Mind Over Sports

Archive for February 2016

Dear Marv,

I help coach a select level U14 girls soccer team in Georgia. We have one player in particular who gets herself so worked up before a match she becomes almost ineffective. I suspect deeper problems are involved with this particular child. Any tips I can use to help calm her before a match?
Thanks, Bill

Dear Bill,

Thanks for your note. You’re probably right regarding problems she may be having in her personal life (or possibly even with you or other team members.) I would encourage you to meet with her one-on-one, letting her know that anything she says will be kept in complete confidence, just between the two of you, and provide her with an opportunity to “unload” (that is, talk about issues she may be having in her personal life) without fearing anyone being judgmental. If she’s having a problem with someone and prefers not to confront him/her, you can also encourage her to write that person a nice long letter telling him/her how she feels, then, putting the letter away in her dresser drawer at her dorm or home.

Another suggestion might be to introduce her to meditation, where she creates a mantra for herself and after hours of practicing, will be able to focus on and visualize her mantra, blocking out everything else around her. In this way, she can calm herself just prior to competing. If you’d like more information on this, let me know and I can e-mail it t you.

Bill, I’ve worked with college level girls’ volleyball and softball teams and have some insight into what you’re experiencing. Many of the girls were highly emotional, but they also responded to the type of program I’ve mentioned. If your young soccer player doesn’t respond, then I highly recommend professional counseling.



I’ve never been a huge fan of retired Mizzou Football Coach Gary Pinkel, especially after one of his players, linebacker Aaron O’Neal, died in 2005 following a voluntary workout with his teammates and was not rushed to the hospital. But when I received my Spring 2016 copy of MIZZOU MAGAZINE (I’m an alumni) it included an interesting article about coach Pinkel that pointed out how he and his team grieved and how “the tragedy united his players and coaching staff and inspired self-reflection.” The article also mentioned that “to help encourage team bonding, Pinkel instituted ‘cross-over dinners,’ during which combinations of units – offensive linemen and defensive backs, for example – dine together and open up about their personal lives.” It’s this “opening-up” that enhances a player’s self-esteem and thereby enhances performance. Athletes who don’t “open-up” and keep their feelings and issues bottled-up are those athletes who are prone to making mental errors during competition. No wonder he won 118 games while at Mizzou.

When basketball teams apply full-court pressure, it not only creates turn-overs by their opponents but also, at the same time, raises the intensity and energizes a team, mentally.

This is, in my opinion, especially true in NCAA women’s basketball because (and I’ll probably take a lot of heat for this) I don’t believe women, at this stage in their development, are able to handle the basketball as proficiently as men when being pressured by the opposing team.

A few years ago I sat in Hammons Student Center in Springfield, Missouri, and watched the SMS Lady Bears (now MSU Lady Bears) almost pull off a huge upset over the number one ranked women’s team in the country: Louisiana State University. It was true at the time that the LSU athletes were much taller, with longer arm-reach, but in my opinion, they weren’t all that quick. In fact, I was surprised at how inept they were at handling the ball when the Lady Bears applied full-court pressure. And when that pressure was applied, the Lady Bears suddenly found themselves with a 2-point lead with 6:25 remaining. And then, just as suddenly, they stopped applying the pressure and seemed to back off, allowing LSU to bring the ball down the court at their leisure. And before you could say “what happened?” the Tigers scored 16 straight points and the game was all but over.

So my question at the time was: Why did the Lady Bears stop applying the pressure? I don’t believe it was a case of bad coaching but rather, the Lady Bears just ran out of gas.
And if that was true, then the loss to LSU should have served as a reminder that if they were to ever make it to the final four, or win a national championship, the Lady Bears would need to be in better physical condition. Especially when they are applying full court pressure.

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