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ELIMINATE PERFECTIONISM FOR SUCCESS

Mental Equipemnt Syndicated Column – Sep 1, 1997 – Dr. John F. Murray – If you are a tennis player, coach, or parent, you might believe that success could only be achieved through the most complete and total pursuit of excellence. You might also think that perfectionism is the key to unlocking the door to untold riches, and that those who fall short of perfection are doomed to mediocrity and shame.

If these two statements characterize your views on performance, or if you know someone adhering to these assumptions, then read on. It is perhaps ironic that perfectionism leads neither to higher performance nor happiness. In fact, perfectionism can destroy your success and enjoyment of sport and lead to general problems too. This month we’ll examine the curse of perfectionism and offer tips on breaking this pattern in order to clear the way for real success.

What, You’re Not Perfect?

In any performance situation, it is healthy to want to do your best. This is accomplished by honing technical skills provided in coaching, improving mental skills through sport psychology (Mental Equipment is one starting place), and conditioning your body with specific training and nutritional strategies. This pursuit of high standards and emphasis on quality is a prerequisite of true accomplishment and should be encouraged. However, when the focus becomes so perfectionistic that standards are set high beyond reach or reason, and life is measured entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment, the drive to excel becomes self-defeating, dangerous and maladaptive.

Perfectionists believe that if they fail to perform flawlessly, they will be embarrassed, disgraced, and doomed. They irrationally believe that they must be perfect to be accepted by others. Winning 6-1, 6-1 becomes a “less-than-perfect” experience of blowing two games, while losing closely is grounds for humiliation and self-exile. No success is appreciated and winning simply leads to higher and more unrealistic goals. Life becomes an endless pursuit of acceptance through performance. Fear of failure is a close ally since focus is often directed on past failures rather than accomplishments. Rather than viewing competition with positive energy and an eager attitude of challenge, perfectionists make self-statements such as, “I cannot fail, because if I fail I am totally worthless.”

Many wonder whether perfectionism enhances performance especially in competitive societies where “winning at all costs” thinking predominates. If perfectionism worked, this article would not be written. Studies indicate that perfectionists actually succeed less than their less rigid counterparts and are less skilled in their sports! Successful perfectionists appear to achieve their success despite perfectionism rather than because of it.

The Disadvantages of Perfectionism

O.k., so you’ve identified someone (maybe yourself) as a perfectionist. So what! You want to win, you’ll do anything to succeed, and you’ll consider yourself useless if you don’t. Is there a more serious price to pay by adopting this stance? Below are some of the problems associated with perfectionism:

Many forms of physical illness including coronary artery disease are more prevalent among individuals with perfectionist tendencies

Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are common among perfectionists

Intense self-criticism leads to intolerance of others when they fail to meet unrealistically high standards, often resulting in resentment and relationship difficulties

Focusing on flaws and mistakes depletes energy. This may escalate to panic-like states prior to competition, impairing smooth performance

Creativity is robbed and learning stunted by not trying newer and perhaps riskier methods

Excessive self-criticism takes the enjoyment out of sport and life

Breaking the Pattern

In order to change long established behavior patterns and personality characteristics, it may be necessary to enlist the support and services of a qualified professional. Long established habits, beliefs and traits never change overnight, but acceptance of a problem is a first step.
Here are a few tips consistent with attempting to become less perfectionsistic:

Change your absolute standards and begin appreciating even minor successes by setting lower goals (See May, 1996 Article on Goal Setting)

Realize that others are less interested in how you might perform than you think. Accept yourself as worthy of the same amount of acceptance regardless of how well you perform.

Focus on the enjoyable aspects of the sport. Try to appreciate performance and let the outcome take care of itself.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Think of long-term improvement rather than immediate success or failure.

Ignore the outcome completely and simply try to achieve one performance goal (e.g., play more aggressively from the baseline).

Perfectionism is not all it’s cracked up to be, and it is far from a prerequisite for optimal performance. On the contrary, this compulsion is harmful to your athletic performance and enjoyment in life. Stop being so perfect and you’ll find the key to real success!

ELIMINATE PERFECTIONISM FOR SUCCESS

Mental Equipemnt Syndicated Column – Sep 1, 1997 – Dr. John F. Murray – If you are a tennis player, coach, or parent, you might believe that success could only be achieved through the most complete and total pursuit of excellence. You might also think that perfectionism is the key to unlocking the door to untold riches, and that those who fall short of perfection are doomed to mediocrity and shame.

If these two statements characterize your views on performance, or if you know someone adhering to these assumptions, then read on. It is perhaps ironic that perfectionism leads neither to higher performance nor happiness. In fact, perfectionism can destroy your success and enjoyment of sport and lead to general problems too. This month we’ll examine the curse of perfectionism and offer tips on breaking this pattern in order to clear the way for real success.

What, You’re Not Perfect?

In any performance situation, it is healthy to want to do your best. This is accomplished by honing technical skills provided in coaching, improving mental skills through sport psychology (Mental Equipment is one starting place), and conditioning your body with specific training and nutritional strategies. This pursuit of high standards and emphasis on quality is a prerequisite of true accomplishment and should be encouraged. However, when the focus becomes so perfectionistic that standards are set high beyond reach or reason, and life is measured entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment, the drive to excel becomes self-defeating, dangerous and maladaptive.

Perfectionists believe that if they fail to perform flawlessly, they will be embarrassed, disgraced, and doomed. They irrationally believe that they must be perfect to be accepted by others. Winning 6-1, 6-1 becomes a “less-than-perfect” experience of blowing two games, while losing closely is grounds for humiliation and self-exile. No success is appreciated and winning simply leads to higher and more unrealistic goals. Life becomes an endless pursuit of acceptance through performance. Fear of failure is a close ally since focus is often directed on past failures rather than accomplishments. Rather than viewing competition with positive energy and an eager attitude of challenge, perfectionists make self-statements such as, “I cannot fail, because if I fail I am totally worthless.”

Many wonder whether perfectionism enhances performance especially in competitive societies where “winning at all costs” thinking predominates. If perfectionism worked, this article would not be written. Studies indicate that perfectionists actually succeed less than their less rigid counterparts and are less skilled in their sports! Successful perfectionists appear to achieve their success despite perfectionism rather than because of it.

