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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!

Caroline Murray, age 12, sings national anthem

In anticipation of her upcoming performance at the Palm Beach Polo Club, my 12 year old daughter, Caroline Murray, practices the national anthem on Valentines Day, 2016.

Enjoy by clicking at this link

New Study Demonstrates Power of Mental Performance in NFL over 8 Years

By John F Murray, PhD

I would like to share some exciting news. I am going to keep it simple and concise, but I think you will realize that this is very powerful.

As many of you know, I wrote a book after developing a new way to analyze football performance that included for mental performance. Both the new statistic and the book were titled “The Mental Performance Index” and the study discussed in the book on all the Super Bowl games showed that this index correlated with winning in the Super Bowl more than any other traditional statistic. It worked because the MPI captures more of reality than more dry statistics that do not include the observable mental aspects of performance and it also works because it measures every moment. It is both a mental measure and a measure of consistency over every play.

On the one hand this was very thrilling and I secured a 4-time Super Bowl winning coach, Tom Flores, to write the forward, and America’s most beloved and successful female sports broadcaster, Lesley Visser, who wrote the epilogue. Many NFL people provided supportive quotes including Don Shula and the late Steve Sabol of NFL Films, but my purpose here is not to promote this book, but to share something much more exciting and new. I aim to just further promote the vitality of mental performance and the need for mental coaching. I think my study has accomplished this. Read on.

I developed the MPI to help football teams by describing overall performance more accurately, because it includes a vital mental component usually ignored, but I never intended to use it to predict future games. Sure, I went on national radio and on television to talk about the Super Bowl over an 8 year stretch to give my fun pick based on MPI data, and I was right against the spread 6 of 8 years, but that was the fun angle and never the point of the MPI. It was intriguing success to get 6 of 8 correct, but an entirely too small sample size of only 8 games does not allow the serious scientist to get too excited about the predictive qualities of the MPI. I needed to do more to wake up the world.

Enter the year 2013. At this point, I realized that many in the sports world, and particularly in football, were still slow in grasping the importance of mental performance and mental coaching, so I endeavored to do something new to help illuminate the importance of mental performance and to also determine on my own how well the MPI could actually predict. I wasn’t sure, but if I could show that the MPI could reliably predict future games, it would add firepower to the notion that since I was measuring an important but often ignored part of the game – the mental game – I would also be able to predict better than most because I was using a tool that others did not have, and a tool that was capturing rich data that was often ignored.

Sure, I had already shown that the mental measure I created correlated best in winning the Super Bowl, but taking it to the level of game prediction was an entirely different animal. I was stuck on game description, but not future game prediction. I did not quit my day job as I have a duty to still see clients out of my office, on the phone, and at client sites, but this side project became a huge passion too, and I am happy to say that I have some very interesting results after having studied the MPI to predict games over an 8 year period of time from 2007 to 2014.

It would be entirely too complicated to discuss in this brief article how I took the MPI and turned it into a prediction machine. It was a great challenge and I tackled it with passion and purpose, starting with the raw data that the MPI produced and tweaking it relentlessly (based on numerous mini studies) for a variety of factors such as home field advantage, the established line on the game, the strength of schedule, and many other factors, but the essence was still a measure that included observable mental performance using the MPI that I discussed in my book.

I even hired professional statisticians to check my work and make sure I was doing everything properly. I have a background in statistics, having taught it at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but I needed to pay someone to check on my work, and I wanted someone who does this work full time.

In developing my study, I borrowed from a format that the world is very familiar with in the Westgate Super Contest, the largest handicapping contest on the planet. Contestants picks 5 games each week and make their picks against a contest line. So each season contestants picks 85 total games and the most recent contest had over 1700 entries. It is exploding in popularity. The player with the highest win percentage (represented as total points) is the winner. I used their method of selecting 5 games each week, but I did it over an 8 year period of time, and methodically applied the system I developed to select 5 games each week in a totally systematic/objective manner.

The study actually included 4 different composite variations of a multiple regression approach, but the purest multiple regression approach was the clear winner, and boy did it win. The total sample size was very large as there are over 2000 NFL games to choose from over an 8 year stretch, but picking 85 games each year narrows that down to 680 game picks. Since in weeks 1 and 2 there is not enough data, I began each year at week 3, leading to a total of 600 picks. I did not count pushes (ties) in my analysis. If there was a push, I treated it as if it did not exist. In the contest, pushes count as half a point, but I did not give myself that luxury, so my findings conservatively underestimate my true success.

I am only going to share the findings from the most successful approach, the simple linear regression approach that fit the data best. In sum, I used my regression formula to select 5 games each week over an 8 year period of NFL games, and I used this formula in conjunction with the MPI that had been tweaked multiple times into a complex algorithm. The end result was that by using this formula I was able to first identify the 5 best games from which to make my picks, and then the algorithm which had produced an MPI line on the game was used to select a team either above or below the established line to make the actual picks. It was either a win or loss, or it didn’t count as a push. Keeping it simple, I ended up with 5 picks each week from week 3 to week 17 in each of 8 years.

If what I had created was meaningless, we would expect to find close to 50% success rate in an ATS (against the spread) format. The established contest line (or Vegas line) does a very good job of making it virtually a coin flip, so not matter what team you pick, the inexperienced or unsophisticated person making a pick will get closer and closer to 50% over time and since we are starting with close to 2000 games, the statistical power is such that any deviation above a 50% success rate would be interesting. A baby or person with an IQ of 75 making selections would be close to 50%. Professional handicappers who do this regularly and have records on them over an 8 year period of time usually get it right 50, 51 or 52% of the time. Very good ones are at 53% or rarely 54%, and the very best in history are still usually below 57 or 58% over hundreds of games of selections. It is one of the hardest things in life to do to win in an ATS format.

