Mind Over Sports

Archive for May 2013

I’m so tired of reading in the media about coaches who are always looking for athletes who are physically tough and mentally tough. “Physically tough” I can understand because Tiger Woods has demonstrated to the entire golf world the importance of being in good physical condition. But being “mentally tough” is an entirely different issue. When I searched the Internet here’s what I found: “It means you should be able to handle any negative thoughts, comments, etc. – your mind has to be fixed and nothing should make you waver.” One comment related it to “self-confidence” which is closer to what I believe. After 26 years working with athletes and sports teams, I’ve found that athletes who have high self-esteem and feel good about themselves are those who are more mentally tough than other athletes who may be withholding their feelings and issues instead of discussing them openly. Athletes who have a high sense of inner-self are more focused, and have few negative thoughts because thoughts are reflections of feelings of self-worth. Athletes with high self-esteem have almost no negative thoughts; those with low self-esteem are often loaded with them. If a coach is looking for an athlete who is “mentally tough” one of the most reliable indicators is eye contact. Good eye contact is a sign of high self-esteem and there’s a pretty good chance that a person with good eye contact was reared in a loving, nurturing home environment. Or if not, then there was someone in that person’s life who loved them unconditionally, such as a spouse, a professor, a coach, or a grandmother.

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As a Missouri University Alumni I follow Mizzou football and especially the career of Dorial Green-Beckham. Dorial was one of the most highly regarded football recruits in the nation of the class of 2012 and was listed as the number one overall prospect in the nation by Rivals.com – and yet, his first year at Missouri was considered mediocre at best. Why? I recently read an article in the Springfield (MO) News-Leader that confirmed my opinion that Head Coach Gary Pinkel is not the coach everyone believes him to be. Your best and most successful coaches are those who tap into their athletes’ belief systems and maximize their potential on the field. Last year’s offensive coordinator, under the watchful eye of Pinkel, had Green-Beckham playing on the inside of four-and five-receiver sets even though Dorial believed he performed better when playing on the outside. Fortunately for Dorial, Josh Henson, Missouri’s new offensive coordinator, has moved him to the outside where he’s now getting open and making more plays. Even Dorial’s dad observed “They got him on the outside now, and will give him a chance to make some plays…He’s going to be more comfortable.” Many head coaches and assistant coaches don’t understand that it’s the athlete’s beliefs that affect performance, not the coaches.

I recently received a nice e-mail from Mike Thomas who works for RankPop that features “Greatest Moments in Chicago Sports History” and because of that e-mail I thought I would reprint a story I wrote some time ago about the Bears’ lopsided win over the Redskins. Here it is:

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh suspects the 1940 NFL championship game – a 73-0 route by the Chicago Bears – was not what it seemed. Baugh believes some of his Washington Redskin teammates tried to lose as a way to spite the Redskin’s owner. Baugh, when he turned 85, said that his teammates were furious with Redskins owner George Preston Marshall and allowed the Bears to run up the score. Baugh acknowledged he had no proof and said he never came forward because he was never asked. Baugh said some of his teammates were upset with Marshall because he had taunted the Bears after Washington defeated Chicago 7-3 two weeks before the title game. “I think it happened because of what the owner did for two weeks,” Baugh said. “He put things in the paper running the Bears down. You don’t want to help the other team. You shouldn’t say things like that. It made us so mad. They decided not to play. Look at the game. How many times do you beat a team two weeks earlier in a real close game, and two weeks later you don’t do a thing? I don’t think we even wanted to win.”

There’s a good lesson to be learned from this story, assuming it’s true. And that is, when it comes to professional sports, team owners should remain quietly in the background and not provide opposing teams with bulletin board material. It could not only provide motivation for the opposing team but can also affect the performance of his (or her) own team.

By now almost everyone in the world of sports (especially golf) knows about the insensitive comment made by PGA Golfer Sergio Garcia regarding Tiger Woods and “fried chicken” and Garcia did the right thing by apologizing to him. Now it’s up to Tiger to bring closure to the situation by publicly accepting Garcia’s apology and moving on. If not, it could show up in his performance at the U.S. Open. It’s never good for an athlete to harbor bad feelings.

I just read in the newspaper where U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel suspended a top general at Fort Jackson in South Carolina over allegations of assault and adultery. Shouldn’t NFL, NBA and MLB athletes be held to the same standards? If athletes who were committing adultery knew they would be suspended if found out, they would cease and desist and you would probably see their performance levels increase considerably.

I don’t think so. According to today’s USA TODAY, Manning was quoted as saying that he understands that he doesn’t have the luxury of time with his current crop of teammates, and certainly welcomes the addition of receiver Wes Welker. But as you’ll recall, four months ago when Denver lost in the playoffs in that double-overtime battle with the Ravens, head coach John Fox made a bad call that eventually cost the Broncos the game. With the score tied and 31 seconds remaining until the end of regulation playing time and the Broncos having two time-outs left, Peyton was instructed to take a knee. I’m sure that irked him and was probably one of the reasons he threw that interception in the second overtime that set up the Raven’s field goal that won the game for them. it seems to me that coach Fox, who has the final word in play-calling for the Broncos, was trying not to lose rather than trying to win. It was such an obvious error that even one of the television announcers asked: “Am I missing something?” So unless coach Fox changes his ways and decides to take risks on the field, the Broncos will never see the Super Bowl while Manning is playing for him.

Maria Sharapova, 26, has a budding romance with 26-year old tennis pro Grigor Dimitrov and she couldn’t be happier.  According to USA TODAY, “Sharapova said it’s not about age…she needs a man who understands the demands of her profession, respects her space and allows her to let her hair down.”  If my theory is correct, that the happier an athlete is and the more his or her life is in harmony the better they perform at their sport, then watch for Sharapova to win over Serena Williams.  It won’t be easy, but she’ll do it.


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