Saturday, August 11, 2012

Psychological Lessons in Bears Preseason Loss to Denver

Many Bears fans weren't rattled by the Bears losing to Denver 31-3, especially when so many top Bears starters were out: Brian Urlacher, Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and Julius Peppers. But what are the lessons in the loss?

Some sports psychologists point out that athletes with higher skill levels generally look at internal explanations for sports outcomes (The Psychology of Coaching Team Sports: A Self-Help Guide, Larry M. Leith). Others may look at external explanations. When athletes look internally after a loss they can focus on things they can do to improve. When they focus on the external, they often blame other players or conditions and are thus not so likely to seek to improve their own performances. In other words, better athletes take wins and losses personally even in team sports. Better players make fewer excuses.

Some argue that athletes need to be able to blame losses on external factors to preserve their own egos and confidence. They say a confident player is a better player.

This is true, but if athletes look externally too often, improvement is not likely to follow. There is no better time than the preseason for players and coaches to look at individual performance and seek improvement. The fact that many of the top Bears did not play in the Denver game should not be used by players and coaches to excuse the loss. The loss should provide more reflective thinking and more determined action to improve. Bears coaches and players will no doubt spend much time looking at film and evaluating individual performance--not just for roster placement, but for pinpointing things that individual players need to address in the coming weeks.

The preseason offers some woeful spectator experiences. But on a positive note, a great deal of improvement and adjustment can be made before the pundits come down so hard on athletes once the season begins. In preseason, new players can be "making improvement;" during the season, the same players might be described as "washouts" or "disappointments." Things get harsh very quickly in professional sports. An emotionally healthy NFL athlete will look at his performance throughout the season critically, but use his assessment and his coaches assessments to map out where he needs to improve and what he needs to do to get there. Team members must support each other and play unselfishly, but they must pay the most attention to their own performance and progress. Perhaps there is not better summary of this approach than New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick's famous mantra "just do your job." Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout is a personal chronicle of Chicago Bears Senior Director Patrick McCaskey that looks back at decades of spiritual enrichment and life lessons from athletes, coaches, religious and everyday people. McCaskey recalls the stories of those who strived to make the cut on and off the field—plus people who left comfortable lives to serve the under-served in extraordinary ways. Order online.