Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Missouri State University

If a team is to be successful, the players and their coach must be bonded together and have excellent chemistry. But based on what I’ve observed, that doesn’t seem to be the case with the Missouri State University Men’s Basketball Coach Paul Lusk and his team. I don’t think Coach Lusk honestly knows how to handle his team’s emotions. Or how certain decisions he makes affect team morale. And the result? Good players leave the team.

According to the Springfield News-Leader: “When Missouri State officially announced the departure of juniors Chris Kendrix and Austin Ruder, it was pointed out that both have one season of eligibility remaining and have received their release from the Missouri State program. Kendrix, a 6-foot-5 guard from Willard, was named to the Missouri Valley Conference Most Improved Team as a sophomore, when he averaged nearly 28 minutes and 12.1 points per game. He was suspended for the first game of his junior year (for a violation of team rules) and when he returned, his playing time plummeted. He averaged only 13.7 minutes and 5.4 points per game.”

One could interpret this as an indication that Coach Lusk is somebody who holds a grudge against a player. If not, he would have made sure Chris was put back into the rotation. But he didn’t. Treating Chris the way he did had to impact other players on the team who where close friends of Chris. And it also could have affected how they performed for Coach Lusk. But did the News-Leader dig into the reasons Lusk wasn’t playing Kendrix and write about what was going on behind the scenes? Not at all. And the reason is if they did, and uncovered some negative things, the sports reporter who wrote the story could lose access to the athletic department and to the team coaching staff. And if he loses access, he could lose his job.

When you have a team that doesn’t like its coach, the team is faced with a dilemma. Do you sluff off and not play at your best and hope to lose the game hastening your coach’s departure? Or do you play hard and try to win, knowing every game you win only entrenches the coach’s positon with the fans and the athletic director who is responsible for his hire.

A number of years ago I was working with a high school coach who was coaching a girls’ soccer team. They had a good team but were not performing up to their potential. Then, an accident happened. One player’s boyfriend was killed in a motorcycle accident. The team rallied around her and comforted her, which resulted in the creation of good team chemistry and at the same time enhancing the performane of the entire team. The team went on to win the state championship.

Something similar happened at Missouri State University. On February 1, 2015, MSU volleyball player Tatum Marshall experienced personal tragedy when she lost her step father, Alex, who she had known and was close to since she was three years old. Alex worked at a Thriftstore in Fayetteville to support a ministry and help underprivileged children. He was loved by everyone who knew him.

A life-saving support system came into being with her teammates, coaches and fans. There was off-court bonding between her and her teammates. Fantastic team chemistry developed and still exists today.

Volleyball coach Melissa Stokes had developed a friendship with Alex and the two of them often visited after matches. She also wears her “#LiveLikeAlex” wristband every day. “We take it as a great responsibility that when you become a Bear, we not only look out for them as volleyball players, but as people as well,” coach Stokes said.

The team is on its way to the NCAA tournament and should have great success. They have something no other team possesses: the memory of Alex.

I was watching the Missouri State – Oklahoma State basketball game last night and was amazed as Missouri State guard Dequon Miller dribbled the length of the floor and scored on a driving lay-up to put the Bears back in front – for good. I thought I was watching a rerun of the 1995 Missouri-UCLA game when UCLA’s Tyrus Edney did the same with 4.7 seconds left on the clock and tossed in a swooping lay-up just before the buzzer. But in this case, the Oklahoma State team still had :07.3 left to play. And that’s when I thought Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford made a wrong call. His team brought the ball down the court and shot an air ball from the perimeter as time ran out but it seems to me he should have called for the ball to be fed to their inside post man and a possible 3-foot shot from under the basket and if he missed the shot there was always the possibility he would be fouled. But we’ll never know. I’m sure Coach Ford had his reasons. I think this is an excellent example of what former Baseball Manager Casey Stengel meant when he said “Teams lose games more than they win them.” I think Oklahoma State lost that game. And could have won it.

I first met Ryan Howard, first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, when he was playing here in Springfield, Missouri for the Missouri State University Bears. He impressed me as being a very nice young man. I recall I asked him what he did if he had any kind of personal problem in his life and he said, “I talk to my dad.” Ryan said he and his dad had always been close. That’s why I was surprised to read in the media last November, 2014 that he was experiencing family and financial problems (that included his dad) for the past two years, which, in my mind, explains why his game had slipped during that time. But he must have smoothed things over with his family, including his dad, because he’s having a nice spring training, having hit three home runs. Just another example of: what takes place away from the baseball diamond affects what takes place on the baseball diamond. Go Ryan!

