Mind Over Sports


Posted on: January 28, 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.


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N. V. I.
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