Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘NBA

An expectation is a special kind of belief, a belief about the future.
If a professional baseball pitcher gets in trouble in the first inning, does the manager have faith in the player’s ability to work out of the jam? The pitcher need only look over and see if anyone is warming up in the bullpen. First inning bullpen activity communicates an expectation that the pitcher will fail. Such an expression of no confidence does not promote performance at skill level. Admittedly, some pitchers might consider bullpen action as a challenge and rise to the occasion. But, in general, negative expectations promote lower performance.
If a college football player is told he is third string, the coach encourages third-string performance.
Negative expectations can create a self-fulfilling prophecy for a whole team. In the late 1980’s, an assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns described their NBA team as “a ‘dream team,’ as long as management understands that it is going to take time to develop and mature.” Such “praise” told players that they were not expected to do well that season. Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons quickly squelched such talk and the team went on to make the playoffs.
A coach who continually gets into altercations with referees, who shouts that incompetent or unfair decisions are costing the game, establishes a low expectation for players, giving them an excuse to perform at a low level and thereby lose.
If a coach expects players to do well, players can thrive even if the coach’s expectations are based on inaccurate information. Clint Hurdle noted that St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog had an “innate ability to make the 24th guy on the roster feel as good as No. 1, when you know good and well you’re not.”
Expectations are an expression of commitment. Regardless of what we say or think about goals we are committed to achieve, what we’re doing right now is what we are committed to making happen in our lives. To know what an individual athlete or an entire team is committed to, simply look at their actions. Are they practicing? Are they training? Are they overweight?
Beliefs and expectations create the climate in which individual competitors and entire teams perform. Wise coaches stay alert to attitudes affecting performance. Coaches who promote positive attitudes are not only wise in training, they are winners on the field.


There’s no question about it. LeBron James is in charge of the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s true, Tyronn Lue is the titular head coach, but LeBron is in charge. When he wanted former head coach David Blatt fired, David Blatt was fired. Even though the Cavs had a winning record at the time. Fast forward to the current playoffs. LeBron doesn’t believe the Cavs should rely on the 3-point shot. J. R. Smith, one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA, disagrees. So the question is, does J. R. resent LeBron calling the shots even though Lue is head coach. All you have to do is look at his performance when the Cavs lost games 3 and 4 and he went 10-for-28. That’s how it works. When an NBA athlete is teed off at a teammate and doesn’t say anything, it affects his focus. In counseling circles, it’s called “baggage.” But it’s possible that J. R. and LeBron have since made up and resolved the issue, and LeBron has given J. R. permission to shoot away. And if yes, it will show up, not only in J. R.’s performance but will have a positive effect on the entire team’s performance.

In an article that appeared in the May 27, 2005 issue of USA Today, it was pointed out that baseball player Wade Boggs consumed chicken at 2pm on game days throughout his 18-year career. (When he was inducted into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame, he thanked his elderly father who was sitting in the front row, but shouldn’t he have also thanked Kentucky Fried Chicken?)

Swedish great Bjorn Borg never shaved during the Wimbledon fortnight, which he won from 1976-80. Tennis star James Blake wore the same Nike baseball cap without washing it for three weeks in a 14-match winning streak.

An article in The New Yorker Magazine explained how Chinese parents are superstitious to the point where they hesitate to praise their children, because they believe pride brings on misfortune. One has to wonder if former NBA star Yao Ming was ever praised by his parents while growing up in China?

In baseball, no one speaks to a pitcher who is in the midst of a no-hitter and often they won’t even mention it to a teammate.

I once began working with a NCAA Division I men’s basketball team halfway through their season. They had a dismal 3-15 record and their coach allowed me to take them into a room where they proceeded to “unload” all their issues in the privacy of a team meeting, which was followed by visualization exercises. They won 8 out of their final 10 games and the coach thought it was because he wore the same under shorts every day, without laundering them once.

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. A wise coach takes advantage of his or her athletes’ beliefs, no matter how crazy they may seem to be, 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.

In matters of health, what a patient believes about the potency of a particular medicine or treatment is almost as important as the medicine or treatment itself.

Coach Calipari understands the value of making sure his team members know he cares about them and their personal lives as well as their lives as athletes on his team. It began with his pre-season Pro Camp where he invited all the NBA GM’s and Scouts to visit his team working out before the season started. His purpose was to make sure his team players got the necessary exposure to the NBA people so that it would increase the possibility that, after they finish playing at the University of Kentucky, they would have a running start at becoming instant millionaires. He also hired Bob Rotella, one of this country’s top sport psychologists to help him. (Rotella is one of those sport psychologists who is reportedly violating his academic oath by helping athletes with their personal problems, something he’s not allowed to do since that’s the domain of the clinical psychologist and if found out, could lose his license.) But lingering in Coach Calipari’s past is when he was fired as head coach of the New Jersey Nets after having brought motivational speaker Tony Robbins into a team meeting to have team members break two-by-four boards with their bare hands. It didn’t work.

I was watching John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” show on HBO and one of the subjects he covered was the fact that NCAA basketball coaches are making millions of dollars and some of the athletes they coach are going to bed each night hungry. Mark Emmert, President of the NCAA, was quoted saying: “They (the athletes) are not employees, they’re students.” A number of years ago when the NCAA was first formed, they would not allow for workman’s compensation (because they are college students) and that’s when the phrase “student athletes” first became part of the NCAA vocabulary. And because they do not receive workman’s compensation if they get hurt while playing, they have nowhere to turn for medical treatment and medical expenses. But what really seemed preposterous was when they showed Clemson’s head football coach, Dabo Swinney, saying: “Professionalizing college athletics? That’s when they lose me. I’ll go do something else because there’s enough entitlement in this world as it is.” Swinney, by the way, makes $3 million a year. I wonder where he would go to do something else? I’ve been an advocate of paying college basketball players for a number of years now and who better to help pay them than the National Basketball Association? After all, college sports provides a free farm club for every professional basketball team in the NBA. So it only seems right that they should participate in the payments.


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