Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Eye Contact

We hear a lot about how certain speakers are able to motivate members of their audience or that a particular coach is a great motivator, but the fact of the matter is, no one can motivate another person. Inspire, yes. But not motivate. Motivation must come from within and over the years I’ve found the higher an individual’s feelings of self-worth (self-esteem) the more motivated they become…automatically.

If I were speaking to a group of people in a room and my job was to motivate them, the first thing I would do would be to organize them into support groups so they could talk about personal issues they may be keeping bottled inside themselves. I call this withholding and withholding is a form of lying that demeans them and lowers their self-esteem, creating psychological baggage that negatively affects their ability to focus and process information. As they talk about their issues and release them, they’ll start to feel better about themselves and their missions in life. The most successful coaches are those who provide an internal mechanism for players to talk abut their issues with their teammates. Everything that takes place in that room is kept in complete confidence and no one will be benched or kicked off the team for sharing. And once they share their issues with their teammates, the result will be improved team chemistry and improved performance.

This same premise applies to school children who witness horrific problems at home but tell no one about them. They come to school and attend class, even though they’re not focused on schoolwork, and before long, they are making poor grades and often drop out of school. That’s why I’m an advocate of support groups in our school systems. And how can you tell if a student is withholding? Eye contact. People who withhold have poor eye contact and will break eye contact when discussing an issue they have not resolved in their personal lives.

It’s often said that the eyes are the highway to the soul, but it’s actually the other way around: The eyes are echoes from the ego. Whatever is going on inside you will show up in your eye contact.

Eye contact is a powerful indicator of self-esteem. The better your eye contact the higher your self-esteem. The poorer your eye contact, the lower your self-esteem. And in almost every situation, individuals with bad eye contact are withholding, keeping their feelings and emotions bottled up inside themselves. Withholding is a form of lying that demeans us, lowering our self-esteem, creating psychological baggage that negatively affects our ability to focus and process information.

That’s why athletes with poor eye contact will inevitably make mental errors during competition. Wide receivers in football are more likely to drop passes. Running backs will fumble the ball. Quarterbacks are prone to throwing interceptions. But the opposite is also true. Wide receivers with high self-esteem and good eye contact will make fantastic catches during competition. Running backs will make great runs. Quarterbacks will complete a high percentage of their passes. And it’s always a good idea, if possible, to check out your opponent before competing. For example, if you’re a volleyball player, you might want to visit the opposing team, meet them and talk with them, noticing their eye contact. When you spot a player with poor eye contact, that’s the person you’ll want to hit the ball to whenever possible since that individual will be more likely to make a mental error. If you’re a quarterback on a football team, check the eye contact of your wide receivers. If any have bad eye contact, try not to throw to them but rather to those receivers who have excellent eye contact. Your percentage of pass completions will increase dramatically.

If you’re a parent and want to help your children improve their eye contact, encourage them to say what’s on their mind and not keep their issues bottled-up. If you’re a coach, you can hold team meetings (sometimes without coaches present) encouraging players to get things off their chest and speak up. If you’re an athlete and want to improve your eye contact, do not withhold your feelings and emotions. Speak your mind and clear the air. In the words of Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.”

I’ve been reading NBA coach Phil Jackson’s most recent book, “Eleven Rings,” and in it he makes the following observation:

“Basketball is a great mystery. You can do everything right. You can have the perfect mix of talent and the best system of offense in the game. You can devise a foolproof defensive strategy and prepare your players for every kind of eventuality. But if the players don’t have a sense of oneness as a group, your efforts won’t pay off. And the bond that unites a team can be so fragile, so elusive.”

Now coach Jackson knows a heck of a lot more about basketball than I’ll ever know but it’s possible I might have a leg up on him when it comes to team chemistry and team bonding. I don’t find team chemistry and team bonding elusive at all. In fact, it can be achieved quite simply. All a coach has to do is lock players in a room for an approximate 4-hour session, with a facilitator (not to be a coach) with every player (including the facilitator) signing a “ground rules” form that guarantees complete confidentiality. That is, whatever takes place in the room stays in the room. Then, everyone sits in a chair in a circle with no one present in the room who can bench them or, even worse, remove them from the team (and that includes all coaches) so that there will be total and complete honesty among players.

The first step is to have everyone go around the room telling a little about their personal lives and any problems or issues they may be having and these issues and problems can be strictly personal or team-related or even coach-related. Primarily, these are issues and problems they have been withholding (bottling-up inside themselves.) After the first hour or so when they begin to feel comfortable and begin trusting their teammates and the facilitator, they will then begin to open up and be more honest regarding what is going on in their minds and their hearts and what they may have been withholding and bottling-up. They are especially eager to do this once they realize that if they open their hearts and minds (and their problems) to their teammates, often making themselves vulnerable in the process, sometimes producing tears of emotion, they will begin to feel better about themselves and will begin performing at a higher skill level. Helping their teammates with their personal problems, and helping their teammates figure out a way to solve their problems, makes players feel better about themselves and enhances their performance on the court. This emotional interaction soon creates a strong bonding among team members and enhances team chemistry.

And the next and final stage is where everyone is in the locker room (including coaches) and all are holding hands and standing in a circle with the lights dimmed and with special music playing in the background with meaningful lyrics. This is when group visualization begins. Every team member visualizes himself or herself performing at peak performance during the upcoming game.

And there’s an easy way to tell if, in fact, the team bonded; and that is by checking each player’s eye contact. Good eye contact means the player participated in the session and feels good about himself or herself and is bonded with teammates and also feels a part of good team chemistry. However, a player who does not have good eye-contact after the session more than likely wasn’t honest during the session and refused, for whatever reason, to share his or her personal and emotional issues with teammates.

I was interested in comments made by Missouri basketball star Kim English in the Missouri Alumni magazine MIZZOU (Winter, 2012 issue) when he was quoted as saying: “’Before the game and at halftime, I look into all of my teammates’ eyes,’ English says. ‘I take a second and stare at every person so I can see if they’re ready, nervous, focused. There’s an unspoken bond between us.’” Kim instinctively knows that athletes who have poor eye contact generally have issues they’re withholding (repressing). Withholding is a form of lying that demeans them and lowers their self-esteem, creating psychological baggage that affects their ability to focus and process information. For example, a shooting guard who is having a problem with a girlfriend and is keeping it bottled up inside himself will begin missing his 3-point shots unless he’s able to talk about his issues with the coach or teammates before the game in a safe, controlled, environment. By the same token, athletes who have excellent eye contact and visualize their success will almost always perform close to their skill levels on a consistent basis. And when an athlete has good eye contact it’s a sign of high self-esteem and starts with having been reared in a loving, nurturing home environment. No small wonder that Kim is one of the team’s best players and I would wager that he fits the mold perfectly


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