Expertly Selected by Dr. John F Murray
Above Video: The hidden psychology behind the Super Bowl with Jon Wertheim
Alabama coach Nick Saban’s ‘Process’
University of Alabama coach Nick Saban is one of the best coaches of all time. Saban had long been inquisitive about scientific discipline and needed to include an understanding of how the mind works in his role as coach. His focus on “the process” began in early November 1998, leading up to an enormous game against the Ohio State Buckeyes. His team, Michigan State, wasn’t feeling confident, and Saban turned to sports psychology for guidance. He used a cognitive behavioral approach developed by pioneer Aaron Beck and popularly used within the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program.
Michigan State made an amazing comeback by methodically plugging away play by play (focus on process) till they came back for an incredible upset. From that time on, Saban used a sports psychologist as a consultant who played the role of shrink for Saban’s players, consulting with them on an individual basis. He got the players to focus on what’s directly ahead of them, rather than worry about outcome or score. This is the art of focusing only on the process, and Saban has used it for years. It is this same emphasis Dr. John F Murray placed on process in his book “The Mental Performance Index.”
The psychological impact of a football game loss on fans
FSU’s Brian Burns walks off the field dejected after their 24-3 loss against Virginia Tech at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla. It’s been a rough start to Tallahassee’s college football season. The gridiron disappointment has fueled some intense reactions – from eight GoFundMe campaigns started to buy out Florida State University’s first year Coach Willie Taggart’s contract to social media outrage to baptismal consolation for players after a frustrating home loss. The fervor might be religious in its intensity, but it turns out there’s a scientific explanation for the meltdowns and euphoria of football fandom.
A 2013 British study found after the national soccer team lost, the risk of domestic violence increased by a statistically significant 38 percent. The season’s two losses for the Seminoles, the most recent being a 30-7 drubbing at the hands of Syracuse, have been a great letdown. It’s nothing like in 1973 when the Seminoles lost every game, FSU literature and creative writing professor Diane Roberts reminds us. Roberts remembers going to the home games as a child that season and enjoying the game instead of stressing about winning. When FSU is conquered, the inevitable sulking ensues.
Harsh social media judgment on players and calls for Taggart’s immediate ouster are examples of the extreme knee-jerk reactions that come from merciless, rabid fans – but they’re unrealistic, Roberts says. It’s hard to predict whether players will bounce back in the face of adverse reactions and defeat, Hansen adds.
Mind games: how soccer players use sports psychology
Soccer players aren’t exactly famed for their intelligence off the pitch, yet their mental skills during the heat of competition are, by and large, something to behold. Every weekend Premier League soccer players excel in packed colosseums under intense pressure and provocation. For some players, the gifts of confidence and composure are entirely natural. For the majority, mental skills are qualities to be acquired and polished in the same way a player might build muscle in the gym, or perfect curling free kicks. That’s why most Premier League clubs now work with sports psychologists, who teach players a range of mental tools and techniques, from positive self-talk and anger-management mechanisms to mood triggers and rapid refocusing skills.
Studies showed that the introduction of psychological skills, such as self-talk at half-time improved the performance of midfield players in the second half in at least two of the three performance components measured. Even body language can be harnessed to project a positive frame of mind and elevate confidence. Focusing on simple goals can also lead a player to identify and seize more opportunities. If you write down your personal goals – to save money, meet more people, or take more jogs – you’ll soon start to see more windows of opportunity during the day to make it happen.
It’s hard to imagine the average Premier League dressing room alive with intellectual chatter about noradrenaline and pre-frontal lobes. With mental skills, as with physical skills, mastery is as important as knowledge.