Mind Over Sports

Archive for April 2013

Mike Rice, former Rutgers University basketball coach was fired from his job this past week shortly after a video was made public showing him berating players during practice, throwing basketballs at them, kicking them and taunting them with vulgar language including homophobic slurs.
I’m not a therapist, but it’s not unusual for a coach to have personal problems at home and, without realizing he was doing it, taking it out on his players. They call this “misdirected anger” and many of us have been responsible for similar behavior in our personal lives. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making excuses for Coach Rice’s performance because what he did was 100% wrong. But there’s a lesson to be learned, and this is, if we don’t confront an issue head-on and resolve it, or begin the process of resolving it, it will only fester and show up in unexpected ways, such as how we interact with other people in our lives.

Rice’s behavior has conjured up memories of Bobby Knight when Knight was fired as head basketball coach at Indiana University in 2000, shortly after a tape appeared to show him putting his hands on a player’s neck. But here’s the thing about Coach Knight. He genuinely cared about his players as human beings first and then as athletic performers, and when players sense that their coach genuinely cares about them and loves them, they’ll not only play their hearts out for him but they’ll also allow him to do almost anything to them, including putting his hands on their necks. And how did they know he genuinely cared about them? Most sports fans know that Knight had one of the highest team graduation rates in the country. But few knew that if a player had used up his four years of eligibility and still had not graduated, Knight paid the fifth year out of his own pocket. How’s that for sending a clear message to your players that you care about them.

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Strikeouts! When players, such as the Houston Astros, strike out 43 times in their first three games and set a major league record, you can be sure there’s something going on behind the scenes with the team and team chemistry. When players have issues they haven’t confronted, and they bottle them up inside themselves, it affects their focus and they are more susceptible to not only striking out but also making errors during games. No one knows for sure what the problem might be, (or even if there is a problem) but it seems odd to me that this is happening during the tenure of the Astros first season manager, Bo Porter. Perhaps Porter has introduced some team rules that the players don’t like but are hesitant to talk about? If I were the GM of the Astros, I’d have a players only team meeting and allow them to clear the air regarding any grievances they might have, either with Porter or with each other.

When Louisville’s Kevin Ware broke his leg in the game against Duke, and kept telling his teammates “Just win the game, just win the game,” it was much like when Knute Rockne told his players to “win one for the Gipper” or Babe Ruth telling a young man in a hospital bed that he was going to hit two home runs for him. I call this “Excelling for a Higher Order” – and Louisville’s win over Duke was an excellent example.

As anyone who reads my column knows, I believe that when you get angry during sports competition and in life itself, you give away your power. Anger in any form is never good and never constructive. So you can imagine my initial reaction when I read that the Wichita State Men’s Basketball Coach Gregg Marshall encourages his players to “play angry” and has had a great deal of success with that, especially now that they are in the final four. But on closer examination, you’ll notice that Coach Marshall doesn’t encourage his players to “be angry” or “get angry” but rather just “play angry.” And there is a difference. Athletes who are angry during competition absolutely give away their power and are seldom successful. And generally, the anger is misdirected since more than likely they’ve neglected to resolve an important issue in their lives but rather have allowed the issue to fester and surface in other ways.


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