Archive for the ‘News & Events’ Category

Concentration is Crucial in Football

Sports Psychology and Concentration in Football

Careless mistakes caused by distractions are all too common in football, and sports psychology may have the best answers to this problem. Two important elements of attentional control, selective attention and concentration, are discussed followed by tips for improving attentional control during games for players at every position. Enjoy this education in mental toughness training.

We are constantly bombarded by an endless array of internal and external stimuli, thoughts, and emotions. Given this abundance of available data, it is amazing that we make sense of anything! In varying degrees of efficiency in top sports, we have developed the ability to focus on what is important while blocking out the rest. This process of directing our awareness to relevant stimuli while ignoring irrelevant stimuli is termed selective attention. Some sport psychologists believe that selective attention is the most important cognitive characteristic of successful athletic performance.

Concentration, on the other hand, is the ability to sustain attention on selected stimuli for an extended period of time. Although this might appear to involve great strain and exertion, the reverse is actually true. Effective concentration has been described as effortless effort, being in the zone, a flow state, and a passive process of being totally absorbed in the present and fascinated by the object of fixation. Working on the mental skills in football may pay bigger dividends than physical training.

Concentration is a difficult skill to master because our minds tend to shift focus when presented with novel stimuli. Known as the orienting response, this bias toward new sights and sounds alerted our ancestors to dangers in the wild, but often makes us the prey to meaningless distractions on the football field.  A split second loss of concentration during a critical play can spell the difference between winning and losing.

Careful planning and practice are required to gain supremacy over our attentional faculties. Fortunately, selective attention and concentration are skills that can be learned, refined, and perfected just like razor sharp passes or perfect blocks. Since few players invest quality time on attentional skills, there is an immediate and tangible reward for those who do! I believe the struggle with oneself over attentional control and mental toughness is even more fundamental than the clash with the opponent, for only after preparing ourselves for battle are we ready to take it to the enemy.

Here are 10 specific ways of improving attentional control in football:

1. Avoid negative thoughts and feelings, as these are needless distractions which rob us of limited attentional resources. Stay positive and realize your objectives.

2. Remain focused on the present, attending to what is immediately important and blocking out past and future concerns. Following a mistake, briefly note any changes necessary then move decisively to the next play.

3. Recite key words or phrases to yourself prior to the play to remind yourself to concentrate (e.g.,focus, attack, hit the hole).

4. Be task rather than outcome oriented. Thinking about the score or how you look are common distractions. The outcome only improves when you ignore it and attend to the immediate needs and circumstances.

5. Slightly relax in between plays while avoiding external distractions. Some players achieve this by staring at a specific area (e.g. , opposing runner’s mid section) and visualizing terrific execution.

6. Recharge your batteries in between plays. Replenish your energy and calmly gear yourself up for another great play.

7. Add a ritual, or consistent routine, to your performances. This might be the way you adjust your feet, tap the ball, or set your mind, and it all helps to fight off needless distractions and keep your mind from wandering.

8. Be particularly vigilant when fatigued. Players often lose their focus when tired and you can also exploit this fatigue in your opponent if you see it.

9. Attention and arousal are closely related. Avoid becoming overly excited while remaining focused on executing and implementing your strategy to football perfection. Brief breathing and/or relaxation can help prepare the way for great focus on the play.

10. Football coaches should make practices interesting by frequently varying the drills and routines in a realistic manner. This variety usually increases motivation which also leads to improved focus. Yelling rarely helps focus, but doing things to naturally improve focus like this help a lot.

Good luck and I hope to hear from you as your game continues to get better and as you continue to invest in sports psychology techniques.

Tough Guys Talk Initiative

Below is an excerpt from my most recent book “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” from pages 54-55 of the book by John F Murray (World Audience, 2013)

Stephan and I had often discussed the misconception about talking to a psychologist or counselor that seemed to exist in our society, and especially in some of the more powerful quarters. It needed to change. The supposedly tough types that we often saw in business and pro sports, like the CEOs, NBA stars, or head NFL coaches had somehow learned to associate “toughness” with grueling schedules, physical pain tolerance and the hesitancy to open up about problems or seek counseling. But once they did open up it was clear that this repression had exacted a toll and they were filled with more needs than most. Examined closer, it just jumps out at you that what is really going on when an athletic or business culture fails to encourage help seeking, or when anyone avoids dealing with a serious issue, it is anything but “tough” and more accurately quite “weak!” Not meeting issues head on is actually rooted in deep fear and insecurity.

