Sixer Sports Psychology: The Next Hinkie Innovation


Sep 27, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers general manger Sam Hinkie answers questions during media day at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Sports Psychology: The Next Hinkie Innovation

The parallels between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Philadelphia Eagles can be scary at times. The innovations are most often discussed in terms of personnel transactions, but covers a wide swath of sunrise to sunset issues that impact fans, players, coaches, and team long term planning for the future.  But nowhere do the parallels run as similar and yet so different as in the field of Sports Psychology.

I promise not to dabble in the language of academia, but this is a topic that will be somewhat involved, so I will try to break it down.  Sports psychology is the study and application of psychology in an athletic competition environment, and includes team and individual performance studies, training, exercise, and the behaviors most associated with success.   The parallels between the Eagles and the 76ers is that both teams have interest in the application of sports psychology.  But in the Eagles case, it is a study of remaining hungry for success even after some achievement of it.  In the case of the 76ers, it’s the psychology of reversing losing streaks.

I wrote an article on the subject of Sports Psychology for the Philadelphia Eagles blog with  In that article I describe Chip Kelly’s employment of sports psychology as a new tool in leveraging his teams talents into a team hungrier for success.

But the same philosophy can and must be applied to the players of the Philadelphia 76ers.

"Failure is not failing. It’s learning. The goal is to learn, to correct, to improve, to enhance, to exceed yesterday. It’s a fundamental shift of the team, the franchise, and perhaps even the (NBA)…"

But the 76ers are a young team, and a team that lacks confidence because they are so young, so unfamiliar with one another. What can sports psychology offer to help this team out?  Plenty. A curious article found in Inside Lacross by Stan Popovich, titled Sports Psychology: Handling a Loss, lays out the framework for dealing with losses in a competitive sport. In summary, he identifies the following techniques to minimize a long term effect:

I. Do not make excuses or blame others.
II. Evaluate what you did and learn from your mistakes.
III.Focus on the season, not on one game.
IV. Become more determined to succeed.
V. Seek third party advice on ways to improve performance.
VI. Be Patient. Success is a process, not a moment.

Another important element of the psychology of winning versus losing is the bio-emotional components of losing.  Losing can have a downward effect on an athlete’s emotional state.  Sadness, anxiety, and even minor depression can occur immediately following a loss.   But there are biological effects as well.  In a study entitled Testosterone, and Winning and Losing in Human Competition conducted by  Alan Booth, Greg Shelley, Allan Mazur, Gerry Tharp and Roger Kittok found as tennis players move through a season, there appeared to be carry-over effects on testosterone from one match to the next. Evidence suggested that the testosterone of consistent winners rise higher with each win, and that of consistent losers continues to drop. This effect, the authors argue in this study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior, could provide biological foundations for winning and losing streaks.

There is much more needed in turning this teams performance around than just loading up a roster with a bunch of talent.   The work being done in the study of sports psychology is the formalization of the common sense approach we have been exposed to since we entered competitive sports.  The discipline of practice, of exercise, dramatically improve an athlete’s psychology as more and more of the unfamiliar become familiar.  By converting responses from “thinking about it” to reflex actions, we improve our ability to react and perform.

Remember your first time behind a steering wheel?  Nothing was familiar.  The complexity of driving on an interstate highway caused stress and anxiety because you were operating an unfamiliar car at high rates of speed.   But as you learned to drive, you eventually enter an almost automatic driving reflex where you can travel long distances without truly thinking about the gas pedal, the brake, or the steering wheel.

More from The Sixer Sense

One of the more recent breakthrough in sports psychology is to focus away from winning and focus on the psychology of losing in athletic competition.  Sports physician Jordan Metzl of the Sports Medicine Institute of Young Athletes in New York gave some insightful comments on the topic:

"“Losing is often overlooked. Winning is celebrated but the pain of loss is very significant. The shame and pressure of losing is a very strong emotion that athletes deal with for their entire careers. Most athletes do lose, it’s normal to be disappointed. It’s not normal to be depressed three months later.”"

The Sixers are committed to developing the state of the art facility, analysis, sports science, and player friendly organization to lead the NBA.  With a team struggling to find success, and athletes like Joel Embiid struggling to find the basketball court, the Philadelphia 76ers are the ideal team to embrace the cutting edge implementation of a team sports psychology department.

Next: Should Sixers Hold The Sauce?