When Mike Singletary took over the head coaching job at the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, everyone expected great things from him and the team. I have met him personally and he is a very nice person.  But unfortunately, Mike’s “tough love” approach didn’t work because his team members were scared of him and were constantly trying to avoid bringing down his wrath upon them rather than playing the game of football. But don’t get me wrong. A tough love approach can work but ONLY if team members sense their coach genuinely cares about them as human beings first and then as athletic performers. This was one of Bobby Knight’s greatest gifts. His players knew he loved them and cared about them.

Now comes the new head football coach at Missouri State University.   His name is Dave Steckel and he’s a lot like Singletary. Coach Steckel is a former U.S. Marine and appears to be a no-nonsense type of guy. Which is good. But he also needs to learn from Coach Singletary’s failure. That is, tough love works if it’s accompanied by genuine love and caring by their head coach. And this is something that can’t be faked. Either you have the empathy or you don’t…and if you don’t, your players will know. The results will show up in the won-lost column and you will eventually fail

Missouri State University’s Dorrian Williams, has become one of his team’s best rebounders this season. According to the Springfield (MO) News-Leader: “Dorian Williams calls it a ‘want to do it’ mentality that allows him to excel in a facet of basketball that requires grit, sweat and sometimes a bit of bloodshed. The 6-foot-2 Williams is one of Missouri State’s smallest players, but one of its best rebounders…’It’s a will,’ Williams said of the first requirement of rebounding. ‘It’s also understanding the angles of a basketball when it misses.’” But what Williams didn’t mention is that his belief system had changed from last season. And what brought about the change? Probably the fact that he lost almost 40 lbs during the off-season. (Not sure if that’s the exact figure, but his weight loss was substantial.) From a psychological perspective, losing that much weight changed his beliefs about himself, and his belief in his ability to rebound. What an athlete believes to be true is true for him (or her), 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.

A particular belief can limit or enhance performance. A professional golfer may have played a particular course many times, yet feel a need to play the course one more time the day before a tournament. If the need is satisfied, it will aid the player’s performance. But if the need is not satisfied, the player may feel unprepared.

A major league baseball manager may believe that his team will face a greater disadvantage from a wet infield than the opposing team will. His players will know that. The manager thereby establishes a self-fulfilling prophecy that excuses low performance. And to excuse low performance is to promote it.

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. Same belief, different outcomes. A wise coach takes advantage of an athlete’s beliefs, no matter how crazy they seem, 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.

Beliefs can also be a powerful tool in the field of health. When I lived in Kansas City a few years go, I worked with children who had been diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia. People who have sickle cell have sickle-shaped cells that, when under pressure, coagulate in the blood stream, forming a beaver-dam effect resulting in extreme pain. An audio visualization tape recording was created with slow relaxing background music and a narration by an announcer describing how their sickle shaped cells were becoming whole and round and flowing effortlessly through their veins and arteries. It wasn’t necessary that their cells were actually becoming whole and round only that they believed they were. And that they believed the use of the recordings would reduce their pain level. And when those beliefs kicked in, their pain level was reduced substantially, so much so that most of them were able to replace morphine shots with the use of the recording.   Sometimes what a patient believes about the potency of a particular medicine or treatment is almost as important as the medicine itself.

We’ve heard and read a lot in the media recently about marital strife and how that strife negatively affects an athlete’s performance. But the opposite is also true. Take the case of Kyle Weems, former Missouri State University standout who will be a starter in the LBN French League All-Star Game January 3rd in Paris, France. According to the Springfield (MO) News-Leader: “Weems, in his first season with the JSF Nanterre in the top professional league in France, is averaging 11.2 points and 4.5 rebounds as Nanterre is off to a 7-3 start. Weems played at Missouri State from 2008-2012, finishing as the school’s second-leading career scorer. ‘It’s absolutely a dream come true,’ Weems said of the all star-selection…’It wouldn’t be possible without my wonderful wife, Jacque, and all my previous coaches. I’m blessed for sure.’”

As I’ve always maintained, when athletes are happy and their lives are in harmony they will perform close to their skill level on a consistent basis. When they are unhappy and their lives are in disharmony, they won’t.


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