Mind Over Sports

Archive for June 2013

I once read a book that espoused a theory concerning positive affirmations. This particular book, written by a sport psychologist, maintained that if you say the phrase over and over again “I am a courageous, risk-taking warrior” that you can overcome your fear of taking a risk. This may work fine with people who have high self-esteem, but for people with a low sense of self-worth you’re speaking on deaf ears because risk-takers they are not.

There is no affirmation in the world yet devised that can get them to take a risk, until they deal with whatever issues they have in their lives that are affecting how they feel about themselves. Then, the higher their self-esteem, the more likely they are to risk.

Athletes who want to begin feeling good about themselves must identify and begin resolving important issues in their lives before the results of being happy will surface. Relying on positive affirmations is like wagging the tail of a dog and expecting the dog to be happy. The dog must be happy first, and then its tail will wag.

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Former NFL coach Romeo Crennel is, I’m sure, a very nice person and has the best of intentions. But his comments in USA TODAY about the death of Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher and what needs to be done in the future to prevent a similar situation indicates he doesn’t understand the need for psychotherapy in troubled players’ lives. Crennel keeps talking about educating players and the importance of impressing on them to “do the right thing.” But when athletes have emotional problems, you don’t try to educate them, you listen to them and encourage them to talk about their personal issues and feelings. That’s why I’m an advocate of NFL teams creating “support group environments” within each team, allowing players to discuss among themselves any problems they may be having in their personal lives. The more they release their feelings the better they will feel about themselves and the less likely they are to commit domestic violence. One-on-one counseling doesn’t work because there’s a stigma attached to it: Players don’t want to be seen walking into a room with a “schrink” because their teammates will think there’s something psychology wrong with them.  And what compounds this problem even more is that many professional athletes, at a very early age, are taught NOT to talk about their feelings because it isn’t macho.  But once they realize that talking about their issues and problems will enhance their performance, they generally open up and participate in the group discussion.


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