Monday, April 22, 2013

The Boston Marathon Bombing One Week On...Who Am I?

Following the week that was in Boston, and you all know the week I am talking about, the week when life changed for everyone living in Boston. The week where a lot of people, had a lot of questions; questions which still have yet to be answered. I too have these questions, and still want answers, but above all else, this week made me ask myself who am I?

The thing is I feel personally attacked. I feel like they were taking aim at me personally. I wasn’t at the finish line of the marathon, but I still feel like it was a personal attack. I am sure that many Bostonians share that feeling. But I am not a Bostonian. Who am I?

I was born in London, England, and in 2006 I ran and completed the London Marathon. I always wanted to run a marathon, and when I finally did it, I am pretty sure that the first words out of my mouth were a promise “never again”. But I did it, and I did it with no explosions or terror attacks, and no fear of these things ever happening. YOU took that away from everyone like me, everyone who has the dream to run in a marathon. Who am I? I am a marathoner, and YOU attacked me! 

When I ran the London marathon, I ran for charity, and raised over $1500. I finished the London Marathon in just under 4 hours, surrounded by other runners who were running for charity. When the clock read 4:09 in London in 2006, there were hundreds of people crossing the finish line, all with smiles on their faces, pride in their eyes, and sweat dripping off their brow. In Boston this year, YOU took that away from people like me. You stopped people from crossing that finish line…for now. I am a marathoner, and YOU attacked me, but I am a marathoner. I choose to run 26.2 miles, as fast as I can. I choose to put myself through hours of training, months before the actual marathon. YOU can’t stop me. But I wasn’t running in the Boston Marathon, and remember I said “never again”. Well, thanks to YOU, “never again” is one promise I am happy to break. But I am not just a marathoner.

I might not be a Bostonian, but I do live in Boston. I work in Boston, I teach in Boston, I run in Boston. I was in Boston on Marathon Monday. I was in Boston on Patriots Day. You chose to make whatever statement you wanted to make in Boston. In my heart, I am a proud Boston Inhabitant. Who am I? I am a Boston Inhabitant, and YOU attacked me!

When I moved to Boston in 2008, I was already a Red Sox fan, my Wife (A true Bostonian) saw to that. I fell in love with my wife, and then I fell in love with the City of Boston, MY CITY. I love Boston! My favorite place in Boston is Fenway Park, the home of my beloved Red Sox. That’s where I was on Marathon Monday. I was in MY CITY, watching MY Red Sox. As Mike Napoli hit a walk off double of the Green Monster, My wife and I, along with 38000 other members of Red Sox Nation, left Fenway with a huge smile on our faces. My wife said to me “shall we go and watch the marathoners finish”, and for once I said “no” to my wife. We went to get some lunch, and then we saw the breaking news runner on the TV screens. It couldn’t be…but it was. Someone had attacked MY CITY. Who am I? I guess I am a Bostonian, an English Bostonian, and YOU attacked me!

The thing is, you didn’t attack me, you don’t even know who you attacked. You have no idea what you have done. You have awoken a beast - a proud and passionate Bostonian beast. Boston was strong way before YOU came along, and now, despite the horror that YOU inflicted, this city, MY CITY has emerged out of the shadows, and we are standing up tall, we are shouting from the roof tops, and most importantly for me, WE ARE RUNNING! I will see everyone at a finish line. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

New concept for 2013 - Watch this space

In 2013, the Sports Are Mental blog will be changing direction and will become more of a hub for online sport psychology articles and other online mentions than a personal column for my own musings.

I have enjoyed putting my opinions out there for all to read, but do not have the time to truly dedicate to uploading new personal and original content.

Keep checking back to see how the site keep changing, and get ready for the relaunch in 2013!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kelly Smith - England Legend

Well it has been a while. Truth be told, I just hadn’t felt inspired to blog. I hadn’t found a story that fit, a story that showed enough of a link to sport psychology that would entertain more people than just myself. The Red Sox have also been painfully average as of late, and even I have been struggling to continue my “Support Your Sox” campaign. 

But I am back, and I have found a story that is the essence of this blog. This posting really excites me, as it allows me to speak about one of my heroes, and I think that the identity of this hero will surprise many. 

The person in question has scored more goals for England than any other player in the history of football. The person grew up in my home town (or very near), and this person has also played in Boston, where I now live. Let’s save you all the suspense and reveal that the person is Kelly Smith. That’s right, one of my sporting heroes is a female soccer player, and I am very proud of that!

