Fifteen years ago, I made a startling discovery: When athletes have high feelings of self-worth, and their lives are in harmony, they will perform closer to their skill levels on a consistent basis. And it is only then that visualization techniques become effective.
I applied this concept to my own sport, handball, and soon after I found myself finishing in a tournament among the top players in the nation in my age group.
In the subtitle of this book, you will note that I use the phrase "Helped the St. Louis Rams." When a team wins, there are many factors at play. But one of the most important is that of self-image of individual players. This also applies, even more importantly, to the coach and his staff.
In May of 1999, I received a phone call from a friend of mine who formerly lived in Kansas City, Missouri, but who had taken a job in St. Louis with the St. Louis Rams as Vice-President of Player Programs. I had written to my friend, Kevin Warren, and asked if it would be possible for him to set up a meeting for me with then Head Coach Dick Vermeil. My letter triggered a call from Kevin asking if I would be interested in participating in the team's Rookie School. Needless to say, I immediately accepted.
After presenting my program, which included each rookie taking a self-esteem, self-evaluation test, I was immediately surrounded by five or six players who shared with me the fact they didn't do well on the test. They were all downcast and felt badly about their scores. But, as I pointed out to them, that was actually a good thing, since number one, they were obviously being honest in their self-evaluation, and number two, in order to have achieved the level of performance at which they were presently playing, they must possess a tremendous amount of talent. And more than likely, as they deal with issues in their lives and resolve important problems hovering over their heads, their performance levels will increase considerably.
I make this point only because I believe low feelings of self worth are more common among NFL athletes than we would like to believe. And I am also of the opinion that much of the off-field violence experienced by NFL teams can be directly related to an individual player's self-esteem. Many of these players are keeping their feelings and emotions bottled-up, which has a devastating effect on their lives.
The enhancement of performance in sports has gained wide interest throughout the world at almost every level of competition. And yet, very little is known about how athletes can best prepare themselves mentally to perform close to their skill level on a consistent basis.
Many sports psychologists are eager to take credit for the successful performance of high profile client athletes, but their failures are too often kept hidden from media scrutiny. I do not take the position that sports psychologists are wrong; but perhaps they are only half-right.
This book embraces the concept that athletes who carry with them unresolved issues and psychological baggage will not perform at their skill level, no matter how much they practice visualization and other generally accepted mental techniques. Reluctance to deal with and resolve conflict often results in the lowering of an athlete's feelings of self-worth thereby, directly affecting his or her performance.
I once recall reading a quote from a well-known NFL football coach who, when referring to Sports Psychologists, said: "I ain't never seen one of them guys put on a helmet." I think it's important that I point out: I am not a Sports Psychologist, nor have I ever put on a helmet. I was, however, a former high school point guard who made it through to the last cut on the freshman basketball team at Missouri University, then played semi-pro basketball for Simmons Furniture in Columbia, Missouri. Later, I played guard for the Brook Army Medical Center's basketball team at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
During this time, I never experienced the enormous potential of this principle. But then, in 1986, my basketball career ended and my sport became: handball. It was in that year that I propelled myself from being ranked approximately number 500 in the country (in my age group) to making the final 16 in a national tournament. Later, after returning home, I was allowed to implement these new found principles with an NCAA Division I basketball team that, halfway through their season, had a dismal 3-15 record. I worked with them during the remainder of their season and they won 8 out of their last 10 games. They had the skill, but had never developed the team chemistry. They had never addressed team and coach related issues. They were withholding their emotions and feelings.
It wasn't long before I began to question the validity of some of the accepted theories involving the enhancement of sports performance. I began to understand that an athlete's personal issues powerfully impact performance. This may seem obvious to many of you reading what I have written, but even today, in the professional ranks, especially, coaches and general managers believe that motivation results from financial compensation rather than an athlete's feelings of self-worth. The reason for this is they have a clear understanding of how to initiate a compensation plan, but are generally unaware of how to go about creating an environment that builds individual feelings of self-worth and produces team bonding.
When I interviewed former Dallas Cowboy Jay Novacek for this book, he told me that when he speaks to high school football teams, in an attempt to get everyone's attention in a fun way (and to get the kids on his side), he often opens his presentation with the statement: "The dumbest people in the world are football coaches." He then asks one of the coaches in the audience how much of the game is mental and how much is physical. The answer generally is that 80% is mental, 20% physical. Jay then follows up with: "And how much time to you spend preparing your team for the mental part." The answer: very little. Jay then tells his audience in a good-natured way that coaches really aren't dumb or stupid, they just don't know how to coach the mental side of the sport.
Over the years, I searched the literature relentlessly and found almost no material applying to the principles I discovered. There were a few examples, and in almost all cases, they consisted of books written by successful coaches who, themselves, possessed high self-esteem.
Most sports psychologists are uncomfortable entering the realm of what borders on clinical psychology. Because of their specialized degrees, they are actually prohibited from doing so since the various fields of psychology are highly territorial.
If you are a person who wants to enhance your own performance, or if you are a coach who wants to enhance the performance of your team, or the parent of a high school athlete who sees a college athletic scholarship as a way of defraying expensive tuition costs, then this book is for you.
In the first portion I discuss my experiences with various teams and athletes I've worked with, as well as validating my approach by referring to stories and events that have been covered by the media as well as personal anecdotes I've experienced. The second half of the book consists of a workshop format, complete with charts and exercises, which coaches can use in team meetings, or individual athletes can use to get a better understanding of how they are operating in their lives.
A scientific evaluation of my program is essential if its principles are to become widely accepted. I therefore invite scrutiny based on testing and tracking. I am certain that any research conducted will validate my ideas.
If you have participated in one of my workshops or seminars, this book will be a valuable tool for you to reinitiate and stimulate your thinking regarding some of the choices and ideas you generated for yourself during the training.
Excerpts: Psycho Self Imagery (PSI), When and How To Use It.
I do not believe Sports Psychologists are wrong, but perhaps they are only half-right. There's more to achieving peak performance than just the use of meditation, imagery, biofeedback, mental rehearsal, ridding yourself of negative thoughts, quieting your mind, and focusing on the present. Psychological issues must first be identified and resolved (or begin the process of resolving them) before these techniques will be effective.
The Psycho Self-Imagery process involves resolving conflict, not withholding feelings, bringing personal and team-related issues to completion, and then visualizing yourself being successful. Our thoughts are powerful forces that can work for or against us. When you create an environment that enhances feelings of self-worth, you enhance performance. I have learned from working with athletes and teams that beliefs powerfully impact performance. Successful coaches are those who are able to tap into an athlete's belief system and thus maximize performance.
The pursuit of Truth is the pursuit of Self. The more truthful you are, and the less you withhold your feelings, the better you will feel about your 'self.' The better you feel about yourself, the more you will attempt to resolve important issues in your life. As you resolve important issues (or begin the process of resolving them) you will begin to develop a higher sense of self worth. The higher your sense of self worth, and the more your life is in harmony, the more effective visualization techniques become.
Also see Marv Fremerman's answer to your question column (menu 'B') and his book for athletes, parents, and coaches.