sports psychologist & clinical psychology

BOXING PSYCHOLOGY: BEATING HIMSELF UP

Tampa Tribune – Mar 13, 2006 – Anwar S. Richardson – Jeff Lacy is still searching for answers after he was dismantled by Joe Calzaghe.

LITHIA – Super middleweight Jeff Lacy comfortably sat on the living room couch of his FishHawk Ranch home, but a few things did not belong.

There was a Christmas tree near his patio door, plus rolls of wrapping paper nearby. Lacy and Jennifer Sepielli, his fiancée, had been so busy since last year, there had been no time to take it down.

The IBO and IBF championships he recently lost sat on a dining room table. Lacy gets to keep those belts as memorabilia but can no longer wear them into the ring.

Bruises on Lacy’s face were also an unfamiliar sight. He had a right black eye, which was bloodshot red. Adhesive bandages were protecting cuts above both eyes, plus he had a swollen nose.

Joe Calzaghe (41-0) answered any questions about his ability when he dismantled Lacy (21-1) on March 4 in Manchester, England. However, the questions surrounding Lacy are accumulating.

Why did he freeze? Why did he fail to throw punches? Why did he ignore trainer Dan Birmingham? Is his fiancée a distraction? Was he overrated?

Lacy’s answer to all those questions were no, but he had to fight back tears to explain what actually happened to him, because he still is unsure.

“There was something mentally that took over me. I had no control over what was coming out. I could see everything happening, but I couldn’t feel anything,” Lacy said. “I thought all I had to do was land one good shot and it was going to be over. I never did land that shot. It’s hard to get my fans to see what I was feeling.

“It’s hard to sit here and say this and not sound like I’m crazy. That’s the tough part. I’m blown about what happened that night. All I can say is that fighter that was in the ring that night wasn’t me.”

Lacy may wonder about sounding crazy, but mental blocks are nothing new to athletes.

John F. Murray, a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, said he has treated numerous athletes who froze under the pressure. Murray said athletes who flounder in the Super Bowl are prime examples of players succumbing to pressure.

“There is something called the catastrophic theory. It states your performance will improve under extreme, or intense arousal, but if you get too much intensity, plus fear, an athlete is unable to perform,” Murray said. “An athlete’s performance can dramatically decrease under high intensity and fear. The key is to make sure whatever he does, he doesn’t have high expectations, fear or anxiety.

“You can get pumped up before a contest, but if you think about it too much, a mental block is likely to happen.”

Murray also said “thoughts precede actions,” meaning an athlete must have a clear mind before performing. After hearing the details of Lacy’s situation, Murray theorized the boxer could have either suffered a slight seizure that results in a blank-stare state, or he put too much pressure on himself to beat Calzaghe.

“His best bet would be to visit a sports psychologist because trainers can’t do it all. There was a time when coaches had to do everything, like tape players and give massages, but they don’t have to do that anymore. He should visit a professional who can teach him how to approach competition like he does practice. How to stay excited, but eliminate fear,” Murray said. “He has to learn how to challenge himself to perform well, but not get too high.

“Nobody performs well under pressure. Pressure is self-imposed. The key Lacy has to learn is how not to impose and pressure on himself before he gets in the ring.”

It will be several months before Lacy steps into the ring again.

Lacy and Sepielli are going to take a vacation to the Bahamas or Hawaii. He still plans to attend local and national boxing matches before he starts training again.

Optimistically, Lacy will fight again in October in Tampa.

Lacy wants a rematch against Calzaghe, but since the fight was so lopsided and his opponent has nothing to gain, it will likely not happen.

Instead, Lacy will likely be forced to fight the top opponents in his division and attempt to reclaim the title.

“I don’t want to move forward until I’m 110 percent mentally and physically. I know my fans want me to move on, and I’m working toward that, but if I’m not ready mentally and physically ready, I won’t,” Lacy said. “I need to grow from this. I’m at my rebuilding stage. It’s about me taking time, relaxing and then coming out and doing what I have to do to rebuild.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

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