Tricking the Mind

I don’t know when I’ve had more fun than when I was coaching little league sports … especially when I coached the very young children. For whatever reason, when children were assigned to a team, I seemed to get those who were least athletically endowed. As a result, the won/loss record for the team was not in the upper echelon of statistics in the league. But, there was one thing that I believe stood out among all of the rest of the teams: WE HAD FUN!

In this article I’m going to limit my remarks to the game of hockey although I used similar tactics with baseball and basketball teams as well. the hockey season would begin with our attempting to determine who could skate. Most of the children could barely walk without skates let alone with them on the slippery ice surface. And so, we would bring folding chairs into the arena for the “less talented” (which comprised about 40% of the team) to hold onto in order to help them maneuver around the ice. Gradually, slowly and painfully over time, all of the children became more adept at skating to varying degrees. Then, there was the issue of the parents! Some of them believed they knew more than the coaches and others did not want to see their child suffer. It wasn’t unusual for me to call closed practices disallowing parents from coming into the arena in order that we might be able to accomplish our “game plan goals” for that particular session in order to avoid parental interference.

The next step was to provide incentives for these youngsters to become more independent of their parents as the season rolled on. By that I mean their being able to dress themselves and, hopefully, tie their own skates. In hockey, the equipment that children need to wear is cumbersome starting with the proverbial “cup” and gong on from there with shoulder pads, shin guards, etc. I required the team to be in the dressing room at least an hour before a game or practice in order to accomplish their goal of prepping for their stint on the ice. Parents were allowed to help their child until about mid-way through the season but then most of the children were capable to handling their dressing themselves with parental supervision and help.

Now came the hardest part for the coaches. As the season progressed there was a natural tendency for the players to compare the team’s record to other teams. Not unusually, we might find ourselves on the bottom of the totem pole resulting in the spirit and mental attitude of both the players and the team suffering as a result. This would be the time when we would bring out our arsenal of “mind games” to help them maintain their sense of dignity, interest and playability. Some of the techniques may have included their having to wear the same socks or underwear for every game … after they had been washed of course. Giving each of them a “lucky coin” that they had to place somewhere in their equipment or asking them to tape their sticks with “magic tape” were also practices that we invented to help them along in the season. Doing superstitious practices not only kept their spirits up but in some cases, they were able to beat opponents that had soundly beaten them earlier on in the season.

LiveScience.com recently reported that although good luck charms may lack magical powers, they do, however, seem to provide those practicing these superstitions with somewhat of a competitive edge. German researchers found that the psychology behind such practices was the real secret and not the wizardry that some associate with them. They found that when people carried a lucky charm they tended to set higher goals for themselves and felt more confident than people who did not engage in such practices.

In one test, subjects who were told that a golf ball was “lucky” tended to perform better than those who were simply given the ball. Barbara Stoberock, a psychologist and study co-author points out that “superstitious behavior won’t help you win the lottery but it could help you win a sporting event or pass a test.” I guess it’s a simple method of tricking the mind to think positively and confidently. I sure worked for the teams that I coached. How about you?


Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.

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