Sunday, April 26, 2009

Study Time Creates Kobe Time

Sport psychologists are often called upon to help athletes improve levels of confidence. Specifically, consultants tend to work with a player's self-efficacy, or one's situational self-confidence. Self-efficacy refers to how an athlete feels about himself in certain circumstances, not necessarily his overall feeling in sport. For instance, a basketball player may be extremely confident driving to the hole, yet have lower efficacy on the perimeter (think Derrick Rose).

While trying to make a player more efficacious in situations, psych pros may employ various techniques, namely mastery experiences, performance accomplishments, verbal persuasion, emotional feedback, and, for the purpose of this post, vicarious experiences. Watching Kobe Bryant on Saturday, I couldn't help but think about his development, especially about his growth as a player while modeling (or vicariously improving) via Michael Jordan. Kobe has mentioned that he spent countless hours studying MJ. As a young player, he viewed Jordan's games, analyzed his moves, watched the way he interviewed, and more.

Kobe's performance this weekend only substantiated his study habits. After a dismal performance a couple of days before when he shot line drives, looked flat and fatigued, and didn't muster the showtime energy we are guilty of expecting nightly, Bryant came out fully fueled and focused (I guess the readers are correct in this site's latest poll). Elevating with a smooth stroke, eluding double-teams, and escaping Utah with a key win, Kobe seemed to become his powerful predecessor.

Many have commented on Kobe's striking way of looking like Mike on the court, in the air, even in the press room. But this day, he was him -- from the look in his eyes to the MJ patented fade-away to the intense smirk as it he was thinking, "You can't guard me." What really got me was the arm extension to complete a teammates' slap of a "five" as he strutted to the free throw line. The fluid movement that Michael made cool was eerily transplanted into Kobe's frame. My gosh, is that the old G-O-D in basketball shoes that Larry Bird reflected on after 1986's 63-point explosion, only reincarnated on the west coast?

It was as if Kobe prepared for the game by watching the famous Spike Lee "Double Nickel" staging at MSG or, better yet, threw in a DVD of one of Jordan's breathtaking takedowns of the Jazz in the late 90's. Was Bryant's mind ticking with images of a Mike-licking as he dribbled and sliced and soared and rebounded? Did he recall the long days of dutiful workouts and dreams of greatness as he zoned in on his uncontestable attack? It surely appeared that way, like he was re-creating moves from his mentor's days more than a decade ago. And with each point and masterful display of fundamentals -- yes, fundys combined with his athleticism are what allowed him to look so darn good, as in the ability to create space off a screen or refusal, to ball swing through in his triple-threat, to change direction with perfect footwork off the bounce -- he gained more efficacy, which, in turn, translated to global confidence and Lakerworld domination.

I wonder how Phil Jackson interprets it all...


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