The Disadvantages of Perfectionism

O.k., so you’ve identified someone (maybe yourself) as a perfectionist. So what! You want to win, you’ll do anything to succeed, and you’ll consider yourself useless if you don’t. Is there a more serious price to pay by adopting this stance? Below are some of the problems associated with perfectionism:

Many forms of physical illness including coronary artery disease are more prevalent among individuals with perfectionist tendencies

Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are common among perfectionists

Intense self-criticism leads to intolerance of others when they fail to meet unrealistically high standards, often resulting in resentment and relationship difficulties

Focusing on flaws and mistakes depletes energy. This may escalate to panic-like states prior to competition, impairing smooth performance

Creativity is robbed and learning stunted by not trying newer and perhaps riskier methods

Excessive self-criticism takes the enjoyment out of sport and life

Breaking the Pattern

In order to change long established behavior patterns and personality characteristics, it may be necessary to enlist the support and services of a qualified professional. Long established habits, beliefs and traits never change overnight, but acceptance of a problem is a first step.
Here are a few tips consistent with attempting to become less perfectionsistic:

Change your absolute standards and begin appreciating even minor successes by setting lower goals (See May, 1996 Article on Goal Setting)

Realize that others are less interested in how you might perform than you think. Accept yourself as worthy of the same amount of acceptance regardless of how well you perform.

Focus on the enjoyable aspects of the sport. Try to appreciate performance and let the outcome take care of itself.

Allow yourself to make mistakes. Think of long-term improvement rather than immediate success or failure.

Ignore the outcome completely and simply try to achieve one performance goal (e.g., play more aggressively from the baseline).

Perfectionism is not all it’s cracked up to be, and it is far from a prerequisite for optimal performance. On the contrary, this compulsion is harmful to your athletic performance and enjoyment in life. Stop being so perfect and you’ll find the key to real success!

Sports Psychology Article: The 10 Biggest Issues Seen in Private Practice

Sports Psychology Article: My name is Dr. John F. Murray, a clinical and sports performance psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida. I have been licensed and in practice since 1999, providing a variety of mental coaching and psychotherapy services to athletes, business people, and people just looking to live a healthier or more successful life. This work can occur in the office, by phone or skype, or at client locations, and I also deliver workshops and speeches worldwide.

While I believe clinical psychology skills and training are vital in providing sports psychology services because people and their range of issues need to be understood and often treated, it is interesting that the vast majority of people who have hired me come in initially seeking performance enhancement for their sports, businesses, or performing arts. The truth is that mental skills are rarely trained in formal education and so there is a huge gap and need. Just as true, people who struggle with clinical disorders find it very difficult to achieve lasting success in any endeavor.

Today, as I look back on 17 years in private practice, I would like to share what I believe to be the top 10 issues that I have dealt with in working with clients. These issues are in no particular order in terms of frequency and severity, and each case in unique, but this should be a pretty representative sample of what I have seen. I’m sure I am missing many issues, but this will account for a huge percentage of them.

(1) PERFORMING WELL IN PRACTICE BUT NOT IN GAMES: Athletes often get in my door with this one. They tell me or their parents tell me that practice is great but actual live games are a total mess. While there may be many reasons for this, competitive pressure comes to mind as a frequent culprit. Sometimes the person is not training properly. Learning to face the pressure in guided imagery, relaxation, goal setting, and cognitive restructuring can work wonders. Here is an article by Larry Stone of the Seattle Times that I contributed to that addresses the issue of pressure in baseball.

(2) ANXIETY: This is an overworked word and one person’s anxiety is never another’s anxiety, but for lack of a better term let’s use it. People in all walks of life think too much, obsess, worry about what other people think (often coaches, parents or teammates), and lose the game or botch the boardroom presentation long before it even begins. Luckily for those who come in, anxiety is one of the problems that resolves best with treatment. I use a variety of techniques depending on the client. Often an approach that combines new learning, classical conditioning, and some form of relaxation with guided imagery is the key to success. It might take a little time to make progress or it might occur rather soon because each case is so different. It is one of my favorite problems to work with because the success rate is so high. Here is an article by John Nelander in the Palm Beach Daily News that I helped with that addresses the problem of anxiety.

(3) LOW SELF-ESTEEM OR LOW CONFIDENCE: While these are different issues, I lump them together here for simplicity. People are rarely born with confidence, and any number of past or current factors can tear away at confidence. The most typical problem is when an athlete is in a slump or bombarded by what is perceived as failure. Just like any solid mental skill, confidence is a tool that needs to be sharpened and continually used in battle in order to gain the edge. I build confidence in a variety of ways through education, self-talk modification, stories, examples, quotes, audios, videos and just good old solid cognitive-behavioral therapy. In fact, all of these approaches may be used in treating the 10 issues in this article. Here is an article I once wrote on the topic of confidence for a regular column I was writing for the Tennis Server website.

(4) POOR FOCUS OR CONCENTRATION: Since human beings are designed to be distracted with what is called the “orienting response” (it had survival value in the wild for our ancient ancestors to be easily distracted by the crocodile when stopping to get water from a lake) we are quite susceptible to distractions of all kinds, both sensory distractions and distractions from inner thoughts and feelings. Add to this the number of clients whom I have seen with attentional disorders such as ADHD, and you soon realize that focus in anything is never guaranteed and rarely natural. Like any mental skill it needs to be properly practiced and refined. Golfers lose focus in a tournament just as much as linebackers do in football, and training is called for. I use a number of techniques to help including pre-performance routines, key words and phrases, guided imagery with relaxation, and goal setting. Since focus might be the most important mental skills for success, it is vitally important to ensure that the person is optimally thrilled in the moment of whatever they are doing. Here is an article I wrote about how to get better focused in football.

(5) ANGER OR FRUSTRATION: Competition can bring out the best and worst in us, and one nasty little enemy is the anger that often builds up without relief, and then explodes at the wrong time to wreak devastation on the competitor in whatever they do. Communication fails when couples try to resolve their issues with anger, MMA fighters lose poise and get submitted more quickly, and tennis players blow the next four points and ultimately the entire match as their emotions sandbag them. Like anxiety, a cousin of anger, treatment for anger has very high success rates. The sources of anger and anxiety begin in the deep temporal regions of the amygdala, that little part brain shared by almost any walking organism on the planet. It was a great alarm mechanism in caveman days as it sends important signals of danger and allows quick fight or flight reactions automatically. Unfortunately, it rarely helps the quarterback thread the needle on a critical 4th down pass. Many techniques are successful here including helping a client learn new ways to break the pattern, and these behaviors like any new learning need to be rehearsed many times in imagery and practice before they become habits that sustain future success. Success here might also require a total change in how a person perceives reality. Here is an article in Men’s Fitness magazine that I contributed to about ways to control and manage anger better.

