Mind Over Sports

Archive for June 2013

It’s no small wonder that more professional athletes, like Aaron Hernandez, aren’t getting into trouble when you consider their background. For most of them, it all starts when they’re about 8 years old and show exceptional talent in their sport. They are fawned over by parents and fans and as they get older, coaches and others are quick to cover for them. Before long, they begin to develop a sense of entitlement and begin to believe they can do no wrong, seldom being held responsible for their actions. And many of them have anger issues, which when combined with a sense of entitlement, can be explosive and dangerous. As was the case with Hernandez. Some come from loving, nurturing home environments and they are the athletes who seldom get into trouble because of how they feel about themselves. But there are many who need help, and help could be made available to them if general managers and team owners weren’t so locked into their beliefs regarding the creation of internal support groups. Many GMs and front office executives consider support groups “sissy stuff” and believe if you pay an athlete enough money he (or she) should be able to take care of their own problems. One-on-one counseling isn’t the answer because there’s such a stigma attached to a player seeing a “team schrink.” But when team members share their personal problems and issues with their buddies, in a controlled environment, amazing things take place, including good team chemistry and team bonding…something money can’t buy.

Now that the sun has settled on the horizon and we experienced the “Repeat of the Heat,” there seems to be an elephant sitting in the living room that everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) is ignoring. First, let me say I don’t believe there’s such a thing as someone just happening to have a bad game. This is especially true in the world of professional sports. There’s always a reason and I’m a firm believer that what takes place away from the field of competition affects what takes place on the field of competition. Isn’t it weird how Spurs point guard Danny Green needed just five games to break the NBA finals record for most made three-pointers, and yet two games later went two for 18 scoring a total of five points. Okay, so he said he was slightly “under the weather” and there could be some truth to that but how often have we seen a professional athlete who was a little “under the weather” have one of the best games of his or her career. So to me, that just doesn’t wash. More than likely he (like so many male high school, college and professional athletes) was having a “girlfriend problem.” If this were the case, and had he made up with her just prior to Game #7, the Spurs today might be the new world champions. Of course, Green wasn’t the only reason the Spurs lost. Maybe Manu Ginobili, who caused all those turnovers, was also having a girlfriend problem?

I’ve been reading NBA coach Phil Jackson’s most recent book, “Eleven Rings,” and in it he makes the following observation:

“Basketball is a great mystery. You can do everything right. You can have the perfect mix of talent and the best system of offense in the game. You can devise a foolproof defensive strategy and prepare your players for every kind of eventuality. But if the players don’t have a sense of oneness as a group, your efforts won’t pay off. And the bond that unites a team can be so fragile, so elusive.”

Now coach Jackson knows a heck of a lot more about basketball than I’ll ever know but it’s possible I might have a leg up on him when it comes to team chemistry and team bonding. I don’t find team chemistry and team bonding elusive at all. In fact, it can be achieved quite simply. All a coach has to do is lock players in a room for an approximate 4-hour session, with a facilitator (not to be a coach) with every player (including the facilitator) signing a “ground rules” form that guarantees complete confidentiality. That is, whatever takes place in the room stays in the room. Then, everyone sits in a chair in a circle with no one present in the room who can bench them or, even worse, remove them from the team (and that includes all coaches) so that there will be total and complete honesty among players.

The first step is to have everyone go around the room telling a little about their personal lives and any problems or issues they may be having and these issues and problems can be strictly personal or team-related or even coach-related. Primarily, these are issues and problems they have been withholding (bottling-up inside themselves.) After the first hour or so when they begin to feel comfortable and begin trusting their teammates and the facilitator, they will then begin to open up and be more honest regarding what is going on in their minds and their hearts and what they may have been withholding and bottling-up. They are especially eager to do this once they realize that if they open their hearts and minds (and their problems) to their teammates, often making themselves vulnerable in the process, sometimes producing tears of emotion, they will begin to feel better about themselves and will begin performing at a higher skill level. Helping their teammates with their personal problems, and helping their teammates figure out a way to solve their problems, makes players feel better about themselves and enhances their performance on the court. This emotional interaction soon creates a strong bonding among team members and enhances team chemistry.

