Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Self-Esteem

We’ve all had that image of the little old lady sitting on her front porch in a rocking chair, holding her bible, often described as being cantankerous. That is, difficult to deal with and speaks her mind. But the fact is, these are characteristics of someone with high self-esteem. They don’t keep their feelings bottled-up. They generally have strong religious beliefs. And it’s not uncommon for them to live into their 90’s.

And you often find these same characteristics in successful athletes.

And how does it all start? There is no doubt that genetics has considerable influence, but the one common denominator is that at some time in their lives, often when they were small children, they received unconditional love resulting in their having a high sense of inner-self, or self-esteem.

Very often this love came from one or both parents. But if their parents were not there for them, it was often the love of a grandparent. Sometimes even a professor or a coach. Being loved as a small child lays the foundation for a successful and happy life, because children who are loved grow up to love themselves.

And if you’re a coach recruiting an athlete, how can you tell in advance that the athlete will be successful? Just check his or her eye contact. Good eye contact means high self-esteem. Poor eye contact, low self-esteem. And those with low self-esteem are generally bottling-up their feelings and emotions, which makes them prone to mental errors during competition.


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 once read a book that espoused a theory concerning positive affirmations. This particular book, written by a sport psychologist, maintained that if you say the phrase over and over again “I am a courageous, risk-taking warrior” that you can overcome your fear of taking a risk. This may work fine with people who have high self-esteem, but for people with a low sense of self-worth you’re speaking on deaf ears because risk-takers they are not.

There is no affirmation in the world yet devised that can get them to take a risk, until they deal with whatever issues they have in their lives that are affecting how they feel about themselves. Then, the higher their self-esteem, the more likely they are to risk.

Athletes who want to begin feeling good about themselves must identify and begin resolving important issues in their lives before the results of being happy will surface. Relying on positive affirmations is like wagging the tail of a dog and expecting the dog to be happy. The dog must be happy first, and then its tail will wag.

Someone recently asked me what I did for a living and I told them I was a writer. When they asked what I wrote about I said: “Self-esteem and how it affects performance in both positive and negative ways.” They wanted to know more so I explained to them, for example, that if you were an athlete (or a corporate executive) and you are “withholding” – that is, keeping your feelings and emotions bottled-up inside yourself – it impacts how you feel about yourself. Withholding is a form of lying that demeans us and lowers our self-esteem, creating psychological baggage that affects our ability to focus and process information.
And because “we see things as we are,” when we withhold, we begin to think negatively and see the world around us from a negative perspective. We create a negative self-image cycle and begin to create negative events in our lives that not only affect our performance, but also our health.
But if we don’t withhold, if we are honest with our feelings and emotions, we will create a positive self-image cycle and begin to create positive events in our lives.
If you are reading this and would like to have a complimentary copy of an e-book I’ve written entitled “Mind Over Sports. The Relationship of Self-Esteem to Athletic Performance” send me an e-mail and I’ll send you a copy. The book is for athletes, coaches and parents. My e-mail address appears on the upper right side of this website. But in case you can’t find it, it’s marv@mindoversports.com.

The prevailing wisdom in the health profession is that when a child is bipolar (demonstrating severe mood swings and depression) that it creates, in that child a low sense of inner-self (self-esteem.)
But I feel the opposite is true. From my perspective, when a child has a low sense of inner-self (self-esteem) he/she tends to have mood swings and are often depressed. I believe low self-esteem is often mis-identified as “bipolar disorder.”
So if you know of a young student athlete who is experiencing mood swings and depression, more than likely he or she was reared (or is being reared) in a dysfunctional home environment or they are withholding their feelings and emotions, which is a form of lying that demeans them and creates psychological baggage that affects their ability to focus and process information. That’s why, very often, young student athletes who are told they are bipolar because they’re not able to learn very fast and keep up with their classmates are, in fact, suffering from a case of low self-esteem, which is transferable from generation to generation just like DNA. Students who have low self-esteem generally have parents who have low self-esteem, and their parents (the grandparents) also had low self-esteem. And the best way to break this cycle is through therapy (one-on-one counseling) or, even better, group therapy where students with low self-esteem participate in support groups (approximate size should be 8-12 students) with a school counselor present, allowing them to talk about their personal issues, including what may be going on at their homes that they’ve never discussed with anyone. Once they reveal and discuss their issues with their peers they will then begin to feel better about themselves and their grade point average, their conduct in school and their performance in their sport will improve considerably.

N. V. I.
National Visualization Institute

Learn how to visualize, resulting in increased performance.

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Mind Over Sports
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