Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Jovan Belcher

I have a theory why the Kansas City Chiefs are winning. It’s true they have excellent talent and an excellent quarterback, but the same goes for other NFL teams as well. And as many of you who read my column know, I’m a big advocate of sports teams becoming support groups, allowing athletes to talk about problems they may be experiencing in their personal lives. When this happens team members not only become more healthy psychologically because the sessions enhance their feelings of self work, but also results in their performing close to their skill levels on a consistent basis.

My theory is (and I have no inside information to prove this) that when KC Chiefs player Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins last year and then took his own life, the Chiefs front office decided to put into place an internal program to head off the possibility of similar tragedies in the future and created a system of internal support groups to allow players to talk about their issues. And then, along came the perfect coaching fit, Andy Reid, who also had a 29-year old son who committed suicide last year. So if you combine the support group concept with a head coach who is in total agreement and has great empathy for his players, then you have a formula for success. When the Chiefs decided to follow a program of this type (assuming they have) their primary focus was on the well-being and the mental health of their players, and probably had no idea at the time the positive effect it would have on team performance.
The only other NFL coach who I’ve ever met who is in complete agreement with the concept of team support groups is Coach Al Saunders of the Oakland Raiders.

Former NFL coach Romeo Crennel is, I’m sure, a very nice person and has the best of intentions. But his comments in USA TODAY about the death of Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher and what needs to be done in the future to prevent a similar situation indicates he doesn’t understand the need for psychotherapy in troubled players’ lives. Crennel keeps talking about educating players and the importance of impressing on them to “do the right thing.” But when athletes have emotional problems, you don’t try to educate them, you listen to them and encourage them to talk about their personal issues and feelings. That’s why I’m an advocate of NFL teams creating “support group environments” within each team, allowing players to discuss among themselves any problems they may be having in their personal lives. The more they release their feelings the better they will feel about themselves and the less likely they are to commit domestic violence. One-on-one counseling doesn’t work because there’s a stigma attached to it: Players don’t want to be seen walking into a room with a “schrink” because their teammates will think there’s something psychology wrong with them.  And what compounds this problem even more is that many professional athletes, at a very early age, are taught NOT to talk about their feelings because it isn’t macho.  But once they realize that talking about their issues and problems will enhance their performance, they generally open up and participate in the group discussion.

For the past 26 years I’ve been advocating that athletic teams become support groups, allowing athletes to share their personal issues with each other in a support group environment. This allows them to discuss and diffuse problems they might be experiencing in their personal lives. The result is they become healthier psychologically and develop enhanced feelings of self-worth (self-esteem) which also enhances their performance in their sport. Unfortunately, many coaches (especially in the NFL) believe this is “sissy stuff” and refuse to set up these types of group sessions. And some owners are under the misconception that if you pay a player enough money he will perform, without even considering what might be going on in his personal life. I believe that if the Kansas City Chiefs had had a support group program in effect, there’s a good possibility Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins might still be alive.

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