(6) RELATIONSHIPS: People are social creatures, and I learned in doing my doctoral dissertation on the 1996 national champion Florida Gator football team, and in other studies, how incredibly important social support and feeling the right things from others can be in achieving success and coping with stress. The problem is that people are so very different. It’s hard to get along, and stress of competition can often spell disaster for relationships. On teams, the coaches have important decisions to make and players who are snubbed or overlooked often feel slighted. Favoritism happens a lot in junior athletics, when the baseball manager starts his son or best friend’s son over another player just as good or better. Feelings are easily hurt and sometimes hard to repair. Football players may worry about what coaches think about them, and corporate executives might have serious philosophical differences with the way the CEO wants things done. Treating these problems requires experience and savvy. Helping people see things a bit differently or helping them to communicate more effectively often works. Being relaxed and less stressed can also do wonders. Changing expectations and learning to be more assertive without being too aggressive is useful too. Here is an article in the Sun Sentinel that I helped with right after the tragedy of 911 that was focused on the value of relationships with others.

(7) PERFECTIONISM: Think about who might be the first person to seek out a sports psychologist for mental coaching. It is of course the perfectionist, seeking another avenue for success in their relentless pursuit of the ideal. The problem is that true perfectionism is actually like a mental disorder. The perfectionist is never really satisfied, and despite extraordinary attempts to be the best at all costs, the person usually sabotages performance rather than enhancing it. I like to get my clients to see the pitfalls of perfectionism and encourage them to strive for excellence which is a far healthier recipe for advancement. This takes a little time and savvy, but it works well. Here is a column article I wrote entitled “Eliminate Perfectionism for Success”

(8) DEPRESSION: This problem, like many other clinical problems, illustrates why it is so helpful if your sports psychologist is also a trained and licensed psychologist. In a lifetime, a huge percentage of people (over 25%) will be depressed in their lifetime, whether they are the cleanup hitter for the New York Yankees, a world champion boxer, or your next door neighbor. Athletes and top executives are people like all of us, so they get depressed and need help too. The problem is that mental disorders like depression are stigmatized, labeling a person weak or telling him or her to just suck it up. As Jon Wertheim so aptly pointed out in his article “Prisoners of Depression” in Sports Illustrated over a decade ago, those with serious clinical depression are more impaired than a person with a broken leg. A broken leg will heal nicely and teammates will cheer on the recovery, but a person with depression is still often seen as a team outcast or virus and their performance usually suffers just as if their leg were broken. Many cases go untreated due to shame. I’m hoping for a day when mental problems are taken just a seriously, or more so, than physical ailments. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young people. To treat depression, I use an eclectic approach, often finding cognitive behavioral psychotherapy to be effective as the client learns to change irrational or illogical thoughts and perceive their world differently. While I am not equipped to prescribe medication, and believe that less intrusive approaches such as talk therapy should be attempted first, I also keep a keen eye to the severity of depression and suicidal ideation. More severe cases might justify my referring the client to a medical doctoral for a medication evaluation to go along with the psychotherapy we are doing. Here is that article ‘Prisoners of Depression” that Jon Wertheim wrote.

(9) LOW MOTIVATION/WANTING TO QUIT: Parents bring me their junior athletes for any number of reasons, usually just to help them perform better, but this can also be a reason for referral. An athlete or high performer who has done very well for a number of years might suddenly lose the fire and want to quit. This can puzzle those around the person. The reasons can vary from A to Z, but hiring a trained professional to help sort out the issues and provide treatment can often be the difference between that child going on to compete at the college and professional level or quitting at age 14. This problem also presents amongst older athletes or those considering retirement, or just normal people in jobs they’ve lost passion for. As a clinician, it is important that I determine if there is a serious clinical disorder, or if this is a temporary phase including mostly staleness, burnout, or stress. Quitting might be in the best interests of the client. While I never make this decision for the client, I can help sort it all out, and rule out many factors that might have been overlooked. Intrinsic motivation is so important in all that we do and passion and joy is important for any success. Often time off from physical training and competition combined with psychotherapy or mental coaching helps. This is a tough one to treat but that does not mean that it does not need to be addressed. On the contrary, the person’s entire sport or career could be at stake. Self-esteem and huge money could be on the line. Here is an article by Janie McCauley in the Associated Press that I helped with recently about athletes retiring in the prime of their careers.

(10) TRAUMA/SUBSTANCE ABUSE/EATING DISORDERS: I’ve put these three clinical problems together as one just for the purposes of this article because they often go together, but technically they are quite different. Past horrible events and circumstances can often play themselves out later in life and the diagnosis of PTSD is one of the most common amongst those who have been in war or have been sexually or physically abused. Did you even wonder why so many NFL and NBA players who have the world at their fingertips and multi-million dollar contracts suddenly throw it all away as a result of domestic violence, drug use, or other criminal behavior. While some people are just wired wrong and need to be incarcerated to protect society, I would venture to say that this is rare and that the vast majority of these serious problems have their roots in serious problems that have huge historical origins, often of a traumatic nature. The media and public is often quick to condemn people who act out but slow to truly examine why they do it. Society has a long way to go. Again, these types of problems are rarely going to be well treated by a mental coach guru without proper training and credentials as a psychologist too. The truth is that many people, often evident in pro sports but even more prevalent in the general population, struggle with things that happened many years ago. It can sabotage self-esteem and lead to so many inappropriate ways to compensate including murder. Serious psychotherapy is needed and it is needed as soon as possible. This is just one why all 4 major sports should have a licensed clinical and sports psychologist present in the team headquarters throughout the year. This person should be equipped to deal with these more serious problems just as well as being able to provide mental coaching and lectures to the teams and players needing just a mild to modest performance boost for their upcoming game. Here is an article in AFP (Paris) about the effects of trauma for a skier.

I truly hope you have enjoyed this brief exploration into the world of sports psychology!

My Pseudo-Trainer and Client Wins Summa Cum Laude

Special to JohnFMurray.com – July 22, 2010 – Many of you follow my daily activities on Twitter, Facebook or this website. In a few of my past posts I alluded to one of my clients who I started counseling while walking in my unique brand of walk therapy written about in the National Post of Canada and the Wall Street Journal. Why be normal when you can be super-normal is my motto!

This client was fun to tweet about because he was somewhat odd in his sessions which started with walking and progressed to intense walking sessions. I soon realized that this client had no interest in wearing running shoes and instead opted to wear flip flops or sandals even when running long distances as many as 30 miles! Our sports psychology sessions would transpire in the car driving to our runs or on the walks before the runs, and we would then run long distances alone and meet up at a later time, at times running the University of Miami campus, the Palm Beach lake and ocean trails, or more lately from the west part of Las Olas Blvd. in Ft. Lauderdale to AIA and then north to Oakland Park or Commercial Blvd. and back.

In short, we combined our sessions with healthy exercise but despite my many warnings to him he insisted in running in sandals. He soon outclassed even the fastest runners on AIA and one day even went 30 plus miles in sandals. He tried a pair of vibram running shoes that look like gloves, but they soon broke and he returned to wearing sandals.