What kind of results did the MPI get? I am thrilled to report that it hit the ball out of the park! Below are the actual records for each of the 8 years of using this system to make picks in this study:

2007: 48 wins, 27 losses (64%)
2008: 44 wins, 31 losses (59%)
2009: 37 wins, 38 losses (49%)
2010: 45 wins, 30 losses (60%)
2011: 46 wins, 29 losses (61%)
2012: 44 wins, 31 losses (59%)
2013: 39 wins, 36 losses (52%)
2014: 44 wins, 31 losses (59%)
________________________________
Overall Average Success Rate Over 8 Years = 58%

What does all this mean? I am more than excited about this approach that took a few years to refine, and I plan to actually use it in future Super Contests to see if I can place in the top 50. From the data above, if I had played the contest using this exact system approach each year, I probably would have been in the top 50 about 5 or 6 out of the 8 years.

58% success did not come by accident. If this had meant nothing, it would have registered a 49.8% success rate or very close to 50%, but this 8% jump on chance over close to 2000 observations and 600 selections from that is huge evidence about how critically important the mental game is in football and all sports.

What about the future? Some people reading this will be impressed that I have found that measuring the mental game is now proven to have predictive powers. This is not surprising to me but it took a ton of work to get there. Others will not be impressed at all, and that is fine. It will probably take a public application of my system with consistent proven future results in contests to sway the doubters. I plan on now applying my system the same way I have in the study to see if I can get similar results, and that will be the proof everyone needs. Doubting Thomas people are fine. Doubt is the hallmark of science so I totally understand. The null hypothesis begins by saying that nothing exists. It does not begin with belief. I love that.

In sum, the main purpose of this study was to determine if using the MPI as a predictor is possible, lending further likely support to my study revealed in the book, that mental performance really does matter. Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals if it matters. Ask Blair Walsh the same question now.

The take home message from my book, and these newly released results, is that if you would like to be your best in any sport you had better pay attention to mental performance and the best way to do that is through consistent long-term mental skills training or mental coaching.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into the exciting world of sports psychology!

The Mental Side of the NFL Playoffs and a Little Guarantee

By John F. Murray, PhD

First, What is Happening in the NFL Playoffs!

Hello from clinical and sports performance psychologist Dr. John F. Murray in Palm Beach, Florida. With all the excitement and craziness that is the NFL and the 2016 playoffs, I thought it was time to chime in again.

There is no question that the Cincinnati Bengals just lost a game mentally to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only did they lose it, they lost it big and they lost it because they had obviously not been properly prepared to deal with emotions in the heat of battle. Joey Porter taunted them and they bit. This kind of behavior is unacceptable and they are sadly at home watching the rest of the playoffs because their mental performance stunk. It is a hard lesson to learn, but one that teams seems to keep forgetting about time and time again.

With proper advanced imagery and resilience training, those kinds of mistakes would never happen. Players would have been so inundated with mental distractions and frustrations in visualization sessions where they were forced to keep their cool that the likelihood of a meltdown would have been close to zero. We have seen this thousands of times in sports and we will continue to see it most often in teams and athletes not training their mental skills regularly.

Over in another wildcard playoff game, Blair Walsh missed a chip shot field goal that was closer than an extra point to lose a game when the team had all but sealed the victory against the Seahawks. On the one hand I must feel really bad for Walsh and we are all human and this can happen. On the other hand, the success rate of a 27 yard field goal is above 98%, so the skill itself is virtually automatic. This same skill under the extreme pressure of winning or losing is not so easy. This demonstrates that what you see is not what you get when it comes to pressure, and it only argues further that players need to train regularly their minds for such occasions.
In my work, I see these things all the time because mental performance comes out in the ordinary moments of sports just as it does in the critical moments. There are countless careless lapses in the first quarters of games, just as there are horrible chokes in the fourth quarters. The reality is that mental performance is always around us, and the team or athlete that manages their mental skills better (areas such as confidence, focus, goals, resilience, emotional control, imagery etc.) gain an often decisive advantage over those who do not. In fact, in my book “The Mental Performance Index” I discovered that this newly created measure that included mental performance accounted for success better in the Super Bowl games than any other factor and it was upwards of 80% correlated with success. Ignore mental skills only to your peril was the take home message of my study and book.

My Guarantee

Now I’d like to share with you a little guarantee that I made to the entire sports world and it’s a slight variation of a previous article that I published.

Sports are constantly in flux and evolving. New techniques and plays are always being developed and there is an almost linear progression that seems to take place from year to year as more money, research and accumulated experience contribute to a better mousetrap. NFL passes thrown as they were in 1946 would be easily picked off by most high school safeties today. Tennis forehands in 1930 at Wimbledon would not come close to winning in the first round of any boy’s 16 year old championship today, and major league baseball pitchers from the 1920s would probably be knocked out in the first inning of every division I college game today. Darwin was right … evolution is relentless!

One of the still rarely discussed, but no less important aspects of peak performance improvement takes place in the training of the mind or “mental coaching” as it is often called. While athletes may only be able to jump so high and sprint so fast, there is an equally important aspect of achievement that is much more flexible and amenable to change. It has unlimited potential unlike the physical ceilings of jump height or strength. It resides between the ears in that most marvelous computer of all – the brain – and it flexes its own form of elbow grease in areas such as hope, confidence, focus, resilience and smarter decision making.

