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Assistant giving UCI mental edge

Men's Volleyball

Becker, a sports psychologist hired by Coach John Speraw, has helped Anteaters attain success.

April 19, 2012|By Barry Faulkner
  • Andrea Becker, fourth from left, has worked all season as a full-time sports psychologist and assistant coach for UC Irvine head man John Speraw, second from left.
Andrea Becker, fourth from left, has worked all season… (Courtesy of UC Irvine )

To paraphrase one of Yogi Berra's incisive gems, 90% of sports is half mental. Now while the mathematics of this assertion are clearly open to question, UC Irvine men's volleyball coach John Speraw has long believed that the mental side of his game has been undervalued.

Well-known for his innovative mind and lab-coat mentality on the bench, Speraw seized an opportunity this season, his 10th at UCI, to analyze how having a sports psychologist on his coaching staff could impact the performance of the program.

"There was no blueprint," Speraw said of hiring Andrea Becker, a professor of sports psychology at Cal State Fullerton, to replace longtime assistant David Kniffin, who left after last season to become a women's assistant at Illinois. "Has it worked out as I originally anticipated? No. But the end result has exceeded what I had hoped."

Becker, who played and coached softball at Sacramento State before being coaxed into the still controversial field of sports psychology, said her preexisting friendship with Speraw led to her involvement with the Anteaters this season.

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No. 2-ranked UCI (21-5), is the No. 4 seed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament that begins Saturday with a quarterfinal clash against No. 5-ranked and No. 5-seeded UCLA (22-7) at UCI's Bren Events Center at 7 p.m.

"If it wasn't [Speraw], I wouldn't have done it," Becker said. "But another coach would not have asked me to do this. He's one of the few coaches that is going to come to practice with a research study in his hand. A lot of coaches read a lot of stuff, but one of John's strengths is that he can synthesize it down and effectively apply that information. That's really tough in a dynamic environment."

Speraw said his request for Becker to join his staff this season, in what was agreed would be a one-year enlistment, came from a perception that some of his messages about mental preparation were no longer reaching his players.

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