Friday, March 12, 2010

Could Texas Longhorns' Downward Slide Have Been Prevented?

The Texas Longhorns' basketball team was ranked #1 in January with a 17-0 record. Since then they are 6-7. What went wrong? Their mindset is what went wrong. Or, more importantly, their head coach Rick Barnes does not seem to think that his team's mindset is in his or his players' control.

Prior to their Big-12 Conference tournament quarterfinal game with Baylor, Coach Barnes said this about assessing his team's psyche:

"I'd really be guessing if I did. Going into every game, I think that they've have the right mindset and when I watch some of the things happen I'm surprised where it comes from. I don't understand it, because I think we've got a group of guys, you would think with the way they have prepared that they would have things down. But when we do some things during the game it makes me wonder, and I don't know how I can answer that."

Barnes and his staff should be able to answer that. That is part of their job. Particularly because, mental mindset is something that you can control. Recent advances in sports psychology and mental conditioning (as evidenced by their usage in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics) are impossible to ignore anymore. The USC and Alabama football teams have used mental conditioning programs to carry their teams to BCS championships in recent years.

Predictably, Texas ran into a buzz-saw at the Big 12 quarterfinals and lost to a Baylor University that clearly had a much better mental mindset. The Baylor Bears won 86-67. Even with the loss to Baylor, Texas will be in the NCAA tournament and they still have time to regroup. But don't count on it.

"I'd like to think we still have time, but it's really mental," Texas forward Gary Johnson said. "It's not like guys aren't playing hard, so that's one positive. It's just the mental part, and I don't know how much time that actually takes to get everybody on the same page mentally. It's been that way for the past two months."

It is about time for coaches to use all the tools they have at their disposal. It is time for basketball to become as progressive as some other sports such as golf, tennis, and the winter sports.

Excerpts taken from

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Winning Correlated to Touching in Team Sports

In a paper due out this year in the journal "Emotion," Drs. Kraus, Huang and Keltner, report that with a few exceptions, good teams tended to be touchier than bad ones. The most touch-bonded teams were the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, currently two of the league’s top teams; at the bottom were the mediocre Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Bobcats. The same was true, more or less, for players. The touchiest player was Kevin Garnett, the Celtics’ star big man, followed by star forwards Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors and Carlos Boozer of the Utah Jazz.
“Within 600 milliseconds of shooting a free throw, Garnett has reached out and touched four guys,” Dr. Keltner said.
To correct for the possibility that the better teams touch more often simply because they are winning, the researchers rated performance based not on points or victories but on a sophisticated measure of how efficiently players and teams managed the ball — their ratio of assists to giveaways, for example. And even after the high expectations surrounding the more talented teams were taken into account, the correlation persisted. Players who made contact with teammates most consistently and longest tended to rate highest on measures of performance, and the teams with those players seemed to get the most out of their talent. The study fell short of showing that touch caused the better performance, Dr. Kraus acknowledged. “We still have to test this in a controlled lab environment,” he said.

If a high five or an equivalent can in fact enhance performance, on the field or in the office, that may be because it reduces stress. A warm touch seems to set off the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps create a sensation of trust, and to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In the brain, prefrontal areas, which help regulate emotion, can relax, freeing them for another of their primary purposes: problem solving. In effect, the body interprets a supportive touch as “I’ll share the load.”

“We think that humans build relationships precisely for this reason, to distribute problem solving across brains. We are wired to literally share the processing load, and this is the signal we’re getting when we receive support through touch.”

--James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia.

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