Psychology plays a part in victories on the field

Published 8:11 pm Wednesday, November 26, 2008

FRANKLIN—Yogi Berra supposedly once said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental — the other half is physical.” Yogi may not be too good at math, but he does have a point. Psychology, and how a team prepares for a game, is as important as the physical aspect of the contest.

There are entire books dedicated to the discussion about how the mind effects performance on the field or the court — why players such as Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky always seem to have an edge, and why some don’t live up to expectations.

Dr. Sandy Dupcak, a clinical sports psychologist with Mental Edge, just outside of Boston, works with athletes from middle school all the way up to the pro ranks. She said Franklin High School’s comeback win over Colonial Beach last Saturday was tough, even in the best of situations. The Broncos trailed Colonial Beach, a team they had lost three straight games to, 14-0 in the first quarter. It appeared the Drifters might just roll over Franklin. Colonial Beach did not score the rest of the game. Franklin head coach Darren Parker said the team made some adjustments at halftime and the team turned the game around.

“Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall?,” Dupcak said. “Clearly it’s very difficult in the best of circumstances to come from behind. It is challenging. There’s something that’s externally motivating them to play up, basically uniting the team behind a common goal.”

Part of that external motivation is what Parker said Monday night, and in a  previous edition of The Tidewater News. The Broncos have been motivated in a spiritual way by the loss of former teammate Josh Willis, former assistant coach Dr. Charles Green and Carl Harris, a player who was injured and is out for the season. Also Monday, Parker mentioned the abrupt end to the season as a motivator.

Dupcak said, psychologically, the loss of a teammate (or coach) can be a huge motivating factor.

“It can purely be a matter of motivation, something very meaningful that they are working toward,” she said. “Using the death of the two significant people and doing something in honor of the injured player, those can be very motivating. All other factors equal, that can be the edge to play above their normality. They can ‘play up,’ as they say.”

In its two-game playoff run, Franklin has defeated two teams — Colonial Beach and Sussex Central — that it lost to during the regular season.

While sometimes losses can be a negative factor, Dupcak said that a loss can also be a huge motivator. She mentioned the New England Patriots’ recent win over the Miami Dolphins after the Dolphins beat the Patriots earlier in the season.

“It can happen quite frequently from the NFL to high school football. Oftentimes a loss in itself can be motivation. In fact, coaches and captains can capitalize on that loss and make it motivational in keeping the team focused on a particular goal,” she said.

The first time Franklin and Colonial Beach played, the Drifters scored on the last play of the game to win. During the final drive of Saturday’s game, Colonial Beach was able to move the ball downfield rapidly and move into scoring position. A Franklin player yelled from the sideline something to the effect that “this was not going to happen twice.” Whether anyone heard him or not, the Broncos defense stiffened up and preserved the win.

This week’s extra motivation for Franklin: the abrupt end of the season and the last game for the seniors if they lose.

“If you lose you go home, for a year,” Parker emphasized.