Monday, October 29, 2012

Is there such a thing as mental toughness?

I was watching one of those endless yelling shows on ESPN today--you know, the ones where ex-athletes/coaches are pontificating on this team or that team, or this play or that player, and the term "mental toughness" was used.

Now, the world of sports is well-known for its catch phrases and lingo, but the term "mental toughness" is used over and over with seldom an explanation as to what exactly "it" is.  I've often discussed the topic with sports buddies and often got caught in the web of passing judgment on teams and/or players who I/we thought were "mentally tough."

But, again, is there even such a thing?  Well, if you trust Google, there is as the searching of this phrase turned up 2.7 million entries.  I'll use one to try to provide some definition around this term given that the yappiest of pundits will continue to discuss the unbeaten teams in college football and who will survive, Mark Sanchez versus Tim Tebow in New York, Oklahoma City's young team in the NBA and their mental fortitude, or whether pre-season number one Indiana has "it" to go with the obvious talent on the floor.

One definition I found of mental toughness is, "having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:
- Generally cope better than your opponents with the many demands (e.g., competition, training, lifestyle) that are placed on you as a performer.
- Specifically, to be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, resilient, and in control under pressure."

This same definition cited self-belief, motivation, focus and composure as key characteristics for those considered to be mentally tough athletes.  The study (Jones et al, 2002) pointed out that the "key component of mental toughness is learning how to condition your mind to think confidently and be able to overcome frustration/self-critical negativity"--to not allow frustration to undermine your confidence or focus.

If we buy into this seemingly reasonable definition, then what athletes and/or teams do we think fit the categorization?  For me, Joe Montana comes to mind given his penchant for late-game heroics even if he or his team had not performed at a high level, up to that point, as well as his seeming calm in the huddle which helped his team stay calm and in control.  Michael Jordan is another who has to be placed in that mentally tough category given his ultra-competitiveness and the championship rings he brought home to Chicago.  And, a more recent pro athlete who has shown mental toughness is Eli Manning.

I buy into the notion of mental toughness and do believe that such a thing exists.  My hope, as a fan, is that the term is not used indiscriminately and that perhaps a more rationale explanation is given when those opining on the world of sports back up their opinions with a fact or two.  What a novel concept, huh?

Friday, October 19, 2012


- Did anyone else think that tomorrow's game between Kansas State and West Virginia would be "the" game, at mid-season, of the Big 12 conference schedule?  No, I didn't think so.  West Virginia was expected to contend with Oklahoma for the league championship but no one thought KSU would be quite this good.  Once again, many of us underestimated the impact of the ol' ball coach in Manhattan and his ability to get teams to play disciplined, error-free football.

- If you watched "No Place Like Home," the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the rules of basketball coming to the University of Kansas, you were introduced to Josh Swade, the sometimes crazed KU hoops fans who made it his personal mission to get James Naismith's rules back home.  As one of my friends said of Swade, "the dude was bat-s@#! crazy."  Sometimes, I guess we all need someone who is "bat s@#! crazy" to take on a task of this magnitude.

- I'm not an anti-New York Yankee fan but I must admit that I find it humorous when the Bronx Bombers fail miserably.  Here's an amazing couple of stats to chew on in the wake of the Yanks loss to Detroit in the American League Championship Series:  Alex Rodriguez, he of the $29 million salary in 2012, had all of one hit in the series against the Tigers; Robinson Cano, was even worse going 0-for-29 in the postseason, which is a major league record for postseason failure.

- Hank Steinbrecher, former head of the U.S. Soccer Federation, posted this on his Facebook wall after the U.S. soccer team's win over Guatemala at LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City earlier this week:  "Last night I watched our National Team play in Kansas City.  It was a terrific victory and puts us through to the hex.  What I was really impressed with is the Fan.  KC fans were exactly what they should be.  I think one of the greatest advancements in American Soccer is not on the field, but rather in the stands...I thank the U.S. Soccer family for making us all proud.  I had tears in my eyes!"

- The Kansas City Royals finished the season with an overall attendance of 1,739,859, or 21,748 per game at home, which is 2.1% improvement year over year.  The team won 72 games in 2012, which is one more than they won in 2011--a whopping 1.4% improvement year-over-year.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Football helmet branding--more of the same?

Here in the heartland, much has been made of Missouri's move to the SEC and the accompanying radical shift in football uniform designs sported by the Tigers.  Perhaps the most controversial, or opined upon, move was the retirement of the block "M" from the helmet in favor of the school's relatively new Tiger logo.  And, on one helmet version, the Tiger logo takes on a much more visible role against a matte black finish.

MU's move is one that sets it apart in the vast sameness of helmet branding in college football.  A quick audit of all major college football teams shows that Missouri is one of but a few who opt for something on the helmet other than the initial, or initials, of the school.

