sports psychologist & clinical psychology

Miami Dolphins Lift Spirits

Miami Herald – November 11, 2008 – Greg Cote -Have you found yourself awakening Mondays with a bit less dread for the work week? Have you rediscovered the lost bounce in your step or noticed that people seem to be smiling more easily lately?It isn’t just Democrats; it’s Dolphins fans. It isn’t just Dolfans; it’s local sports fans in general. And because that includes so many of us across a complete cross-section, it is South Florida at large feeling its mood and self-esteem lifted.

Sports can do that. Success is a powerful drug.

So many of us suffer and dream vicariously through the teams we love that the line between franchises and fans can get blurred.

The Dolphins are winning? It feels like we are, too.

”It’s absolutely human nature, a very real phenomena,” Palm Beach-based sports psychologist John F. Murray told us Monday.

‘There’s a certain pride of ownership that a fan feels over his or her favorite team. When things are going well, in social psychology it’s called `basking in reflected glory.’ When our team does well, we feel empowered that maybe things could go better in our lives, too. It’s like having ownership in a company when the stock is going up and up and up.”

HIGHS AND LOWS

The feeling is magnified in Dolphins fans because of the extremes that have been experienced.

This is the franchise of back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs, of the 1972 Perfect Season, of Don Shula and Dan Marino. But then it became the franchise of six consecutive years out of the playoffs and last year’s depressing, embarrassing nadir.

Nobody knows what 1-15 feels like more keenly than someone who has celebrated 17-0. Unprecedented high became humiliating low.

Community self-esteem reflected in a championship parade — such as we last experienced with the Heat in the summer of 2006 — sees its opposite in the collective gloom we feel if our teams are doing poorly — or, worse, being embarrassingly bad.

Now it’s as if our deep, dark cloud is dissipating by degrees and beams of sunlight are poking through, spreading warmth. Optimism: What an elixir!

Our flagship Dolphins have their first winning record in three years and a real chance to end that six-year playoff drought — an immediate and potentially historic turnaround from last season’s embarrassment.

But it isn’t just one team, albeit our biggest.

The Heat, with Dwyane Wade back healthy and the excitement of rookie Michael Beasley, shows early signs of similarly being a playoff team after a franchise-worst 15-67 mark last season.

The Marlins far exceeded expectations and were playoff challengers until late into the season, and they have a new ballpark and bigger payrolls on the way.

The young, ascending Miami Hurricanes have won four football games in a row to become bowl eligible, and in men’s basketball UM is ranked 16th nationally, best ever, in the preseason polls.

STILL SOME PITFALLS

Don’t forget FIU football, with its new stadium and enough improvement to not yet be out of the picture for a small bowl game.

In hockey, the Panthers haven’t quite kept pace yet, but otherwise all of our biggest sports teams, pro and college, are enjoying a decided rebound from a collective recent downturn.

(The overall feel-good vibe might even include recent indications that Major League Soccer is poised to expand back into town).

Of course, the Dolphins are King Sport down here, with the biggest following and the most emotional grip, so it is this club’s seismic, sudden resurgence that buoys our collective mood most of all.

I asked Dolphins coach Tony Sparano on Monday how winning and losing affects his mood away from the job. He joked that the question would be better for his wife but admitted his mood is affected to a degree that, “I’m probably not as good a guy after we lose.”

Sparano’s livelihood depends on winning and losing. Ours doesn’t — and yet, in some ways, our quality of life does.

”Our purpose-driven nature is engaged,” Murray said. “When our teams win, it makes us feel like Miami’s on the map again. It’s a feeling of collective pride, like if your governor becomes the president. We all want to bask in success.”

In Alabama this week, a Crimson Tide fan, Michael Williams, is charged with killing two LSU fans ensuing from an argument related to those teams’ Saturday game. That obviously is the most extreme example possible of how seriously we take our sports, but anybody who has painted his face, cried with joy over a win or been cursing mad over a loss knows the power games can have over everyday lives.

A 2006 study in the journal of the Association of Psychological Science found that many fans feel similarly about their favorite teams as they do about their nationality or ethnicity — and that fans “can become so passionate about their team that it becomes a part of their identity and affects their well-being.”

It is why, all across South Florida, people are rediscovering that aqua goes with just about everything. T-shirts and jerseys kept hidden in drawers the past couple of years, perhaps subconsciously, are being pulled out again — and not so much worn as flown like flags.

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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