Mind Over Sports

Archive for January 2012

I’ve quoted Zen Master Suzuki Roshi because over the years while working with athletes and sports teams I’ve found there are many coaches who are not open to new ideas. Or new opportunities. In fact, many of them refuse to even have an introductory meeting with me because they believe they are “experts” when it comes to the mental aspects of sports performance. These coaches often regurgitate information they’ve learned over the years, even if that information is incorrect. Case in point: Anger. There are coaches who believe the use of anger is a great motivator, but I disagree. When you get angry, you give away your power. Some coaches believe a football player or basketball player will perform better if he or she is angry. Nothing could be further from the truth. A more appropriate approach might be that familiar phrase: “Don’t get mad, get even.”

The use of visualization is another area where many coaches are misinformed. They often teach visualization without any background knowledge regarding the fact that when athletes are encumbered with psychological baggage and unresolved issues, visualization will be ineffective. I remember I once had an encounter with a Division I football coach. He had been newly hired by the university and had just made a speech to a group of boosters. I accidentally ran into him the hallway as he was leaving and asked what he would do if he had an athlete with a personal problem. How would he handle it. He looked at me as if I was trespassing on his private turf and said curtly: “I would let my assistant coach handle it” and with that he turned and walked away. He didn’t hang around long enough for me to ask a follow-up question: “What if the athlete’s problem was with the assistant coach?” I predicted at the time that he would not be successful, and he hasn’t been.

But to be fair, there are many coaches who do not consider themselves “experts” in the arena of mental techniques and are open to new ideas and programs that will help them be successful. And as for me, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, especially since I’m amazed at how much I learn every time I counsel an athlete or conduct a self-esteem building workshop or visualization seminar. We never stop learning, and those who do are destined to fail.

I read in today’s newspaper that New York Giants Quarterback Eli Manning missed part of Wednesday’s practice session with an illness that coach Tom Coughlin called “a stomach bug, hopefully a 24-hour deal.” Though it’s possible Eli has some kind of flu bug, it’s also possible that he is allergic to MSG (monosodium glutamate) and doesn’t even realize it. There was a long period in my life when I was suffering from a similar illness off and on and my friends had told me that it was “nerves” but it was only by chance I figured out that I was allergic to MSG. (A rocket scientist I’m not) ☺

There are many cases on file where high profile athletes (including Tiger Woods) suddenly came down with a “flu like symptom” and never realized the cause. In Tiger’s case he was dating his future wife, Elin Nordegren (now his ex-wife) and while living in Florida one day he became so ill that he vomited on the golf course and Elin was taken to the hospital. Later, it was revealed that she had fixed Tiger a meal of noodles and I wouldn’t be surprised if she used Accent to flavor it. Accent, in its original form, is almost entirely MSG, which is why in the last few years Accent has put out a companion product which is clearly marked on the label “No MSG.”

For those of you reading this who are not familiar with MSG, it’s a flavor enhancer and food preservative used by many restaurants and home chefs. The National Food & Drug Administration requires labeling on products containing MSG sold in supermarkets and other retail outlets, but there is no labeling requirement at restaurants since laws affecting restaurants are generally state imposed.

Most people know that MSG is often found in food served in oriental restaurants, but few are aware it is also used in food preparation in other types of restaurants as well. For example, lettuce for salads found on salad bars is sometimes submerged in a MSG solution to keep it from turning brown. MSG can also be found in gravies on steaks as a flavor enhancer, in soups and many other non-Asian foods.

The symptoms for having an allergic reaction to MSG are similar to those of being diagnosed as having the “stomach flu” or “flu-like symptoms” or migraine headaches. And it’s important to remember that if you should feel yourself having a migraine-type reaction to MSG, do not put a cold compress on your forehead. The reason for this is that when you have MSG in your system the capillaries in your brain become contracted, causing severe headaches and nausea. It’s important to expand them in order to increase the blood flow and the best way to do that is by taking a hot shower or placing a warm compress on the top of your head and on your forehead.

Some of the research has also found that pregnant women should be especially cautious since it’s possible that MSG can have a damaging effect on the fetus.

Let’s face it. Athletes are human just like the rest of us mortal beings. They have issues in their personal lives that can affect their performance. Especially if they are withholding; that is, keeping their feelings and emotions about those issues bottled up inside themselves. Withholding is a form of lying that demeans them and lowers their self-esteem, creating psychological baggage that affects their ability to focus and process information. Right after the Tiger Woods debacle, former NFL running back Eddie George was asked what percentage of NFL players he thought were having extra-marital affairs. His response: 90%. If this is true, then that means 90% of all NFL players are not performing up to their skill levels and are prone to making mental errors during competition, such as dropped passes, missed tackles, thrown interceptions, fumbles and excessive penalties.

Another major issue for NFL players involves their finances. In the June 27, 2011 issue of USA Today, ex-NFL coach Joe Gibbs said he witnessed the following scene too many times: “A player would be upset with his contract (and) we’d be in serious discussions…and during the conversation it dawns on you, ‘Are you in financial trouble?’ That happens over and over again…it plays out a lot.” Gibbs also said: “I definitely feel like anybody that’s worried about their finances, it’ll affect every part of your life…Certainly your career and your focus…it’s an awful feeling to have a financial mess. It carries over to every part of your life.”

Athletes also have girlfriend and boyfriend problems. Having a relationship with a member of the opposite sex can be positive or negative, depending on that relationship. Other issues may involve members of their family, a teammate or even a coach.

Here’s something in the little-known fact department. Willie Keeler was an old major league baseball player who played from 1892 – 1910 and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His last year in the majors was spent with the New York Giants. He was the smallest man ever to play major league baseball (some say he was 5’4″) and used the smallest bat in the history of major league baseball. He was sometimes called “Wee Willie.” When he was once asked “What’s the secret of hitting” he replied: “Hit ’em where they ain’t.”

I read in today’s newspaper that Bill Parcells “moved one step closer to Canton on Saturday when the Pro Football Hall of Fame released a list of 15 modern-era finalists for enshrinement that included the Super Bowl-winning coach.”

By way of background, one of the biggest complaints NFL players have about coaches is that they feel some really don’t care about players’ personal problems and issues and are only interested in exploiting them to win games. Which seems to have been the case when you look at Bill Parcells’ treatment of Lawrence Taylor when Taylor was a New York Giant and Parcells was head coach. As we now know, Parcells looked the other way and allowed Taylor to continue to use illegal drugs and cheat on his urine tests, and to constantly violate team curfew hours, all in the name of winning. Parcels did not do Taylor any favors since he (Taylor) later tearfully admitted on national television (60 Minutes) that he was an addict. When this happened, it didn’t sit well with some of his Dallas Cowboys’ players who Parcells was then coaching in his first year as their head coach. And I don’t believe it was a coincidence that the Cowboys lost two out of their next three games and were eliminated from the playoffs. Parcells should not be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but rather the Hall of Shame.


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