Among their brethren in the SEC, only MU and Arkansas use something other than the school initials or nickname, excepting Alabama's consistent use of the player's number on his helmet.  And, across all of college football, only the following do something different:

Kansas State - Powercat logo
TCU - "TCU" with horned frog
Texas - Longhorn logo
Florida State - Seminole spear
Clemson - Cat paw
Virginia - "V" with crossed swords
Iowa - Hawkeye
Michigan - Iconic stripes
Michigan State - Spartan head
Washington State - "WSU" with cougar
Arizona State - Spear
Colorado - Buffalo with "CU"
USC - Trojan head

Of course, there are the few who go ultra-radical (Maryland or Oregon with its "O" on a helmet color/finish which isn't even in the school's color scheme) or ultra-conservative (Penn State with plain white helmets coupled with thin blue stripe.)  But, out of 58 major schools audited, only the above 13 use a week-to-week approach that does not rely solely on school initials and/or nickname.

For all of the commentary of late about radical uniform designs at schools like Oregon, Missouri, Boise State, Maryland, and others, the general rule of thumb in college football is to stay the same.  I, for one, think that schools need to push it a bit in the uniform department and, in particular, those schools who are not traditional football powers.  Oregon's recent success surely isn't due to just the unis--I mean, there have to be good players filling out those duds--but it has helped establish a brand for the football program which, once again, is in the top five and in national championship contention.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Catching up on the world of sports

- I attended a sports marketing conference in New York this week where Mark Waller, Chief Marketing Officer of the NFL, participated on a panel discussion and intimated that the replacement referee controversy did not adversely impact the NFL brand.  Perhaps Waller was trying to downplay the impact and the real concern that may have occurred at the league's 280 Park Avenue offices in New York.  But, if there indeed was no concern about brand impact by the NFL, then that is a foolhardy stance no matter the strength of this pre-eminent sports property.  Just like antenna-gate soiled the Apple brand, so too has this referee situation impacted the NFL brand given negative fan sentiment and player reactions.  The NFL needs to be careful that arrogance does not get in the way of strategic brand management.

- On the topic of replacement refs, estimates range from $250 million to $1 billion as to how much gambling money was affected by the replacement ref's "call" at the end of the recent Green Bay-Seattle game--a contest which Seattle won on the controversial ruling of a Seahawks touchdown.

- Tony Stewart is announcing today that the primary sponsor of his NASCAR ride next season will be Springfield, MO-based Bass Pro Shops.  Bass Pro will move to Stewart from Jamie McMurray.  Mobil will continue with Stewart as a secondary sponsor.

- I'm not a New York Yankees fan but seeing Derek Jeter in the Major League Baseball Playoffs one more time is simply a good thing.

- The 2013 high school basketball recruiting wars have a look of sameness about them as the Harrison twins, out of Texas, announced yesterday that they plan to take their talents to Lexington, KY.  The loss of the top five duo--the highest ranking twins ever--was a blow to Mark Turgeon and the Maryland Terrapins who had high hopes that the brothers would end up in College Park.

- If you're a fan who wishes you were more empowered to impact your franchise of choice, then perhaps you should move to Seattle.  The Major League Soccer Seattle Sounders are conducting a fan vote to select the team's next General Manager.  And, the vote is legit--the fans will decide.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Leftover thoughts from the Ryder Cup

The Ryder Cup, regardless of outcome, was great theater, particularly on Sunday when the European team came back from a 10-6 deficit to retain the cup with a dominant day in singles matches.  Ordinarily, it is the American team who struggles early in team competition then makes up points in the singles.  That tradition was turned on its side this past weekend.

Here are some random, leftover thoughts from watching the contest at Medinah Country Club in suburban Chicago:

- Ian Poulter is one of those athletes you love to hate--unless he plays for your team.  Poulter led a significant comeback in the Saturday afternoon four-ball matches and was money in the singles match on Sunday.

- How in the world does Jim Furyk not have a better Ryder Cup record?  Furyk's mental approach to the game seems tailored for the Ryder Cup but this captain's pick, once again, did not not deliver at crunch time.

- Keeping with the captain's pick theme, Steve Stricker, who joined Furyk as Davis Love III's picks, failed to score a single point in the Cup.

- The outcome was virtually decided when Phil Mickelson blew a one stroke lead, going into the 17th hole, in his singles match against Paul Lawrie.  Lawrie was outstanding but it was Mickelson who needed to stop the Euro momentum, and failed to do so.

- Speaking of Mickelson, many question DLIII's choice to sit Lefty and Keegan Bradley on Saturday afternoon after the two were scorching hot in their Friday and Saturday morning matches.  Bradley was the star of the U.S. team.

- And finally, is there a better team competition in sports than the Ryder Cup?  It's so cool to see players, known for their on-course stoicism, playing for no money and national pride, plus the respect of their teammates and profession.  The emotion these players express on the course is real and I can think of few more stressful moments in sports than standing over a Ryder Cup putt to decide a match.  Let's give it up to Martin Kaymer who made one of those putts to clinch the title for the Euros.