that helped them make the final four, and to ultimately win the NCAA tournament. Here’s what McCullough wrote:

“Ryan Robertson had to laugh when he first heard that the Kansas Jayhawks turned their season around over chicken wings.

It wasn’t that the players chose to eat at Henry T’s Bar & Grill. Guys have been doing that for the last 15 years or so. It was more that, well, he hadn’t ever thought of having a players-only meeting in a public place before…Around 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 24, the entire KU team pushed open the doors of Henry T’s. Situated on the west side of town, the restaurant is far removed from the peering eyes of campus or Massachusetts Street, where the Jayhawks would undoubtedly be hounded if seen together as a team.

Less than a day had passed since they had lost their third game of the season in ugly fashion, 61-60 to Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Kansas, once 20-0, was suddenly 24-3 and appeared to be playing its way out of the Big 12 regular-season title race and a high NCAA Tournament seed.

According to KU guard Sherron Collins, the Jayhawks had some chemistry issues, and there were some things that needed to be said.

‘Everyone got their feelings out,’ Collins said, ‘and no feelings were hurt. Everyone understood it was for the good of the team. Once we got over that, people started listening to each other and didn’t take things the wrong way.’”

The Jayhawks, 35-3, hadn’t lost since. Eleven wins later, they played in their first Final Four game since 2003, and then went on to win the national championship. The owners of Henry T’s are giddy over the possibility of marketing their establishment as “the place where champions come to eat” or something like that.

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