‘Fear is the foundation of human psychology’: How self-doubt haunts the NBA

<span>Ben Simmons is under fire for his reluctance to shoot.  </span><span>Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/8DJp8dIQ354bGlH9OwRxtA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/dcbcb34f3f4b3bf96 e03362590fc4ec0″ data-src= “https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/8DJp8dIQ354bGlH9OwRxtA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/dcbcb34f3f4b3bf96e033 62590fc4ec0″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Ben Simmons is under fire for his reluctance to shoot. Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Basketball fans of the Philadelphia 76ers are especially familiar with one sentence: Trust the process. It was often used when the team was struggling in the 2010s, as the team seemed to tank for the sake of deep draft picks and long-term team building. But two of the franchise’s subsequent No. 1 picks — Ben Simmons and Markel Fultz, both of whom are no longer on the team despite being called saviors — seemed to lose sight of the maxim when it came to their own games on the field. Both players came to the NBA with tremendous potential. But they both came under unwelcome criticism: Fultz for a hiccup in his shooting technique, and Simmons for his unwillingness to shoot at all. The pair were inevitably accused of succumbing to the ‘dreaded yips’.

Throughout the history of professional sports, there have been many high-profile cases of players losing the ability to perform the most basic tasks on the field. In baseball, New York Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch was somehow unable to throw to first base. Similarly, catcher Mackey Sasser found himself unable to get the ball from home plate to the pitcher, double-holding his pitches, as if he was thinking too much about the task. Pitcher Rick Ankiel, who lost his ability to throw and later became an outfielder, said of his problems: “When I threw baseball, it felt like my wrist was going out. I didn’t feel the ball.”

Related: Hoop Dreams at 30: Arthur Agee, William Gates and the Ties That Bind

In football, kicker Mike Vanderjagt wasn’t the same after missing a field goal in 2005. It also happens to golfers who miss easy putts and to tennis players who regularly make double faults. But the condition is rarer in basketball, but no less pronounced. Over the years, only a few hoopers have suffered from the condition. But some have done so in public. Not long after missing four crucial free throws in the 1995 NBA Finals, Orlando Magic’s Nick Anderson went from a 70% free throw shooter to a 57% shooter for years, even shooting 40% in 1996-97. And John Starks, who went 2-18 and 0-11 from three-point range in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals, which his New York Knicks team lost, appeared to be having a meltdown on live television, despite usually was a knockdown. , top scorer.

What happens along the way? For players like Fultz and Simmons, who seemed to lose all confidence as jump shooters, so much so that they had to leave the 76ers for new teams and new starts — not to mention Jordan Poole of the Washington Wizards, who was beaten by then-teammate Draymond Green and has never been the same since – there has to be an answer. For each player, the unraveling didn’t happen overnight. Fultz was a highly touted rookie. Simmons was an All-NBA player. And Poole was a major contributor to the Golden State Warriors 2022 championship team. But something happened along the way.

To be clear, a loss of trust or a case of yips is not a joke, nor is it funny. To be a professional athlete, regardless of salary, is difficult. Your professional (and often personal) life is on public display. Any mistake can be magnified by the press and angry fans. Even today, the pressure is on the players to social media And gambling is at an all-time high. That is why it is just as important to highlight the problems between the ears as those between the ears. Players like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan has come out and spoke about their struggles with mental health. Fultz talked about muting outside sounds and acknowledging them inner doubt and sadness (it should be noted that his struggles weren’t just due to a loss of self-confidence: he says he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which contributed to problems with his shooting technique). Several books have been written about mental health problems also in sports. It’s an important topic and one that won’t go away.

“Anxiety is the foundation of all human psychology for so many different reasons,” says mental performance consultant Drew Petersen, who has worked with athletes in the WNBA, NBA, Olympics and college basketball. “We all need to accept the fear we have and breathe through it. That’s part of competing every day. Fear becomes such a big entity [professional athletes] because of what it will do to it [their] mental identification of oneself. Thinking about the result instead of focusing on the process.”

Petersen focuses on two things when he works with professional athletes: presence and self-compassion. It can be easy for players, he says, to focus on the results of their work: the gold medal, the championship. But these things should almost be seen as side effects, not the end goal. He also recommends meditation and for players to slow down, not speed up or be hyper-reactive. “If you create more awareness,” he says, “you also create more choices.”

Petersen, a former basketball scout, says he always looked to see if a player was “still, still and peaceful,” he explains. “Because if that’s not the case, they’re not performing at a very high level.” The moment a player thinks about what he or she does, they are lost. For example, as soon as a player forgets to shoot the way he has always known since childhood, he is done for. “That, in my opinion, is what happened with Ben Simmons and Nick Anderson,” he says. “They are so focused on the results that they don’t feel what they have been doing all their lives.”

When a player like Knoblauch, Vanderjagt, Fultz or Simmons makes a mistake, it becomes much easier for him to worry about doing it again. What has given them their identity all their lives – success in sports – is beginning to be at stake. Some, like Michael Jordan or Derek Jeter, are seemingly able to push that fear out of their minds, thanks to past successes or an excessive sense of confidence. Others, Petersen says, aren’t so lucky. “Courage is not the absence of fear,” he notes. “Courage is accepting the fear and going through it anyway.” Petersen quotes Kobe Bryant on Steph Curry and his sense of calm.

Given the pressure, it’s natural to wonder why more athletes do not suffer from yips or other mental problems. ‘My suspicion,’ says Petersen, ‘is that it happens a lot more than we know. [But] it has never been ‘OK’ in athletics to be weak.” While some fans can be supportive, it can also be easy to wither under expectation and for players to then not trust the process on the field. So they worry about the result and not so much about whether their approach is correct. But as Petersen says, that’s a backwards strategy. The mind is vulnerable. That applies to everyone, although some may navigate vulnerability in more skillful ways than others. But how?

Dr. Scott Goldman, who has worked with NFL, NBA and NCAA teams for decades, talks about facing your fears. For example, if someone is bitten by a dog, he says, it may seem natural to avoid dogs. But if that person continues to avoid dogs for the rest of his life, he may become stuck and unable to take action when confronted with them later. And in that moment of hesitation, failure can be imminent. Likewise, if someone misses a great opportunity, they may never want to make another one. The fear can even be visible, as in Fultz’s jump shot, Poole’s miscues, or Simmons’ inability to simply shoot (or even make a play). Bodies falter, caught between natural movements and learned, feared outcomes.

Goldman says he tries to work with players on a number of levels. “But the first thing I do,” he says, “is listen and try to really understand what’s going on with this person.” Fans view athletes and coaches as immune to stress and anxiety because they are well paid and famous. But Goldman tells a story. While working for the Detroit Lions, the team’s then-coach told him about a meme his six-year-old son found online. The coach was depicted with guns around his face, pointed directly at him. “Because he lost a few football games?” says Goudman. “What are we doing here? We love our heroes in America. But we like to shoot them.”

In a recent article on The Ringer, Fultz talked about his journey and finally finding some inner peace. Although his struggles were NBA news and fodder for criticism for half a decade, he says he has since put that behind him as much as possible. Instead, Fultz says he trusts the process – this time, though, it’s his own. “The results,” he says, “will come eventually, but the work is more important.”

Leave a Comment