Sports psychology is the science and practice most responsible for this training of the brain for high performance, and many casual observers just assume that all great athletes have a sports psychologist or mental coach, but I have found that not to be true at all. My estimation having worked 17 years as an independent practicing clinical and sports psychologist is that less than 10% of college, professional and Olympic athletes are doing mental training regularly and properly. While this may seem very odd, since gaining a performance advantage is crucial and the most pressing need for these great competitors, consider the reality. When I completed my specialized internship in sports psychology from 1997 to 1998, it was the only sports psychology internship in the United States that was also approved and accredited by the American Psychological Association’s internship consortium! I’m not sure the situation is much better today, 18 years later. Training opportunities are rare and hard to find.

The truth is that the profession that trains practitioners to do mental coaching and sports psychology work is still in its infancy. Let’s consider the analogy of the development of the field and practice of psychology itself. While the science of psychology began in a Leipzig, Germany lab in the 1880s, it was not until the 1960s and 70s that it was commonplace to see a psychologist in private practice. I like to call this beginning recognition of the field as the “Bob Newhart” era, after the popular sitcom of the 70s depicting the Chicago-based psychologist we all know and love.

Dr. Phil is an extension of Bob Newhart in the media today, but even he is not a sports psychologist. So when you consider that it took about 90 years for the science of psychology to become a viable widespread clinical practice, there should be no surprise that qualified and experienced sports psychologists are few and far between since this science only began in the 1960s and 70s, or just 40 years ago. By psychology standards, the field and practice of sports psychology is like psychology was in 1925! It was all over the world in academic and research settings, but only a handful of rare individuals practiced psychology back then. It was not until after WW2 with the training opportunities of the VA hospital system brought about by head injuries sustained on the battlefront, that psychology really had an opportunity to become a profession. The Boulder Conference, as it was called, created hundreds of internships for future practicing psychologists overnight in the VA system. There are many thousands of psychologists today but still only a handful of properly trained and qualified sports psychologists.

I knew I was taking a little bit of a risk in getting into such a new field when I went back to graduate school in 1991. I had been a tennis coach worldwide, and mostly in Europe, and over there the idea of mental coaching had taken much firmer hold philosophically, but the graduate school education was still far better in the United States. So I came back to the University of Florida, got a couple masters degrees, a PhD, the aforementioned specialized internship, and finally a specialized postdoctoral fellowship. By 1999, I was on my way with a new practice in a very rare field.

I was in a field that was so new that I realized I had to publish to get the word out. I wrote hundreds of articles and I wrote the book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” and got the top tennis player at the time, Lindsay Davenport, to endorse it. It is now in three languages with almost 20 printings. I later wrote a second book that expressed my passion for all that is football and titled it “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.” This book was also very well endorsed. The reviews from NFL Films and Tom Flores were excellent. Even Don Shula gave me a quote. However, even these powerful recommendations will take time to hit the mainstream. I had to do more.

In writing this second book, I realized that I had stumbled upon a major finding, and I grow ever more excited whenever I ponder this. Since the beginning of mankind, mental skills and smart play were always important for survival. In the cave era, if you wanted to feed your village, you had to remain calm, poised and focused to be able to properly throw that spear into the wooly mammoth. While there were certainly no sports psychologists back then, and still few today, the truth then and today remains that mental performance is and always was critical to success. Spear throwers had to figure it out alone back then.

Broadcasters, sports writers, and authors all lend credence to the vast importance of peak mental performance that still exists today. Athletes known as overachievers constantly outperform those with more raw speed or strength because they make better decisions. The stay focused rather than getting rattled in the heat of battle. They remain confident and resilient no matter what the situation is, and we all recognize that their performance has nothing to do with their limbs and muscles and everything to do with their brain! It was this realization that mental performance matters that led me on the passionate journey of creating a “Mental Performance Index” and writing a book with the same name in order to share my passion.

I realized that mental performance was critical, but I was astounded that nobody was taking the time to measure it. There were no statistics to capture how well a team performed mentally, so I decided to create one, and the abbreviation is MPI. The most amazing part of this is what happened when I analyzed the data for my book. I had studied every play in Super Bowl history and rated each play with the MPI, essentially measuring football a different way by looking at each moment and including an adjustment for the mental performance. When I did this with the help of several statisticians, I discovered something phenomenal. It was this MPI, or measurement of the moment, that correlated best with winning when compared with almost 40 other statistics. This emphasis on performance in the moment and mental skills, in other words, had best captured what it takes to win a football game. In my mind, what had always been known, but never formerly measured until the MPI, was not only important to success …. it is probably the most important factor in success!

Since my book and passion are very much centered on the sport of football, why are there still so few sports psychologists in the NFL? How about the other major sports of hockey, baseball and basketball? While I’ve worked with professional franchises and their top stars, both privately and paid by the teams, it has usually been to put out fires or help a single player rather than as a program to prepare entire teams for success.

The bottom line is that coaches and executives in the major professional sports have still not really discovered sports psychology. Given that today is still analogous to only the year 1925 in psychology terms, this should not be too surprising. But given the amount of money spent on top players, and the turnover rate in coaching and high management, one would think that mental coaching would have been long ago discovered as essential for every team from day one of training camp. What else could be going on you might ask?
I think there is still a fear of the unknown. It is a fear that coaches and managers have about mental coaching and peak performance sports psychology. Could this be a fear that hiring a top employee or consultant will somehow steal the thunder of the head coach, or put the team at risk in some way? Coaches cannot be that controlling, can they?

While I cannot speak for other sports psychologists, I always start with the assumption that the coach is the captain of the ship and I am there to provide a needed service just the same way any professional would, all the way from the team physician to the dentist, trainer, assistant coach, and massage therapist. I am not the coach and have no desire to be the coach. He brings me in to help with his own philosophy of football. I am there to adapt to his needs to help him and help the team and players achieve worthy goals.