Kelly Smith recently was interviewed by Sky Sports as she has a new book coming out, which highlights her ups and down throughout her sporting life, culminating with her inclusion in the Great Britain Olympic squad, but the interview featured far more than just her life story in a handy 15 minute chunk. For me, it embodied the psychological struggle that so many athletes face, especially those who are forced to live their life in the public eye.

There is a theory in psychology that states that in order to gain mastery over a skill, or to be considered an expert, you need to have performed that skill for ten thousand hours, and Kelly Smith recalls how she always had a ball at her feet, both inside and outside. This theory has been expanded in a sporting sense to suggest that ten thousand touches is enough to master a technique, and Kelly Smith serves as a great example of how a young child needs to be constantly practicing, even if just by themselves or with a sibling. 

As a result of this head start, Kelly had to face rejection at a very early stage in her life. This rejection however, was different than your typical rejection for not being good enough; in fact, it was the complete opposite, as Kelly was rejected from playing on boys teams because she was too good, and the young boy’s parents complained. Rejection can have a profound impact on a young athlete, and Kelly chose to use this rejection to motivate her, but for so many it goes the other way.

As Kelly got older, her desire to challenge herself was evident when she took her talents to the USA to attend Seton Hall University on a full athletic scholarship for soccer.  She had tremendous individual success at Seton Hall and at the end of her college career, her number was retired.   Unfortunately this is only half of the story. You see, as Spiderman teaches us, “With great power, comes great responsibility”, and Kelly encountered many tests whilst in America. She encountered self-doubt, loneliness, and injury; as a result of these challenges, she discovered and began to abuse alcohol. She covered up her alcoholism, until it almost destroyed her (and her career), but finally broke down and told her Dad everything, who rescued Kelly, and brought her back home to the UK and Kelly entered rehab. This was rock bottom for Kelly.

Kelly described herself as a Jekyll and Hyde character, as on the field she was confident and strong, yet off the field she would hold back and be far more reserved. This to me speaks of a much deeper issues, as at the root of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde fables is the underlying schematic of schizophrenia, a serious mental health disorder. I am not suggesting that Kelly Smith is or was a schizophrenic, just merely pointing out her own admittance of having these symptoms. She claims to come alive when on the field, and having seen her play in person, I can testify that this is the case, as her level of play is on an upper echelon when compared to her opponents. It is truly beautiful to watch.

For me, the most important part of the interview was the acknowledgement of Kelly’s support network. Ultimately, every person needs a support network in order to help them persevere, and for athletes, this network needs to be strong. Kelly mentions her family, and for an athlete, the way that family reacts to triumphs and tribulations can often influence that athlete and their reactions, which can ultimately make or break their career. Smith also mentioned two of her coaches and a teammate of hers, whom she had both high moments in front of, as well as low moments. Once again, it was the reactions of these coaches and team mates which enabled Kelly Smith to break records and become the player she is today.

As Kelly smith enters the later part of her footballing career, she can look back at her life story and take much pride from her accomplishments, but also from the way that she was able to bounce back from some very tough challenges.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dear Mr. Beckett

Dear Mr Beckett,

Photo Credit: Getty Images

I would first like to thank you for all that you have done for Boston Red Sox baseball. Your performance in game 1 of the 2007 World Series was a prime example of the catalyst type player and leader of men that you can be.

I write this letter as I feel that you might be feeling a little down right about now, and may feel that the Red Sox Nation has turned its back on you. These past 6 months has been unlike anything you have experienced in Boston before, and even  the most dedicated of professionals would have some difficulty in knowing how to react. But Red Sox Nation have not turned their backs on you and we still support our Sox! We just feel like certain things have been misunderstood. I will try to explain.

Allow me to congratulate you on the birth of your daughter.  When you stated that your priorities had changed, and baseball was no longer the most important thing in your life, every American empathized with you. I am not sure that I know anyone whose work is more important than providing for their family. However, perhaps it might have been better left unsaid. For Red Sox Nation, who at the end of the day are the ones who pay to watch you pitch, buy the merchandise that features your name, and whichever way you look at it contribute to your salary, we did not need to hear you relegate your commitment to baseball. 