This client was a married student with two children and attending a local university. On campus he dressed in casual clothing and got into his share of trouble with administration. He bucked the trend, spoke his mind, and at times complained to the university administration for unfair policies and restrictions of student freedom. We’ll spare the details, but let’s just say that he was more inclined to tell the truth than play the game and stay out of trouble. He despised red tape, university politics and outdated policies, and unfair treatment of students send him into a frenzy. His controversial nature got him in trouble more than once and the administration even tried to throw him out a couple times in ridiculous hearings that he always defended himself well at, leaving the administration looking confused and disoriented, but he always walked away from these conjured up hearings because there was nothing to them.

He didn’t talk much about his grades, so I assumed he was a B student or maybe B+ since he had a family to take care of, engaged in these marathon runs, and just didn’t fit the image of a pencil case carrying geek with academic perfectionism. I was wrong. He didn’t look like a geek, but he apparently is. My pseudo-trainer recently attended his graduation ceremonies and learned after completing his degree not in 4, but in 1.5 years, and was named the overall best student in the school with a GPA over 3.9 that earned him the top honors of Summa Cum Laude. To add insult to injury for the mean spirited adminsitration, last week he also get accepted into medical school program that awards a combined MD and PhD.

After medical school and residency, this pseudo-trainer wants to do nothing less than cure cancer, and he says he already knows exactly which part of the human genome he is going after once he sets up his lab and begins his practice. Is a Nobel Prize in the future for him. Probably not. It is probably not a big enough challenge for him.

I’ll keep pseudo-trainer annonnymous because he is still a client, and he also has a lot of schooling left and probably not the convenience of a sports psychologist bragging about him. Knowing his blunt and somewhat controversial nature he’ll probably rub someone wrong somewhere in the future and I would prefer that nobody with ill intent gain the benefit of reading this. Like art for art’s purpose alone, this article is an applause for the human spirit exemplified in pseudo-trainer. It is a celebration of our need to remain unique and think big throughts. All is within grasp with the proper mental attitude. I teach that daily to my clients and the flip flop running pseudo trainer has been a great student indeed. He has also been a great running coach for me and I am still learning. Let’s clap now for running dude in sandals who beat a corrupt university administration at their own game by being the school’s overall best student, for getting into a very fine MD/PhD program, and for his future Nobel Prize 🙂 Everyone can take a lesson from him to stand up for what is right rather than go along with corruption and politics, and to shine both academically and in sports.

I hope you all enjoyed this little glimpse into the world of sports psychology and the kind of clients that come my way. Go get em in med school now! This was an article about the human spirit and the benefits of sports psychology.

BYU’s’ Quest for Perfection’ questioned by some, praised by others

The Salt Lake Tribune – Jay Drew – November 20, 2008 – PROVO – Along with winning 31 of his last 34 football games, Brigham Young University’s straight-laced, youthful-looking football coach, Bronco Mendenhall, has become rather adept at picking slogans.

You know, those catchy phrases that are often associated with political campaigns, words such as “Raise the Bar” and “Fully Invested.” The McCain campaign could have used this guy.

The success he has had with those notwithstanding, when Mendenhall, after back-to-back 11-2 seasons, rolled out his latest motto for Cougar players and their fans to rally around – “Quest for Perfection” – before the season it was met with more than a few raised eyebrows.

And those astonished looks didn’t just come from rival Utah fans, who enjoy mocking anything that comes out of Provo, almost to the point of obsession. They gleefully proclaimed it couldn’t be done, then gloated far and wide when the Cougars were pummeled by TCU a month ago while their own team continued to cruise along perfectly.

Many BYU fans also questioned the bold approach, even after being told by Mendenhall dozens of times that it was meant to signify a two-pronged quest – the part about living right off the field even more important than going undefeated on the field.

Which brings us to the here and now.

The Utes are perfect (11-0) and the Cougars are close (10-1) heading into Saturday’s

And Mendenhall isn’t apologizing.

“I don’t have any regrets,” he said Monday, while acknowledging that the slogan brought some unintended attention and scorn, in some quarters.

“The intent was to just simply move our program forward.. . . But possibly I could have been wiser to assume where the world is, and where our intent is, because it [has] a dual meaning, and we were [eager] to be great on the field. But as I have said so many times, this is really about who we are trying to become. But to say it didn’t add pressure would be wrong. I think it probably did.”

For their part, BYU’s players have said all season they haven’t minded the approach, and at one point quarterback Max Hall wondered if “Quest for Mediocrity” T-shirts would have been more palatable, but 10 times less provocative.

“Doesn’t every team want to go undefeated?” he said. “Isn’t that everyone’s goal? What’s wrong with just saying it?”

Well, because it is almost impossible to attain – both on the field and off, says John F. Murray Read more »

THE BALCO SCANDAL – CLOUD OF UNCERTAINTY

Sacramento Bee – Dec 4, 2004 – Nick Peters – There are more questions than answers
Recent revelations regarding sluggers Barry Bonds’ and Jason Giambi’s use of steroids squarely placed the responsibility on Major League Baseball to adopt a tougher drug-testing policy, doctors and ethicists said Friday.

Giambi told a grand jury that he used steroids provided by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. Bonds said he used substances from BALCO but did not know they contained steroids.

Despite his insistence he used steroids unknowingly, Bonds’ reputation has been tainted as he chases Hank Aaron’s all-time home-run record. And Giambi is facing the possibility of having all or part of the remainder of his $120 million contract with the Yankees voided.

The revelations come at a bad time for baseball, which saw record attendance last season and was riding the wave of positive reaction to the Boston Red Sox winning their first World Series title since 1918.

The escalating BALCO scandal is creating a cloud of uncertainty over the integrity of the game.

“As I have repeatedly stated, I am fully committed to the goal of immediately ridding our great game of illegal performance-enhancing substances,” Commissioner Bud Selig said in a prepared statement Friday.

“The use of these substances continues to raise issues regarding the game’s integrity and raises serious concerns about the health and well-being of our players. … I urge the players and their association to … join me in adopting a new, stronger drug-testing policy modeled after our minor-league program that will once and for all rid the game of the scourge of illegal drugs.”

Giants players and management would not comment on Bonds’ alleged involvement with steroids. A club spokesman said, “We can’t comment. It’s a legal matter, and we’ve been asked to direct questions to the Commissioner’s office.”

BALCO founder Victor Conte went on ABC’s “20/20” Friday night and declared that more than 50 percent of the athletes are taking some form of anabolic steroids.

He also said he saw track star Marion Jones inject herself with steroids that he provided.

Asked specifically about baseball’s dealing with drugs, Conte replied: “I think they still believe there’s a Santa Claus. … They’re not in contact with reality. … The program they have put together is a joke.”

Selig told reporters Thursday in Washington that he hoped to have the minor-league program instituted at the major-league level by spring training. Minor-leaguers are tested in and out of season four times for illegal substances and face increased punishment for each positive test. A fifth positive test brings a lifetime ban.

