Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Missouri State University

While watching the Chiefs-Patriots game on tv this evening I noticed an ad for Crown Royal and it reminded me of an interview I conducted with former NFL player Dr. Tommy Burnett. Dr. Burnett has spent more than 40 years as a professor at Missouri State University. He has a PhD in Sport Psychology and is also an expert in Sports Law and Risk Management. He told me that based on his experience and knowledge, he’s found that the consumption of alcohol interferes with an athlete’s oxygen supply making him or her more susceptible to injury. Here’s how it works: The consumption of alcohol interferes with the transportation of oxygen to the body’s muscle cells and is not being delivered to the ligaments and tendons. When the muscle fibers are deprived of oxygen, the athlete is more prone to injuries. This is pretty common knowledge among personal trainers who work on college and professional athletes but it’s a fact often hidden from public view since there is a close association of the marketing of alcoholic beverages (ala Crown Royal) and sports, especially professional sports. So when you read where an athlete is experiencing muscle and ligament problems, there’s a possibility that particular athlete is consuming a substantial amount of alcohol in his or her personal life.

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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.

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


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