As great a player as Odell Beckham Jr. already is, there is not a shred of doubt in Dr. Mitch Abrams’ mind that the Giants receiver can be even better if he’d only take the time to train his mind as much as his body.
“I know his preparation from a physical point of view is off the charts, and he should be commended for that,” said Abrams, a New Jersey-based sports psychologist who has worked with pro football players, as well as athletes in the other three major sports. “But as good as he is physically, he can be mentally tougher. I’m not saying he’s mentally weak, but you want someone who is absolute Teflon, that you can’t get under his skin, where his only response might be a smile and a nod to the scoreboard.”
Beckham’s temperament is once again in the spotlight after the Giants’ 29-27 loss to Washington on Sunday, during which the receiver’s frustrations boiled over on the sideline in the second half. Coach Ben McAdoo acknowledged on Monday that Beckham’s demeanor was a distraction that required the intervention of a handful of players and coaches. It was Beckham’s first meeting against cornerback Josh Norman since their flare-up in a Giants-Panthers game last December that resulted in Beckham receiving a one-game suspension for launching himself at Norman helmet first.
Beckham wasn’t hit with any penalties during Sunday’s game, and his on-field demeanor was fine. But the sideline fit of pique tells Abrams that Beckham still needs to work on harnessing his emotions and not running the risk of having his performance negatively affected by what’s going on inside his head.
“He’s not getting the help he needs, and it’s a shame,” said Abrams, who recently wrote a book, “Anger Management in Sports.” “If you can control your anger, you can do beautiful things. The goal is not about don’t be angry. Everyone gets angry. Mother Teresa got angry. The key is to adjust the flame to what the task needs to be.”
Beckham’s issues on Sunday, which included an incident in which he flung his helmet into the kicking net and was struck in the face when the net caromed back toward him, convinced Abrams that the receiver needs to have a much firmer grip on his emotions. And Abrams isn’t the only one who feels that way. Jets receiver Brandon Marshall told Newsday on Wednesday that he sees a lot of his younger self in Beckham and wanted to reach out to see if he could help.
The two did speak Wednesday night, and Marshall referred Beckham to an app he uses called “Lucid,” which offers several mental imaging techniques. Beckham told Newsday Thursday he will consider using it.
“I talked to him last night, and he said he was going to send it over,” Beckham said in the Giants’ locker room after practice. “But other than that, everything’s the same.”
While many athletes often consult sports psychologists to improve their performance, Beckham said he doesn’t feel he needs the help.
“[Seeing a psychologist] sounds good until you get on the field and you’re playing in the National Football League and you’re in my position or Brandon Marshall’s position or somebody else’s position that [the psychologist] has never been in.”
As far as Beckham is concerned, there are no issues and his state of mind is fine. It’s all about performance on the field.
“I feel like a lot of the times when I go out there and I don’t play like me, I’m very average, and I don’t really like being average,” he said. “I’m going to do what I’ve always done. That’s just the way it is.”
But even Marshall suggested talking to someone, or at least using the visualization techniques offered by “Lucid” can help.
“I talked to a sports psychologist for the first time when I was in Chicago [with the Bears], but I’ve been used to getting that kind of help,” said Marshall, who was diagnosed in 2011 with Borderline Personality Disorder and has since become an advocate for mental health issues. “I had the experience of the mental health stuff, so it’s good. There are some different techniques and practices I’ve learned along the way.”
Marshall would like to see Beckham benefit from some of those techniques, although it sounds as if the Giants receiver doesn’t feel the help is necessary.
“I’m not really worried about anything,” Beckham said. “I’m in a great place.”
Beckham said he isn’t worried about being a distraction. In his mind, he simply isn’t.
“There’s not really much that bothers me at all, to be honest. I’m going to go out and play football the only way I know how to play,” he told reporters at his locker. “Try my best to be the best teammate that I possibly can be. At the end of the day you play for the guys who are wearing the jersey. They’re the ones that take the field for you. They’re the ones who you shed blood, sweat and tears with. I’m just going to go out and be who I am.”
Abrams believes he can be in an even better place, though.
“If your triggers or your buttons are easy for others to push, then you’re a puppet,” he said. “I think [Beckham] needs to get to a place where people are not able to provoke him. As long as that’s going to be the case, he’s going to underachieve. He’s an all-world talent who can put up crazy numbers in his sleep. But can you imagine if he was playing above his physical abilities? I know the chatter around the league is you can get in his head, and that’s something he should want to get rid of. If an opponent knows he can punk you and take you off your game, guess what? He’s going to do that.”
Sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray suggested that it’s in the Giants’ best interests to see that Beckham controls his emotions.
“You can have the most incredible catch in the Super Bowl and lose the entire game because of poor mental performance,” said Murray, a Palm Beach-based clinical psychologist who works with athletes in all the major pro sports. “The coaches need to be getting ready for the next play and not having to deal with this juvenile, undeveloped mental behavior. What it shows is that [the Giants] don’t have someone who is able to reach him. You cannot tolerate that kind of sloppiness. It’s one thing to be expressive, but to be a distraction to the team is unacceptable.”
How do you straighten it out?
“Through habit formation guided imagery, relaxation techniques,” said Murray, whose book, “The Mental Performance Index,” ranked the best teams in Super Bowl history, incorporating mental performance into the ratings. “Coaches don’t have time for that, because they’re working with 53 players, preparing the game plan, watching film. You need people in there who can pull these guys aside for an hour or two a week and get them ready. You set up a number of contingencies [in a game] that would make him explode in a calm, relaxed state to deal with it in a better way so that when it happens in a real situation, he doesn’t have to think. He’ll know how to react.
“I don’t care what coaches say about how great a player might be,” Murray said. “From my experience, if you’re not preparing them the way they need to get [psychologically] prepared, they’re going to suffer the consequences.”
It’s a matter of opinion whether Beckham has become a distraction. While McAdoo used that word to describe the receiver’s sideline behavior from Sunday’s game, several teammates came to Beckham’s defense and said he is not a divisive figure in the locker room. The players genuinely like Beckham, a free-spirited personality who seems to get along with everyone.
And many players embrace Beckham’s spirit, even if it seems to cross the line.
“We’re playing football. This ain’t bingo,” running back Rashad Jennings said. “You want somebody that wants to win and get mad if they miss a block or didn’t make a play. Are you kidding me? You supposed to be happy [if you’re losing]? We’re playing ball, baby. I want those kind of players. If it was a distraction, we’d address it as a team.”
McAdoo said he believes Beckham will move forward in a positive fashion.
“Listen, Odell works hard. Winning is important to him,” McAdoo said. “His teammates are important to him. The Giants are important to him. Just like everybody else in the locker room, we want to be our best when our best is needed and he’s been that for us. [The sideline anger] was no factor in the outcome of the game. We’re moving on.”