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If a team is to be successful, the players and their coach must be bonded together and have excellent chemistry. But based on what I’ve observed, that doesn’t seem to be the case with the Missouri State University Men’s Basketball Coach Paul Lusk and his team. I don’t think Coach Lusk honestly knows how to handle his team’s emotions. Or how certain decisions he makes affect team morale. And the result? Good players leave the team.

According to the Springfield News-Leader: “When Missouri State officially announced the departure of juniors Chris Kendrix and Austin Ruder, it was pointed out that both have one season of eligibility remaining and have received their release from the Missouri State program. Kendrix, a 6-foot-5 guard from Willard, was named to the Missouri Valley Conference Most Improved Team as a sophomore, when he averaged nearly 28 minutes and 12.1 points per game. He was suspended for the first game of his junior year (for a violation of team rules) and when he returned, his playing time plummeted. He averaged only 13.7 minutes and 5.4 points per game.”

One could interpret this as an indication that Coach Lusk is somebody who holds a grudge against a player. If not, he would have made sure Chris was put back into the rotation. But he didn’t. Treating Chris the way he did had to impact other players on the team who where close friends of Chris. And it also could have affected how they performed for Coach Lusk. But did the News-Leader dig into the reasons Lusk wasn’t playing Kendrix and write about what was going on behind the scenes? Not at all. And the reason is if they did, and uncovered some negative things, the sports reporter who wrote the story could lose access to the athletic department and to the team coaching staff. And if he loses access, he could lose his job.

When you have a team that doesn’t like its coach, the team is faced with a dilemma. Do you sluff off and not play at your best and hope to lose the game hastening your coach’s departure? Or do you play hard and try to win, knowing every game you win only entrenches the coach’s positon with the fans and the athletic director who is responsible for his hire.

On May 25, 2016, Ben Cannefax’s mother, Rae Ann Cannefax, died of leukemia. Ben, the oldest of five sons, plays baseball for the New Covennt Academy in Springfield, Missouri, and is one of the Academy’s top pitchers. But no one could have predicted what happened next. Ben’s game suddenly became more enhanced and his team began winning games. “I know she’s watching over me,” Cannefax said, and regarding his teammates, “They’re just there. I know that I can come to them about anything.” Because of her death, the team bonded around Ben and team chemistry went through the roof. And that’s when teams win games. New Covenant’s players and coaches paid tribute to Rae Ann Cannefax by writing her name or initials on their caps. And Ben began pitching no-hitters. This is an excellent example of what I often refer to as “Excelling for a Higher Order.” Ben’s memory of his mother has enhanced his performance and created a bonding among his teammates.

Here’s how to turn a college program around almost instantly. Sign up the Number One prospect in his class, Michael Porter Jr., who also happens to be a McDonald All-American. Michael’s father was recently added to the Mizzou coaching staff which is why Michael Junior decided to transfer from Washington. “I want to play for my dad,” said Michael. “I trust him.” Danny Manning played on a national championship team at Kansas University when he decided to join his father, who also was on the KU coaching staff. Michael’s father’s coaching background includes six years on the Missouri women’s basketball staff – three as director of basketball operations and three more as an assistant coach. So he’s not new to Missouri fans. Mizzou’s new head coach Cuonzo Martin is a lucky guy. But I don’t consider it luck that just as he takes over the reins of Mizzou basketball he has one of America’s top talents join his team. This is the kind of thing that happens when you are happy and your life is in harmony. Which applies perfectly to Coach Martin.

The following appeared in the November 15, 2006 issue of USA Today: “DT Albert Haynesworth said he learned through counseling that he should quit bottling up his emotions until they explode, a problem that landed him the NFL’s longest suspension for an on-field act. His remorse and willingness to seek help since kicking Dallas Center Andre Gurode in the face with his cleats is why he will practice today. But the Titans are requiring Haynesworth to continue that anger-management counseling. ‘I just want to keep doing it,’ Haynesworth said. ‘Honestly, it’s helping. I can actually talk about stuff. My wife likes it, too. I actually open up and talk about problems I have.’ Haynesworth worked out Monday, the first day he was eligible to return form his five-game suspension.” Is it possible the Titans realized the value of not bottling up emotions and have since had their entire team involved in the process? Withholding (bottling up feelings and emotions) is a form of lying that demeans an athlete and negatively affects his or her self-esteem. By not withholding, athletes enhance their self-esteem, thereby enhancing performance.

In the 1986 U.S. Open Golf Tournament, rumors floated about Tom Watson’s personal life. After an opening round of 72, he called a press conference and announced he was not an alcoholic, he was not divorcing his wife, and he was not firing his brother-in-law as his agent. He cleared the issues from his head and focused on golf. The next day he shot an outstanding 65 and finished runner-up in the tournament.

I used to play a lot of handball and one day I was entered in a tournament in Overland Park, Kansas, where I used to live. Just before I left home, my wife and I got into a little tiff. I didn’t think much of it at the time but after I had suited up and was about to step onto the handball court, something didn’t feel right. So I decided to call my wife and when she answered the phone I apologized for some of the things I had said and she apologized to me also and we decided to take care of the matter when I returned home later. I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me and how much she appreciated my calling her. I hung up the phone, stepped onto the court, and played some of the best handball I had ever played. And I’m convinced that had I not made that phone call, I would have played some of the worst.

In the coming NFL season, quarterback Kirk Cousins should have a fantastic season and the Washington Redskins should make it into the playoffs. I’m making this prediction based on what I’ve learned over the past thirty years: That is, when athletes are happy and their lives are in harmony, they’ll perform close to their skill levels on a consistent basis. Kirk Cousins and his wife Julie are expecting a new member of their family in September…just as the football season will be getting under way. Even their dog, Bentley, is happy about it. News of the new baby was posted by Julie on Instagram with a photo of Bentley, holding up a sign that read: “Mom & Dad are getting me a human.”

The worst example of play-calling for the Falcons came after Quarterback Matt Ryan had moved his team deep into Patriots territory. According to a report on the Internet, “Atlanta was already in field-goal position at the Patriots’ 23-yard line. An 11-point Falcons lead might have been insurmountable for New England, with fewer than four minutes left to play.”  But Atlanta’s offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan chose to pass instead of running the ball and “Ryan was sacked for a loss of 12 yards. Still, the Falcons were looking at a long but still makable field goal of about 53 yards. Shanahan opted for another pass, and on the play, a tackle, Jake Matthews, was penalized for holding. Pushed out of field-goal range entirely, the Falcons were forced to punt. On their next drive, the Patriots tied the game with another touchdown and a second 2-point conversion.” One has to wonder if the 49er’s are making a good choice when hiring Kyle Shanahan as their head coach.

Almost everyone is in agreement that when athletes are happy and their lives are in harmony, they will perform close to their skill levels on a consistent basis. And if true, watch for Serena Williams to win almost every tournament she enters, including the Austrailian Open, because she recently became engaged to Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder of Reddit.


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