Under an agreement between MLB and the players’ union, there was increased testing in the majors last season, but it was infrequent.

Here’s how the current system works:

* The first positive test results in treatment and continued testing.

* Any subsequent positive testing means a fine and suspension, beginning with 15 days and up to $10,000. By the fifth violation, the penalty is a one-year suspension and up to $100,000 fine.

* The suspensions would be without pay, and the reason for the player’s absence would be disclosed.

Why would athletes take the risk of using illegal substances?

“It’s a combination of extremism and perfectionism, and a lack of education (on the dangers),” said sports performance psychologist Dr. John F. Murray, who works with the Miami Dolphins and golfers in Florida.

“I don’t buy the argument athletes don’t know what’s in their bodies. They’re aware of what they’re doing. In some ways, it’s good this is coming out. How many more are doing it? It’s just the tip of the iceberg. … We need to be more strict and have better measures in place.”

Dr. William O. Roberts, a team physician in St. Paul, Minn., and president of the American College of Sports Medicine, commented in an e-mail Friday on the unresolved issue of steroid use by professional athletes and the need of reform.

“Too much of the focus this week has been on competition and performance issues such as records and cheating,” Roberts wrote. “Not enough attention is being paid to the messages being sent to impressionable young athletes.

“… Without an appropriate level of focus on the negative health implications of steroid use, young athletes may be led to believe that steroids can help them achieve greatness on the playing field, and that the only danger is getting caught.”

He pointed his finger squarely at baseball.

“No other entity in American culture is in a better position to address this than Major League Baseball,” he wrote. “Baseball and its players union simply cannot shun their ethical responsibility to society by failing to eradicate steroid use by its players.”

Baseball’s relatively soft stance on drug testing at the major-league level has been under scrutiny for some time. While Selig gets much of the blame, the biggest culprit could be the strength of the Players Association.

“It is stronger than what the other sports have in place, and they hide under the guise of privacy issues,” said a former player who spoke on condition of anonymity. “(Union head) Donald Fehr and (legal counsel) Gene Orza are unwilling to compromise.”

The union’s stance also explains why players are reluctant to condemn teammates who cheat. There was an uproar two years ago when former MVPs Jose Canseco and the late Ken Caminiti admitted to steroid use. Canseco estimated 85 percent of major-leaguers took the illegal substances; Caminiti put the figure at around 50 percent.

Sacramento’s Pat Gomez, a former major-league pitcher and now an assistant coach at Del Campo High School, recalled baseball’s lax attitude toward drugs when he pitched for the Padres and the Giants from 1993 to 1995.

“Basically, if they said they suspected you (of drug use), that was it, and you didn’t have to do anything,” he said. “You had to darn well be caught with a needle in your arm.

“The temptation is very real and the money is very large when you move into that category of player.”

Gomez said baseball needs a strict policy for the players’ health and the integrity of the game.

“If a guy who spends $18 on a ticket realizes if he loaded himself up, too, he could be out there, that’s not good for the game,” Gomez said.

Despite Selig’s recent get-tough stance, he came to the defense of Mark McGwire last spring when reminded that the former A’s and Cardinals slugger used a since-banned supplement while hitting a record 70 home runs in 1998. Selig said he’d never put an asterisk by McGwire’s records.

By comparison, the NFL and the NBA have their share of off-field problems, yet steroid use is not one of them. The NFL’s drug policy is regarded as the most stringent of all major sports.

It was established through a collective-bargaining agreement between the league and the Players Association in 1993. It has been updated to address concerns about whether the NFL is doing all it can to eliminate its biggest concern: steroid use as a means of a competitive advantage.

Each year, the league routinely tests all players for recreational drugs. They are given a specified date and advanced warning, usually at the start of training camp. If a player fails a test for recreational drugs, it is kept confidential.

The league considers recreational-drug use a medical issue and wants to treat instead of punish the player.

It is not until he fails a second test that he receives a four-game suspension. A third positive test can be a year’s suspension.

Steroid use, which can be detected through weekly random testing of six players per team, is a more serious matter. The first positive test means a four-game suspension. A second is six games, and a third will result in at least a one-year suspension.

In addition, the league also tests for masking agents.

If a player tries to pass a test by using a masking agent, that also means a suspension, even if a steroid isn’t detected.

In the NBA, where drug issues have been a familiar dark headline for decades, there has never been a perception problem with steroids that comes close with marijuana, alcohol or even cocaine.

Steroids were added to the list of banned substances in March 2000, and without fanfare. Officials don’t recall anything close to heated negotiations between the NBA and the Players Association after the union conceded key points to end the 1999 lockout.

Eight types of steroids later became an addendum to that deal, most notably Androstenedione, which within years would become known as Andro and a focus on the debate regarding steroids in sports when McGwire went on his home-run spree.

A player testing positive the first time would be suspended for five games and be required to enter a program under the supervision of professionals jointly selected by the league and the union.

A second positive test would result in 10 games and re-entry into the program, and any subsequent violation would mean 25 games and another re-entry Also, a player would be banned from the NBA if he is convicted or pleads guilty or no contest to a crime involving the use or possession of steroids.

Selig was questioned after the San Francisco Chronicle published grand-jury testimony in which Giambi admitted that he had used steroids.

His testimony was given a year ago to a federal grand jury investigating BALCO. An investigation into the leak was ordered by a U.S. District judge Friday.

Selig said he has instructed Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, to continue working with the Players Association to implement a tougher testing program in baseball.

“I instituted a very tough program on steroids in the minor leagues in 2001,” Selig said. “We need to have that same program at the major-league level.

“I’m going to leave no stone unturned until we have that policy in place by spring training. We need a tough policy, and I’m going to be very aggressive in the implementation of that policy.”

WIN THE MENTAL GAME OR LOSE!

TennisPro Magazine of the Professional Tennis Registry – Apr 11, 2002 – John F. Murray -Tennis professionals around the word – listen up. I know you’ve heard it a thousand times tennis is played and won in the head, psychological skills are essential, and the mental game accounts for up to 95% of performance. You may believe these statements, but there’s a whole lot more. Simply realizing that tennis is a mental sport is about as helpful as knowing that groundstrokes and mobility rule at Roland Garros, or that the serve is a major weapon at Wimbledon. Respect for the mental game is a necessary starting point, but its only the beginning. Players and coaches who practice mental skills properly and consistently gain a distinct advantage. Whats really incredible is that many athletes have not really figured this out yet, so this is your chance to gain a true advantage. In this high tech age of training, if your not winning the mental game you’ve already lost!

The Mental Steroid Myth

Many players and coaches only train their mental skills occasionally, or hire a sport psychologist to provide brief services right before an important event. These approaches will temporarily help improve focus and motivation, but this last second cramming before the big exam is far from optimal. Is very important to understand that there are no Å“mental steroids on the market. Quick fix approaches rarely to lead to meaningful long-term improvement.