One example that was recently brought to my attention was when NFL hall of fame quarterback Warren Moon wrote a book in which he admitted that he was seeing a therapist for many years and sneaking in the back door of his therapist’s office at night so that nobody would notice he was seeking help. Pro football hall of famer, Lesley Visser, who writes a beautiful epilogue in this book, called to tell me the news of Warren Moon’s admission. I thanked her and told her that I would make sure to convey the message in this book that the toughest among us are those who when faced with problems and are not afraid to seek help, and I called it “tough guys talk.” Warren Moon should be proud that he faced his issues, but societal pressure made it harder for him to share the benefits he was receiving with others until now.

I have a solution, and it starts with every top executive in major sports as a campaign to encourage star athletes to face problems head-on and talk with a counselor or sports psychologist when needed. Every senior executive and coach or manager in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL should institute a program and call it: “Tough Guys Talk” with a poster and just these words on top in bright bold lettering. It should be posted in every locker room listing some of the great players who won national championships while talking with a sports psychologist or counselor. The list would be most impressive because some great athletes do seek help but then don’t talk about it because of the stigma that they will appear weak. Hogwash! These leaders would in one fell swoop begin to eradicate idiocy and allow more players to access care and be tough by talking rather than running like little children in fear of being ostracized.

The program I propose would start with just one team’s GM. And since I am related to one of the greatest ever and feel that he can have an enormous impact like none other, I personally and cheerfully challenge Cousin Bill Polian to institute a “Tough Guys Talk” program with the Colts. When Mr. Polian or another top executive in sports does this he will establish himself even more as a visionary who cared enough for his people to allow them to develop and improve.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from sports psychology.

 

For Students Interested in Sports Psychology

Sports Psychology Special at JohnFMurray.com – Dr. John F Murray – January 7, 2013 – Are you a student of sports psychology or someone who may consider the profession for your future? If so, you definitely want to keep reading this article. In fact, I would not be surprised if this one article that you are reading ends up being one of the most influential in your early career. I write this because this kind of information that I am about to share with you simply did not exist 22 years ago when I went back to graduate school to pursue a career in sports psychology. So read on!

It’s been fun for me to interact with so many students who call or email for advice, and it has been equally fascinating to see that some of the most popular articles on my website pertain to educational issues and the training required to enter this great but often mysterious profession. It is only mysterious because so few are doing it as a profession. I consider myself very fortunate to be one of the few.

So consider this my gift to you, this resource, and enjoy the links I am about to share. Some of what you will read may not be what you want to hear or might seem a little intimidating at first, but I would rather that you got the full picture the best I can paint it than a half story or promise that someone cannot deliver on.

I am going to present my writings on the field in chronological order. You may see some progression in my thinking as these go along, and I hope there is not too much discrepancy from one to the other. Ok, here goes:

Back in 2009 I wrote an article entitled: What is Real Sports Psychology.

Later that year I wrote: Students Wishing to Become Sports Psychologists Should Read This

In 2010 I wrote: Is Sports Psychology a Real Science?

And finally in 2011 I wrote: What it Took to Become a Sports Psychologist.

I will personally guarantee you that if you read and dissect these 4 simple articles, you will be miles ahead of 99% of those other students who do not read these.

It would also be great to get your comments on this page or on any of the other 4 pages where the articles are being posted. Good luck in your career and I hope you enjoyed this stroll down the avenue of sports psychology.

For Coaches Giving Speeches

Sports Psychology Special at JohnFMurray.com – Dr. John F Murray – January 7, 2013 – If you are one of the thousands of coaches out there and you are constantly seeking a better way to motivate your troops, then look no further than here. As a sports psychologist engaged daily in helping to keep athletes and others motivated and excited about their pursuits, I’ve found that quotes are often my best friend.

It’s interesting too that in reviewing my web site traffic recently, the articles and sections pertaining to famous coaching and sports psychology quotes receive the most visits. It is this truth that quotes are needed and cherished that compels me to once again make it easier for you to find the gold nuggets of wisdom uttered by the many wise men and women before us.

Let’s begin with an article on coach speeches that appeared in the Tampa Tribune a few years ago. It is a really good one.

After reading that article, it will be fun for you to peruse one of the most popular areas of my website by far and review the many great sayings and quotes in sports. If you cannot find what you are looking for here, you are simply not looking.