I do know that about 12 years ago, while on the sidelines of an NFL team practice, the head coach said the following to me: “While you might be the best and most well trained sports psychologist in the world, I just cannot stand in front of my team today and tell them they have a psychologist.” That comment still reverberates with me today as the possible reason why there is hesitancy, but I think times are changing. In other words, in the past there was the idea that it was shameful or showed weakness in some way to seek mental coaching. When you consider the history of mental health care, which began in treating those who were mentally ill, it makes sense. That coach somehow thought that telling his team that they had a success coach was the same as telling them they were all mentally ill. How ludicrous, but how probably true! I get it. He was afraid!

It is my hope that today more coaches and managers will realize that just as doctors and lawyers and coaches study for years and practice for years to accumulate knowledge and practical wisdom in their chosen area of study, smart sports psychologists are no different. I did not get into the field to treat mental illness. I did not spend years in graduate school to have someone be ashamed of my profession. I had been a worldwide coach, and I wanted to open my expertise to the new and exciting findings about training the mind rather than just the body.

I love what I do today as a sports psychologist. But I still get the majority of my clients from pro and amateur athletes calling on their own, or the parents or private coaches calling. I want that to change, and it is partly why I wrote “The Mental Performance Index.” If you read this, you will learn about this coach/sports psychologist relationship and how to ensure that everything goes smoothly to best help the team, how problems are prevented before they occur, and much more about the best teams mentally and physically in Super Bowl History.”

My guarantee is that your team and players will prosper with mental coaching. You will discover that there is no shame associated with trying to make yourself or your team better through proper mental coaching. A player can only run so fast and hit so hard, but by helping players tweak their mental performance just a little, the whole team will benefit. I guarantee it! Imagine what would happen if each player got 15% more confident, more focused, and more resilient. Do you think the team would also benefit. You can bank on it because I guarantee it. The days of fear are over. The biggest fear might be not investing in mental coaching for our teams and players.

I hope you enjoyed this initial walk down the avenue of sports psychology.

Culture Change Speeches and Consultation for Corporations and Sports Teams

Sports Psychology Special Feature – Culture Change Speeches and Consultation for Corporations & Sports Teams – Mental Performance Inc – October 8,2015 – Invite Dr. John F. Murray to speak at your next company or team meeting. He will inspire your group and demonstrate the factors he has used for years to help top athletes and teams to develop mental skills to the highest level possible for excellence and success.

Dr. Murray’s expertise over the past 18 years since getting the PhD has been to help teams in sports and business change culture to become more competitive and successful. Clients include the world’s largest global real estate firm, countless businesses and CEOs, the prestigious Saddlebrook Golf Academy where he now consults twice monthly, the Evert Tennis Academy, Olympic athletes, high school and college athletes, and pro athletes and teams in all sports including the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA.

While speeches, seminars and dinner discussions are very helpful and inspiring, Dr. Murray also believes that the best successes come from working with one individual at a time, and in small or large groups as necessary, but the one-on-one mental coaching and clinical psychology intervention has produced best results.

Dr. Murray conducts individual mental skills evaluations and one-on-one consultation to develop leadership skills and help people become the absolute best mentally that is possible. The best way to gain the most competitive and mentally strong leaders, whether in sports or business, is to do this work consistently with a top professional over a long period of time. Dr. Murray has a history of under-promising, but greatly over-delivering, and his career speaks for itself.

Thank you for your considering this culture change proposal for your team or organization. Dr. Murray will be happy to discuss rates and scheduling for speeches or consultation with you further. Call 561-596-9898.

I hope you have enjoyed this special offer from the world of sports psychology.

Early retirement: players call it quits in prime of careers

Sports Psychology in Associate Press – By JANIE McCAULEY – July 30, 2015 – SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Patrick Willis walked away first with a nagging toe injury that kept him from being the dominant All-Pro linebacker of his prime.

Then his heir apparent and San Francisco teammate Chris Borland followed with his own stunning retirement on the heels of his spectacular rookie season, citing concern about head trauma over a hard-hitting career.

Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker called it quits after four seasons. Next, ex-Pittsburgh pass-rushing specialist Jason Worilds bid farewell to football. And then yet another 49er joined the list of departures from the NFL while still young: Offensive lineman and 2010 first-round pick Anthony Davis also chose his health and future over more punishing knocks in the head after a concussion left him dazed for weeks late last year.

“You don’t want to see guys walk away, but at the end of the day everyone has their own problems and things they need to deal with, their own reasons,” San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis said. “We didn’t expect Patrick to retire.”

Around the league, players began taking the leap to that unknown life after football — at 30 or younger, no less.

“As many players that do consider perhaps the long-term risks and the cost benefits of a long-term career in a contact sport, you’re going to get that,” said sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray, based in Palm Beach, Florida. “We’ve had more education and increased awareness from many avenues about the risks of concussions long term, the risks of the effects of that.”

In an offseason overshadowed by deflated footballs, Willis, Locker and the 27-year-old Worilds retired in a stunning 24-hour span starting March 10.

Five-time All-Pro Willis retired at age 30. Davis is 25 and Borland 24. Locker, then 26 — the NFL’s eighth overall pick in 2011 — never played a full season and appeared in only 30 games in all.

Willis left without a Super Bowl ring, coming so close following the 2012 season in a three-point loss to the Ravens.

“I always told myself that I wanted it to be on my terms,” Willis said in an emotional announcement at Levi’s Stadium last spring. “I wanted it to be in a way that was just amazing. … In my head, I’m already a Hall of Famer. I am leaving this with closure, saying that I am happy today, more happy today than I was the day I was drafted. That says something to me.”

