sports psychologist & clinical psychology

STREAK IS ALL MENTAL

The Kansas City Star – Oct 18, 2006, – Howard Richman – Experts say MU must focus on game, not long skid, if it wants to end run of futility against K-State.

Face it, Greg Wafford. You flunked the quiz.

Who knows maybe hes extremely knowledgeable when it comes to the Roman Empire or how to dissect a frog. But in terms of the well-documented recent history of the Kansas State-Missouri football series, Wafford falls in the fairly clueless category.

Asked how many times in a row the Wildcats have beaten the Tigers, K-State’s starting senior left tackle wasn’t very close.Å“I don’t know. Four or five? Wafford guessed.Im not into that. I just know they havent beaten us in a while.

Try 13 straight years. And what Wafford classifies as while must seem like an eternity to MU.

Although MU hasn’t defeated K-State since the other George Bush resided in the White House (1992), the oddsmakers would have you believe the 24th-ranked Tigers are on the verge of ending their misery. MU, 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big 12, is a 16-point favorite as it prepares to play K-State, 4-3 and 1-2, at 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Columbia.

Tigers running back Tony Temple is well aware of the streak. K-State recruited him out of Rockhurst High School and went to great lengths to point out how lopsided the series had become with MU. K-State’s effort to convince Temple went beyond words when it came to calculating the series lately.

“They had it on flash cards,â€Â? Temple said.

Was K-State misleading Temple? Not really, according to Tigers sports information director Chad Moller.

“If you look back objectively over the last 13 years, they had a better team the majority of the time,â€Â? Moller said of the Wildcats.

So how does MU mentally overcome the streak? Not easily, according to John Murray, a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla.

The team that’s been winning has a good, relaxed, confident feeling because they know they can do it. There’s absolutely no doubt, Murray said. “On the other side, theyre thinking, ËœLets see if we can win this finally.’ Or ‘Let’s turn the tables.

Not a good approach for MU, Murray says.

“So from the very beginning, youre starting off with an improper mind-set. You’re thinking too much of the outcome instead of thinking it just another game, he said.

Tell that to Navy. The Midshipmen have been sunk 42 straight times by Notre Dame. Gene McKeehan, former assistant coach at Navy and now in a similar position at Cal Poly State, said Navy coaches never played up the streak for motivational purposes.

“The only one that brought it up was the media,McKeehan said. “We treated it like it was just another game. I didn’t think about it at all. But you would think the chips would fall the other way just once. It’s amazing.

So was Kansas’ 31-game overall winning streak in men’s basketball over K-State, which ended in January as the Wildcats upset the Jayhawks in Lawrence.

“I knew I hadn’t beaten KU since Id been in school, and it weighed heavily on me, said Schyler Thomas, a reserve guard for K-State who helped beat KU. You cant block it out. The coaches did their best not to bring it up. But the fans, everybody, wanted you to win so bad that you couldnt help but think about it.

K-State coach Ron Prince isnt sure what to make of the streak. But he’s glad the program he inherited is on the right side of it.

“In the preparation and all the conversation about it, sometimes that can weigh heavily on kids’ minds, and maybe at some point in the game someone makes a play or fails to make a play and we all attribute it to ghosts, and I’m not real sure about that,â€Â? Prince said. “How you prepare during the week and perform on Saturday are more a function of it.

K-State has beaten MU in close calls during the streak (21-18 in 1994), blowouts (66-0 in 1999) and years the Wildcats weren’t Big 12 title challengers. That would go for 2001, when a K-State team that finished 6-6 beat the Tigers 24-3.

It didnt matter if that wasnt Bill Snyders finest team, said former K-State wide receiver Brandon Clark, who played on that team. What mattered, he said, was the Wildcats had MU’s number.

“A big part of it was just confidence. You played them before and you beat them before, so why think anything other than that? said Clark, now a high school football coach at Derby, Kan.

K-State senior nose tackle Quintin Echols thinks MU isnt focused on the streak.

Theyre thinking about winning this game this year and not thinking about any other years in the past, Echols said.

But Echols’ backup, junior Steven Cline, has the opposite sentiment. And he doesn’t blame the Tigers one bit for feeling that way.

“I’m sure theyre going to be coming at us pretty hard. I mean, if I lost to somebody 13 straight times, I know Id be coming at them pretty hard, too, Cline said.

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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