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The Emotions of Sports: Taking center stage

Several local products have dealt with the emotions of sports at the highest level

Posted: August 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Hart High graduate and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields throws during the first inning of Game 2 of the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies on Oct. 23, 2008 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Shields won the game, which is the only World Series victory in franchise history to date.

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With professional athletes, there’s this higher state of mental focus.

Sure, there are tens of thousands of people watching live, and in some cases millions more watching at home.

Yet for some reason, the best athletes in the world have a way of blocking it out.

Nonetheless, as special as they are, they are still human beings and have emotions.

The Santa Clarita Valley has been fortunate to have professional athletes who have appeared on the grandest stages — the NBA, Major League Baseball, the WNBA and the NFL.

What’s the emotion like at the top of the sports world?

These four will tell you.

Mike Penberthy

There are approximately 18,000 more seats in the Staples Center than The Master’s College’s Bross Gym.

There were no cameras of any type at Bross Gym when Mike Penberthy was a Mustang from 1993-1997 — not even a webcam.

From 2000 to 2002, as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, there weren’t just TV cameras, there were bright lights, rafters, a giant scoreboard and throngs of purple and gold fanatics.

Yet when Penberthy, who won an NBA title with the Lakers as a sharp-shooting option off the bench in 2001, thinks back to where his emotions lied back then, he thinks of his family.

“When you have a family, it’s your livelihood. There are a lot more emotions tied to it,” Penberthy says. “The player is playing for a whole lot more. There’s a whole lot more at stake — the energy with the people in the arena which means more, the pressure of TV, the pressure of millions of people watching worldwide. For me, it was playing with a Hall of Fame coach (Phil Jackson) and Hall of Fame players (Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal). The emotions are heightened and you learn to control those emotions.”

Penberthy says he was never nervous on the floor.

He says in college he was.

The difference was he wasn’t as confident in college as he was as a professional.

This, despite being the greatest basketball player in The Master’s College history.

But Penberthy says there was a reason he was in the NBA and that there was no reason for him to let emotions get in the way of his game.

He says he had help — Jackson.

Penberthy notes how Jackson has a reputation for sitting on the bench and looking uninterested when things go awry.

The former player says it was deliberate. That Jackson was empowering his players to pull themselves out of the rut.

Stability of mind was the key for Penberthy’s ability to perform under all the pressure.

“For me, it was when I was at my best,” he says of playing on the big stage. “It was slow motion. Everything moves slower. I knew what was going to happen before it happened.”

Penberthy, now 36, runs the Pro Shooting Coach company and trains youth basketball players.

He talks to kids about self control.

Because ...

“Emotions can make or break the game,” he says.

Matt Moore

If there’s ever been an athlete who has been on the roller coaster of emotions in the Santa Clarita Valley, it’s Matt Moore.

From high school star at Hart High, to unhappy quarterback at UCLA, to maligned quarterback at Oregon State, to hero at Oregon State, to the Dallas Cowboys to the Carolina Panthers to the Miami Dolphins.

Forgive the phrase, but Six Flags Magic Mountain doesn’t have a ride that could compare to Matt Moore’s mind.

Yet for years, he has rolled with the punches and given an outward appearance of a football player at ease with his situations.

And he’s been able to perform on the field.

“I think I got too worked up in both directions,” Moore says of being up and down. “I don’t know why. Part of it is just being competitive. People push the competitive buttons, and you just want to win. I think that is human nature, especially playing quarterback. I learned that you just have to stay calm as much as possible. Before games, I would get too worked up early in my career. Not that that is an excuse, but I felt better as a player going into it as calm as possible, with a clear mind, without putting all these thoughts in my head, predetermining situations in the game. It’s all false advertising, if you will. If you go out and relax, and kind of be stoney, it’s a lot better.”

Like Penberthy, the soon-to-be 27-year-old says mind control is imperative in the NFL.

With the violence, competitiveness and pressure of playing the most visible position in the country’s most popular sport, the 2001 CIF-Southern Section Division III Offensive Player of the Year says emotions have to be subdued at the highest level of professional sports.

He compares the emotions to another sport.

