For Bills, Tae Kwan Do Maybe, Team Sports Psychologist Definitely

By anello1960  |   Tuesday, July 21, 2009  |  Comments( 94 )

Buffalo Bills
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The Bills had recently contracted an expert in tae kwan do martial arts to assist in developing hand techniques for the defensive line. This kind of supplemental training can theoretically enhance and polish a player's technique and skill sets in a most practical application. As with any training, a good portion of the results are up to the student. A highly motivated player will realize more tangible, on-field "real world" benefit from any training or coaching he may receive. What about the player who might be distracted by a lengthy, drawn out contract negotiation process? How is his motivation? How about the player with an upcoming legal trial? Is he able to concentrate and perform at his highest level with a court date, perhaps for his second offense, looming large in the horizon? What was his mental "table setting" like that lead him to become involved in issues leading to arrest in the first place? What about the 22 year old newly crowned rookie millionaire? Is his head in the meeting, at practice or in the game as well as it could be? What about that new attention magnet superstar? Is he really a part of the team? How is his presence affecting the team’s ability to learn, develop and perform? Are any Bills players affected by conditions such as these? Unfortunately at present, the entire Bills roster is right in the middle of one if not more of these conditions. How would the team benefit if these issues could be minimized, satisfactorily resolved at the team level or prevented in the first place?

The Journal of Psychology published an article in 1997 entitled “The Relationship between Leadership Behaviors and Group Cohesion in Team Sports”. The article referred to the LSS, or Leadership Scale for Sports. The scale applies to both delegated team leaders (coaches) and non-delegated leaders (players). It breaks down into (5) basic categories, Training and Instruction, Democratic Behavior, Autocratic Behavior, Social Support, and Positive Feedback. The scale can be administered as a test to coaches and players. The journal reported a strong relationship between high LSS scores, “team cohesiveness” and on-field success. Teams with high cohesiveness tend be a team in its purest definition, a group of people linked to a common purpose. When teams are cohesive, the individuals are better able to minimize external distractions for the benefit of the team. They also become highly motivated and place more emphasis on avoiding behaviors which could get them (and the team) into trouble. High LSS scores mean that the players not only cover for each other, they also hold each other accountable. They’ve got each other’s back and they watch their backs at the same time.
A qualified sports psychologist can assess the coaches and players, detect areas of strength and need, and help develop coaching and team leaders which will bring about higher levels of team cohesiveness.

The concept of sporting organizations utilizing psychologists is not new but the application has been very limited. The NFL has employed them mainly to analyze prospective draft picks, drilling down to very personal information found on social networking web sites. Canada has implemented them at the national level through the Canada Games Sports Science program. The initiative is intended to help amateur athletes mentally prepare for national and international games events and develop their mental skill sets. Virginia Tech Institute has employed a sports psychologist since the year 2000. He is available to student athletes on a voluntary basis. Although other examples exist, the concept is still in its infancy.

Hard-nosed old schoolers may scoff at the idea of a team shrink to patch up so called professional athletes. The other view illustrates that teams are dealing with more player issues of greater severity and with unprecedented public knowledge of these issues. It would be difficult to argue with the idea of considering practical, effective measures to prevent or minimize team off-field distractions when players seem to be accumulating more arrest records than breaking records on the playing field. Although it’s true that a team’s talent is usually the best indicator of success, playing as a true team and having them perform at their highest level is also important.

While the day when teams are scouting the nation’s top sports psychologists for a supplemental draft may never arrive, it is a fair bet that their numbers as well as their level of involvement will increase. The stakes are high and rising. Employing one could be considered an investment. How much is it worth to accelerate a top draft pick’s career by advancing his mental adjustment to the rigors of NFL football? How much is it worth to gain additional victories in a season through enhancing team leadership capabilities and cohesiveness? How much is it worth to prevent top performers from being suspended for legal troubles? Considering it as money in the bank will make it an easier pill to swallow.
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