Mind Over Sports

Archive for October 2015

The idea of excelling for a higher order originated with the legend of “win one for the Gipper.” It began in 1920 with the death of football legend George Gipp, Notre Dame’s first All-American selection who died at 25 from a strep throat infection. The Fighting Irish were 19-0-1 in his final 20 games. According to Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, Gipp, on his deathbed, said: “Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.” Eight years passed before Rockne did so, before a 1928 game against unbeaten Army at Yankee Stadium. “This is the day, and you are the team,” Rockne said. The Fighting Irish scored two second-half touchdowns to win 12-6.

Athletes benefit by excelling for a higher order. In some situations they take on a cause to help an individual or group otherwise unassociated with the team.

One of the most powerful examples is when a teammate’s loved one passes away. In the case of the Kansas City Royals, it involves the recent death of pitcher Edinson Vollquez’s father, pitcher Chris Young’s father who died of cancer September 26th, and third baseman Mike Mostakas’ mother who died of cancer August 9th. In all three situations the Royals have bonded with their teammates and supported them in their grief. And the result has been an increase in self-esteem and team chemistry for the entire team resulting in an increase in performance.

As the poet John Bright wrote: “Find yourself a cause, not a resting place. You may not do much for the cause but the cause will do much for you.”

As we all know, beliefs play an important role in determining the number of pitches a pitcher can throw before his arm tires out. But keep in mind, it’s the pitcher’s beliefs, not the pitching coach’s beliefs, that affect performance.

During the first game of the 2015 World Series, Ned Yost, manager of the Kansas City Royals, decided to put his ace relief pitcher Wade Davis on a short leash regarding pitch count by playing him only during one inning. Was this a waste of talent?

There are many examples on record where pitchers threw more than the limited number of pitches allowed today, and were no worse off for having done so. Though it’s true that there are many new pitches today that didn’t exist years ago, and some of them have been known to damage a pitcher’s arm. However, even some of today’s pitchers believe they pitch better when allowed to exceed the number of pitches normally authorized by the pitching coach, and go the entire nine innings.

Here’s an example of a Letter to the Sports Editor that appeared in The Kansas City Star, April 30, 2000. The writer wrote: “I hope Tony Muser (then manager of the KC Royals) and all of the Royals’ pitchers read about Justin Green, a pitcher for Cameron (Oklahoma) University who pitched all 17 innings in a game recently. The next day he worked an 11-hour shift at a restaurant and showed no arm problems. I think the problem in professional baseball is that the pitchers do not throw enough. A few innings in a game is all they usually throw and then they have to rest for five days. Relief pitchers do even less work, and for the Royals, most of their ERAs are awful.”

But even Green’s remarkable feat didn’t compare with a performance by two pitchers in the same game on May 1, 1920, at Braves Field, when both Boston’s Joe Oeschger and Brooklyn’s Leon Cadore pitched all 26 innings in a 1-1 tie. Two days later Oeschger was back on the mound again pitching part of another 19-inning game.

When it was announced last night, just prior to the start of the Chicago Cubs – Pittsburgh Pirates game, that Pedro Alvarez would not be starting at first base and was being replaced by utility player Sean Rodriguez, I was amazed. It’s true that Alvarez is much more prone to making errors but it seems to me the team needed his fire power at the plate. Here’s a guy (Alvarez) whose 27 home runs led the team but whose 23 errors made him a defensive liability. Now I’m a big Clint Hurdle fan but I believe it’s possible that not starting Alvarez might have had a more important negative effect on team attitude. After all, here was one of their buddies who they played with throughout the entire season and when it came to the most important game of the year, their manager chose not to start him. But did they speak up and tell Clint how they felt. I doubt it. Because if they did, Clint would have viewed their behavior as infringing on his managerial ability to make decisions. And yet it was (in my opinion) this very “withholding” that affected their ability to focus on hitting the ball. This was especially true of Andrew McCutchen during the entire season. He must have been withholding something all season long or how else would you explain a .350 hitter batting just .300?

According to the Internet: “Mental toughness is a controversial term, in that many people use the term liberally to refer to any set of positive attributes that helps a person to cope with difficult situations. Coaches and sport commentators freely use the term mental toughness to describe the mental state of athletes who persevere through difficult sport circumstances to succeed.

Dr. Jim Loehr of the Human Performance Institute defined mental toughness as ‘the ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances.’”

My research over the past 28 years has shown that individuals who are often identified as someone with mental toughness are the same individuals who come from a loving, nurturing home environment or had someone in their lives who loved them unconditionally. People with a high sense of self-worth are the same people who practice endurance and persistency in their personal lives. And these two characteristics are found in individuals with high self-esteem.


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