Mind Over Sports

Archive for February 2012

Much has been written about the placebo effect as related to the field of health, but it can also apply to the field of sports performance. For example, let’s assume you are a member of a men’s college basketball team and since your days in Junior College you’ve had difficulty making free throws, even though you have the skill level to make them. And one day you and your coach decide to produce a 3 ½ minute highlight video of you accompanied by a music sound track with lyrics that have a special meaning, and in the video you see yourself constantly shooting and making every free throw. You watch the video over and over and over again and just before competing, you listen to only the music track and the images on your video are recreated in your mind. (This is called “image transference.”) Based on my experience, if you have the skill level to make free throws and are unencumbered with personal and team-related issues in your life, by watching your video and BELIEVING that watching your video will improve your free throw shooting percentage, it will. Same applies to making 3-point shots.
According to George Leonard in his book “The Silent Pulse” the placebo effect “works best when both the patient (athlete) and healer (coach) are convinced of the power of the treatment (the video). The healer (coach) simply authorizes the patient (athlete) to do what he or she is already easily capable of: that is to control even the most esoteric bodily functions, to grow or destroy tissues, to produce sickness or health” (making free throws or 3-point shots.)

Successful coaches care about their athletes as human beings first, and then as athletic performers. This includes helping them with their personal issues and problems and having an open-door policy.

Successful coaches know that when they get angry they give away their power. They do not yell and get in the faces of their athletes.

Successful coaches are aware that their behavior in their personal lives affects how they interact with their teams.

Successful coaches know that what takes place away from the field of competition affects what takes place on the field of competition.

Successful coaches encourage their athletes not to “withhold” their feelings and emotions since withholding is a form of lying that demeans them and lowers their self-esteem; as a result of withholding, athletes will take fewer risks in interpersonal relationships and create psychological baggage for themselves that affects their ability to focus and process information.

Successful coaches hold weekly team meetings and encourage, when necessary, that their athletes sometimes participate in “players only” meetings so they will feel free to discuss team related problems and issues in a support group environment, issues they may not feel comfortable discussing with their coach present.

Successful coaches know they cannot motivate their players but can create a support group environment allowing their players to discuss their personal issues and problems; and as they discuss their personal issues and problems, they will then feel better about themselves and will automatically become more motivated.

Successful coaches are constantly aware of their players’ eye contact since they know that poor eye contact is an indication that players are withholding and have unresolved issues in their personal lives.

Successful coaches encourage their players to use visualization techniques, including the use of video tape sequences accompanied by a music track with meaningful lyrics.

Successful coaches encourage their players to “excel for a higher order” by helping others less fortunate than themselves, thereby enhancing their own feelings of self-worth and their performance.

Successful coaches are those who are able to tap into their athletes’ belief systems, realizing that the athlete’s beliefs affect performance, not the coaches.

Successful coaches do not micromanage their teams during competition and allow their athletes to use their God-given talents.

Today’s USA Today carries a story about how the Los Angeles Angels have begun marketing Albert Pujols’ arrival with a campaign centered around the nickname “El Hombre,” a nickname Pujols doesn’t like. The reason he doesn’t like it is in deference to St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial. Angels vice-president for communications said the “El Hombre” signs represent only 20 of 70 Angels billboards in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties. But even if it only represented one billboard, they best get rid of it asap since it could have an effect on Pujols’ performance come the start of baseball season. What takes place away from the baseball field impacts what takes place on the baseball field. The last thing the Angels want to do is distract Albert and affect his focus. How smart is it to pay Pujols $250 million and then mess with his head by displaying a stupid promotional sign that he doesn’t like. I predict those 20 signs will come down, pronto.