San Francisco players expressed mixed emotions at the turnover, as fearsome defensive end Justin Smith also retired, though the 35-year-old had 14 years in the league.

Borland and Anthony Davis feared concussions and head injuries.

“When I started there wasn’t a whole lot of awareness on concussions,” 40-year-old 49ers placekicker Phil Dawson said. “Now, guys are informed. The doctors are on top of it. I think it’s a good deal.”

Willis, San Francisco’s defensive captain and locker room leader, explained his tender size-13 feet “12½ when they’re bent” could no longer handle the grind of NFL practices, let alone the demands of game day. He had surgery on his left big toe, went on season-ending injured reserve on Nov. 11 after getting hurt at St. Louis on Oct. 13.

“I have no regrets. I’ve had the most amazing eight years of football of my life,” he said.

Locker has returned to his roots in Washington state with his wife and two young children.

Davis, the outspoken offensive lineman, left open returning if his body fully heals. Davis had been considering leaving for a few years, announcing his plans in a statement.

“This will be a time for me to allow my brain and body a chance to heal. I know many won’t understand my decision, that’s OK,” Davis said. “I hope you, too, have the courage to live your life how you planned it when day dreaming to yourself growing up. Your life is your dream and you have the power to control that dream. I’m simply doing what’s best for my body as well as my mental health at this time in my life.”

For veterans who have stayed healthy, thoughts of retirement might be far from their minds.

“When you have those things going for you, why not keep playing?” 38-year-old Raiders safety Charles Woodson said. “Even though you’ve got guys retiring, there’s a bunch of guys that would still love to be playing. For all of those guys that I’ve played with that tell me every year, ‘Keep going,’ because they would love to have this opportunity.”

Murray says the NFL shouldn’t be overly concerned about a dwindling talent pool.

“There will always be a demand for multi-million-dollar salaries and the glory that goes with playing NFL football,” he said.

Still, constant change is part of the business.

“Every man in here has the right to decide how long he wants to play. It’s his career,” Dawson said. “Whether it’s retirements, or injuries or trades or cuts or whatever the case may be, for those of us who are still here you’ve just got to come to work and do the best you can.”

AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker and AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report. I hope you enjoyed this item from the world of sports psychology.

Should Your Sports Psychologist Be Your Friend

Sports Psychology Special to johnFMurray.com – Should Your Sports Psychologist Be Your Friend – June 18, 2015 – One of the earliest principles in psychotherapy, and a long held position since the early years of Freudian psychoanalysis, is the notion that strict professional boundaries must be maintained between a client or patient and his or her psychologist. Ethical guidelines have long warned against becoming too chummy or friendly with clients, and for good reason.

For one, the client is seeking the special expertise and experience provided by a doctor. Maintaining that respect with healthy personal distance is beneficial. The client is paying for an important service. As a society, we would not want professional judgment or professional respect to be eroded by temporary likes, dislikes, or other transitory personal factors. These elements can and often do change rapidly in a friendship relationship and its far better for both parties to stick to the work at hand. It’s actually analogous to the principle that a surgeon is unwise to perform an operation on a family member. We would prefer our surgeons to be 110% professional and non-emotional in making critical decisions on where, how, and when to cut which limb or organ. With fear of failure removed, the surgeon is freer to make impartial clinical decisions with a greater chance for success. The same holds true in psychotherapy. Much of therapy also involves critical decision making and strategizing for what is best for the client.

Another strong tradition in psychotherapy is the need for confidentiality. Going to a ball game with a client or chatting socially at the supermarket just doesn’t provide that level of security and aura of sensitivity that a client needs to bare his or her soul comfortably and/or reveal information needed in the process of change or recovery. This principle is so ingrained in our professional ethos that psychologists are trained to not even say hello to a client in public unless her or she says hello first. I get this. It may seem odd, but it ensures a level of comfort and safety for the client who might not enjoy letting the world know that her or she is seeing Dr X for suicidal thoughts and impulses.

Now let’s change the focus to the world of the sports psychologist/client relationship. I have been doing both general psychotherapy and mental coaching for performance in private practice for 16 years and have noted some very important and significant differences between the two that often change the outlook on “friendly behavior” entirely.

For one, the sports or business client usually comes to me for improvement in their craft not for clinical recovery from illness. Sure there are occasional serious clinical issues such as depression and anxiety, and having the background as both a clinical psychologist and sports psychologist is essential in my view, and it allows me to be aware of and treat these problems when they exist. Mental distress is hardly a recipe for performance or well-being so it must be treated. However, this is often not even necessary as the top athlete and business executive is usually healthier than most of us! In the majority of cases, the client is not disturbed mentally or in need of clinical psychology services. In sports psychology work, the client who finds their way inside my office or on the phone usually feels excited and privileged to do this exotic yet very important training to enhance success. What a far cry from the general client who comes in saying “please help me recover” as opposed to the mental coaching client who says “please help me win!” In the latter case, not only is the client not embarrassed about seeing a sports psychologist, he or she is often proud of maximizing talent through a specialized service. It’s much more analogous to going to school where everything is done in public. Imagine how strange the world would be if all learning took place in private.

Another aspect of the sports psychologist/client relationship is that critical observation of performance is often done in public, whether in a team or individual sport context, with many others watching during training and competition. The athlete or top performer is already used to the social aspect of sport, or they should be as it is so important, and there is just no way to get around that fact that mental coaching is just another solid part of sports training. There is little need to hide the fact that you are working with a sports psychologist. Doing so also keeps this needed profession hidden, which does little for society at all.
Still, I always start with the default presumption of confidentiality and make sure the client is comfortable with me watching them in public and interacting with them in public. I respect the client’s wishes and in 95% of cases they usually end up wanting to talk publicly about their work in mental coaching. They also usually want me around more rather than less in public and ask me to travel to them quite frequently.

