Mind Over Sports

Archive for April 2014

I read in today’s newspaper that Noel Arguelles, who defected from the Cuban junior national team while in Canada and signed with the Kansas City Royals in 2009 for $6.9 Million, is considered a bust. Though it’s true that he’s had some shoulder problems, there’s also the possibility that he is concerned for his family that he left behind in Cuba and that these circumstances are weighing heavily on him and could be affecting his performance. This is very common among Cuban ballplayers who defect. When Yeonis Cespedes defected and joined the Oakland Athletics, he left behind his 2-year old son the mother of his son. When he won the 2013 Home Run Derby, it happened right after he had talked with his son in Cuba by phone. Any major league baseball team who signs a Cuban ballplayer who has defected, should do everything within their power to bring the player’s family to America as soon as possible. The benefits will show up immediately in the player’s performance. According to Wikipedia, “while some players who defect succeed in obtaining multi-million dollar contracts to play in MLB, many receive only minor league contracts and do not reach MLB. Players are often separated from their families, as Cuba often denies exit visas to the families of players who defected. This can lead to severed relationships, such as between Jorge Toca and the mother of his son.”

When Louisville Head Basketball Coach Rick Pitino recently spoke to the Boys & Girls Clubs here in Springfield, Missouri, he told them that when he was 25 and became head basketball coach at Boston University, “I wasn’t ready.” And as he tells it, according the Springfield News-Leader newspaper, he’s had a career that’s overcome an ill-prepared beginning. “I was able to get away with making young mistakes.” I’ve always maintained that the phrase “Timing is Everything” wasn’t accurate since very often we’re put in a position to be successful but because of being unprepared, we weren’t able to take advantage of it. That happened to me the first time I was able to work with a Division I men’s basketball team. I wasn’t prepared at the time for issues and problems that surfaced in our team meetings. Today, the situation is much different. One of my favorite John Wooden quotes is: “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

“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.

Ryan Hall, who last ran in the Boston Marathon in 2011 when he recorded the fastest time ever by an American at 2 hours, 4 minutes, 58 seconds, has spent a month during this past March and April training in the mountains of Ethiopia at 9,000 feet above sea level. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” said Hall. And though it’s true that training at 9,000 feet will help any long-distance marathon runner, just as important is Hall’s BELIEF that training in Ethiopia will help him run faster. Watch for Ryan to give the Kenyans and Ethiopians a run for their money. No U.S. man has won the Boston Marathon since 1983 and that could change. In addition, Ryan will be running in memory of those who died or lost limbs at the 2013 race. “It was almost like losing a loved one,” Ryan said. In the training I conduct with athletes and sports teams, I call this “Excelling for a Higher Order,” which enhances an athlete’s feelings of self-worth, thereby enhancing performance.

Tiger Woods announced today he will miss the Masters for the first time since 1995 when he first entered it as an amateur. Seems he had a pinched nerve repaired. And already the “boo-birds” are out saying his career is over. But those birds don’t know much about back operations. When it comes to back operations, repairing a pinched nerve is like falling off a log (assuming it’s true) compared to the fusing of discs. Now THAT is major back surgery. Take it from one who knows. I’ve had four back operations but it was the last one (fusing five discs in a 6-hour operation) that did me in. I’m still able to get around okay but I had to kiss my days playing handball and jogging – goodbye. Thank goodness Tigers’ problems aren’t nearly as severe as mine, or anyone else who has had major back surgery.

Tiger says he’s still eyeing those records held by Jack Nicholas for most championships won (18) and Sam Snead for most PGA Tour Titles won (82). And I predict he will eventually break both of them. The only thing that could keep him from doing this does involve his back. And his ex-wife (keeping her off of it.) Ex-wives can be quite vindictive, especially when their ex-husband is dating a beautiful Olympic Skier.  And they’ve been known to use their children as negotiating weapons.


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