Mind Over Sports

Archive for the ‘Basketball’ Category

This article includes some degree of speculation.  But the value of a players only team meeting is valid.

One of the 2018 NCAA March Madness Tournament coaches made a choice which, in my opinion, probably didn’t sit well with his team and could have been the reason they lost in the second round to a less talented team. The coach, who will remain unnamed, had a star freshman player who joined the team early in the season and immediately experienced a foot injury that kept him from suiting up all season long. So the coach did the best he could do with the healthy members of his team and they made it into the post-season tournament. About that time, his star athlete’s foot became healed well enough so he could play. The coach inserted him into the first tournament game early and the second tournament game also. Those players who worked their butts off all season long and had developed excellent chemistry with other members of the team were required to ride the bench and received very little playing time. This probably didn’t sit well with the team. But no one said anything because the coach makes those decisions based on information he has available to him. He IS the coach and that is his job. But maybe, just maybe, it might not have been a bad idea to allow his team to hold a players only meeting and allow them to determine if the star athlete should be allowed to replace the player who had worked hard all season long, or should he ride the bench. This is another example of how most of the time good team chemistry is as important, or possibly more important, than talent. And good chemistry is often the result of a players only meeting.

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Much has been written in the media about how America’s women have been sexually abused by their bosses and supervisors and until now, have been reluctant to speak up because they feared the consequences of their honesty.

But something very similar is happening in the field of sports (and has been happening for a long time) based on the way some white coaches treat their black athletes behind closed doors. If a white coach treats an African-American athlete badly and the athlete speaks up, more than likely he will not only be kicked off the team but other teams will be reluctant to have him join them because he is immediately identified as a trouble-maker. The ramifications of this are enormous, especially since the athlete will be deprived of the opportunity to obtain a college degree. Rather than fight their coach and the front office (who is aware of their coach’s behavior but still support him) they clam up, saying nothing, especially to the media. Here’s an example:

A number of years ago, half-way through the season, I was called upon to help an NCAA Missouri Basketball team who, up to that time, was 3-15. My job as a sport psychology consultant was to help build team chemistry and help the players improve their performance. This involved each player standing and sharing with his teammates what was on his mind, with no coach present. There were twelve players on the team, ten of whom were African-American. At our first session, which was much like a support group meeting with all comments made to be kept in complete confidence within that room. What I heard from players was startling and amazing.  Since the players wouldn’t speak up about how their coach was treating them, I took it upon myself to approach a friend who was on the board of the university. He took action and when the season ended, that coach was fired. Unfortunately, word leaked out that it was I who approached the university and from that day on, no one at the university would hire me.

One last note: Once the “players only” weekly team meetings began, the team went on to win 8 out of their last 10 games.  The coach, who was highly superstitious, thought it was because he hadn’t changed his undershorts.

 

I’ve often said that what you believe to be true is true for you, no matter how it plays out in the real world. A good example is Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Kareem Hunt, who has this belief that he gets stronger during the second half of games. In an interview Hunt said he’s always been someone who gets stronger as games wear on. This is a powerful belief that has helped to make him the NFL’s rushing leader through the first four weeks of the season. Hunt believes he gets stronger and because of this belief he actually does get stronger.
A number of years ago, Missouri University’s football team was playing Oklahoma University and Oklahoma was a huge favorite since they had an All-American quarterback. With just a few minutes to go in the first half, Oklahoma was winning 21-0. But on the last play of the first half, Oklahoma’s All-American quarterback was injured and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher and was out for the rest of the game. When the second half started, Missouri seemed to have a different mindset. Even though they were still competing against the same Oklahoma defense that held them scoreless in the first half, they were able to score three times in the second half but eventually lost the game by a point, 21-20. What made the difference? Their “belief” they could win once the Oklahoma quarterback was out of the game. And the Oklahoma team more than likely believed that with their quarterback out of the game, they could lose…and they almost did.

While watching the Chiefs-Patriots game on tv this evening I noticed an ad for Crown Royal and it reminded me of an interview I conducted with former NFL player Dr. Tommy Burnett. Dr. Burnett has spent more than 40 years as a professor at Missouri State University. He has a PhD in Sport Psychology and is also an expert in Sports Law and Risk Management. He told me that based on his experience and knowledge, he’s found that the consumption of alcohol interferes with an athlete’s oxygen supply making him or her more susceptible to injury. Here’s how it works: The consumption of alcohol interferes with the transportation of oxygen to the body’s muscle cells and is not being delivered to the ligaments and tendons. When the muscle fibers are deprived of oxygen, the athlete is more prone to injuries. This is pretty common knowledge among personal trainers who work on college and professional athletes but it’s a fact often hidden from public view since there is a close association of the marketing of alcoholic beverages (ala Crown Royal) and sports, especially professional sports. So when you read where an athlete is experiencing muscle and ligament problems, there’s a possibility that particular athlete is consuming a substantial amount of alcohol in his or her personal life.

