Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Maher Over Matter

By Shawn Lopez

After their loss to the Hofstra Pride, Rutgers Women’s Lacrosse team stared a disappointing 3-6 record in the face midway through their season. This was an especially disappointing blow for the Scarlet Knights because they had no problem beating Hofstra and several other teams, including Denver and Cornell in prior years. With grueling 3-hour practices 6 days a week, strict rules off the field, team dinners, and pregame rituals, Rutgers was left slightly dumbfounded at the losses. Head Coach Laura Brand turned to sport psychologist Dr. Charles Maher for encouragement.

Maher has worked to mentally prepare several professional teams including the Cleveland Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers. Rutgers football and women’s basketball teams are also lucky enough to have him at their disposal.

Maher visited the 27 members of the Rutgers Women’s Lacrosse team on Wednesday March 25th, just two days after their loss to Hofstra. Upon his arrival in the Women’s Lacrosse locker room, located in the Hale Athletic Center on Busch Campus, Maher retrieved a dry-erase marker from the closet and began writing an acronym on the board. The board read, “WIIFM .” “Does anybody know what this stands for?” The room fell silent. “It stands for what’s in it for me.” He then wrote, “WIIFT.” “And what about this?” We guessed it: “What’s in it for the team?” “If you are solely concerned with what you can get out of your athletic career here, you will bring your team down. This is selfishness. The opposite of selfishness is teamwork, buying into something larger than yourself. If you don’t leave yourself as a person, you’re going ride an emotional rollercoaster on the field,” he said.

Maher went onto explain how our personal choices and attitude affect the outcome of our games. There are simple reasons for why individuals lose focus. “Staying up drinking at the ‘Magic Moon Lounge,’ eating a late dinner at IHOP, or even staying up half the night studying, all affect how focused you are,” said Maher. He writes another acronym on the board, “PPT.” “This stands for the people you should be with, the places you should be, and the things you should put into your body.” He reminded the team that effort, how hard a player works during a game, is not the only thing that is important. Ethic, the way an athlete goes about preparing, is just as, if not more important, he added.

All of this is pretty straightforward; get a lot of sleep, eat right, and follow the coach’s rules. The physical preparation is a no-brainer but how does an athlete mentally prepare? You may have heard of “being in the zone.” This is what Maher likes to call a “cocktail party phrase”- something athletes use in casual conversation but never really think about it’s meaning. You can’t just say to yourself, “Ok I’m going to prepare by visualizing what I’m going to do next or what I need to work on. ““This will not help you,” said Maher. He then wrote yet another acronym, “MAC,” on the dry-erase board. The M stands for “mind in the moment.” If an athlete can focus on what is in front of him/her step by step, play by play he/she will have a lot of leverage. The A stands for “accept what is there, don’t judge.” An athlete should not think about the mistakes he/she has just made. Lastly, the C stands for “commitment to the play.” This refers back to embracing the moment. An athlete should be solely concerned with what is going on in front of him/her.

After the dry erase board was covered with challenging insights and countless acronyms, Maher concluded his speech. “Now ask yourself, are you competing with your opponent or yourself? Once you have conquered any mental distractions you may have, everything else will fall into place, and victory will come easy.”

It should be noted, the Rutgers Women’s Lacrosse team went on to beat Loyola College (no. 13 in the nation), in a Big East conference game the following Friday.

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