You Can’t Be ‘Joe Cool’ or #MVPat — But You Can Learn to Be Like Them

Friday, February 8, 2019
Joe Montana playing with the Kansas City Chiefs

The guest of the 2019 Rockhurst University Leadership Series luncheon on March 26, Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Joe Montana, has a reputation for more than winning. And throughout his career, the nickname “Joe Cool” has followed Montana, reflecting a calmness under pressure that might have helped deliver four Super Bowl rings.

Is Montana an anomaly, someone with a preternatural ability to perform no matter the circumstances? Maybe, says Bill Haefele, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Rockhurst University. But Montana also likely benefitted from psychological practices and concepts that are only now being more fully understood and applied more widely.

“The mental aspect of the game has always been important,” he said. “I think now there’s a really solid basis in science for how athletes can learn to self-regulate.”

Haefele has taught sports psychology for approximately seven years at Rockhurst and is currently studying flow — a mind state of intense focus described as being “in the zone.” He said self-regulation and being able to tamp down the self-doubt that can weigh down a performance, are key tools for an athlete.

“It sounds pretty simple, but surprisingly a lot of people have a lot of negative thoughts about their performance and their situation,” Haefele said. “Athletes simply cannot spend time thinking about the bad things that happened, because they have to move on to the next play.”

And as physical limits continue to be pushed to their limits, improving mental agility may be the new frontier in finding a competitive edge for elite athletes like Montana or recently minted NFL MVP (and current Chiefs QB) Patrick Mahomes.

“Quarterbacks, in particular, are at the center of a lot of chaos,” he said. “You’ve got all these people coming at you and you have to be able to do a couple of things pretty quickly — you have to survey an entire field, make decisions about that, and then you have to be able to switch your attention to a very narrow part of that field, a single receiver.”

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, can help develop some of that focus, Haefele said, and not just for those looking to lead their team to a Lombardi Trophy.

“Leaders have the same challenge that quarterbacks do — in the midst of all the chaos, what do I focus on? And can I shift that focus from one aspect of the field to the other?” Haefele said.

The Rockhurst University Leadership Series luncheon featuring Joe Montana is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 26, 2019, at the Marriott Muehlebach Tower, 1213 Wyandotte St. Individual tickets are on sale now. Visit rockhurst.edu/leadershipseries for more information.