Mind Over Sports

Posts Tagged ‘Springfield News-Leader

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.

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.

When Louisville Head Basketball Coach Rick Pitino recently spoke to the Boys & Girls Clubs here in Springfield, Missouri, he told them that when he was 25 and became head basketball coach at Boston University, “I wasn’t ready.” And as he tells it, according the Springfield News-Leader newspaper, he’s had a career that’s overcome an ill-prepared beginning. “I was able to get away with making young mistakes.” I’ve always maintained that the phrase “Timing is Everything” wasn’t accurate since very often we’re put in a position to be successful but because of being unprepared, we weren’t able to take advantage of it. That happened to me the first time I was able to work with a Division I men’s basketball team. I wasn’t prepared at the time for issues and problems that surfaced in our team meetings. Today, the situation is much different. One of my favorite John Wooden quotes is: “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

According to the Springfield (MO) News-Leader: “The Cleveland Browns came within a touchdown of knocking off the Chiefs and could have been closer had it not been for several miscues by Cleveland Receiver Davone Bess. Bess fumbled a fourth-quarter punt with Cleveland down 20-17 with about 7 minutes left in the game and had a number of drops as a wide-out, including on fourth-and-7 with 2:01 left to play.” So one has to wonder why Bess, who normally can be counted on for top performance, had such a miserable game? If you ask almost any NFL coach he’ll probably say something like, “Heck, those things happen” – but I disagree. I believe there’s a reason those things happen. And the reasons can almost always be traced to what may have taken place in Bess’ personal life the night before the game. And in 90% of the cases involving NFL players, they are most likely to lose their focus because of their relationship with a member of the opposite sex. But it could also be financial problems. Or an issue with an assistant coach. Whatever the reason, Bess should have been encouraged before game time to talk about his problems and issues, either in a support group environment with other team members, or with his coach. But in many cases, NFL players are hesitant to talk about their “feelings” and “personal issues” because ever since they were toddlers most of them have been programmed to keep their feelings bottled up inside themselves because it wasn’t manly to talk about them.

As a Missouri University Alumni I follow Mizzou football and especially the career of Dorial Green-Beckham. Dorial was one of the most highly regarded football recruits in the nation of the class of 2012 and was listed as the number one overall prospect in the nation by Rivals.com – and yet, his first year at Missouri was considered mediocre at best. Why? I recently read an article in the Springfield (MO) News-Leader that confirmed my opinion that Head Coach Gary Pinkel is not the coach everyone believes him to be. Your best and most successful coaches are those who tap into their athletes’ belief systems and maximize their potential on the field. Last year’s offensive coordinator, under the watchful eye of Pinkel, had Green-Beckham playing on the inside of four-and five-receiver sets even though Dorial believed he performed better when playing on the outside. Fortunately for Dorial, Josh Henson, Missouri’s new offensive coordinator, has moved him to the outside where he’s now getting open and making more plays. Even Dorial’s dad observed “They got him on the outside now, and will give him a chance to make some plays…He’s going to be more comfortable.” Many head coaches and assistant coaches don’t understand that it’s the athlete’s beliefs that affect performance, not the coaches.

Yoenis Cespedes is a 6-foot, 215 pound baseball star who led Cuba’s domestic league last season with 33 homers and 99 RBI in 354 at-bats and hit .333. He defected over the summer and is in the process of establishing residency in the Dominican Republic. Cespedes is expected to do well in America but there is one major consideration.

By way of background, a story in USA Today once pointed out that when Cuban baseball players defect from their homeland and come to America, their performance levels drop. One of the reasons (in fact, it could be THE reason) is that many of them leave their families behind and are constantly concerned about their safety.

A good example was Amaury Marti, who was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals and played for one of their farm clubs, The Springfield (Missouri) Cardinals. According to the Springfield News-Leader, Marti “refused to talk about his defection from Cuba where he left his parents, brother and a son behind. The former member of the Cuban National team said he left for the chance to play baseball in the United States and, hopefully, in the majors.” Unless he has received counseling regarding his situation, and didn’t  just keep the issue bottled-up inside himself, it’s doubtful that he is performing in America at the same level he did while on the Cuban National team.

Which brings me to the situation involving Yoenis Cespedes. It’s unknown if he was able to bring his family with him, and if not (unless the Cuban government has softened its policy regarding the treatment of families of athletes who defect) then it’s quite possible that Cespedes will not perform anywhere near the level he did in Cuba. What takes place away from the baseball diamond affects what takes place on the baseball diamond.

Note: Since writing this entry, I found out that Yoenis Cespedes did, in fact, leave some of his family behind:  His two-year old son and his girlfriend, who is the mother of his son.  Whether or not he has been successful in getting them out of Cuba and joining him in Oakland is unknown, but his batting average has jumped considerably in the last month so it’s possible they are now residing in the U.S.


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