And the next and final stage is where everyone is in the locker room (including coaches) and all are holding hands and standing in a circle with the lights dimmed and with special music playing in the background with meaningful lyrics. This is when group visualization begins. Every team member visualizes himself or herself performing at peak performance during the upcoming game.

And there’s an easy way to tell if, in fact, the team bonded; and that is by checking each player’s eye contact. Good eye contact means the player participated in the session and feels good about himself or herself and is bonded with teammates and also feels a part of good team chemistry. However, a player who does not have good eye-contact after the session more than likely wasn’t honest during the session and refused, for whatever reason, to share his or her personal and emotional issues with teammates.

Here’s a copy of an article that appeared in this morning’s Springfield News-Leader Newspaper (June 18, 2013):

Headline: Missouri linebacker dismissed from team.

Body Copy: COLUMBIA – A backup Missouri linebacker arrested during the 2012 season on drug charges has been dismissed from the team. Team spokesman Chad Moller says redshirt freshman linebacker Torey Boozer is no longer a member of the Tigers. He declined further comment. Boozer was arrested in October on marijuana possession charges along with classmates Dorial Green-Beckham and Levi Copelin after the three teammates were reportedly smoking
pot in a campus parking lot near Memorial Stadium. Boozer later pleased guilty to second-degree trespassing, as did his two teammates, who remain on the squad.

Wow! Am I missing something here? How often do we hear coaches harping about how important team chemistry is and yet here is a perfect example of how to tear a team apart internally. It probably goes without saying that the two players allowed to remain on the team were much better talent-wise than Torey Boozer but that’s beside the point. Either you kick all three of them off the team or you kick no one off the team. Head Coach Pinkel must feel that Torey Boozer does not have many buddies on the team which is very stupid thinking. And will those teammates of his be angry that Torey was dismissed and the other two weren’t? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes. Unless Coach Pinkel and his staff get this straightened out, I don’t look for them to have a very good season. If I had to choose between two teams, one with excellent talent and very little team chemistry, and the other with moderate talent but excellent team chemistry, I’ll take the latter every time.

For those of you who follow my column know that I believe there’s a relationship between an athlete’s feelings of self-worth (self-esteem) and performance. Regarding the US Open, it’s my opinion that Phil Mickelson’s trip to attend his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation enhanced his own feelings of self-worth and his game. Athletes who are happy and whose lives are in harmony perform close to their skill levels on a consistent basis. Women in the LPGA who take a break and have a baby often return to the tour and start winning tournaments.

On the negative side, as soon as Tiger Woods publicly accepts Sergio’s apology and gives vent to his anger his game will kick in. When athletes are angry, they give away their power. I’m surprised Lindsey Vonn, Tiger’s significant other (who has a strikingly similar appearance to two of Tiger’s past significant others – all statuesque blonds who were highly intelligent – one of whom he married) does not kick some sense into his head and encourage him to resolve his issue with Sergio. He had a chance, when they shook hands, but said not a word. By accepting Sergio’s apology he would be doing it for himself, not Sergio.

I wasn’t surprised to read about Tiger finishing 25th after today’s first round of the U.S. Open. Why? Because he still hasn’t publicly accepted Sergio Garcia’s apology. Which means he’s probably still angry because of the racial comment Sergio made. But as I’ve always said, and this is a good example: When you get angry, you give away your power. Anger will distract you and affect your focus during competition. If Tiger maintains his anger and doesn’t publicly accept Garcia’s apology, then look for him not to do well. Maybe Lindsey Vonn can talk some sense into his head.

I often see athletes, after a workout, consuming protein drinks, and there’s nothing wrong with that unless it’s done in excess. According to Dr. Julian
Whitaker of the Whitaker Wellness Institute, cancer of the colon is a disease of excess protein. And he believes too much protein creates stress for kidneys. So if you’re an athlete, keep this in mind: it’s okay to consume protein drinks, but only in moderation. Dr. Brian Weiss in his book Many Lives, Many Masters, quotes a past master: “Happiness is really rooted in simplicity. The tendency to excessiveness in thought and action diminishes happiness. Excesses cloud basic values. Happiness comes from filling one’s heart with love, from faith and hope, from practicing charity and dispensing kindness. Given those attitudes, balance and harmony usually follow.”


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