Keep up the good work motivating your teams and don’t forget to call on your professional ally, the sports psychologist, from time to time. I’ve given many speeches to teams, as well as more serious workshops with many different aims. I’ve also enjoyed working one on one with many coaches to help them navigate the often treacherous waters of media scrutiny and the natural truth that you’re only as good as your last game.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse into the world of sports psychology.

Evert Tennis Academy Partners with Dr. John F Murray!

Press Release from Evert Tennis Academy – Evert Tennis Academy Partners with Dr. John F Murray! – December 29th, 2012 – Boca Raton, FL – Evert Tennis Academy has joined forces with Dr. John F. Murray, world renowned sport psychologist from Palm Beach, Florida, to enhance the Mental Toughness component of their high performance program.

Dr. Murray has worked with a wide variety of Olympic, professional, amateur, junior athletes, as well as business executives and corporate groups, to enhance personal performance and well-being.  Dr. Murray earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Loyola University New Orleans, after which he coached tennis worldwide throughout much of the 1980s with USPTA and PTR certification.  He returned to graduate school in the United States in 1991 and obtained two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida, specializing in both clinical and sport psychology.

Murray has published several books, including The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History and Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game, in addition he has written hundreds of articles and contributed to thousands of stories in the popular media including Tennis Magazine, Tennis Week, and Florida Tennis. His work has been featured in ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated.

“Chrissie and I are both very excited about the partnership and believe it will benefit the development of ETA students as well as enhance our full-time program,” said John Evert.

For more information about Dr. John F. Murray, please visit his website at http://www.JohnFMurray.com

 

 

 

The Autum of the Patriarch

Sports Psychology Commentary from The Times of India – By Partha Bhaduri – December 22, 2012 – Sachin Tendulkar Clings On To An Image Of Himself From a Long Time Ago. Is It Time He Saw The Real Picture?

Remember Dorian Gray in that seminal Oscar Wilde novel? “If it were I who was to be always young and the picture that was to grow old…I would give my soul for it, ” says Dorian, as Wilde attempts to connect the dots between the protagonist’s inner fragility and enduring public persona. The exercise itself is fraught with vanity, for in each of us resides a Dorian Gray, a yearning for everlasting spring. It can’t be wished away and it can’t be attained. Yet there it lurks, a festering wound, a constant reminder of withering beauty and fading prowess.

Those who live their lives in the public glare are more vulnerable, of course. Sometimes we come across a senile politician, an exhausted writer, a fixated actor or an oddball singer who prompts us to look in the mirror and count the blessings of our anonymous existence. Yet nowhere is the celebration of youth as the peak of physical, mental and creative faculty more pronounced than in sport.

Peter Pans abound in sport as a necessity. It’s an arena where the end of youth signals professional death, and yet the conquest of new challenge is rewarded. It’s a ‘contradiction trap’ which sooner or later ensnares all sportspersons. The ones who have been the best, who were taught never to give up, are the most susceptible. They are those who, as a necessity, start believing in the invulnerability of their own myth.

This is what is happening to Sachin Tendulkar. It’s not over yet but the runs are not coming. Age is catching up. It’s a painful but inevitable occurrence in the life of every accomplished athlete.

“Tendulkar’s desire to play on is an overestimation of his abilities at his age. That’s natural for a sportsman who has almost transcended his sport, ” says social theorist Ashis Nandy. “It’s a dilemma which can be understood at many levels. It’s very difficult to accept that one’s abilities may have declined. He needs to confront his own self but can the world’s biggest cricketer do that? He has grown up with public adulation and cricket as the only constants. He is, after all, larger than life. He believes it. ”

It’s interesting how a nation which built up ‘Brand Tendulkar’ or ‘Icon Tendulkar’ is now scrambling to tear down the edifice. These days, a confused Tendulkar looks at the picture – at his public image – and sees ugliness. This is a man whose sole task was to bring us joy with a bat in hand. What should he do now?

This is the rare child prodigy who lived in a bubble but did not fade away when he grew up. Anybody who has seen Tendulkar at nets will know him as a cricketer whose devotion to batting borders on the religious. He has not been afraid to chase the extreme in his quest for perfection. This is the man-child who has been a part of our collective consciousness for almost a quarter century. He had a ‘legend’ status in the pocket and riches in the bank, yet just a few years ago pushed his body and mind to the limit and bounced back from injury and poor form. It would have been easy to just give up and walk away.

