Mind Over Sports

BELIEFS CAN POWERFULLY AFFECT SPORTS PERFORMANCE. AND HEALTH.

Posted on: December 14, 2014

Missouri State University’s Dorrian Williams, has become one of his team’s best rebounders this season. According to the Springfield (MO) News-Leader: “Dorian Williams calls it a ‘want to do it’ mentality that allows him to excel in a facet of basketball that requires grit, sweat and sometimes a bit of bloodshed. The 6-foot-2 Williams is one of Missouri State’s smallest players, but one of its best rebounders…’It’s a will,’ Williams said of the first requirement of rebounding. ‘It’s also understanding the angles of a basketball when it misses.’” But what Williams didn’t mention is that his belief system had changed from last season. And what brought about the change? Probably the fact that he lost almost 40 lbs during the off-season. (Not sure if that’s the exact figure, but his weight loss was substantial.) From a psychological perspective, losing that much weight changed his beliefs about himself, and his belief in his ability to rebound. What an athlete believes to be true is true for him (or her), regardless of how it plays out in the real world. If a basketball player believes that watching a video of himself or herself making free throw after free throw after free throw will improve his or her accuracy at the free throw line, it will. Providing, of course, that he or she has the skill level.

Once when the University of Missouri football team was playing the University of Oklahoma, the Tigers were trailing by 21 points at half-time. But during the third quarter Oklahoma’s All-American quarterback sustained a game-ending injury and had to be carried off the field. His injury energized the MU offense which proceeded to score three touchdowns, only to lose the game by a single point. The Tigers’ offensive unit hadn’t changed, but their belief they could win did.

A particular belief can limit or enhance performance. A professional golfer may have played a particular course many times, yet feel a need to play the course one more time the day before a tournament. If the need is satisfied, it will aid the player’s performance. But if the need is not satisfied, the player may feel unprepared.

A major league baseball manager may believe that his team will face a greater disadvantage from a wet infield than the opposing team will. His players will know that. The manager thereby establishes a self-fulfilling prophecy that excuses low performance. And to excuse low performance is to promote it.

Some athletes believe a particular number on their jersey is important to success. If they have the number, they have extra confidence that enhances performance. If the team manager assigns a different number, the player loses confidence and that loss is reflected in performance. Same belief, different outcomes. A wise coach takes advantage of an athlete’s beliefs, no matter how crazy they seem, in order to build a team’s strength.

The athlete’s belief system controls performance, not the coach’s. If athletes believe that being sexually active the night before a big game will make them more relaxed and that they will therefore perform better, they will – regardless of what their coach believes. Coaches often try to force their own belief systems on their athletes and it just doesn’t work. The best coaches, the most successful ones, are those who instinctively tap into the belief systems of their players and use those beliefs to the team’s advantage.

Beliefs can also be a powerful tool in the field of health. When I lived in Kansas City a few years go, I worked with children who had been diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia. People who have sickle cell have sickle-shaped cells that, when under pressure, coagulate in the blood stream, forming a beaver-dam effect resulting in extreme pain. An audio visualization tape recording was created with slow relaxing background music and a narration by an announcer describing how their sickle shaped cells were becoming whole and round and flowing effortlessly through their veins and arteries. It wasn’t necessary that their cells were actually becoming whole and round only that they believed they were. And that they believed the use of the recordings would reduce their pain level. And when those beliefs kicked in, their pain level was reduced substantially, so much so that most of them were able to replace morphine shots with the use of the recording.   Sometimes what a patient believes about the potency of a particular medicine or treatment is almost as important as the medicine itself.

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