Mind Over Sports

Archive for the ‘Sport Psychology’ Category

I’m often asked what I believe to be the secret for living a longer, healthier life, and based on my experience these past 85 years here’s what I’ve found. First and foremost it helps if you are born into a family where there is a loving, nurturing home environment and as a child you receive unconditional love. But this love can come later in life from a spouse, a coach, or even a teacher. It translates into high self-esteem and the most important characteristic for someone with high self-esteem is they deal directly with their issues and do not allow them to fester and hover above them like a dark cloud. People who have low self-esteem and withhold (and by withholding I mean keeping their feelings and emotions bottled-up inside themselves) create stress for themselves and this stress results in their bodies giving off hormones that impair their immune systems. In addition, a regimen of exercise is important. In my case, I played baskeball and handball for more than thirty years, five days a week, 3 hours per day, and never used drugs nor abused alcohol. The way you treat your body when you are young will show up in your older years. That’s why exercise is so important. But even more important is high self-esteem. And a strong belief in the almighty.

In 1989 my wife and I moved to Phoenix and while there, I read in the local newspaper there was a local Pima Indian runner who was considered Olympic potential. In fact, he was so good that Billy Mills, the famous Native American who won a gold medal in the 10,000 metre run at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, made a special trip to Phoenix to run with him. The following week I visited the reservation and met with the young man and four of his friends who were all cross-country runners. This group included the young man’s 14 year old brother who was also a runner, and was considered to have the potential to be even better than his older brother. At one of our sessions I asked the young 14-year old runner why he had been losing his most recent races and at first he didn’t want to comment. But then it finally surfaced. He was purposely losing those races, he told us, because he didn’t want to break his brother’s records. When that information surfaced, his older brother stood up and gave him permission to break his records. After receiving that permission, the young man once again began running like his former self and began breaking all records. Including those of his brother.

I bring this up because tomorrow, July 15th, 2017, according to USA Today, “Venus Williams will be competing to win a sixth Wimbleton trophy and will become the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open era. That feat would knock her sister Serena from that record, which she secured in January in winning the Australian Open at 35.” Let’s only hope that Serena has given her 37-year old sister permission to beat her opponent, Garbine Muguruza, and take over the record.

It’s pretty common knowledge to baseball fans that former Red Sox all-star Wade Boggs consumed chicken at 2pm on game days throughout his 18-year career. When he was inducted into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, he thanked his elderly father who was sitting in the front row, but shouldn’t he have also thanked Kentucky Fried Chicken?

Swedish great Bjorn Borg never shaved during the Wimbledon fortnight, which he won from 1976-80. Tennis star James Blake wore the same Nike baseball cap without washing it for three weeks in a 14-match winning streak.

In baseball, no one speaks to a pitcher who is in the midst of a no-hitter and often they won’t even mention it to a teammate.

I once began working with a NCAA Division I men’s basketball team halfway through their season. They had a dismal 3-15 record and their coach allowed me to take them into a room where they proceeded to “unload” all their issues in the privacy of a team meeting, which was followed by visualization exercises. They won 8 out of their final 10 games and the coach thought it was because he wore the same under shorts every day, without laundering them once.

Some athletes believe a particular number on their jersey is important to success. If they have the number, they have extra confidence that enhances performance. If the team manager assigns a different number, the player loses confidence and that loss is reflected in performance. A wise coach takes advantage of his or her athletes’ beliefs, no matter how crazy they may seem to be, in order to build a team’s strength.

The athlete’s belief system controls performance, not the coach’s. If athletes believe that being sexually active the night before a big game will make them more relaxed and that they will therefore perform better, they will – regardless of what their coach believes. Coaches often try to force their own belief systems on their athletes and it just doesn’t work. The best coaches, the most successful ones, are those who instinctively tap into the belief systems of their players and use those beliefs to the team’s advantage.

If a basketball player believes that watching a video of himself making three point shots will enhance his ability to make three point shots, it will. (Providing of course he has the skill level.)

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.

The above was the headline that appeared in this morning’s sports page when reporting Texas Christian University’s victory over Missouri State University. Two years ago the team adopted a young boy with cancer named Micah Ahern as part of the Horned Frogs baseball team’s participation in the IMPACT program that pairs sports teams with sick children. Micah proved to be an inspiration to the team and even though in July, 2016, Micah died from cancer at the age of 7, he continues to be the team’s inspiration. I call this “excelling for a higher order” when athletes take on a cause that enhances their feelings of self-worth. And the higher their self-worth, the closer they perform to their skill levels on a consistent basis. Of course, enhanced performance by a team is only a by-product of the program. No team adopts a child to help them win games. But the fact of the matter is, it happens. Every NCAA college sports team in America should join the IMPACT program and help sick kids.

There are many theories as to what Tiger Woods needs to do to straighten out his life and his golf game, even though his most recent run-in with the law wasn’t because of alcohol but rather due to prescription drugs he was taking. But what he needs to do is really quite simple. That is, take a two year hiatus and go and live in a buddhist monastery in Kyoto, Japan. It will not only bring order to his life, but will help his golf game as well. I’m sure his mother will agree.

“It was almost impossible for him (Sam) to talk about it (his depression and anxiety)– even with his best friends and even with us– and that was his downfall… it was just totally encompassing and overwhelming,” said Sam Holmes’ dad Tim Holmes. Nineteen-year old Sam was one of the top high school golfers in Missouri and yet, because of depression and anxiety, was driven to take his own life.

Losing a child is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a mother and father, and though I’m cetain they tried to get him help, I would have attempted to get him into a supprt group with others his own age who also suffered from depression and anxiety.

I recall a group I was involved with in Kansa City many years ago who were former inmates of the penal system and who were about to re-enter the job market. One of the particpants, for the first eight sessions, sat with his arms folded and was determined to say nothing. But then, when he realized he was in an environment where it was safe to talk about his issues and problems, he let loose and began talking…so much so that, in fact, it was difficult to shut him up.

Based on what Sam’s father said, Sam was withholding (bottling up) his issues and feelings and as we know, when someoe withholds it’s a form of lying that demeans them and lowers their self-esteem, which could result in depression and anxiety. That’s why support groups are so helpful.

From the internet: “Azarenka, once No. 1, is on an extended break after pregnancy, but she is quietly yet fiercely determined to rise again. She will return with a new coach, the former journeyman pro Michael Joyce, and a new traveling companion in her son, Leo, who was born in December. ‘Yes, I’ll do it for me, because I want to achieve my full potential, but it’s not anymore just for me,’ Azarenka said. ‘I want to have my son be proud of me. I want to give him a good example that if you have a goal and you have a dream, you can achieve it if you work hard.’”

If Victoria’s game holds true to form, she should be great at her game. The past has proven that when female athletes take a break and have a baby, when they return, their game is better than ever. They are happy, and their lives are in harmony.


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