Mind Over Sports

RELIGION AND SPORTS PERFORMANCE.

Posted on: April 11, 2013

Athletes who are happy and whose lives are in harmony will perform close to their skill levels on a consistent basis. Athletes who are unhappy (even angry) and whose lives are in disharmony will not perform anywhere near their skill levels. When athletes have strong religious beliefs, it enhances their feelings of self-worth (self-esteem) and therefore enhances their performance in their sport. Former Kansas University Olympic runner Jim Ryun is a good example. When he agreed to become a born again Christian he instantly became less angry and began running the mile in less than four minutes, consistently.

But even if an athlete has strong religious beliefs, if he or she is withholding (bottling up their feelings and emotions) they will not perform close to their skill levels. 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. So strong religious beliefs are only part of the puzzle.

Religious beliefs can also negatively affect an athlete’s performance. I once worked with a college level softball team and one day their third baseman, who was considered one of the best in their division, suddenly began throwing wildly to first base. Her coach tried to solve the problem by putting white tape in the first baseman’s mitt providing her with a target, but that didn’t work. The coach also had her throw blindfolded and had her watch past videos of herself, but neither worked. I asked the coach if I could take the player into a room and talk with her in private and the coach agreed. When we met, I asked her about her background and she told me she was reared in a very religious Christian family home environment. And after further probing, she revealed to me that she believed she was being punished by the Lord. When I asked her why she offered this explanation: “Do you remember a few days ago when I was sliding into second base and when the catcher threw the ball it hit me and bloodied my nose? And since then, I believe I’m being punished by the Lord.” When I asked her if she had told her minister about this she said she hadn’t. So I suggested that at services the coming Sunday that she meet with her minister and tell him what she had told me. She promised to do that and when Monday came, she once again began throwing perfectly to first.

When athletes have unresolved issues hovering above them like a dark cloud (example: professional athletes who are having extra-marital affairs) this will definitely affect their performance, regardless of how religious they are. It’s also interesting to note that many of the Cuban major league baseball players, when they defect and arrive in the United States, their battling averages drop. And I’m sure most of them are practicing Catholics. The reason for this drop in performance level is they are concerned about the families they left behind. When Yeonis Cespedes fled Castro’s Cuba for an opportunity to play MLB in America, he was fortunate to have signed a four-year, $36 million contract as a free agent with the Oakland Athletics. When he left Cuba, Cespedes was able to bring with him his mother, aunt and three cousins. However, his 2-year-old son, Yeonis Jr. stayed behind with his mother, who is not married to Cespedes. As of this writing, I’m not sure if Cespedes’ son and his son’s mother have joined him. If they have, and it was after last season ended, then you should see a huge jump in his performance level this season.

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