In my work with individual athletes and teams, Ive found that it usually takes a few sessions involving discussion, evaluation, and basic education to set a foundation from which higher mental strengths can grow. Every tennis player is like a grand piano, uniquely crafted and requiring individual attention and expert tuning. Key mental building bocks are introduced and practiced in a group setting, but players benefit most from individual discussions involving issues such as motivation and distractions. Time is needed for trial and error, patience and supportive accurate feedback. What works well for one player may not work for another. Informed tennis coaches can help by introducing basic mental skills to enhance performance, and sport psychology workshops are useful in gaining accurate information.

For more serious problems, or difficulties off the court, coaches, parents, and athletes are always advised to seek professional help. Common distractions include relationship problems, perfectionism , or more severe problems like intense anger, depression, or anxiety. Although most athletes are well adjusted and emotionally healthy, coaches need to be aware that their studentd overall well being is most important, and leads to the greatest improvements on the court too!

Thinking that mental skills will grow with only occasional practice is as ridiculous as assuming that your top juniors should practice serving once a month. The difference between winning and losing is often so subtle it goes unrecognized. Upon closer inspection, however, this difference is revealed in areas such as confidence, stress, and attention control. Players and coaches intuitively know how important proper management of thoughts and feelings are, but many become frustrated when they cannot maintain mental supremacy. The reason for this is simple. They do not practice or teach mental skills regularly, and often have incomplete or inaccurate knowledge. Confidence that is not regularly practiced will be as inconsistent as groundstrokes drilled only once a week. Players wanting mental toughness need solid facts, self-understanding, and someone to guide them along.
Setting the Stage

You may be thinking – OK, I’m a firm believer in the mental game, but what does all of this really mean? What exactly are these elusive strategies and techniques that supposedly spell the difference in the closest matches? And how do I practice these skills? If you are asking these questions you’re definitely not alone. Many elite athletes are still unclear about what it means to know and practice the mental game. Many top players already have a strong mental game without really knowing it. They may have had a great mentor or tremendous street smarts. Even the most naturally strong mental players, however, can improve their performances by paying close attention to the tools of sport psychology.

Sport psychology is both a science and a cutting edge profession that developed to meet the challenges of high performance situations. While there are no mental steroid quick fixes available, there are years of serious research available in articles and textbooks widely distributed throughout a vast sea of knowledge in professional journals at universities. Sport psychologists have spent years accessing and evaluating the knowledge needed to improve performance, and have experience utilizing this knowledge in practice. Many have conducted research to answer sport related questions. For example, my doctoral dissertation found that social support (caring & emotional support as well as help & guidance) helped injured players from the 1996 national champion Florida Gators football team to adjust better to injury. Sport psychologists bridge the gap between what is known and what is actually practiced.
A Mind-Body System

Although Ive used the term “mental skills, the human being is really whole unit in which the mental and physical constantly interact. We’re really talking about Å“mind-body skills or Å“psychological skills.Thoughts and feelings influence physical actions and sensations, and vice versa. If youre anxious in anticipation of a challenging tennis match, your muscles often tighten up and your breathing become quicker and shallow. If you are confident and poised, on the other hand, your thoughts are clearer and actions smoother and more deliberate. So mental skillsis a cliche and were really talking about the whole range of human experience including thoughts, feelings, actions and physical sensations.

In addition to these modes of experience, my research shows that there are distinct groups of skills that have an enormous effect on tennis performance. Although this article is too short to address all these strategies, they are outlined in my new book, Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game (www.SmartTennis.com). For the time being, Ill highlight some of the features of the following 4 skills: Confidence, Attention Control, Imagery, and Energy Control.
Confidence

Many tennis players get down on themselves with negative thoughts about their abilities, or lose confidence when the going gets rough. Once they learn that confidence is a skill that can be controlled, and that expecting the best is necessary all the time, they make huge strides. Confidence is a foundation from which many other skills emerge. Players who feel, act and think with confidence always raise the level of their game. Winning can never be controlled . The opponent may be stronger, smarter, more experienced, better looking, or meaner. But confidence will make you a better player.

It’s also important to realize that too much confidence can be negative. Players who expect that success will come without hard work are wrong. Those who think that just showing up will allow their mental supremacy to shine will be terribly disappointed. Overconfidence is as much a killer as self-defeating thoughts and negativity. What’s needed is healthy balance between expecting the absolute best every moment, and the humble realization that the opponent wants to eat your lunch, dinner and midnight snacks! Act, think and feel that you will prevail, but even with a 6-0, 3-0 lead, never let these realizations steal from effort, intensity and focus.
Attention Control

With confidence in check, many players still run into trouble because they do not remain properly focused on the immediate task. We’ve heard the words focus and concentration from the time we were tennis infants, and for good reason. Tennis is a beautifully complex sport. Players are constantly bombarded by internal and external distractions, and forced to make fast and accurate decisions. Intruding thoughts, feelings, sounds or physical sensations remove the player from the goal of keeping the ball in play, looking for an opportunity to gain an advantage, or executing properly. To improve attention control players need to remain centered in the present. Many obsess over the previous point, worry about the score, or let outside noises or sights affect them. These distractions make it very hard to perform your best.

Think of your attention on the page you are currently reading. If youre not optimally focused on these words, or allow other thoughts to intrude, youll forget what you just read. You cannot think of two thoughts at once. On the other hand, if you are too intense in your focus, you get caught up with each word or sentence, and may miss the overall meaning. This is how attention works on the tennis court too. Players need to develop a fine balance between directing awareness on what is relevant, while blocking out needless distractions.
Imagery

If you’ve ever dreamed of travelling in a time machine, then imagery, or visualization, is your vehicle of choice. It is a marvelous time machine because it allows you to go back into the past, or forward into the future to improve performance. This ability to simulate images, thoughts, feelings, and even positive psychological states such as confidence and focus, needs to be well maintained and used regularly. I encourage players to practice imagery frequently, for the vividness of an image is essential, and gaining control over images takes time. Imagery helps players by increasing their practice time (even if it’s only a simulated reality) and can be achieved even when they are miles from a tennis court, or on an airplane!

