Sports psychologist breaks down Super Bowl

Metro caught up with sports psychologist Dr. Jack Stark, who has worked with hundreds of pro athletes on mental preparedness for big games like the Super Bowl.

Stark gave his insight into what makes guys like Eli Manning and Tom Brady so clutch in big spots. Here’s some highlights from the interview:

Doctor, what makes some players perform better in high-pressure situations?

Well, some people, when they get down to the, you know, you saw what happened in the playoffs … the Ravens missed an easy field goal and the 49ers, the kickoff guy, had two — a fumble and another one hit his leg — for a turnover. It cost them. Some people get anxious, nervous. Some people just want the ball. The bigger the playing field, the more relaxed they get and the happier they are. They just kind of go in that zone and it all depends on the personality.

What makes Eli Manning and Tom Brady so good in those tight situations?

Both of them are great, cerebral guys. Smart guys, calm, collected. They have to be in the pocket and have guys come moving by you and wanting to take your head off half the time, but I think they are both very gifted in that sense — neither one of them seems to get rattled and neither one of them is injured at this point, so I think it’s going to be on their shoulders. They are going to shine and either  one of them is going to make it or break it. It’s going to come down, I think, to a couple of plays.

Who do you think is better in the clutch: Eli or Brady?

I think Brady’s slightly better in the clutch because he’s been there so many times, but you know Eli is not that far behind. He’s not a guy that gets too high or too low; that’s what you like about him. He’s a lot like his brother. He’s been taught that you don’t get too excited … you score a touchdown and you’re not jumping up and down going crazy, screaming and yelling.

Is the players’ preparation different during the Super Bowl than in a regular-season game?

In society, in the way we look at things, the regular season counts but the playoffs count even more because that’s what determines the championship. If Eli gets two championships, is that better than the 10 great years and one championship by Peyton? That’s how we measure things, with rings.  LeBron [James] doesn’t have one and Michael Jordan has six.


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