But Tendulkar fought, for he was brought up to fight. Now, he is fighting the fickle masses. He is fighting self-doubt. He is fighting bad form. He is fighting age. How can there not be another star turn lurking, another glory day, another challenge to cherish? Of course he will retire. But right now? When the body is creaking, the runs aren’t coming and the clamour for his head grows with every passing day? When India’s Test fortunes have hit rock bottom? Isn’t giving up now fundamentally at odds with Tendulkar’s competitive nature?

Unless, of course, he is forced to quit. And give up on what has been his life.

It’s not for nothing that Vivian Richards, another supreme exponent of batting whose powers had declined to the extent that he became a strutting self-parody before quitting, talked about ‘death’ when asked about Tendulkar’s retirement recently. “When you’re retired, you’re retired for a very, very long time. It’s like being dead to some degree. So while you’re alive and still enjoying it, that’s what it’s all about. ”

This is how serious ‘retirement’ is for those wealthy sportspersons who’ve known nothing else but their sport. Yet there are those who know when to take the call. Steffi Graf. Sunil Gavaskar. Annika Sorenstam. Even Bjorn Borg, though that didn’t turn out so well. There are those who adjust well to a life outside their own routines. Freddie Flintoff has controversially taken up boxing to keep busy. Shane Warne preens and plays poker or the odd T20 game. David Seaman catches fish.

Will Tendulkar, now 39, know exactly when he ceases to be a part of the solution and becomes a part of the problem? Or has he already crossed the line? Psychologist Dr. John F Murray, often called the ‘Roger Federer of sports psychology‘, has worked with some of the biggest sports stars on the planet and believes Tendulkar must now expand his concept of self.

“This fits within what we term ‘athletic identity’, to the extent that an athlete’s identity is wrapped up in the athlete’s role, ” says Murray. “It is said that athletes are the only people on this planet we ask to die twice. The bigger they are, the more horribly traumatic it is to consider retirement. Tendulkar cannot fathom it stopping. He might know he has lost something physically, but he figures that mentally he can still make it up because he has done this his whole life, and done it the best. He will have a higher athletic identity, and there is more to lose since more of his self is invested in this athlete role.

“If I were working with this fine superstar, I would try to get him to expand his self-concept. His life may seem over to him, but it’s only just beginning. He has to return to earth for perhaps the first time in his life. Maintaining a positive self identity gets difficult for superstar sportsmen who are nearing the end of their careers. ”

Tendulkar is not alone in this predicament. There is boxer Manny Pacquiao, an icon in Filipino society whose influence stretches to politics, religion, even showbiz. After his recent loss to Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez, even his mother took to national television and urged him to quit. Yet at 34, Pacquiao keeps delaying the inevitable. “We will still fight, ” he said.

The opinionated former Indian captain Bishan Singh Bedi, who calls himself an “unadultered Tendulkar fan”, retired at around 33. “There’s only one death and retirement is not it, ” he says vehemently. “I retired because I wasn’t enjoying it. Simple. The human body, or mind, is tenacious but even tenacity has its limits.

“You have to detach yourself from your public persona to keep delivering the gifts you are famous for, whether in sport or music or literature. My left arm, with which I bowled, was a gift. Tendulkar’s abilities are a gift, and gifts can be taken away. It’s when you start believing you are larger than your gifts that you become cagey about failure or retirement. It’s self-created hyper anxiety. ”

The Tendulkar issue has also attracted the attention of California-born Dave Bernard, an expert on retirement issues and the author of Navigating the Retirement Jungle and Are You Just Existing And Calling It A Life. He usually advises people to focus on finding their passion after retirement, but sports stars pose a different challenge.

“It’s an interesting dilemma, ” says Bernard, “Sports figures know that because of the physical demands, they will retire very early. My concern with these super athletes is what they plan to do after retirement. Their life is dominated by practice, games and basking in the glow or bouncing back. Even beyond the challenge of coping with a fall from fame, what will they do?

“What is left to buy? What is left to chase? They have two of everything. The threat of boredom, unfulfilled days and a feeling of wasting your life are likely byproducts, magnified even more for those whose life has been a glorious one in the spotlight. How can their natural competitiveness be redirected? I do not envy these famous super athletes. It’s a long and painful exit from their accustomed world. ”

The signs of Tendulkar’s decline have been there for a while now, screaming large in our faces. The eye is weaker. That immaculate judgment of length is missing. The feet seem rooted the spot. He plays against the spin as a reflex action and perishes. Sometimes he gets out to good deliveries he would have kept out earlier. Sometimes ordinary bowlers growl in his face as he hangs his head and departs. He has now gone 31 innings without a ton, the longest such break between centuries in his career.