There’s an old Yiddish Proverb that says: Mit ein kinder compt mazel. When translated, means “With each (newborn) child, comes luck.” But is it luck or are there mysterious unexplained powers at work that actually create the good luck. I have found, after conducting experiential self-esteem building workshops for many years, there’s a strong correlation between high feelings of self-worth, when an individual’s life is in harmony, and that individual’s ability to create positive events in his or her life.

And the opposite is also true. When individuals have a low sense of self-worth, and their lives are not in harmony, they will actually create negative events in their lives.

A low sense of self-worth is brought about when we withhold our feelings, when we lie or tell half-truths, when we cheat others, and when we allow unresolved issues to hover above us like a dark cloud. A low sense of self-worth can also be a manifestation of not having been loved and nurtured as a child.

But we can break the chain and enhance our lives! It takes time and hard work; there’s no such thing as a quick fix. Here are two examples of how the process works:

Professional women athletes who take a maternity break from their sport, have their baby, and then return to their sport, will almost always experience enhanced performance. One needs only to follow the LPGA, WNBA and female Track & Field athletes to see this power of the universe at work.

Here’s an example from a negative perspective: The untimely death of John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife Carolyn Bissette and her sister Lauren. Their lives were not working and there was anything but harmony in their relationship. Carolyn was allegedly having an affair and doing drugs. John was experiencing anguish and a state of confusion over his troubled marriage, his failing magazine, and the recent news that his best friend and cousin, Tony Radziwill, was near death with testicular cancer.

Good things will happen to you beginning the day you are born providing you come from a loving, nurturing family. And you don’t withhold your feelings and emotions.

According to an article that appeared in a recent issue of the New York Times, “Being a world-class distance runner in your youth does not guarantee that you will be fit and healthy in retirement. But it helps, according to a new study that followed a group of elite American runners for 45 years. The study’s findings raise interesting questions about how we can and should age and the role that youthful activity might play in our health later in life. Aging is one of the great mysteries of life and science. Its chronology is clear: With each passing year, we are a year older. But the biology of the process is murky. Scientists remain uncertain about how and why our bodies change as we age and to what extent such changes are inevitable or mutable. In other words, we do not know whether aging as most of us now experience it is normal for the human species or not.

“That issue is at the heart of the new study, which was published this month in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. It began almost 50 years ago, with a spate of coaching and testing that took place just before the 1968 Summer Olympic track and field trials in the United States. At that time, Jack Daniels, an exercise physiologist and running coach, began working with some of America’s top distance running prospects. He tested 26 of the athletes extensively, determining their aerobic capacity, or VO2 max, and many other measures of health and performance capabilities.”

The research Mr. Daniels is conducting is excellent but I would ask him these three questions:
Did those runners tested have a high sense of self-worth?
Did they come from loving, nurturing home environments?
Did they have a strong belief in a higher power?

I’ve always felt that people who have high self-esteem are more likely to take care of their bodies when they are young, and will never abuse alcohol or drugs. As a result, they live longer than those who do not. In my case, I played handball for almost thirty years, five times per week, three hours per day. I also played semi-pro basketball. I believe that exercise, along with having a high sense of self-worth as a result of being reared in a loving, nurturing home environment, will lay the foundation for you to be physically healthy your entire life. It’s worked for me, even now in my 85th year.

It’s a pretty well accepted fact in the world of sports that if an athlete is experiencing problems in his (or her) personal life, he (or she) will not perform anywhere near their skill level.  And they are more prone to making mental errors during competition.  I first encountered this concept when working with the University of Missouri/Kansas City men’s basketball team a number of years ago. Some of the players were having personal issues they were dealing with and in order to help them, the team was converted into a support group allowing teammates to interact with each other. The result was an instant improvement in performance.

When the season ended, I approached the head of the psychology department at UMKC and told her what I had done with the team and that I’d like to pursue a degree in sport psychology. She told me in no uncertain terms that if I became a sport psychologist I could not implement the type of program used with the team since helping athletes with their issues and problems was in the domain of the clinical psychologist and if I did, I could lose my license. At that point I decided not to become a sport psychologist but rather a sport psychology consultant which meant I could work with a team in any manner I might choose.


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