Athletic Workout Program

Driven By Insecurity

Many psychologists say high achievers are driven by their insecurities, but that isn’t necessarily a bad or unhealthy thing to a goal-oriented athlete, according to Dan Landers, a sports researcher at Arizona State University. You need to create a bogeyman in your mind, a self-doubt that makes you work harder to overcome it, he said. Landers and some ASU coaches plant the seeds of insecurity by whispering to their athletes prior to a contest, The fans are saying you’re too old. Some are betting against you.

Brooks Johnson, former world-class sprinter, college coach, and U.S. women’s Olympic track coach, believes many athletes have strong mental health, but those at the very top are not necessarily healthy and they use their needs as powerful machines to produce a sort of ego energy. Well-adjusted, happy people do not make great athletic competitors, he said.

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The secret is converting insecurities into a powerful force. A great match is theater and drama with performers shamelessly demonstrating their psychological needs. He says these needs separate winners from those of equal talent who are not as driven. Some athletes may even suffer from neurosis or psychosis and need therapy, Johnson added, so we shouldn’t be surprised when some get into trouble away from the playing fields. Boxers are among the most psychotic, he added. They have to be psychotic because of the risks and the pounding they’re going to take.

Selwyn Liderman, PhD, a clinical psychologist who works with professional athletes in New York City, agrees with Johnson. Reggie Jackson became known as Mr. October because he loved that time under pressure, he said. Many athletes have an over-arching need. Liderman has felt this need himself while getting his PhD to prove wrong a teacher who had denied him an earlier shot at it. I just said to myself there is no sonovabitch in this world that is going to stop me from getting my PhD. It was an adaptive approach to defending the ego.

American track legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee had such insecurity and need for recognition that Brooks Johnson said for her [an event] was like a theatrical performance with 90,000 people watching in the stadium. She really wanted to be a dancer. She gets on this magnificent stage in front of all those people, and she simply performs. She wants to be recognized and loved. Jackie watched the 1976 Olympics on TV and said, ‘Wow, I want people watching me’. And when they did, she didn’t let them down, winning two Olympic gold medals in the heptathlon and another in the long jump. Christian Laettner, who led the Duke University Blue Devils to two NCAA men’s basketball championships and went on to a successful NBA career, says that top athletes have unusual psychological needs and often seem arrogant in order to protect themselves. As much as we want to be normal, we’re not all that normal, he said. I have an arrogance; it’s there to protect me. Laettner also seems to have a strong need to win in everything he does, from hoops to tennis to ping-pong to swimming.

American track legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee: I want people watching me.

Even one of the NBA’s nicest guys, Grant Hill of the Detroit Pistons, confesses to having a hidden mean streak when his ego is on the line. I don’t show it, but I’m very cocky and very confident underneath, he said. I feel I’m the best player out there and no one can stop me. I want to beat you and embarrass you bad. But I don’t want people to know that. It’s like a little secret I keep to myself.

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