Tendulkar had a similar slump from December 2005 to January 2007, going 17 innings without a century, but rose like the phoenix, defying age and critics to average 78. 10 in 2010 from 14 Tests and scoring the first double ton in ODIs. But is it endgame this time? Year by year, his performance dips. Against England he averaged only 18. 66, and 2010 seems an eternity away. It hasn’t helped that Team India keeps losing.

For India’s biggest football icon, Baichung Bhutia, being involved with the game after retirement has been a blessing. “Retirement can be very, very tough on us. In Indian football, I’ve seen poverty, depression, even suicide after retirement. Of course, for a well-known super-rich athlete like Tendulkar, money is not the issue. His desire to play the game is the problem. I know the feeling. He should know when to call time on his career, ” says Bhutia.

“For me, I’m blessed to be involved with my club in Sikkim. I can still go the ground and play. I can involve myself with the financial aspects. It’s a way to keep busy with new challenges. But I still feel I can play for India and score a goal. That confidence is still there. But suppose I do score a goal in my comeback match, what then? I can have an ordinary next 15 games. It’s false confidence, ” he adds. “Tendulkar, I’m sure, feels he can play on and score a century or two or three. It’s his call. But for him too, it’s always good to have concrete plans in place for the future. ”

What if there is to be no grand farewell for Tendulkar? Or what if grand farewells are overrated, and leave no lasting impact on one’s legacy? Tendulkar won’t be the first or last athlete to confront these doubts. “The bigger the sportsman, the harder it is for him to retire, ” says former India stumper and selector Kiran More, who retired at only 31. “I opened an academy. I had a business. I took to golf. Let me tell you this. You never get over it. It still hurts. The sooner one accepts that, the better. ”

Of course, Indian cricket has no real replacement for Tendulkar. He will soon be in action again. The squad lacks depth. Australia arrive in two months time for another round of Tests. Maybe after that, or even before, Tendulkar will be forced to confront his fallibility. He must glance up at the picture again. Will he see what everyone else sees?

I hope you enjoyed this article from the world of sports psychology.

Mind Games: All 3 Phases Destroyed Georgia Tech

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – October 26, 2011 – John F Murray – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.





The Georgia Tech game was a thorough performance as well as a great win for the Hurricanes. No need for comments this week about escaping a bullet, blowing it on defense, or failing to make the big play at the end. But did the presence of these factors help in some small way to keep this team from getting overconfident going into the Georgia Tech game? It’s possible.

This UM team did well and won in convincing fashion against a Top 20 ranked opponent. Coach Al Golden and crew should be very proud and excited, and I am too. But as I do each and every week, I will not rest in my efforts to understand this game at a much deeper level than the final score. For some this is still somewhat hard to grasp, but realize that while the final score is what wins the game in the end, getting points on the board and defending against points by the opponent has little to do with the score.

Points are just the end result of performance by the team in each moment on the field. The act of building up to points on a long drive or perfectly executed pass and catch, or a great defensive takeaway all refer to performance in the moment and proper execution, NOT POINTS. Points come after all that had work and smarts that I measure on the MPI.

The rule makers of football have defined how a game is won, and that is indeed by scoring more points than the opponent. The point differential is obviously a pretty good sign of which team was better on the field that day, but there are other factors that are much richer in showing which team was better.

You might walk away screaming, “I don’t care about those other factors, all I care about is points and whether we won or lost the game,” and I would agree with you that getting in the win column is always better than a loss, but I would also tell you that you have no idea what you are talking about.

I studied this for eight years, so don’t be a typical beer drinking fan and mutter, “all I care about is that we won.” The University of Miami is a much smarter institution of higher learning than that kind of ignorance, and I will not stand for it.

Examined more closely, as I discovered in reviewing all 45 Super Bowl games and hundreds of other games, you soon realize that the final score is only another statistic to qhow well a team performed, and it often does a very lousy job. And telling players or teams to put stock in this by scoring points to win is just absurd. However, coaching players to win the battle in the moment, or to perform well on each play, is very smart advice leading then to points and success.

Performance in the moment as a studied factor is also a better predictor of which team will win the game, as statistical analyses have shown. Even points scored or given up as statistics are not as good as performance in the moment measured on the MPI scores.

Translation: if you really want to win a game, focus on getting a great MPI score on each play, not on getting points! Make the block, catch the pass, make the correct read, throw the pass to the correct target, make proper cuts, avoid turnovers, avoid penalties, use your head for more than a hat rack! These and many more things are performance-related factors that have meaning, not points. And this is the same as saying `focus on performing well in each and every moment and not just on the big plays or touchdown plays.’

