Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tiger Woods Masters Return: Sport Psychology and life disconnection

Tiger must be a combination of very inwardly focused, yet change his behavior in visible ways toward the fans. The very behavior which he relied on to achieve success had isolated him from fans, media and the general public. He was criticized for his aloofness and detachment. However, in his mia culpa press conference he stated a desire to change his level of "respect" for the game. Club throwing and cursing would be reduced, but also his emotional unavailability to others needed alteration. Increasing his emotional availability and being more "connected" with his fan base and media shows a respect for those who watch and promote his performance. Not to mention, fans and media allow him the fame and fortune his golf prowess garners. The problem Tiger faces is very difficult due to the extreme disconnect from himself which lead to his personal and professional life crisis. Tiger experienced a crisis of "disconnection" in which his personal emotional needs became disconnected from his conscious, logical and evaluative mental side. Before the revelations of Tiger's sexual activity, if asked whether his behavior could endanger his marriage, career, children's emotional wellbeing, and financial earning power if publicized, he would have said "yes". If Tiger was asked if he would want a disclosure of his actions, he would surely have said "no". The key question, and then the evidence of the disconnect, would be asking him "so why are you engaging in such high risk, career and marriage threatening behavior"(not to mention, the report by one of the porn star lovers was that he avoided practicing safe sex). His likely response would have been some illogical rationalization which belied the severity and risk of his actions. The out of control disconnection between high risk actions and its known consequences is a sign of significant emotional dysfunction. Now Tiger must get back to playing at a high level, stay very internally focused to perform well, yet become more connected with himself, his fans, and the public via the media. A gargantuan task. I beleive matters can go two ways for Tiger. One is, he struggles to integrate the complex emotions leading to his high risk behaviors and therefore his golf game struggles. The other possibility is that, although only in treatment for a relatively brief period at this time, he experiences great relief and calm as his emotional needs are better known and met by his actions off the golf course leading to a return to #1 in the world form. Time will tell and all we can hope for is that the best connection Tiger makes is with himself, which should lead to great connection between his clubs and the ball.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter Olympics: Don't Ask Don't Tell

The United States military isn't the only place where ones sexual orientation is controversial and closeted. A lead article on Fanhouse.com, linked to from SI.com,addresses the United States top men's figure skater (Johnny Weir)being interviewed by Frank Deford for an HBO special. During the interview,Deford asks Weir, "Do you think the fact that some people dismiss figure skating as gay hurts the sport?" Weir makes a comment on how male viewer perceptions about skater's sexual orientation may impact certain fan interest. But why ask the question. Why not ask, "Do you think some people dismiss figure skating because so few people have ever figure skated". Deford's question was not clearly about male fan interest, future athlete development or athlete capability. However, Deford's line of questioning contributes to or originates from the same thinking that underlies whether a man's sexual orientation hurts his effectivness as a soldier. Homophobia is alive and well in sport, the military and throughout our society. Homosexual men and women participate on all our Olympic teams and not just in stereotypic "gay" sports such as figure skating. The athletic skill, discipline, mental toughness, and commitment to excellence is what makes Olympic athletes special. The athletes sexual orientation is irrelevant. Bringing it into the discussion with Wier is insulting at best and baiting the athlete into discussing irrelevant personal issues. Gay and lesbian athletes have and will continue to win medals for the US, as gay and lesbian armed forces members have defended and died for this country and will continue to do so. Let's leave sexual orientation out of the performance discussion and focus on a person's ability to execute athletic or military excellence and applaud their courage and greatness.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jets Great Season! Ending with a Loss

So how do you assist an athlete to integrate the experience of training and competing for almost 7 months, making your conference championship, beating all the odds and naysayers predictions but losing one step before the world championship game? The solution is understanding that we are mentally and emotionally complicated and that grief and exhilaration or euphoria and dejection can coexist. The mistake often made by well intentioned consoling efforts, when a crestfallen athlete's terrific accomplishments fall short of the ultimate goal, is the attempt at cheering up or encouraging to look at the "bright side". Unfortunately, this attempt to change the athlete's dejected and saddened emotional state can actually create more misery. The athlete is aware they worked hard, practiced well and achieved much. Regardless, they are stung by the failure to reach a striven for goal. There is a necessary period of mourning-like sadness which must take a natural process over time to dissipate. Truely helpful responses resonate with the athlete's disappointment, possible regrets, self-questioning, and even possible guilt feelings. The reaction of the athlete does not have to make logical sense or seem reasonable given the tremendous accomplishment ending in defeat or failure to attain the goal. Empathy for and validation of the athletes tragic loss must be cleary expressed. Nothing feels so right to the athlete then when they are joined in an emotional connection at a time of agonizing failure. Remember, truly being with a person as they suffer, and not trying to make them change, can be the greatest gift of caring and kindness.