The expectations for the Toronto Raptors are low heading into the 2011-2012 season — at least that’s the perception outside the dressing room.
However, Raptors new head coach Dwane Casey believes an unconventional motivational tool can help his team have success on the court.
Casey plans to bring a 1,300-lb boulder, purchased from an Ontario rock quarry, into the Raptors dressing room for players to touch before they step on the court.
“The philosophy is, if you’re a stonecutter, you’re pounding that rock every day,” Casey told Jeff Blair on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Thursday.
“No matter what walk of life you’re in, whether you’re a lawyer, doctor, janitor, construction worker, whatever you are, you have to pound the rock. The rock may not seem like it’s going to crack. You may hit it 100 times, but on that 101st time you’ll crack it, but every day you’ve got to come in and hit it and challenge yourself to work at it and not give up.”
Casey said his biggest job this season is to change the mentality of his players and believes the stonecutter metaphor will help instill the message of persistence to his team.
“The most important thing is making progress from a physical standpoint, a mental toughness standpoint,” Casey said.
“If you look at the last eight teams standing in the playoffs, they have that mindset, that toughness. You’re going to score in the NBA, but the mentally tough, the teams that are physical in the paint are the teams that are going to be the last ones standing and have an opportunity to get into the playoffs.”
Paul Dennis, a sports psychologist from York University, is skeptical about whether the “pound the rock” mantra will be effective.
“They honestly believe there is a cause and effect relationships here, so that by doing this they’re going to be more mentally tough and persevere more especially during difficult situations, but there is no evidence for that to be the case,” Dennis said.
“I understand it’s really effective at the college level, but not for much of the pros. I can’t think of a professional athlete that can identify with a stonecutter, or who would want to identify with a stonecutter. It’s just not part of their repertoire of thought process.”
Dennis said that if the rock does turn out to be beneficial for the Raptors, the team should be cautious that the tradition doesn’t cross the line and become a superstition.
“If athletes touch the rock because they think it’s superstitious behavior — why do they do that in the first place? Because it reduces anxiety — so they think that their performance is so unpredictable that if I touch this rock I will be in more control over my thoughts and emotions. It’s not the case. There are far more beneficial things for them to be doing than that.”
Dennis believes the Raptors should be more practical in their attempt to turn the franchise around.
“Coach Casey talked about perseverance and will power. That’s all related to the amount of sleep they get, their nutrition, their physical conditioning. Those are the things that directly have a cause and effect relationship on how they’re going to play. Those are the things that should be focused on,” Dennis said.
“If an athlete didn’t get the sleep, didn’t have a proper pre-game meal, he could take that rock out to the bench and it’s not going to do a damn bit of good.”
Casey realizes, though, that winning is ultimately up to the players, not having a pre-game ritual.
“Guys touch it and pound it before they go on the court. Is that going to win games for us? No. But it’s about changing the mindset and setting the tone for our guys going in the right direction.
“There’s going to be a 1,300-lb boulder sitting right there and we want to have the player who can pick it up and turn it over,” Casey joked.
The Raptors play two pre-season games against the Boston Celtics on Dec. 18 and Dec. 21 before kicking off the regular season against the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Boxing Day
Do you believe motivational tools like “pounding the rock” are effective with professional sports teams?