As the Knicks Thinketh…

The Knicks’ game 4 win against Miami, their first win in seven games against the Heat this season and their first playoff win in over a decade, may help to improve the Knicks’ performance in game 5 tonight.  Although the Heat will be looking to crank up their play to avenge the loss and close out the series, it’s very possible that the Knicks will play better tonight than they did in their lone win.

That’s because what we believe impacts how we perform.  And when there is so much short term failure (the 0-for-6 the Knicks had posted this season against the Heat prior to game 4) and so much long term failure (the 0-for-11 seasons for Knicks playoff wins), it’s easy for a player and a team to believe they’re going to lose.  Believing that will limit how well they perform because we ultimately live “into” our beliefs.  And if we believe we’re going to fail, we’ll find a way to do so.

When I wrote about how easy it is for teams and players to pick up beliefs in “Knicks $1 Short in Quarter 3”, I said I’d eventually give some examples, based on my experiences working with Allan Houston during the ’99-’00 season, for how these beliefs take hold and how changing them improves performance.  Now’s that time.

When the ’99-’00 Knicks were heading out to play Golden State in Oakland, it was going to be Latrell Sprewell’s first game back since he’d tried to choke the Warriors’ coach.  It would be the 2nd game of a back-to-back.  Not only were the Knicks horrible in the 2nd game of back-to-backs that season, the tabloids had reported quotes from the players saying that they were horrible in those games.  Clearly, this was a belief that could cause the Knicks a lot of problems.

Allan and I spoke about it and observed that Latrell would be so full of adrenaline that he probably wouldn’t score well.  Allan would have to carry the load that night.  He was up to the task and we did a process to change his belief about how well he would play in back-to-backs from a negative one to a positive one.

On game night, Allan carried the team.  He was the high scorer and shot well in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th quarters.  However, he went 0-for-5 in the 3rd.  Still, Allan’s scoring helped the Knicks pull out the win.

After the game, I asked Allan about the 0-for-5.  He said that the team wasn’t scoring well in the 3rd quarter.  As it turned out, the tabloids had run quotes from the players about it that very day but I was traveling and didn’t see the newspapers.  (It was the “olden” days, so I couldn’t just access the newspapers’ websites on my phone.).  The first time I heard about this new negative belief was post-game.

Needless to say, the next time Allan and I did a session together, we did the same type of belief change process on that negative belief.  And it the game after that session, Allan shot 3-for-5 in the 3rd quarter.

If you go through the news archives for any major team in any major sport, you’ll see how often the players start to believe things, based on little evidence, because their teammates believe it too.  More research needs to be done on why this occurs but it does occur.  A lot.

But a formal “process” is not the only way that negative beliefs can be changed.  When I coached one of the top women’s softball teams in the country years ago, there was a team in our league that we beat every time we played during the regular season.  But, for some reason, we would lose to them every time we played in playoffs or tournaments.  They were the only team we lost to in those situations and that losing went on for years.

Playing them in the final game of a post-season tournament, we were down a run with two outs in the last inning.  With a runner on first, our cleanup hitter hit a very catchable fly ball to right field.  Collectively, our shoulders slumped.  We knew we’d lost to our nemesis again.

However, the groundskeeper had not capped a sprinkler properly and the right fielder tripped while trotting to catch the ball.  The easy fly out turned into a 2-run homer.  We won the game and the tournament, lucky tho that was.

The results of that win rippled through our next few seasons.  During that time, we still beat the other team every time we played in the regular season.  But we also beat them every time we played in a tournament or playoffs, too.  That freak win because of a sprinkler broke our collective belief that we couldn’t beat them in the post-season and our performance improved accordingly.

It was well known in the 1950s that it was physically impossible for a human to run a mile in less than 4 minutes.  Scientists proclaimed that a human body just couldn’t perform that well.  Everyone knew this to be the case, runners included.

But then Roger Bannister ran the first sub-4 minute mile and that belief in human limitation was shattered.  Over the next few months, many other runners broke 4 minutes as well.  They didn’t do that because they took a new supplement or did some type of intensive weight training that gave them speed they’d never had before.  They did it because they didn’t have a negative belief putting the brakes on their own potential.  Their belief in what was possible expanded greatly as Roger Bannister crossed the finish line weeks before.

Regardless of how much heat Miami brings tonight, the Knicks’ performance should be better than we, and they, have come to expect during the post-season.  Hopefully that extra performance will carry the day and the Knicks will bring the series back to the Garden.  Either way, we can expect better performances now, and in the future, because two long-term negative beliefs were busted in the Knicks’ game 4 win.  At long last and just in time.

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