In this particular game, UM outperformed Georgia Tech overall by roughly 5% of performance, which is a solid dominance, but not a blowout. Miami’s MPI-T score was .535 (79th percentile) compared with Georgia Tech’s MPI-T score of .480. Miami was also better on 12 of 14 MPI scores and 8 of 9 traditional statistics examined, so this was clearly an impressive performance that justifies the victory, compared with last week when the Canes were outperformed and won anyway.

Let’s see how the Hurricanes did it.

Let’s give a loud round of applause to the Miami defense. Finally! The defense of the Canes had their best performance of the year (MPI-D=.569, 91st percentile). Miami’s defense was 11.6 percent better than Georgia Tech’s offense, whereas Georgia Tech’s defense was 10.4 percent better than the Miami offense. So while both defenses outperformed the opposing offenses, Miami’s defensive margin of dominance was better.

Even more impressive statistically was the Miami special teams (MPI-ST=.732, >99th percentile). It could be argued that this unit won the game for Miami, but there are fewer plays on special teams and I would give first honors to the Miami defense as far as total impact on the game. Still, Miami’s special teams dominated Georgia Tech’s special teams (MPI-ST=.271) by over 46 percent, an almost unheard of demolition, and above the 99th percentile.

Both offenses performed below average (slight MPI-O edge to Georgia Tech .453 to .452) and at about the 20th percentile. However, Miami’s offense in pure pressure situations was superior (MPI-OP=78th percentile for Miami, MPI-OP=48th percentile for Georgia Tech). This means that while we might put down the Miami offense for an off day, the truth is that they were able to get it done well in critical 3rd and 4th downs and in other pressure situations. You don’t always have to be great if you can make it happen in the clutch, and the Miami offense did so just enough.

The final and incredibly decisive factor was penalties and turnovers. Miami is starting to get the hang of this as it had only one penalty for 5 yards, one turnover, and a +2 takeaway minus giveaway number. This is a big credit to the coaching staff of Miami for conditioning their players to reduce needless mental errors that often lead to penalties and turnovers.

Lamar Miller (27 rushes for 93 yards) and Tommy Streeter (3 catches for 96 yards) were the individual stars of this game. Time of possession slightly favored the Canes.

Any way you slice this, the Miami Hurricanes grew up a little more in this seventh game of the season. They reduced penalties and turnovers, they were unbelievably good on special teams, they were impressive on defense. In sum, they totally destroyed a former top 20 team.

Where does this team go from here? If the defense can keep playing this well, the special teams continues to dominate, and the offense can play this well or better, the Hurricanes are capable of great things now and even greater things later. Is this the beginning of a return to national dominance we’ve all waited for? It may be.

This UM team needs to keep getting high MPI scores, which is another way of saying to keep performing well mentally and physically every single moment of the game. If this happens enough, bet your bottom dollar that the Miami Hurricanes will also score points, keep their opponents off the scoreboard, and win too.

But let’s make sure we don’t put the cart before the horse. It is performance first that leads to points and then to winning. And knowing the precise nature of performance is what this column is all about, so that the Hurricanes can win even more.

I appreciate you coming along with me on this new and insightful way of looking at football performance and success. Go Canes!

Dr. John F. Murray, described as “The Freud of Football” by the Washington Post, is a South Florida native and licensed clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach. He provides mental coaching and sports psychology services, counseling, speeches and seminars. He recently authored his second book, “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” destroying stigmas about the mental game in sports and showing football teams how to perform better and win more games by enhancing team performance assessments and training. For further information call Dr. Murray at 561-596-9898, visit johnfmurray.com or email johnfmurray@mindspring.com.

Mind Games: Miami Escaped Bullet in Rare Game

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – October 19, 2011 – John F Murray – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.

This game started like wildfire with hopes of a huge Canes rout, then kept you right there on the edge of your seat till the very end as UNC almost came back to win after being down 27-3.

Time expired and Miami was victorious. It was a win very much needed for the young regime of Al Golden after heartbreaking losses to KSU and Virginia Tech in the final seconds, and especially the improbable reversed call inches short of the goal line on the last play against KSU.

But was this win over a decent North Carolina team (and in their house) the result of unlucky odds evening out, or did Miami truly outperform the Tar Heels and justifiably walk away victorious?

