Back in the 1960s, professional athletes didn't have blogs...but they did
have Sports Illustrated
. Guys like Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn and Wilt Chamberlain (among others) wrote various first-person articles for SI describing (for instance) the psychology of the game, how to run Red Auerbach's seven plays and why it sucks to be The Villain. In October of 1965, Russell authored a piece called The Psych...And My Other Tricks
. Russell refers to this as his "master's thesis on The Psychology of Basketball, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Spook the Opposition."
In the article, Russell details the various mindgames that he and the other Celtics used against their opponents. Running underneath a jump shooter (without touching him), pretending to be tired when you're not, acting like you're fresh when you're actually exhausted, asking a hotshot player why he's not getting more shots...things like that. He also talks about how playing angry and becoming overconfident can hurt your game. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Paul Pierce
At point, Russ says: "You say these are minor league tricks? Maybe. But you'd be surprised at how often they work." And it's true. I can't speak for professional players, obviously, but a lot of these schemes work in pickup ball. For instance, in addition to hoops I also run half-marathons. And I make sure the people I play with know this. It creates an image in their mind of a tireless opponent. I try to enhance this image by never, ever
breathing heavily during a game...no matter how tired I am. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a defender tell me something like, "Man, you never get tired" or "There's no way I can keep up with you." And as soon as they say that, I know I've got 'em.
Similarly, I try to never react to negative plays. Many times when a guy is missing shots or getting them blocked, he starts showing signs of frustration, hanging his head, cussing, swiping a fist through the air. That always gives the defender a boost, and when the man I'm guarding starts acting out, that's when I turn up the pressure to make him crack or give up. Conversely, I try (although I'm not always successful) to never look down or rattled no matter how many shots I've missed, or how ugly a turnover I just committed, or how violently my shot just got blocked. Otherwise, you've given your defender an edge.
One other scheme -- and I try to avoid this one, personally -- is to fake an injury. For instance, how many times have you seen a guy limping around on defense only to blast off downcourt as soon as his team gets the ball back. This tactic dupes the man he's playing against to go easy on him on offense and then slack off a little on defense. It may only work for a couple possessions, but sometimes that's enough to decide a game.
Here are Bill Russell's four laws of the psychout, as presented in his article.
Russell 's First Law: You must make the other player do what you want him to do. How? You must start him thinking. If he is thinking instead of doing, he is yours. There is no time in basketball to think: "This has happened; this is what I must do next." In the amount of time it takes to think through that semicolon, it is already too late.
Russell 's Second Law: You got to have the killer instinct. If you do not have it, forget about basketball and go into social psychology or something. If you sometimes wonder if you've got it, you ain't got it. No pussycats, please. The killer instinct, by my definition, is the ability to spot—and exploit—a weakness in your opponent. There are psychological subrules in this category.
To wit: always try a rookie. If you score on him and he thinks that maybe you scored because you are Bill Russell the superstar, he is yours forever after and you can wear him like a bauble on a charm bracelet.
To wit, further: always try a veteran. In my first year in pro basketball I came up against veteran Johnny Kerr , now with Baltimore . I blocked so many shots on him that first night—perhaps you remember—that he was wild with rage. He was so fired up they had to take him out of the game. That is frustration. That is also psychology. (And I might point out that as soon as he calmed down enough that season Kerr deliberately changed his style of shooting when he played against Boston . That is a kind of reverse psychology.)
Russell 's Third Law: Be cute but not cuddly. I mean, you should be nice at all times, but there is a lot to be said for an elbow in the chops when all else fails. This is forceful psychology. Last resort stuff.
Russell 's Final Law: Remember that basketball is a game of habit. In getting good at it, we develop certain habits. Therefore, if you make a player deviate from his habits—by psyching him—you've got him
All right. You now have an honorary Master's Degree in The Psych. Go use it.
Labels: Bill Russell, pickup basketball, Sports Illustrated, sports psychology