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Training for the Mental Side: Be the 12th Man on the Field

By Doug Jowdy, Ph.D.
Sport Psychologist
Former Team Psychologist for U.S. Speed Skating


As I write this piece, my attention is divided because I am watching the Broncos and Seahawks game. A rematch of Super bowl XLVIII. Although I find it quite challenging to sit inside on a day like today, I could not miss this match up. But I will get my fix of the blue skies and sunshine we have here in Colorado by taking a long walk during half time. So what do I have to say when the game is not close to being over? It is close to the end of the 1st quarter with the score tied 3-3. However, at this point in time I can write about the 12th man on the field.

This week on sports talk radio the hosts were making a big deal about the fans at CenturyLink Stadium. The Seahawks fans and how they would be the 12th man on the field. How they are so loud and would interfere with Peyton Manning calling the plays. That maybe true, but I think there could be a way around that issue. With all that these coaches and players know about the impact the crowd can have, why not adjust? After all, we can divide cells in outer space these days. Can’t we adjust to noise in a stadium? Doesn’t make sense to me, but I am not the most devoted football fan out there. I just don’t think it should be a factor. Have the players pretend they are all deaf and create a system that will be immune to crowd noise.

Now that you know my views on the subject, it might not surprise you that I don’t believe the 12th man on the field is the crowd. So then what is it? I firmly believe the 12th man on the field is the coach. Yes, the head coach. Just think about it. Who was at the epicenter of Seattle’s massacre in the Super bowl? It was not the fans. It was Pete Carroll. If you had a five-year-old only watch Carroll versus Fox on the sidelines they would tell you Seattle would win. It was clear and without question. The passion and enthusiasm was beyond measure coming from Carroll. And that was reflected on the field. It was heart that won that game. A heart that was fully alive and fully engaged on every play. It was intoxicating to watch!

My hope is by now you know what the take away is. And if not, here it is. Be the “12th man on the field,” Pete Carroll style not only in games, but also in practice. Light the field, court, gym, ice, and pool up with your passion and intensity. Perform with a heart that is fully engaged and you will inspire others. It will be contagious. I am often times blown away how flat athletes look in practice. They might be displaying effort, physical effort but no passion. The emotion is lacking. And that is a shame, because it is an integral part when we talk about the mental game. I don’t know of any other arena that is filled with such intense emotion than sport. Push the envelope not only physically but also emotionally. And if you are not sure how, watch Pete Carroll for some lessons.

Be in touch if you would like to learn more about sport psychology and enhancing your performance on or off the field.

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