We’ve asked this question for years after games, but now with the Mental Performance Index we can also answer the question directly.

Here is your answer: Miami escaped a bullet like never before because North Carolina performed clearly better overall through the entire four quarters in this game. Thank your lucky Hurricane stars above, because 9 out of 10 times Miami would have lost based on analysis of hundreds of games using the MPI.

I am not saying that UM did not earn its victory fair and square according to the rules of the game. The Hurricanes scored 30 points to their opponent’s 24 points, and that qualifies for a win because scoring more points is how you win. So huge congrats to Miami, but just know who your daddy really was last Saturday rather than getting some overconfident notion that UM took apart UNC. It was actually the reverse. UNC outperformed Miami.

While scoring points is the key to winning in football, points are just another statistic like yards gained or turnovers. You might even be shocked to learn that several of the 14 MPI statistics correlated with winning better than points scored or given up in the studies I did in my new book “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” (World Audience, New York, 2011).

This may seem absurd at first glance, but it makes sense when you consider that teams like Miami last Saturday might score on several big plays but then play terrible for the rest of the game as the other team roars back and almost wins. In the end most are only excited by the win, but smart coaches, fans and players should also know if that win was one of those rare 1 in 10 games where sunshine smiles on the outperformed team. In this game, UNC clearly outperformed Miami on the MPI-T by a margin of .521 to .500, yet Miami found a way to win the game in spite of that.

Better overall team performance almost always leads to victory, and this is why good coaches and sports psychologists keep their players focused on the nitty-gritty play-by-play process and consistent performance factors in practice rather than allowing them to think too much about game outcome.

And that is another reason why I take the time to measure this play by play performance in the moment. It yields a richer statistic than all the others (even points scored) and when coaches have this data in their arsenal, they are better positioned to prepare their team for victory in the next game. If I were Al Golden and I saw this data, I would tell the team to be very careful about overconfidence and to realize that they got away with murder last Saturday, and that unless they continue to get and play better moment to moment they are going to be easily dispatched with a similar performance when fate is not so kind.

Exceptions to the notion that better performance leads to winning occur for a number of reasons. Just a couple broken assignments or rare big plays can lead to a 14 or 21 point swing as it did for the Pittsburgh Steelers in winning Super Bowl XL despite being outperformed by the Seattle Seahawks on MPI-T. Of the 45 Super Bowl games, only 4 times did the outperformed team on the MPI-T win. And if this Canes/Tar Heels thriller had been a Super Bowl game, it would have qualified as the 5th rare game in Super Bowl history.

Let’s start by looking at the goals set for this game from the last article and see how the Hurricanes fared:

Goal 1: Improve Defensive Performance to at least .480: Result: GOAL ACHIEVED! The Canes defense was better in this game and scored .494 on defense (MPI-D), which is slightly above average as a defensive performance goes, but still 4% worse than UNC’s offensive score on the MPI-O of .535. So while the defense was better than in previous games, it was still manhandled by UNC’s offense. Regardless of this, the goal was set and the goal was achieved!

Goal 2: Improve Special Teams to at least .600: Result: GOAL NOT ACHIEVED. Miami scored at an even .500 on the MPI-ST statistic and again failed to maintain the standard of great special teams play set in the first few games. So while the play was not terrible, it was not good either, and Miami knows they can improve here.

Goal 3: Improve Offensive Firepower to at Least .550: Result: GOAL NOT ACHIEVED. Miami also scored at .500 on the MPI-O which was coincidentally the same score that UNC’s defense posted (MPI-D = .500). This indicates average overall offensive performance last Saturday despite the big plays in the first half and nowhere near the goal set.

Goal 4: Reduce Penalties from 9 to 5: Result: GOAL ACHIEVED WITH FLYING COLORS! Miami had only 3 penalties against a team that is historically penalized less than their opponent. The same was the case in this game as UNC only had 2 penalties. Even so, Miami’s greater focus and reduction of carelessness had to help in this win and the Hurricanes should be proud for achieving this goal.

Goal 5: Win the Turnover Battle Again: Result: GOAL ACHIEVED! Miami had only 1 turnover whereas UNC had 2. Congrats Miami! This is a very important statistic, and this one also shows good focus.

Of the five goals set, the Canes succeeded in achieving three of the goals and one of them with flying colors (reduced penalties). We know from goal setting research that goals should be set at a moderately difficult level, and that teams don’t always succeed on all goals set. Achieving 3 of 5 goals as the Canes did here is a very positive sign of progress even in a game where they were outperformed.