I live in Springfield, Missouri, where currently taking place is the 60th Annual National Collegiate Handball Championships Tournament with male and female athletes coming from schools all over the United States and even Ireland. As a former handball player myself, I had a special interest in watching some of the games. While visiting with some of the coaches I was amazed to learn how uninformed many of them were about visualization and were unaware of the importance of athletes ridding themselves of baggage and issues before competing. It kind of re-enforced my belief that some coaches today really don’t put much faith in the benefits of visualization. In fact, one head basketball coach at a Midwestern university, who was also a former assistant at a Big Ten University, told one of his players – who shared the information with me – that he thought visualization was “sissy stuff.” Boy, is he ever wrong! There were, however, two handball coaches who understood completely. One was Dr. Tommy Burnett, the current head coach for handball at Missouri State University here in Springfield, who I’ve known for many years and has had great success as MSU’s head coach, and the other was Dr. Warren K. Simpson (also known as “Spider”) who is the head coach at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. The reason “Spider” was so knowledgeable, I found out, was because he was not only a trained sport psychologist (as is Dr. Burnett) but also has a degree in counseling which allows him to delve into his athletes’ personal problems and issues before having them visualize. It’s really too bad more coaches aren’t better informed about the benefits of visualization and why it’s essential that athletes rid themselves (or begin the process of ridding themselves) of unresolved issues in their lives before initiating the visualization process. Those who practice this process are almost guaranteed to be more successful than those who don’t, assuming they have similar skill levels.

In today’s New York Times there is an interesting article about the success that has been experienced by a number of international Olympic female athletes after each had given birth to a new baby. Their names are Tia Hellebaut, Anna Chicrora, Chante Howard, Fanny Blankers-Koen and Stefka Kostadinova. I believe their success is directly related to the births of their children since when their babies were born they became happier and their lives were suddenly in total harmony. It’s part of the Psycho Self-Imagery Process when athletes resolve conflict in their lives (or begin the process of resolving conflict), do not suppress their feelings, they bring their personal and team-related issues to completion, they are generally highly spiritual, they are helping others less fortunate than themselves and most importantly, their lives are in harmony. At that point they can then begin visualizing themselves being successful and actually create positive events in their lives, on and off the field of competition. But when they have conflict in their lives, when they are suppressing their feelings, when they have personal and team-related issues that haven’t brought to completion, when they are not helping others less fortunate than themselves and when their lives are in disharmony, they will create negative events in their lives, on and off the field of competition.  The five women mentioned above, from my perspective, are definitely leading lives that are in harmony which is why they are so successful at their sport.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to NASCAR racing, but I noticed in yesterday’s USA Today that Kurt Busch, during the past season, displayed a number of volatile outbursts, including vulgarity-laced tirades. But this year, he seems to be more relaxed and ready to get back to the task of winning races.
Now, those of you who read my column know that I believe what takes place away from the racetrack affects what takes place on the racetrack. I’m also of the opinion that when there’s out-of-control anger similar to that which Busch displayed last season, it’s often a case of “misdirected” anger. Could it be a coincidence that Busch’s anger last year took place at the same time he was going through a divorce? And now that his divorce is final, he’s more relaxed? I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all. I believe the two are closely related.
The article also happened to mention that since September Busch has been seeing a sport psychologist. It’s fortunate for the sport psychologist that he (or she?) is seeing Busch after his divorce has become final since he (or she) will probably have great success with him. But if Kurt Busch were going through his divorce at the same time he was seeing a sport psychologist, not much would have come from his counseling because sport psychologists are not allowed to help athletes with their personal issues and problems. And if they do, they can lose their licenses since they would be entering the domain of the clinical psychologist which, in the field of psychology, is prohibited.
Today, there are many professional and college-level sports teams who hire sport psychologists not realizing that if their athletes have personal issues and problems, the sport psychologist will be of little value. That’s why I’m an advocate of universities and colleges offering degrees in sport psychology accompanied by a masters degree in counseling. But as far as I know, none are doing it.

Jeremy is having one heck of a season. From my perspective, he’s always had the ability he’s now demonstrating, it’s just that it’s been lying dormant. It’s not unusual when a good relationship with a member of the opposite sex enhances an athlete’s performance. And though I’m not privy to what’s going on in Jeremy’s personal life, I would not be surprised if there is a special someone who recently entered his life and this special someone has affected how he feels about himself (he’s definitely happy) and it’s showing up in his performance on the court.


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