Mind Over Sports

Archive for the ‘Softball’ Category

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.

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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.

Courtney Frerichs of Nixa, Missouri, placed second in the 3,000 meter stepplechase on August 11th at the IAAF World Championships in London. Fellow American Emma Coburn placed first. This is a race traditionally dominated by the Kenyans but this time it seems the Kenyans, at lease one of the Kenyans, wasn’t completely focused and made a mental error.

According to the internet: “Beatrice Chepkoech’s hope of victory in the 3,000m steeplechase evaporated midway through Friday’s final when she forgot to take the water jump. The Kenyan lost valuable time as she was forced to turn back and then jump over it. She eventually finished in fourth with the USA’s Emma Coburn taking gold.” No one knows what was going on inside Beatrice Chepkoech’s brain but it’s possible she was preoccupied by some personal issues in her life resulting in her forgetting to take the water jump and having to turn back and jump over it. She also fell down during another jump.

Beatrice was one of the favorites to receive a medal and if she did have some personal unresolved issues in her life, this is a good example of the need to clear them out before competing.

An expectation is a special kind of belief, a belief about the future.
If a professional baseball pitcher gets in trouble in the first inning, does the manager have faith in the player’s ability to work out of the jam? The pitcher need only look over and see if anyone is warming up in the bullpen. First inning bullpen activity communicates an expectation that the pitcher will fail. Such an expression of no confidence does not promote performance at skill level. Admittedly, some pitchers might consider bullpen action as a challenge and rise to the occasion. But, in general, negative expectations promote lower performance.
If a college football player is told he is third string, the coach encourages third-string performance.
Negative expectations can create a self-fulfilling prophecy for a whole team. In the late 1980’s, an assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns described their NBA team as “a ‘dream team,’ as long as management understands that it is going to take time to develop and mature.” Such “praise” told players that they were not expected to do well that season. Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons quickly squelched such talk and the team went on to make the playoffs.
A coach who continually gets into altercations with referees, who shouts that incompetent or unfair decisions are costing the game, establishes a low expectation for players, giving them an excuse to perform at a low level and thereby lose.
If a coach expects players to do well, players can thrive even if the coach’s expectations are based on inaccurate information. Clint Hurdle noted that St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog had an “innate ability to make the 24th guy on the roster feel as good as No. 1, when you know good and well you’re not.”
Expectations are an expression of commitment. Regardless of what we say or think about goals we are committed to achieve, what we’re doing right now is what we are committed to making happen in our lives. To know what an individual athlete or an entire team is committed to, simply look at their actions. Are they practicing? Are they training? Are they overweight?
Beliefs and expectations create the climate in which individual competitors and entire teams perform. Wise coaches stay alert to attitudes affecting performance. Coaches who promote positive attitudes are not only wise in training, they are winners on the field.

How often have we heard someone say they were really “stressed out” but what they actually meant was they were feeling a lot of pressure. People survive pressure but often don’t survive stress because of the effect stress has on their immune system. When an individual is experiencing stress, his or her body gives off hormones (such as cortisol) that impair their immune system, allowing cancer cells in their bodies to multiply at a rate faster than their immune system can devour them.

But people who were reared in a loving, nurturing home environment and have a high sense of self-worth (self-esteem) seldom experience life-threatening illnesses, while those who were reared in a dysfunctional home environment and have a low sense of self-worth (self-esteem) often experience illnesses, such as cancer.

It’s not the issue that causes stress, but how we view that issue based on our feelings of self-worth. The better we feel about ourselves, the less likely we are to see our issues as being stressful.


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