Last September was heart breaking, for both of us I am sure. From my perspective, my Red Sox suffered the biggest collapse in baseball history, and needed just one more win in a month where the team went 7 – 20. You seem to be a pitcher that thrives on the big stage, and with this collapse, you were unable to pitch in the 2011 post season.  This culminated in the eventual firing of Terry Francona amidst the “chicken and beer” scandal that you were reported to be a part of. Red Sox Nation loved Francona, as I am sure you did, and we were all sad to see him go, especially in the way that the ball club handled the situation. Yet you seemed to be more upset by the fact that there was a rat in the club house and someone from within the organization was talking to the media. The Red Sox Nation really wanted to hear from the pitching staff who were alleged to be involved in “chicken and beer” and hear them at the very least acknowledge that they need to do better. This did not need to be an admission that “chicken and beer” was accurate reporting, just that as a pitching staff, you take some responsibility to how the team played in September. We did not need to hear that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Then Bobby Valentine gets the job as Manager of the Red Sox. The same Bobby Valentine who had been an ESPN analyst and had publically criticized the amount you take between pitches. This must have been very tough for you, but I really don’t think that the Red Sox Nation would care if you take 90 seconds between each pitch if you guide us to October baseball each year.
Following the September collapse, Francona exit, GM Theo Epstein exit, “chicken and beer” scandal, Valentines hiring and of course the birth of your daughter, you have certainly gone through a lot of changes in a short space of time. I would imagine that this would have been challenging to deal with, yet you did have 4 months during the off season to compartmentalize all of these changes as they happened. All Red Sox Nation wanted was to see the old Josh Beckett return and come to spring training ready to play, and help lead their young starting pitching staff as the experienced elder. All we wanted to see was Josh Beckett do his job.

And now we find the Red Sox struggling (see my last blog post “Support Your Sox”) to start the 2012 season, and the starting pitching has been the biggest reason for that struggle. You yourself have pitched a couple of games where you admitted you sucked. The Red Sox fans appreciate it when you have the guts to come out after a tough start and tell it like it is, but please understand that this should be a rarity and not the norm.

You even found yourself recently involved in “golf-gate”, which has now been blown way out of proportion. I am sure you will blame the media for this scandal, but I think you could have handled the situation with a little more professionalism. You informed the medical staff at the ball club about your sore right lat muscle, and as a result of this, combined with some roster issues with Aaron Cook, your start against the Orioles was skipped. The fans interpreted this as you being injured, and rightfully so. You were then spotted playing golf with another one of the Red Sox starting pitchers, who currently has the highest ERA amongst all starting pitchers in the major leagues, Clay Buchholz. But we all thought you were injured, so Red Sox Nation were naturally confused. Then, you make your start last night against Cleveland, and in your own words you pitched like shit. Please forgive us for putting these three situations together and coming up with the following timeline of events:

1.       You injure you right lat muscle which means you miss your start against Baltimore
2.       Then on your scheduled off day, you play golf with Clay Buchholz – a game that requires use of the lat muscle
3.       Then on your next start, you struggle and get pulled before the end of the 3rd inning.

The three things are clearly linked, and when asked about it during the post-game press conference, you come across as a petulant child “my off days are my off days and I can do what I want”. Well Mr Beckett, you are a professional baseball player, a member of the greatest baseball team in the world, The Boston Red Sox, and you get 4 months off during the year. Would it be acceptable it a teacher came to school on a Monday morning hungover from drinking on Sunday night (a scheduled off day)? As a parent, I am sure you will answer no to that question. Well Red Sox Nation feel this way about you playing golf with a sore right lat muscle, and to boot you took a young pitcher, who is on pace for a John  Lackey-esque type year, and brought him into this controversy. Red Sox Nation are looking to you to lead this pitching staff, and help them to help you add to the 2 World Series rings that you already own.

We want you to have a better understanding of the way we think as fans, so please read this letter. Try not to get offended, as everything is said to show you how we as supporters of the Red Sox are feeling, and how much we want you to succeed.
I await your response, which should come in form of you regaining the focus that has made you one of the best pitchers in recent memory and helping the Red Sox regain the form that the entire Red Sox Nation recognizes.

Kind Regards
Sports Are Mental blog
Red Sox Nation

Thursday, May 10, 2012


The Boston Red Sox are struggling right now. There is no other way to put it. The current standing have them in last place in the AL East, 7.5 games back from first place Tampa and 7 games back from second place Baltimore. That’s right, I said Baltimore.  Looking for a silver lining? The Yankees are in second to last, but the Red Sox are still 4 games back from them.

