Mind Over Sports

Archive for October 2013

We see things as we are. Not as they are, but as we are. If you are seeing your teammates as arrogant or angry, and if you constantly believe many of them lie, you may want to take a good hard look at yourself. Because the qualities you see in others (both negative and positive) are qualities you carry within yourself. A famous Hebrew proverb states: “Liars think everyone around them is lying.”

As we begin to be more honest with our “self,” our feelings of self-worth will grow. We’ll begin to deal with issues in our lives, and bring them to completion. We’ll stop keeping our emotions bottled-up and begin to speak freely of how we feel. We’ll begin to tell others, our teammates and even coaches, in a calm way, that something they are doing is adversely affecting us. As we become more honest, we’ll begin to view life from a positive perspective and can then utilize visualization to create images and goals we want to achieve.

Benefits of this type of program are obvious. High self-esteem among teammates is crucial to team productivity. By failing to encourage feedback, by allowing issues to fester, a coaching staff will inhibit player performance. If players in key positions are not allowed to come to completion with team and personal issues, their lowered performance and negativity can undo the competent performance of others. For team productivity, self-esteem can often be more important than talent.

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According to the late, great Casey Stengel, most baseball games are lost, not won. But there’s another side to that coin and it’s called “The psi Factor” which, simply put, says: Athletes who are happy and whose lives are in harmony will perform close to their skill levels on a consistent basis (and will win games for their managers.)

The following was taken from the Internet:

“Each time (David) Ortiz crosses the plate after hitting a home run, he looks up and points both index fingers to the sky in tribute to his mother Angela Rosa Arias, who died in a car crash in January 2002 at the age of 46. Ortiz also has a tattoo of his mother on his biceps.

“Ortiz and his wife Tiffany have three children. Since marrying Tiffany, he has become a fan of the Green Bay Packers (his wife hails from Kaukauna, Wisconsin, a town in between the cities of Green Bay and Appleton.) On June 11, 2008, Ortiz became a United States citizen at John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

“The David Ortiz Children’s Fund was founded in 2007 to support a range of causes that Ortiz believes in. The Fund allows Ortiz the flexibility to donate to those children who are in the most need at any given time, from Boston to the Dominican Republic and beyond. Ortiz released his own Charity Wine label in 2008 with all the proceeds going to the David Ortiz Children’s Fund. The wine called Vintage Papi proceeded to raise $150,000 for charity.”

Of course, it’s important that if the psi factor is to work the athlete must possess the skill level to perform at a high level. Which fits “Big Papi” perfectly. At the time of this writing, Ortiz will take a .733 World Series batting average into game six at Fenway Park. Which makes you believe that, during the next baseball season, if he puts his mind to it, Ortiz could be the first major league player since Ted Williams to bat .400.

According to Boston ace Jon Lester, he had this to say about Ortiz: “The guy’s got a heart of gold.”

“Focusing” is a mental state where no emotional issues distract an athlete’s performance. Successful athletes are often described as focused, concentrating complete attention on the job at hand.

To achieve focusing a person must resolve emotional issues; merely exposing them isn’t enough. For small issues the process may be simple: before an event a recreational player might write down things that are supposed to be done afterward, such as bring home a gallon of milk or return a book. That way trying to remember those obligations during the event won’t subconsciously distract the player. Such distractions can even harm professional athletes.

Former St. Louis Cardinals infielder Mike Tyson (no relation) recounted a bases-loaded mound conference requested by pitcher Al Hrabosky. Hrabosky “told me he had to go somewhere after the game, and asked me if I still had the rental car. He asked if he could borrow it.”

When the divorce of Mets first basemen Keith Hernandez became final on a Monday, in his next seven at-bats he hit three home runs and drove in nine. “Maybe I should get divorced every day,” he said. “I’d be broke, but I’d be in the Hall of Fame.” Daily divorce may be unnecessary, but Hernandez obviously needed to shift his focus from marital strife to baseball. His basic skill didn’t change, but his focus changed and allowed him to reach his skill level.

When George Brett and Jamie Quirk were playing for the Kansas City Royals, a problem arose that affected both of them. By way of background, Brett and Quirk came up through the minors together and were as close as two human beings could be. Then, after they made it into the majors, Quirk married and Brett and Quirk’s new wife didn’t get along. One source told me it was probably because of Brett’s jealousy. After all those years together, Brett was now alone and Quirk had his own life with a wife. The two grew apart and had little contact. At that time, I happened to have a friend who knew Brett and I suggested that she point out to George that it is in his best interest to handle this issue, which, I believed, was affecting his performance. She conveyed my message to him and soon after, on June 5, 1988, it was reported in The Kansas City Star that Jamie Quirk drove George to the ballpark, and on that same day Brett hit two home runs, a triple and a single.

