sports psychologist & clinical psychology

One thing matters in college sports: winning

Sports psychology commentary in the Sarasota Herald Tribune – Doug Fernandes – September 3, 2011 – Today at the University of Florida, all eyes will be on first-year head coach Will Muschamp.

At Florida State and South Florida, Jimbo Fisher and Skip Holtz begin their sophomore campaigns leading their respective teams.

And at Miami, Al Golden starts his first season at a program rocked by a scandal that could have repercussions for years to come.

For the NCAA, its member schools, coaches, players and administrators, the kickoff to the 2011 college football season could not have arrived at a more favorable time.

Frankly, there has never been an offseason during which the sport’s lower lip was more bloodied. Revelations of free cars, sex parties, nightclub visits, yacht trips and players trading memorabilia for tattoos dominated headlines, blogs and radio airwaves.

It forced the resignation of Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, revealed, yet again, the lengths programs will go to court success, and how those in positions of authority often turn their heads to transgressions happening right before their eyes.

All in the name of winning and securing its ancillary benefits. For quite some time now, fans of all sports have been bludgeoned into semi-consciousness with stories of athletes and institutions engaging in myriad nefarious acts.

Whether it’s cyclists and track athletes who dope, baseball players who take steroids, or student-athletes who choose College A over College B for reasons other than — wink, wink — academics, the American sporting public had grown tired.

Tired and apathetic.

Just give them their games.

Just give them their teams.

Provide that three- or four-hour window when nothing else matters except the school emblazoned on their shirt coming out on top.

“Even more than entertained, they want to win,” said John F Murray, a Palm Beach clinical and sports psychologist. “That’s the thing we attach ourselves to, because, for whatever reason, we’re not able to enjoy our jobs or whatever it might be.

“I think we attach success to our team’s success. They are our team. We’re willing to overlook what they do to get that success.

“Most fans probably, deep down in their psyche, would rather have their teams win on steroids than lose without steroids.”

In psychology, it’s called “basking in reflected glory,” the belief that one experiences personal success through their association with successful people or institutions.

It helps explain the reason a Florida Gator fan feels a sense of satisfaction after a victory over Georgia, or, conversely, depression following a loss.

He or she has no material connection to the Gators’ winning or losing. But anyone who has rooted for a team is familiar with the phenomenon.

On Monday, the Miami Hurricanes play at the University of Maryland. The scandal should have embarrassed anyone connected to the school’s program.

Yet they’ll be there, Hurricane fans, wearing their school’s colors, oblivious to anything except what transpires on the 100-yard-by-53-yard plot of ground before them.

“What you’re suggesting,” said Murray, “is that we’re more corrupt than ever and that the fans don’t care.”

Well, they do care. Care deeply. Care passionately.

Over anything else, about one thing.

Just win, baby.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of sports psychology.

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