There is also the importance of developing social and often public rapport with the sports psychologist in a more relaxed manner than would ever be considered in a more traditional clinical psychology context. I’ve traveled many times with clients, whether to the Summer Olympic Games, UFC fights, the Australian Open in tennis, or to pro football games, and there is rarely getting away from the fact that sport is public and that mental coaching is just coaching. Again, however, keep in mind that this is all discussed upfront with the client and solid professional savvy is always needed to decide what is in the client’s best interest. That must rule the day.

As a result of these major differences, I do not converse with or even acknowledge the presence in public of my clients who are primarily seeing me for clinical problems unless they shout out first. On the other hand, for clients being seen primarily for mental coaching, and given consent with my judgment that it is also in their best interests, it is not at all uncommon to go with the client to a hockey or football game and we’ll often make a session or two out of it in the process. Traveling to where the client is performing also offers the obvious opportunity to have sessions before and after the event. This helps greatly in establishing the bond between professional and client.

The key in all of this is to be experienced and professional and to always do what is in the client’s best interest with proper consent. However, Sigmund Freud would be rolling around in his grave if he were aware of the way sports psychologists  and clients often interact in public today! I am fine with that. Siggy knew less about sports psychology and what is best to encourage success in performance than I do, and thank goodness I know less than he did about subconscious conflicts, oedipal impulses, and the need to resolve these conflicts by having clients talk about dreams for 5 years on a couch while he blows cigar smoke in their face.

In sum, while I would never become friends with my general clinical clients or break into their houses late at night to observe their personal interactions, I might very well encourage a more collegial relationship with a purely mental coaching client whose success hinges on public performance in areas such as improving confidence and focus, reducing distractions, realizing specific performance and process goals, and developing increased resilience in the face of adversity. Being there when it happens is not only important to see, but it further encourages the client to be oblivious to needless distractions.

Having a friendly public rapport with my sports psychology clients, while not the same as being their best man at a wedding or hanging out together, is often not only not discouraged, but often greatly encouraged.

I hope you have enjoyed this little glimpse into the world of sports psychology!

Looking Back and Forward: Always More for the Client

Special to JohnFMurray.com – Hello from sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray. Hope you all had a nice Easter or Passover weekend! In this blog, I’d like to reflect back on the past 15 years and talk a little more about sports psychology and the future. One advancement that I have made recently is to put clients on an indiviudalized data collection package to analyze their performances and shape a questionnaire to provide state of the art feedback. It is very exciting and if you are just getting started with me, you are part of this evolution. Clients who have seen me in the past are enjoying this advantage too when they come back in.

Let’s look back. It was late in 1999 that I finished my post-doctoral training requirements, passed the Florida state licensing exam, and began working as one of a handful of legitimate and licensed clinical and sports psychologists in America. Having jumped through so many graduate school hoops and rings of fire, I considered applying for the job as the dolphin at Sea World. Since my earliest clinical experiences in the NFL included working with players on our long struggling Miami Dolphins, I was definitely considering Sea World.

All kidding aside, I was thrilled to be in private practice, seeing clients both here in South Florida and worldwide by phone, including some of the best athletes and teams in the world. I had begun this journey at age 30 and by 36 had transformed a career in international tennis coaching into an even more exciting and meaningful profession targeted at helping a wider range of athletes and teams refine their mental approach to competition while dealing better with a multitude of potential distractions.

Now 15 years later and in my early 50s, I wonder where the time has gone but can honestly say that I would not have changed a thing. I love what I do and have been privileged to collaborate on so many meaningful missions that I could never even begin to share a small fraction of them in a brief article. What I would like to share today, however, are a couple of the lessons I’ve learned in this past decade and a half, and also state my vision for the future.

Lesson 1

The Need for Restraint and Patience Along with Passion

When I first started, the media as well as some professional teams immediately jumped on the bandwagon, saw the huge opportunity with sports psychology, and quickly accepted my proposals and story ideas. It was overwhelming at times. I was thrilled to be on the cutting edge and to have the new challenges of developing a private practice and working with pro athletes. However, along with that excitement and my total belief in the profession, I might have been a little too eager to seize every opportunity, jump in, take on all challenges, and even push hard to effect change at the organizational level.

The truth is that a lot of people were not ready for change and most are still not ready today. While I clearly saw the need then (and still do today) of having a sports psychologist in the clubhouse of every professional sports franchise, others were not ready then and most are still not ready today. When I started, I figured that by 2015 having a sports psychologist on the roster of every professional sports franchise would be as commonplace as the iconic team dentist on every hockey team in the NHL. I was way wrong.

What I did not anticipate was how slow major change takes place, and how most people would much rather keep the status quo intact even at their own detriment. While there are a number of reasons for this, that is another story saved for another day. So 15 years later, I have learned to retain the intensity and passion in my work, but to slow down a little more in my fervor to transform sports into a mental training enterprise. Athletes and teams find me today when they are ready, not when I am ready. It’s the same with individual clients or students in any field that learning never begins until a true audience appears and is completely ready. It will probably be 30 more years before every sports franchise finally understands and realizes the tremendous benefits of having a sports psychologist on staff, and I am ok with that. Those who see the light will prosper while those who don’t will suffer, and I’m not responsible for their wake up call. I’ve stopped worrying about it. Restraint and patience are virtues that I now hold onto more than ever.