By relinquishing emotional issues that obstruct concentration, an athlete can focus on a sports event. Focused athletes are more likely to perform at their skill level. Such focusing provides an advantage over competitors who may be inherently more talented but who fail to reach their skill level because they have not come to completion with emotional issues in their lives.

According to the Springfield (MO) News-Leader: “The Cleveland Browns came within a touchdown of knocking off the Chiefs and could have been closer had it not been for several miscues by Cleveland Receiver Davone Bess. Bess fumbled a fourth-quarter punt with Cleveland down 20-17 with about 7 minutes left in the game and had a number of drops as a wide-out, including on fourth-and-7 with 2:01 left to play.” So one has to wonder why Bess, who normally can be counted on for top performance, had such a miserable game? If you ask almost any NFL coach he’ll probably say something like, “Heck, those things happen” – but I disagree. I believe there’s a reason those things happen. And the reasons can almost always be traced to what may have taken place in Bess’ personal life the night before the game. And in 90% of the cases involving NFL players, they are most likely to lose their focus because of their relationship with a member of the opposite sex. But it could also be financial problems. Or an issue with an assistant coach. Whatever the reason, Bess should have been encouraged before game time to talk about his problems and issues, either in a support group environment with other team members, or with his coach. But in many cases, NFL players are hesitant to talk about their “feelings” and “personal issues” because ever since they were toddlers most of them have been programmed to keep their feelings bottled up inside themselves because it wasn’t manly to talk about them.

It’s often said that the eyes are the highway to the soul, but it’s actually the other way around: The eyes are echoes from the ego. Whatever is going on inside you will show up in your eye contact.

Eye contact is a powerful indicator of self-esteem. The better your eye contact the higher your self-esteem. The poorer your eye contact, the lower your self-esteem. And in almost every situation, individuals with bad eye contact are withholding, keeping their feelings and emotions bottled up inside themselves. Withholding is a form of lying that demeans us, lowering our self-esteem, creating psychological baggage that negatively affects our ability to focus and process information.

That’s why athletes with poor eye contact will inevitably make mental errors during competition. Wide receivers in football are more likely to drop passes. Running backs will fumble the ball. Quarterbacks are prone to throwing interceptions. But the opposite is also true. Wide receivers with high self-esteem and good eye contact will make fantastic catches during competition. Running backs will make great runs. Quarterbacks will complete a high percentage of their passes. And it’s always a good idea, if possible, to check out your opponent before competing. For example, if you’re a volleyball player, you might want to visit the opposing team, meet them and talk with them, noticing their eye contact. When you spot a player with poor eye contact, that’s the person you’ll want to hit the ball to whenever possible since that individual will be more likely to make a mental error. If you’re a quarterback on a football team, check the eye contact of your wide receivers. If any have bad eye contact, try not to throw to them but rather to those receivers who have excellent eye contact. Your percentage of pass completions will increase dramatically.

If you’re a parent and want to help your children improve their eye contact, encourage them to say what’s on their mind and not keep their issues bottled-up. If you’re a coach, you can hold team meetings (sometimes without coaches present) encouraging players to get things off their chest and speak up. If you’re an athlete and want to improve your eye contact, do not withhold your feelings and emotions. Speak your mind and clear the air. In the words of Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.”

I have a theory why the Kansas City Chiefs are winning. It’s true they have excellent talent and an excellent quarterback, but the same goes for other NFL teams as well. And as many of you who read my column know, I’m a big advocate of sports teams becoming support groups, allowing athletes to talk about problems they may be experiencing in their personal lives. When this happens team members not only become more healthy psychologically because the sessions enhance their feelings of self work, but also results in their performing close to their skill levels on a consistent basis.

My theory is (and I have no inside information to prove this) that when KC Chiefs player Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins last year and then took his own life, the Chiefs front office decided to put into place an internal program to head off the possibility of similar tragedies in the future and created a system of internal support groups to allow players to talk about their issues. And then, along came the perfect coaching fit, Andy Reid, who also had a 29-year old son who committed suicide last year. So if you combine the support group concept with a head coach who is in total agreement and has great empathy for his players, then you have a formula for success. When the Chiefs decided to follow a program of this type (assuming they have) their primary focus was on the well-being and the mental health of their players, and probably had no idea at the time the positive effect it would have on team performance.
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The only other NFL coach who I’ve ever met who is in complete agreement with the concept of team support groups is Coach Al Saunders of the Oakland Raiders.


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