Imagery allows players to rehearse new skills, prepare for competition, and better manage many distractions including stress and fear. It may provide a more organized mental plan, add meaning to competition, or improve specific skills and strategies. Encourage your students to imagine only perfection in shot execution, to make it appear realistic but challenging (e.g., imagine competitive points that are eventually won), and to conduct imagery in real time. It’s also better to mostly use an “internal view,a perspective in which you perceive that you are actually in the situation – looking out toward the court and the opponent. This is contrasted with the “external view,the view we have of ourselves when watching a videotape of our matches. The “external view helps for specific techniques involving form such as the serve.
Energy Control

Intensity and energy are terms used to describe an arousing agent of the mind and body that gives us fuel for performance. While physical sources of fuel include proper nutrition, sleep, and fitness, psychological fuel is equally important for performance. Mind-body energy includes active moods, determination, competitive excitement, social influences, confidence & self-esteem, and imagery and self-talk. This energy needs to be properly available, in the right form, and balanced for high performance. Players run into difficulty when their energy levels fall either too low, or rise too high. Players may become too relaxed, bored or less intense, or they may have the opposite problem and become stressed, anxious, or angry. For example, choking occurs when high fearful energy is combined with perceptions of an important situation. This results in conscious and overly careful play, and mistakes.

Gaining control over energy sources is extremely important. Players seeking to maximize their energy levels need to begin by examining the relationship between their intensity levels and performance. Some players are naturally more highly energized, while others prefer to remain cool and calm. As a general principle, tennis players usually benefit by keeping their energy levels on the lower end of the scale. Too much energy is a more frequent problem in tennis than too little energy. This is in part because tennis is a complex sport involving multiple quick decisions and highly refined motor skills. Contrast this with the demands made on a 340 pound offensive lineman, weight lifter, or sprinter.

Much of my work with tennis players involves helping them learn to relax more effectively, breath better, and deal with the stress of competition. There are many ways to gain control over out energy levels and finding the balance is key. After reviewing a player performance, and discussing their thoughts and feelings, it become clearer which situations, thoughts, feeling, actions and physical sensations led to the greatest energy problems. On- and off-court exercises are very useful.
Conclusion

Whether you’re working with an 8-year-old beginner, professional player, or 88 year old veteran, you can no longer afford to ignore the mental side of the game. By investing seriously in mind-body skills, you’ll be tapping into an exciting frontier that holds promise as a tremendous source of enhanced performance, greater fun, and increased understanding. Good luck in your quest!

HOCKEY DAD CROSSED MOST SERIOUS LINE

Houston Chronicle – Jan 27, 2002 – Little League is not the World Series. In fact, the players are barely old enough to cross the street unattended. The “it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game” philosophy is gone.

We speak from experience: We are Little League parents ourselves. Deep down inside, parents are hoping for the grand prize – a win. Never mind that our children have limited athletic ability. The quest toward victory clouds our judgment and good sense. We are transformed into monsters – into sports fanatics, addicted to the ill-gotten win at any cost.

All three of our children were in Little League, and we celebrated it. We never raised our voice in anger whether our kids won or lost. Many parents have found themselves in situations in which they were critical of how another parent, coach, or official was calling a game or utilizing their child’s talents. The mere suggestion that our sons should be benched for the first or last inning could push our anger level to the point of no return. In our mind, we’ve plotted our revenge against the Little League coach who we perceived as fixated on picking on our children.

In the fit of our anger, we could not see his suggestions or calls necessary in teaching our sons responsibility. We couldn’t see past our sons’ dejected expression and their obvious personal embarrassment, but we couldn’t act on our parental indignation either. We couldn’t cross the line.

The Massachusetts truck driver who was convicted of manslaughter resulting from his parental rage at a kids’ hockey game should have done the same. Evan and Sally Lowenstein Houston

More than meets the eye with Spurrier – What can we all learn from Steve Spurrier?

As a sport and performance psychologist who was in the training room regularly throughout the 1996 national championship season at the University of Florida, I have a few words to say about Spurrier. While portrayed often as an arrogant egomaniac by outsiders, insiders – the staff I worked with at Florida – liked him very much. He was mostly perceived as a relaxed and supportive leader with a streak of perfectionism and healthy confidence.

When I approached the football program in 1995 with the goal of studying the effects of sport injury on the mindset of the players, this was a taboo and controversial area of research because it had the possibility of exposing the cruel nature of the college football injuries. Many coaches might have axed the proposal before it even had a chance. Spurrier’s progressive attitude welcomed my research as well as subsequent neuropsychological studies on head injuries that have already benefited many players.

He allowed a psychologist in the training room and won a national championship doing it. We all learned more about the benefits of social support on the injured athlete.

Smart teammates, coaches, players and trainers now make efforts to support injured players rather than tossing them out as a dirty secret. This helps the players in their recovery and emotional well being. The whole team improves, too.

Spurrier’s fearlessness to explore new ideas makes him not only a successful coach but a leader who inspires confidence in those around him. He motivates by example, disciplines with honesty and concerns himself not only with the athlete-student but the student-athlete as well. He risked learning more about what happens to the injured football player and helped his team in the process.

Competition is much more than X’s and O’s. Knowledge of the game is one thing, and Spurrier knows football better than most. Motivating people, however, is even more important. The Redskins hired the best.

John F. Murray, Ph.D. West Palm Beach, Fla.

League is out of bounds – The NFL enforces a practice that’s unconstitutional and reeks of collusion. During the past month, the Chronicle kept on updating the list of underclassmen who requested early entry into the draft this spring. All met the NFL requirements of being at least 21 years old or three years removed from high school graduation. Younger players were excluded.

In baseball, basketball and hockey, players can be drafted out of high school. The strongest union in sports isn’t the Major League Baseball Players Association but the NFL owners. And again, they quietly yet powerfully have exhibited their muscle.

Someday, somewhere, a physically prepared receiver, running back, or defensive back will be courageous enough to fight this inequity. The NFL knows it’s legally wrong, but it wants to keep its NCAA farm system intact. And as long as nobody is willing to fight the rule – and perhaps sacrifice millions of dollars – there’s no motivation for change.

Maybe it’s too much to expect college football to produce a 19-year-old Curt Flood. In the 1970s, Flood challenged baseball’s reserve clause, which allowed a team to hold a player’s rights in perpetuity. Flood’s court battle made him an outcast in management’s eyes. His career was finished, but his efforts eventually spawned the free-agent movement that revolutionized the game.

It is highly likely that if a modern-day Flood took the league to court and won, the word would spread that he probably wouldn’t get drafted. A hollow threat, right? In baseball, you can count on a renegade owner to buck the agenda of the whole.

But in the NFL, the owners understand they stand much stronger together. That’s the legacy of late commissioner Pete Rozelle, who taught them the virtues of revenue-sharing close to 40 years ago. The NFL would do whatever is necessary to maintain its rule on draft eligibility. There is always the possibility of retaliation should anyone successfully challenge its legality.

If and when that courageous young man comes along to challenge the rule, he will probably win the court fight and the NFL probably realizes that, so it’s going to do whatever possible to prevent that challenge from coming.

