Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘sport psychologists

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.

When the Ohio Bobcats beat Penn State 24-14 this past Saturday, television pundits were making excuses for the Nittany Lions saying it was because of the “distractions.” And, of course, they are right. But it happens in almost every game when any football team, basketball team or baseball team loses. Very often you’ll find one or more players who dropped passes, caused turnovers, missed three point shots they usually make or go 0-5 at the plate. In almost all instances the same pundits give credit to and lavish praise on the winning team, focusing on how well they played, never even mentioning there could be “distractions” taking place among players on the losing teams. Distractions such as: Problems with a girlfriend, financial problems, problems with a coach. They can all negatively affect performance. That’s why I believe sports teams, if they want to be successful, should conduct team meetings every week (without coaches present) allowing players to vent issues they may be carrying around. And when this venting takes place, it not only enhances feelings of self-worth of individual players (and thereby enhancing their performance) but also helps to bond the team. Sports psychologists are not allowed to conduct these types of meetings since they would be entering the domain of the clinical psychologist and could lose their license. That’s why I advocate all sport psychologists be required to not only have a PhD but also a Masters degree in counseling.

Sport psychologists often recommend visualizing an event, quieting your mind, ridding yourself of negative thoughts, and focusing on the present. It all sounds good, until attempted by athletes experiencing severe personal problems. In such instances, most sport psychologists focus on all the information coming in. But in my opinion, the problem isn’t information coming in, it’s information already there which hasn’t been addressed. A lack of focusing is usually the result of unresolved issues an athlete may be harboring inside his or her “self”. Athletes who resolve their issues prior to competing perform at a higher level than those who do not. And those who do not are more susceptible to error.
Bob Rotella, one of golf’s more successful sport psychologists, was quoted in an article that appeared in a past issue of the New York Times Magazine as saying: “I believe you have free will, that you control your thoughts.” In the same article, the writer reviewed the technique of another sport psychologist, Deborah Graham, who also counsels golfers on the pro tour: “Graham says that the chief difference between her approach and Rotella’s is that, as a practicing psychotherapist, she brings a clinical perspective to the problems at hand. In the name of golf, she delves into such things as players’ marital crises, their addiction to alcohol – subjects that may lie beyond Rotella’s focus.” The reason they may lie beyond Rotella’s focus is because, as a sport psychologist, he is not allowed to enter the domain of the clinical psychologist or psychotherapist. And if he does, he could lose his license.
My approach when working with athletes is more in harmony with Graham’s than Rotella’s. I do not believe you have free will regarding your thoughts, but rather they are products of your beliefs, which come from your feelings of self-worth.


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