Lesson 2

There is No Substitute for True Experience

In the beginning months of my practice, I was loaded with ideas, methods and solutions, and eager to share them all. What I was lacking as a sports psychologist, however, was true experience. Sure, I had been through some of the finest graduate training available, had worked for years in a cutting edge psychology clinic and before that worldwide as a coach and athlete, but the truth is that as a sports psychologist I was a neophyte. I hope that I did not hurt anyone in those early months with my inexperience, but I’ve since learned that while knowledge and ideas are necessary in any professional toolbox, they take a major backseat to experience and clinical judgment.

When you purchase a book , CD, or DVD you buy ideas and knowledge and the world is already filled with those. Hiring a true sports psychologist with experience dances circles around plain knowledge. With experience hopefully comes wisdom, and with many rich clinical experiences to draw from in helping a client, there emerges a professional perspective that is severely lacking in the beginning professional.

This is why there is a stark difference between what any one of hundreds or even thousands of psychology professors or researchers might be able to offer client in a side practice, compared with someone who lives, breathes and practices the profession daily. It comes down to clinical savvy, key decision-making, and often that subtle avoidance of that “frenzy to cure,” as it was so aptly described by my internship coordinator many years ago. Jumping in eagerly to deliver a solution is often disastrous for the client. Wisdom is hard to come by in any profession without experience. With wisdom comes better clinical decisions, greater confidence on the part of the provider, and an overall more efficient process of improvement for the client. Knowing what not to do is often just as important as what to do, so the value of true experience cannot be overemphasized in sports psychology.

Vision for the Future of Sports Psychology

The future of sports psychology is bright because the need to succeed in competitive situations will never go away. In fact, competition and performance only continues to increase over time, and it will always do so with evolution of training methods, nutrition and strength training as just a few examples. This profession of mental training is the best at preparing people for success, training the mind, developing solid routines, and operating as a practitioner who informs his or her practice with solid science to stay cutting edge. As I indicated earlier in this blog, it is all further enhanced with the science of great data collection and statistical analysis!

Coaches and administrators must realize that sports psychologists are not coming to take their jobs away or create havoc. I can no better call plays or develop a defensive game plan for the Dallas Cowboys than my 11-year-old daughter, and I do not want to do so. I am trained and experienced in a profession that is vastly underutilized and has a right to exist because it helps others succeed. Coaches and administrators have no time or energy to spend the countless hours needed to assess or train the minds of their athletes, and I have no time to go on recruiting trips, negotiate salaries, wrap ankles, or perform surgery. Teamwork is truly the key to success in anything. When sports teams and franchises eventually wake up to the necessity of a solid mental training component in their program, they will realize that the sports psychologist is just one essential piece to a complex puzzle. I am too busy and involved in my own work as a sports psychologist to have the time (and I certainly do not have the knowledge) to try my hat as head coach, athletic trainer or massage therapist. However, together as a team we all prosper to make a better team.

Let me know if you want to get started now, or come in again for a fresh new round! Hope that you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into the world of sports psychology.

Happy New Year 2015 & Where Have 15 Years Gone?

Special to JohnFMurray.com – Happy New Year 2015 from Sports Psychologist Dr. John F. Murray – Palm Beach, FL – Jan 4, 2015 – It was late in 1999 that I finished my post-doctoral training requirements, passed the Florida state licensing exam, and began working as one of a handful of legitimate and licensed clinical and sports psychologists in America. I had jumped through so many graduate school hoops and rings of fire that I considered applying for the job as the dolphin at Sea World. Since my earliest clinical experiences in the NFL included working with players on our long struggling Miami Dolphins, I was definitely considering Sea World.

All kidding aside, I was thrilled to be in private practice, seeing clients both here in South Florida and worldwide by phone, including some of the best athletes and teams in the world. I had begun this journey at age 30 and by 36 had transformed a career in international tennis coaching into an even more exciting and meaningful profession targeted at helping a wider range of athletes and teams refine their mental approach to competition while dealing better with a multitude of potential distractions.

Now 15 years later and in my early 50s, I wonder where the time has gone but can honestly say that I would not have changed a thing. I love what I do and have been privileged to collaborate on so many meaningful missions that I could never even begin to share a small fraction of them in a brief article. What I would like to share today, however, are a couple of the lessons I’ve learned in this past decade and a half, and also state my vision for the future.

Lesson 1

The Need for Restraint and Patience Along with Passion

When I first started, the media as well as some professional teams immediately jumped on the bandwagon, saw the huge opportunity with sports psychology, and quickly accepted my proposals and story ideas. It was overwhelming at times. I was thrilled to be on the cutting edge and to have the new challenges of developing a private practice and working with pro athletes. However, along with that excitement and my total belief in the profession, I might have been a little too eager to seize every opportunity, jump in, take on all challenges, and even push hard to effect change at the organizational level.

The truth is that a lot of people were not ready for change and most are still not ready today. While I clearly saw the need then (and still do today) of having a sports psychologist in the clubhouse of every professional sports franchise, others were not ready then and most are still not ready today. When I started, I figured that by 2015 having a sports psychologist on the roster of every professional sports franchise would be as commonplace as the iconic team dentist on every hockey team in the NHL. I was way wrong.

What I did not anticipate was how slow major change takes place, and how most people would much rather keep the status quo intact even at their own detriment. While there are a number of reasons for this, that is another story saved for another day. So 15 years later, I have learned to retain the intensity and passion in my work, but to slow down a little more in my fervor to transform sports into a mental training enterprise. Athletes and teams find me today when they are ready, not when I am ready. It’s the same with individual clients or students in any field that learning never begins until a true audience appears and is completely ready. It will probably be 30 more years before every sports franchise finally understands and realizes the tremendous benefits of having a sports psychologist on staff, and I am ok with that. Those who see the light will prosper while those who don’t will suffer, and I’m not responsible for their wake up call. I’ve stopped worrying about it. Restraint and patience are virtues that I now hold onto more than ever.