If freedom and equal protection under the law are the basic precepts of American ideals, then someone needs to tell the NFL that it’s way out of bounds. Chris Henderson Houston

Baseball deteriorating – I find myself wondering how many people will turn out to watch baseball next year. But then I remember that baseball has always done this sort of thing. Not just what is going on in Boston with the sale of the Red Sox, but the rules violations by Bud Selig, the contraction stories and the possibility of a work stoppage.

They beat the fans silly, and the fans always come back for more. If any winter were to disprove this theory, it is this winter. If nothing else, Selig and his cronies have managed to suck most of the life out of the sport. But somehow I know the fans will return in numbers, although with ever-diminishing enthusiasm. G.G. Yeap Houston
Photo: Judgment day: Thomas Junta closes his eyes during his sentencing for the manslaughter death of Michael Costin. Junta was convicted of beating Costin to death and sentenced to 6 to 10 years in prison.
Associated Press
Edition: 2 STAR
Section: SPORTS 2
Page: 5

SPURRIER A RELAXED, SUPPORTIVE LEADER

Sun-Sentinel – Jan 17, 2002 – What can we all learn from Steve Spurrier? As a sport and performance psychologist who was in the training room regularly throughout the 1996 national championship season at the University of Florida, I have a few words to say about Steve Spurrier. While portrayed often as an arrogant egomaniac by outsiders, insiders, the staff I worked with at the University of Florida liked him very much. He was mostly perceived as a relaxed and supportive leader with a streak of perfectionism and healthy confidence.

When I approached the football program in 1995 with the goal of studying the effects of sport injury on the mindset of the players, this was a taboo and controversial area of research because it had the possibility of exposing the cruel nature of the college football injuries. Many coaches might have axed the proposal before it even had a chance. Steve Spurrier’s progressive attitude welcomed my research as well as subsequent neuropsychological studies on head injuries that have already benefited many players.

He allowed a psychologist in the training room and won a national championship doing it! We all learned more about the benefits of social support on the injured athlete.

Smart teammates, coaches, players, and trainers now make efforts to support injured players rather than tossing them out as a dirty secret. This helps the players in their recovery and emotional well being. The whole team improves, too.

Steve Spurrier’s fearlessness to explore new ideas makes him not only a successful coach, but a leader who inspires confidence in those around him. He motivates by example, disciplines with honesty and concerns himself not only with the athlete-student but the student-athlete as well. He risked learning more about what happens to the injured football player and helped his team in the process.

Competition is much more than x’s and o’s. Knowledge of the game is one thing and he knows football better than most. Motivating people, however, is even more important. His college coaching record says it all. He is leaving a 12-year legacy at Florida that will never be replaced.

John F. Murray

WEST PALM BEACH
Caption:
PHOTO
Caption:
Staff file photo/Jim Rassol

Steve Spurrier tosses an orange to the crowd after a 56-23 drubbing of the University of Maryland on Jan. 2.
Edition: Palm Beach
Section: EDITORIAL
Page: 24A

Index Terms: LETTER; OPINION

YOUR 5 GREATEST PROBLEMS

Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Aug 1, 2001 – Dr. John F. Murray – Two months ago I challenged you to identify your greatest needs in tennis. Thank you for a wonderful response. Your e-mails yielded over 100 different problem areas related to the mental game in tennis! This interactive dialogue will help many other players improve their games and mental outlooks. All learning begins with self-awareness.

Your messages highlight common issues that I grapple with daily in my private practice. This month, let’s look at what you reported as the 5 most frequent problems related to the mental game in tennis. After a brief description of the problem, I’ve provided links for you to quickly access the Mental Equipment articles which should help you the most.

Performing Poorly Due to Anger

It seems that players at all levels have difficulty staying cool under pressure. The problem with anger is that it usually disturbs focus, disrupts intensity levels, and busts rhythm and clear thinking all at once. Tennis is a very frustrating game at times, but it is even harder to master with anger. The player who learns to modulate and control anger often controls the opponent too. For help in this area, take a look at:

August 1996: Understanding and Conquering Anger
August 1998: Reverse Irrational Thinking
April 1998: Monitoring your Mood
July 1997: Stress Relief in Tennis

The Paralysis of Analysis

Many of you reported over-thinking to be a major problem. While it is important to deeply analyze new strokes and strategies in the learning process, the same approach in a match situation can prove disastrous. How many times do you remember thinking about too many things at once right before flubbing the ball into the net or over the back fence? Perfect focus is almost unconscious, and I often encourage athletes to lose themselves in the heat of battle and just allow instincts to prevail. So, if you are having difficulty with over-thinking, I recommend the following links:

December 1999: Worry Smart and Prosper
February 1998: Get Real in Practice
September 1997: Eliminate Perfectionism for Success
March 1997: Keeping Tennis Thrilling

Vanishing Confidence

It seems that for many of you confidence is very hard to maintain. You are definitely not alone. Many professional and collegiate players report similar problems. The readers of this column reported highs and lows of confidence that mimic the stock market! Remember that confidence is a controllable internal factor. You don’t have to be a slave to outcome. Maintain confidence during slumps. You’ll gain that extra toughness to come back from far behind, and close out matches when all seems to be slipping. To improve, take a look at the following articles:

January 1996: The Art of Confidence
November 1996: Confronting Fear in Tennis
May 1997: Developing a Sense of Mastery
November 2000: Slump Busters

Distress over Losing

Players that I work with and readers of this column concur on one thing: losing is no fun! I agree totally, but you don’t have to allow the outcome to define everything. It is funny how people often just ask you for the score after a match. It’s as if the hundreds of shots, movements, and strategies were irrelevant. Face it, you will lose many matches in your lifetime. If you obsess over outcome, you are doomed to a miserable experience after a loss. Even more important, the focus you need to win is erased! If you find that you can’t take it anymore when you lose, or you worry constantly about match result, perhaps you should read the following articles:

March 1998: Performance Above Winning
August 1999: Accepting Defeat Graciously
November 1995: Attentional Control in Tennis
February 1997: Deriving Personal Growth from Tennis
September 1997: Eliminate Perfectionism for Success

Choking in Important Situations

Who doesn’t choke? We all do. The key is to do it less than you do now. You really need to understand this one, because it is the classic. It represents the combination of attention drawn excessively inward, over-intensity and a sense that the situation is extremely important. It spells disaster. Become a less frequent choker by reading and applying the advice from the following articles:

November 1997: Competitive Pressure in Tennis
July 1997: Stress Relief in Tennis
November 1996: Confronting Fear in Tennis
September 1995: Optimizing Arousal in Tennis
November 1995: Attentional Control in Tennis

In Sum

Can you believe we’ve been doing this column now for over 6 years? Where has the time flown? How many serve and volleys does that represent? Keep up the great e-mails because this is how you will continue to help us all reach greater heights in a wonderful sport. The mental game never ends. I hope to see some of you on August 26 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City!