Mind Over Sports

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If you’re a coach, how often have you heard one of your players apologize to you for having had a “bad game.” But there’s no such thing as just having a bad game. There’s always a reason. Girlfriend or boyfriend problems. Financial problems. Family problems. Teammate problems. But whatever the problem, if it’s not confronted and shared openly with teammates prior to game-time, very often in a “players only team meeting,” the problem will show up on the football field in the form of dropped passes and fumbles, or it will show up on the basketball court in the form of missed shots and turn-overs. But the opposite is also true. When an athlete is happy and his/her life is in harmony, he/she will perform close to his/her skill level on a consistent basis. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs is a good example.


Ever wonder why in sports, the best and most talented team doesn’t always win? In order to explain why, let’s assume you’re a Division I mens basketball coach and your team comes from a mid-major college. And you have a game to play against one of the best teams in the country. You are also aware that the team you’re about to compete against has a 6‘11” center who scores an average of 25 points per game, which includes making 52% of his field goals and 90% of his free throws.

The game begins and you notice something’s different. The 6’11” center is missing easy shots and at half time has made only 20% of his free throws. So as head coach, you make the decision to allow him to shoot and you instruct your team to foul him often, forcing him to go to the free throw line. You realize something is wrong with his game but you’re not quite sure what. When the game ends, your team has won by 10 points and everyone is in a happy mood.

Later, you find out from someone who was in your opponents’ locker room that the 6’11” center had had an argument with his girlfriend about an hour before the game began. He didn’t tell anyone about the problem he was having, including his teammates or his coach. He withheld his feelings and emotions, not realizing that withholding was a form of lying that demeaned him and lowered his self-esteem, creating psychological baggage that affected his ability to focus.

When athletes are happy and their lives are in harmony they perform close to their skill levels on a consistent basis. But when they are unhappy, and bottle up their feelings and emotions, they won’t play anywhere near their skill levels.

That’s why I’m an advocate of a two-phase program: #1, converting teams into support groups with weekly team meetings allowing players to get “things” off their chests. #2, having the team watch a power video of themselves with a special musical soundtrack that has emotional appeal. I’ve attached an example of a power video below that I helped create for the University of Missouri Men’s Basketball Team. The player featured in the video, after watching himself perform numerous times, scored 36 points, his highest point total of his career.

A belief is a powerful tool. If an athlete believes he or she will increase his or her performance by watching himself or herself on a video, it will. A baseball player who watches himself perform hitting home runs will hit home runs, assuming he has the ability to hit home runs. The video I’m recommending: http://youtu.be/CKLmxV5Bkyw.

Without Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs are an average football team and more than likely will not reach the playoffs. Matt Moore is an average quarterback. He does not have the moves that Mahomes has, and I’m sure the team has a lot more confidence and believe they can win any game with Mahomes at quarterback. His presence in the line-up energizes the entire team.

But what I don’t understand is why the Chiefs haven’t changed their play-calling? Whatever happened to the end run? They tried it once in the first quarter and picked up nine yards.

I’m writing this at the end of the third quarter of the Chiefs-Vikings game so my observations are not based on the outcome of the game. It’s true the Chiefs have some great players in addition to Mahomes, but if Moore can’t consistently hit his receivers it really doesn’t matter that much. When Mahomes comes back into the line-up they’ll start winning. But if he gets hurt again, then the Chiefs can kiss being in the playoffs goodbye.

What athletes believe to be true is true for them, regardless of how it plays out in the real world. If a basketball player believes that watching a video of himself or herself making free throw after free throw after free throw will improve his or her accuracy at the free throw line, it will. Providing, of course, that he or she has the skill level.

Once when the University of Missouri football team was playing the University of Oklahoma, the Tigers were trailing by 21 points at half-time. But during the third quarter Oklahoma’s All-American quarterback sustained a game-ending injury and had to be carried off the field. His injury energized the MU offense which proceeded to score three touchdowns, only to lose the game by a single point. The Tigers’ offensive unit hadn’t changed, but their belief they could win did.

Fast forward to last night’s World Series game between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals.

According to the New York Times, “The Astros’ star pitcher Zack Greinke had a stellar outing, but sputtered in the seventh inning. He gave up a home run and was eventually charged with two hits and two earned runs over six and one-third innings…Taking no chances, Astros’ manager AJ Hinch pulled Greinke from the game as Houston’s lead had shrunk to 2-1. He called on Will Harris from the bullpen and the move proved disastrous, as Howie Kendrick took Harris deep, giving the Nationals a shocking 3-2 lead.”

So the question is, what if manager AJ Hinch had made the decision to call on Astro’s star pitcher Gerrit Cole to enter the game instead of Will Harris? Though Cole pitched Sunday night it was assumed he would undoubtedly come out of the bullpen if needed. How would that move have affected the belief system of the Houston Astros players? It’s possible that by having Cole as their pitcher they would suddenly be energized, believing they had a chance to win with Cole on the mound. And who knows? They might have won. But I guess we’ll never know. But what we do know is that the mind is an amazing tool, especially when it comes to sports.

I was pretty disappointed in the Kansas City Chiefs’ Play Calling against Green Bay this past week when they decided to punt on fourth-and-3, down 31-24, with 5:13 to play in the fourth quarter. It’s true they had Matt Moore at quarterback instead of MVP Patrick Mahomes, but that’s no reason not to go for it. I mean, we’re only talking about three yards. It was pretty obvious to most tv viewers such as myself that if the Chiefs punted there was a strong possibility they would not see the ball again on offense. And that’s exactly what happened. If there was ever a time to take a risk, that was it. And had the Chiefs decided to go for it, who knows? They might have won the game.

But what was even more disconcerting is why head coach Andy Reid, who handles the play-calling and normally is not adverse to taking risks, would back off of this one. It’s possible (and this is only an assumption on my part) that Andy is having some kind of problem in his personal life and the problem is showing up in his play-calling.

N. V. I.
National Visualization Institute

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