Mind Over Sports

Archive for August 2011

Are dreams premonitions of what’s to come? There has been much discussion about this subject and it could very well be that dreams are actually a subconscious form of visualization.

I once interviewed Rick Clunn, one of the country’s top freshwater bass fishermen, and he told me a fascinating story involving an angler who had an unusual dream the night before competing in a bass tournament:

“I’ve talked to guys who have dreamed about catching fish and their dreams materialized,” Clunn said. “For example, a guy shared this story with me: He had a dream where he saw Kings and Queens. The cards. And the very next day he and his friend went out to fish a tournament and their intention was to fish for smallmouth bass that day but the wind was blowing so hard they couldn’t so they went back into a canal to try to just sit it out and see which way the wind was going to die, and they just started fishing in the canal, and he fished up to this parked yacht, and on the back of it was written: Kings and Queens. And they won the tournament.”

We often read or hear in the media where athletes have been diagnosed with cancer. More than likely these athletes are repressing their feelings, which not only affects their self esteem and their performance level, but also their health.

Here’s how it works: When you withhold (or repress) your feelings and emotions it’s a form of lying that demeans you and lowers your self-esteem. As your self-esteem is lowered you begin to see the world around you from a negative perspective (“we see things as we are”) and create stress for yourself based on how you view your life’s issues. As a result of the stress, your body begins to give off hormones that impair your immune system.

According to the “Surveillance Mechanism Theory,” which was developed by Dr. Carl Simonton, we all have cancer cells in our bodies that are constantly being devoured by our immune system Pac-Man style. But when we encounter stress in our lives, our immune system becomes impaired and the cancer cells begin to multiply at a rate faster than they can be devoured. The result is: we are soon diagnosed as having cancer.

Many physicians will agree that a relationship exists between high self-esteem and wellness, and low self-esteem and illness. When I lived in Kansas City, Missouri in the late 1980s, I volunteered my services at the RA Bloch Cancer Support Center. On various Sunday mornings, with the encouragement of co-founder Richard Bloch, I would meet with newly diagnosed cancer patients in a support group environment. At the outset I would explain to them that even though they had been diagnosed with cancer, that was not their primary problem. Their primary problem was that each had a suppressed (or impaired) immune system. Since research has shown the most conspicuous characteristic of cancer patients is bottled up emotions, we would have each person in the group tell his or her own story about stress in their lives. Each would interact with others in the room and, at the same time, bring their emotions to the surface. After talking about their issues (many for the first time) their repressed feelings began to disappear and they immediately felt better about themselves. Once they began talking about their issues, they experienced an increase in self-esteem resulting in an enhanced immune system. At that point they were then ready to use a visualization technique where they would “see” their own healthy t-cells attacking their cancer cells. This exercise was accompanied by Patti LaBelle’s recording of “New Attitude.” At that time I had a story- board that I used in those sessions showing the t-cells coming together, mobilizing, and forming an arrow. The arrow would zoom toward a large glob that represented a cancer cell and the arrow would attack the glob which would then deflate and dissipate.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to locate the storyboard. But I believe cancer patients reading this can create their own visual image of t-cells attacking cancer cells and use Patti LaBelle’s recording to accompany it. I’m sure Patti would not mind since she herself is a cancer survivor. Later, patients would listen only to the music track and the images that were embedded in their minds would recreate themselves, automatically.

Also, it’s important to remember that when cancer patients enhance their own self-esteem, they automatically enhance the potency of their immune systems.

One last point: What I have recommended should only be considered as a supplemental program. It should not replace any treatment recommended by a physician or oncologist

If you’re a coach, you have at your disposal one of the most powerful performance enhancement mechanisms that any coach could wish for. That is, the expectation of high performance from one or more of your athletes. Because an expectation (assuming the athlete has the skill level to elevate his or her performance to a higher level) will almost always become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Case in point: When former Detroit Lions head coach, Rod Marinelli, joined the Chicago Bears in January 2009, he presented his former NFC North tormentor, Devin Hester, a DVD tribute. According to the August 12th, 2011 issue of USA TODAY, “I gave Devin the movie ‘Jim Thorpe’ to show him the tradition, history, a guy Devin can identify with,” Marinelli said. “Devin’s a great athlete, just like Jim Thorpe.” Hester was intrigued. “Coach Marinelli handed me the movie and said ‘You’re the modern-day Jim Thorpe,’” Hester said. Hester wasn’t familiar with Thorpe’s legendary athleticism as a Football Hall of Famer and 1912 Olympic pentathlon-decathlon gold medalist. “I learned how great Jim Thorpe was at everything,” he said. And Devin’s performance on the field has reflected the expectation made of him by Coach Marinelli. Will Devin make it to the NFL Football Hall of Fame? Coach Lovie Smith says he’ll get there if he continues channeling his inner Thorpe. “There will be a place for the greatest returner of all time in the Hall of Fame one day,” he said. How’s that for a powerful positive expectation!

But keep in mind, while a positive expectation will produce a positive result (like a placebo), a negative expectation will produce a negative result (often referred to as a nocebo.)

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh suspected the 1940 NFL championship game – a 73-0 route by the Chicago Bears – was not what it seemed. Baugh believed some of his Washington Redskin teammates tried to lose as a way to spite the Redskin’s owner. Baugh, when he turned 85, said that his teammates were furious with Redskins owner George Preston Marshall and allowed the Bears to run up the score. Baugh acknowledged he had no proof and said he never came forward because he was never asked. Baugh said some of his teammates were upset with Marshall because he had taunted the Bears after Washington defeated Chicago 7-3 two weeks before the title game. “I think it happened because of what the owner did for two weeks,” Baugh said. “He put things in the paper running the Bears down. You don’t want to help the other team. You shouldn’t say things like that. It made us so mad. They decided not to play. Look at the game. How many times do you beat a team two weeks earlier in a real close game, and two weeks later you don’t do a thing? I don’t think we even wanted to win.”

As a parent, is there anything you can do to help your child grow to a greater height? According to an article that appeared in a national publication, historians who study the history of human height maintain that nutrition has a great deal to do with heights we achieve. The article explained that “we achieve our stature (height) in three spurts: the first in infancy, the second between the ages of six and eight, and the last in adolescence. Any decent diet can send us sprouting at these ages, but take away any one of 45 or 50 essential nutrients and the body stops growing.” Based on the research, tall NBA athletes must be coming from homes where they have been well-fed and well-nourished, in many instances by a caring mother or grandmother. In addition, they are often blessed with tall parents or grandparents.

Sport psychologists often recommend visualizing an event, quieting your mind, ridding yourself of negative thoughts, and focusing on the present. It all sounds good, until attempted by athletes experiencing severe personal problems. In such instances, most sport psychologists focus on all the information coming in. But in my opinion, the problem isn’t information coming in, it’s information already there which hasn’t been addressed. A lack of focusing is usually the result of unresolved issues an athlete may be harboring inside his or her “self”. Athletes who resolve their issues prior to competing 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 sport psychologists, was quoted in an article that appeared in a past issue 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 sport 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.” The reason they may lie beyond Rotella’s focus is because, as a sport psychologist, he is not allowed to enter the domain of the clinical psychologist or psychotherapist. And if he does, he could lose his license.
My approach when working with athletes 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.


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