Jared Lankford: Don't forget about the mental side of sports

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In the 1960s, three area players were lucky enough to be selected to play football at the University of Missouri -- Kelly Curbow, of Monett; Chuck Link, of Aurora; and Greg Cook, of Seneca.


Back then, recruiting wasn't as evolved as it is today. College campuses relied on various sources, including former players to help scout local talent.

There is an old story floating around that Missouri Coach Dan Divine, after signing Cook, was invited to speak to the Seneca Football Booster Club.

He and Cook traveled to the formal event, where Devine presented an eloquent speech about what a privilege it was for kids to be a Tiger.

After the speech was over, during a question and answer session, Devine was asked why he did not recruit southwest Missouri harder and why he felt he needed so many players from out of state?

Devine explained that every week during the season, his team was playing in the Big 8 with powerhouse teams. They also face dirty and cheating teams like Kansas and Oklahoma State.

He said what he needed were players that could grasp what was needed to win on Saturdays, boys that you could take into a fight. Then, he told the stunned crowd, "The simple fact is that your boys are just too nice."

Some words and phrases change meaning over time, but what Devine was speaking about was the need for players to be mentally tough and physically nasty.

In athletics, stories often hint around about the skill of being mentally tough, but often times fall short in giving the subject its due credit.

Coaches have told me they would rather a player be mentally tough and less physically gifted than have a superstar head-case that couldn't handle the stress.

Parents often just focus on helping their child get the help needed to develop the fundamental tools of a sport.

While this is a huge need, if effort and energy isn't applied to developing the mental aspect, good talents are in danger of going to waste.
Each season, horror stories are told about athletes quitting a sport citing burnout as the cause. I have always been a proponent of allowing a child to be exposed to several sports.
Much in the same way I draw upon my life experiences in order to write these columns, athletes can draw from a variety of sports to help in the

one they ultimately choose to pursue. Babe Ruth once said, "You just can't beat the person who never gives up."

I am not implying that our teams are full of quitters, but without proper attention to developing athletes that will fight through tough games, seasons, coaches and life-lessons, it becomes easier for one to simply throw in the towel.

In the 1960s, Devine was looking for players that had the stomach for a strong fight. Today, the idea is still held onto by coaches around the area.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville democrat. He can be reached at sports@cassville-democrat.com, or 417-847-2610.

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