I know that it is May, and that we have yet to even have a quarter of a season, but as things stand right now, on May 10, The Red Sox are struggling.  The most apparent reason is pitching, and specifically starting pitching. The Red Sox best record pitcher is Clay Buchholz, who has a record of 3 – 1, however taking a look beyond his win-loss record shows that Buchholz has the worst ERA in all of baseball amongst starting pitchers with a 9.09 ERA. He is also receiving the best run support of all the Red Sox starting pitchers. The other 2 of the “big three”, Beckett and Lester have also struggled, but they have both struggled beyond just their statistics. Lester, who was given the start on opening day and as such earned the right to call himself the Ace of the staff, has been like a child on the mound, complaining to umpires about not getting calls, which is a sign of passion and desire, yet he then allows these perceived bad decision to affect his next pitch and often gets consumed with the decisions.

And then there is Josh Beckett, who before the season began was a hot topic, with his new manager criticizing the amount of time he takes between pitches when he was an analyst on ESPN. Then Beckett becomes the face of the chicken and beer scandal (only because John Lackey went to get Tommy Johns surgey), and even voiced his displeasure at the fact that someone in the club house spoke to the media, as if the notion of being a rat is worse than drinking beer and eating fried chicken. We should expect more from professional athletes whose team needed just 1 more win to get into the playoffs. But let’s move past everything that happened last season in September and even in the off season.  This season Becket has been up and down, but his last start, on April 29th against the Chicago White Sox, Beckett threw 126 pitches, and actually pitched pretty well allowing just three earned runs on six hits, walking three and striking out eight. With this stellar performance, his next start should have been one where he would be on fire, with momentum on his side and the Fenway faithful backing his every pitch.  This start should have been on May 5th at Fenway against the Baltimore Orioles, yet Aaron Cook made that start, got injured and the Sox went on to lose 8 – 0.
Beckett complained of a sore lat muscle, and was alleged to feel disgruntled about having to pitch 126 pitches again the White Sox. So he told the staff that he would be unable to make his last start. Then yesterday (May 9th) reports surface that Beckett was seen with Clay Buchholz playing golf on their off day. These reports have yet to be confirmed, but IF, and I repeat IF they are true, then the Red Sox need to look no further than this for reasons why the pitching staff are struggling. Player’s do not feel connected with the ball club, or they would have the respect and foresight to see that playing golf with a sore lat muscle is not the best use of down time to recover for a start just 2 days later.
Of course, the Red Sox have lots of other reasons as to why they are struggling. They have been missing Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey and Carl Crawford for virtually all of this season through injury.  Their bullpen, which has been great out of necessity, took some time in figuring out who would be taking which role. Much debate was had over whether or not Daniel Bard should be moved back from the starting rotation to the bullpen, but it was to be just a onetime visit during a road trip in Minnesota.  Alfredo Aceves has become the closer, and surprisingly strong performances from unlikely pitchers Scott Atchinson and Clayton Mortensen has meant that when the starting pitchers only managed a 4 or 5 inning outing, there was often still a chance to win.
Then there is the problem of the bats. The Red Sox expects their big bats to deliver, and none have been more disappointing than Adrian Gonzales, highlighted by his 0 for 8 performance against the Baltimore Orioles in an 17 inning marathon that saw him strike out when facing Orioles designated hitter Chris Davis. Youkillis has also struggled with both a slow start and a subsequent stint on the DL. However there have been some bright sparks; Big Papi, the Red Sox DH, has been on fire, and the emergence of Will Middlebrooks has been a boost of young enthusiasm the likes of which are usually reserved for the captain elect Dustin Pedroia.
Boston is a tough sports town, and when the chips are down, Bostonians are not shy in voicing their opinions, which is a fantastic thing. However, from a psychology perspective, I am launching a new campaign – the “SUPPORT YOUR SOX” campaign. The Boston Red Sox, YOUR Boston Red Sox, MY Boston Red Sox are still a good baseball club, and still have some of the best talent in the Majors. We are in a rut, but we need to get behind our Sox.  So please, join me in tweeting #Supportyoursox, share this blog post to the Red Sox nations, and call into WEEI and tell them to Support Your Sox. We have a long way to go this season, but with support from the Red Sox Nation, the Red Sox can get back to doing what they do best – playing ball and winning games! SUPPORT YOUR SOX!