“I don’t think anyone watching TV or someone calling a game really knows what’s going through that player’s head. Watching Steve Stricker play golf, he’s always known for having no emotion on the golf course. He hits a hole in one and he gave a little fist pump and a high-five. Just because he doesn’t show it doesn’t mean he’s tearing himself up inside or he’s not just pumped out of his mind. Guys handle that differently,” Moore says. “Speaking for myself, there have been times when I showed great emotion or not enough emotion. It all depends on the timing of the game, the situation, what’s going, where you’re at. There are times for that. There are times to be calm and cool, and you’ve got to shake a good play or bad play off and move on. You can throw a bomb, get yourself on the 10 and kick a field goal. Well, we should have had six. You have to stay calm and keep moving forward. The world and the game is going to keep moving. You don’t have time to throw a fit or celebrate out of control at the same time.”

James Shields

The baseball equivalent to a quarterback on the football field would have to be the pitcher.

In both sports, they are the players who hold the ball more than any other position.

So imagine how 2000 Hart High graduate James Shields felt on Oct. 23, 2008, starting for the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies — the only victory for the franchise in World Series history.

“It’s probably the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me in baseball,” Shields says. “Knowing that you could possibly be celebrating with champagne, pouring it all over each other. As a kid you sit and watch those celebrations on TV and think, ‘Man, that looks like so much fun.’ ...  To get to the World Series, to have that feeling and this is what you work so hard for for 162 games — to get to the playoffs, to go to the World Series and try and win it. It’s a long, grueling season. That’s what makes it all worth it.”

Shields is in his sixth big league season. In that time, he has been to the postseason twice and most recently was selected to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in July.

Yet for all of that and having pitched in 175 Major League games, Shields admits he gets butterflies.

“For me, it’s the anticipation of what’s going to happen during a game,” Shields says. “I think you go out there not knowing what kind of stuff you have out there every game. You feel good in the bullpen, but you step on that mound and the hitter gets in the box. It’s a whole different story. I try to keep myself calm and collected. But once that first inning’s over I get in a groove and relax a little bit, I don’t think there’s any player who will tell you they don’t feel a little antsy once the game starts. After the first inning it’s just another game and try and go out there and pitch well.”

Shields says there’s so much stress in a baseball player’s life.

That’s why so many Major Leaguers have a routine — so they achieve a balance.

In the end, it’s still a roller coaster.

“The emotion level is definitely high and low, and high and low, and you have to find a happy medium,” he says. “Especially as a starting pitcher. You pitch once every five games. It’s not like a hitter where you go 0-for-4 and you come back the next day and you might go 4-for-4. The starting pitcher definitely has a higher level of emotions because we sit on our outings every four days or five days. That’s the fun part of the game. We go out there and compete. That’s why we play the game — to be competitive.”

Taylor Lilley

Hart High graduate Taylor Lilley made her WNBA debut on June 1, 2010.

There were three parts of that game that were particularly important — when she stepped onto the floor for the first time, her first shot and her first points.

Lilley says she was prepared going into the game because Phoenix Mercury head coach Corey Gaines told her she would play.

But then it came time when she checked in in the first quarter.

“When he said my name, you kind of have that heart drop of a feeling for a second,” Lilley says. “I got to the scorer’s table and anticipated, ‘What am I going to do when I get in there?’ ... When they call you and you cross that line, everything goes away. The worries and that big anticipation. Then it’s game time, in game mode, focused on what you have to do.”

And the shot.

“It felt really natural. It flowed,” she says. “That was one thing that I didn’t want to hesitate to do. That’s why I was on the team. ... I missed the first shot, but it was a good shot, a rhythm shot. Left of top of key and I was open. It felt good. I felt positive from it.”

And the make — a 3-pointer, of course from one of the state’s best all-time prep 3-point shooters.

“My initial thought was to pass it to the All-Star Candice Dupree, but they sank onto her,” she says. “That’s when I was open, took the shot.”

Lilley says the emotion she felt was anger.

She was still irritated by a small mistake she made right before the play.

Lilley says there are so many emotions that she had during her one season in the WNBA — most of them a result of pressure.

Yet she, like the aforementioned athletes, says she enjoyed playing in front of the big crowds.

Now she is an assistant coach for The Master’s College women’s basketball team and a private coach for young athletes.
Her lessons are being passed on to others — not just lessons about the fundamentals, shooting and defense, but the ability to control one’s emotions.

Signal staff writer Paul Putignano contributed to this story.

For more information on their training, Taylor Lilley can be reached at, and Mike Penberthy can be reached at


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