Athletic Identity – The Case of Ronda Rousey

Last month, in an interview with Ellen, Ronda Rousey described how she felt after losing the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) title in MMA (mixed martial arts):
“Honestly, my thought, I was like, in the medical room and I was like down in the corner, I was in the corner and I was like 'what am I anymore if I’m not this?' I was literally sitting there and thinking about killing myself and that exact second I’m like, ‘I’m nothing, what do I do anymore and no one gives a s— about me anymore without this.’”
The soundbite, especially her reference to suicidal thoughts, garnered national attention. But how does an athlete develop these thoughts, and what can be done to prevent them?

Cognitive Bias

Do We Love Violence Part II – How We Watch Football

In a recent news story, a spokesperson for the National Football League finally conceded what many doctors have long since known: there is a definitive link between playing football and developing the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). While the NFL has obvious financial incentive in denying the link between playing football and developing brain damage, media coverage of the disease (including the recent film Concussion) has done a lot toward educating the public about the issue.

And yet, here we are in 2016,  knowledgeable as ever, and still glued to the television every Sunday in the fall. The Super Bowl last month fell a drop short of last year's ratings, but still finished as the second highest rated show in television history. How is it possible that we can be so aware of the damage and continue to indulge and enjoy watching this damage occur?


Do We Love Violence? – Reflections on the Pro Bowl

This past Sunday represented a lull for most football fans: the first Sunday since Labor Day without a football game. Truth be told, there was a football game, just not a very entertaining one. To be sure, millions watched this past Sunday, as the NFL's best players squared off in its version of an All-Star Game. But, to gain perspective, consider that some suggest that the 5.0 rating was the worst rated Pro Bowl ever. Furthermore, when compared to the usual Sunday Night Football game, the rating is not even 60% of what the weekly game drew on average throughout the season.

So why the "relative" lack of viewers?


Understanding a Sports Fan’s Version of PTSD

As the New York Mets prepare to host their cross-town rivals, the Yankees, for a three-game series, they lead their division by 8 games with only 16 games left to play. Assuming that the Mets hold on and make the playoffs, it will be their first playoff appearance since 2006, not to mention their first winning season since 2008. So, with the Mets holding the second biggest division lead in all of baseball, on the brink of clinching the division, Met fans could not be more calm and excited, right?

Well, sort of. There certainly is lots of buzz in Flushing these days, but an act as simple as the Mets losing their last two games has immediately reminded their fans of the situation in 2007. Up 7 games on the Phillies with 17 to play, the Mets went 5-12 in their final games while the Phillies went 13-4 to overtake the division.

As the Mets try to close out the division, the local media seems obsessed with reminding fans of 2007. And it seems to be working.

But why are Met fans panicking when it seems so irrational? Out of the 25 players on the 2007 roster, only one, David Wright, is still in the organization! What are the odds that this team will repeat a rare collapse performed by men who happened to wear the same color jerseys?!


The Psychological Secret to the Seahawks’ Success

The Seattle Seahawks have been one of the most successful NFL franchises over recent years, winning a super bowl two years ago and narrowly missing another last year. They have a star quarterback in Russell Wilson, and a very impressive defense, led by their defensive backs. So, aside from fielding a talented roster, what is the secret to the Seahawks' consistent success?

Several articles written over the past few years all seem to indicate that aside from on-field talent, the Seahawks lead the league in psychological insight.

Cognitive Bias

Was Mickey Mantle that Good? – Misremembering Legends

Last night, Major League Baseball played its 86th All Star Game. As part of the festivities, launched a campaign for fans to vote for its team's "Franchise Four," the best four all-time players on each team. Additionally, a separate ballot asked fans to vote for the greatest four living players. These elections were interesting to monitor, watching generations of old battle current generations for the greatest ever.

As discussed


The Increasing Role of Psychology in Baseball

Sports in general have advanced with the times, but baseball especially has showcased how sports can change with technology. Beginning with the Sabermetrics Revolution, led by characters such as Bill James and Billy Bean, baseball teams started seeking a competitive edge using previously unknown statistics. WAR, Babip, and Fip became household words as these new-aged statistics identified surprising, at times counterintuitive, advantages of some players over others.
According to a recent USA Today article, as part of the new wave of baseball, teams have also given added importance to the role of psychologists on staff. Ken Ravizza, who has been involved with baseball teams since 1985, is now working with the Cubs. At the time he started, the only other mental health skills expert in the sport was Harvey Dorfman, working for Sandy Alderson's innovative Oakland A's. Now, nearly every team has at least one.
As Ravizza explains:

"People realize now that we've tapped the physical conditioning aspect. We've tapped the mechanics aspect. We're tapping the computer aspect and all the numbers. I think now they're realizing the next edge is the six inches between the ears."

Fan Psychology

Why We Care About Sports (Part II) – An Escape

Previously, we resumed our discussion about why people watch sports and explained its simple entertainment value. This week we look at another factor listed as one among many in the psychology literature, yet seems quite common among well-known writers.

Sports on Earth writer and Deadspin founder Will Leitch has summarized sports' value in various contexts. For example, in explaining the mistake Lebron James made the night of his big Decision, Leitch provided an...


Does “Close” Count in Sports?

"Close only counts in horseshoes and grenade throwing," the saying goes. I heard this saying early and often in my life, generally after trying to seek consolation in barely losing at anything to my older brother.
Sports fans seem to accept this dictum, or as Kanye West put it, "moral victories is for minor league coaches."
As the NBA and NHL playoffs roll on, close games are plentiful. NBA playoff games on three consecutive days were decided by buzzer-beaters. The losers looked devastated. The fans were crushed. The negative effect must have lasted into the next game, right?
Of those three teams to lose by a buzzer beater, two won their next game.
Did coming so close help motivate the losing players in future games?
The New York Rangers have played 11 playoff games this year and all have been decided by exactly one goal. Did their tough losses motivate them to comeback from down 3-1 against Washington to tie the series, or did their recent one-goal wins traumatize their opponent?
Does close count in sports?