Lesson 2

There is No Substitute for True Experience

In the beginning months of my practice, I was loaded with ideas, methods and solutions, and eager to share them all. What I was lacking as a sports psychologist, however, was true experience. Sure, I had been through some of the finest graduate training available, had worked for years in a cutting edge psychology clinic and before that worldwide as a coach and athlete, but the truth is that as a sports psychologist I was a neophyte. I hope that I did not hurt anyone in those early months with my inexperience, but I’ve since learned that while knowledge and ideas are necessary in any professional toolbox, they take a major backseat to experience and clinical judgment.

When you purchase a book , CD, or DVD you buy ideas and knowledge and the world is already filled with those. Hiring a true sports psychologist with experience dances circles around plain knowledge. With experience hopefully comes wisdom, and with many rich clinical experiences to draw from in helping a client, there emerges a professional perspective that is severely lacking in the beginning professional.

This is why there is a stark difference between what any one of hundreds or even thousands of psychology professors or researchers might be able to offer client in a side practice, compared with someone who lives, breathes and practices the profession daily. It comes down to clinical savvy, key decision-making, and often that subtle avoidance of that “frenzy to cure,” as it was so aptly described by my internship coordinator many years ago. Jumping in eagerly to deliver a solution is often disastrous for the client. Wisdom is hard to come by in any profession without experience. With wisdom comes better clinical decisions, greater confidence on the part of the provider, and an overall more efficient process of improvement for the client. Knowing what not to do is often just as important as what to do, so the value of true experience cannot be overemphasized in sports psychology.

Vision for the Future of Sports Psychology

The future of sports psychology is bright because the need to succeed in competitive situations will never go away. In fact, competition and performance only continues to increase over time, and it will always do so with evolution of training methods, nutrition and strength training as just a few examples. This profession of mental training is the best at preparing people for success, training the mind, developing solid routines, and operating as a practitioner who informs his or her practice with solid science to stay cutting edge.

Coaches and administrators must realize that sports psychologists are not coming to take their jobs away or create havoc. I can no better call plays or develop a defensive game plan for the Dallas Cowboys than my 11-year-old daughter, and I do not want to do so. I am trained and experienced in a profession that is vastly underutilized and has a right to exist because it helps others succeed. Coaches and administrators have no time or energy to spend the countless hours needed to assess or train the minds of their athletes, and I have no time to go on recruiting trips, negotiate salaries, wrap ankles, or perform surgery. Teamwork is truly the key to success in anything. When sports teams and franchises eventually wake up to the necessity of a solid mental training component in their program, they will realize that the sports psychologist is just one essential piece to a complex puzzle. I am too busy and involved in my own work as a sports psychologist to have the time (and I certainly do not have the knowledge) to try my hat as head coach, athletic trainer or massage therapist. However, together as a team we all prosper to make a better team.

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into the world of sports psychology.

MPI Based NFL Power Rankings – Week 10 of the 2014 NFL Season

JohnFMurray.com – Saturday November 8, 2014 – By John F Murray, PhD: Welcome to the state of the art. In a continuing effort to show the power the MPI (Mental Performance Index as written about in the book by the same name), I am offering readers complete performance based power rankings at the mid-point of the 2014 NFL season. These rankings are based on a careful MPI analysis of every play so far in the NFL season. Considering that there have been 9 weeks of games already, that equates to approximately 40,500 plays that have been reviewed with precision by the MPI.

Enjoy these rankings, which include total performance that includes observable mental performance too such as how well teams cope with pressure situations, how well they avoid careless mistakes, how well they avoid penalties and turnovers and execute properly.

Decide for yourself if these rankings correlate with the outcome of the games this weekend. What teams do in the past is not always what they will do in the future, but I will confidently add that this is about as good as it will get in 2014 accurately assessing the actual performance of a team. You tell me how well it correlates with outcome after the games. These are just the facts, and yes, those numbers beside each team show their total power and they are roughly equivalent to how many points any given team should win over any random opponent in the NFL. If the value is negative, this means that they should on average lose by that many points against any random opponent if past performance matters.

Interestingly, the Miami Dolphins are number one on this midseason report, even though most media based power rankings have them in the mid-teens. I am not concerned with media hype or opinion. I based these rankings exclusively on facts, the facts of every single play so far this season. Enjoy and be sure to tell me how these rankings perform this weekend!

MPI BASED POWER RANKINGS PRIOR TO WEEK 10 OF NFL SEASON

Miami Dolphins 8.5
Kansas City Chiefs 7.6
Philadelphia Eagles 7.2
Denver Broncos 5.5
Indianapolis Colts 5.4
New Orleans Saints 4.6
New England Patriots 2.3
Pittsburgh Steelers 2.1
Arizona Cardinals 1.1
Baltimore Ravens 1.1
Minnesota Vikings -.20
Detroit Lions -.30
Cincinnati Bengals -.40
Seattle Seahawks -.40
San Francisco 49ers -.60
Washington Redskins -.60
Dallas Cowboys -.70
Buffalo Bills -.80
Jacksonville Jaguars -1.2
St. Louis Rams -1.4
Green Bay Packers -1.7
New York Jets -2.5
Carolina Panthers -3.0
Cleveland Browns -3.1
Atlanta Falcons -3.1
Houston Texans -3.1
Chicago Bears -3.4
NY Giants -3.6
Oakland Raiders -3.7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -4.5
Tennessee Titans -5.6
San Diego Chargers -6.1

Hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse into the world of sports psychology and the Mental Performance Index!