The game overall was played at a slightly higher quality level than most games, and this was primarily due to reduced penalties on both sides of the ball (5 total). Looking at the other data, there were very few extreme scores on the normal distribution curve, which means it was a fairly close game and fairly average as performance goes. While the performance of the two teams was close, there is still no doubting that UNC played better and should have won. UNC outperformed Miami on 8 of the 14 MPI variables, and almost all of the traditional variables too.

But while UNC outperformed Miami, Miami had UNC’s number in key pressure situations, and this shows improving mental toughness.

UNC performed slightly better on offense, defense and special teams than Miami, but Miami outperformed UNC on all 6 pressure indicators! UM’s greatest dominance in pressure situations came on defense (MPI-DP=.643, 75th percentile). Overall, the performance of Miami in pressure situations was better than UNC by 13% (MPI-T = .567 for Miami, MPI-T = .438 for UNC).

In more traditional statistics, Miami was horrible in rushing the ball (44 yards, 11th percentile) but good in passing (267 yards). Overall net yards gained favored UNC (429, 87th percentile) to 311 (near the 50th percentile).

Of course the most important statistic in this game was points scored versus points again, and Miami found a way to do it, winning 30-24 on the strength of better pressure performance in all areas, reduced penalties, reduced turnovers, and a little long overdue good fortune!

See what can happen when mental performance improves? Even a team that is manhandled can sometimes just find a way to escape that bullet and win the game … and Miami did exactly that!

Go Canes, but count your blessings in this game and perform better next week or it could get ugly fast!

Dr. John F. Murray, described as “The Freud of Football” by the Washington Post, is a South Florida native and licensed clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach. He provides mental coaching and sports psychology services, counseling, speeches and seminars. He recently authored his second book, “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” destroying stigmas about the mental game in sports and showing football teams how to perform better and win more games by enhancing team performance assessments and training. For further information call Dr. Murray at 561-596-9898, visit johnfmurray.com or email johnfmurray@mindspring.com.

Mind Games: Reviewing VT, Setting UNC Goals

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – October 11, 2011 – John F Murray – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.

I’d like to begin by saying congrats to this young team and congrats to coach Al Golden for never quitting in Blacksburg. Being completely dominated 21-7 at the half, the crowd noise almost unbearable, this team could have quit.

The national television audience added pressure, and a string of past defeats to V-Tech hung like thick smog in the air. And still, still this team fought, still this team grinded and came back.

If it had not been for that final stop at the end (or a few other factors you’ll discover), this Hurricanes team really could have won. It was one of the most exciting college football games I’ve ever seen, and definitely the most exciting college game I’ve ever rated with the MPI.

Football is a team sport, and the MPI ratings focus on team and not individual accomplishments. As a team, Virginia Tech outperformed Miami overall .515 to .473 on MPI-T. They were also better on 13 of 14 MPI statistics. For these reasons, it is not surprising that Virginia Tech won. They should have won, and if they had not won with that kind of dominance it would have been strange indeed.

Despite the team nature of football, there are times when it is also appropriate to give individual credit where it is due. In this case, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas was the player with the single greatest influence on the outcome. He went 23 for 25 for 310 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. No matter how much we hate these facts, Miami fans should give Thomas credit for such a masterful display of quarterbacking.

Given the quarterback play, it was hardly surprising that the single best unit on the field that day was the V-Tech offense (MPI-O=.609, 93rd percentile) and that Virginia Tech amassed 482 total yards, placing them at the 96th percentile on this traditional value.

Miami was excellent on offense too in this epic shootout (MPI-O=.540, 67th percentile) and had even more total net yards (519, 98th percentile). We must also credit emerging superstar Lamar Miller for his 166 yards rushing performance.

While net yards gained is one measure of offensive firepower, the MPI-O statistic correlates much higher with winning than net yards. This makes sense, since MPI-O is a cumulative rating of every meaningful play on offense on a scale of .000 to 1.000, whereas net yards can be quite misleading, as just one big run or pass will throw off the accuracy and inflate the number disproportionately.

Clearly, Virginia Tech had a much better offensive performance (about 61% of perfection compared with Miami’s 54%), but both offenses dominated (V-Tech’s MPI-OD=84th percentile, Miami’s MPI-OD=72nd percentile), and again, this is a credit to the amazing play of that explosive Tech passing game.

However, it should also be noted that Miami’s rushing performance (236 yards) was very rare – at the 98th percentile – and this is a great sign of progress along with better passing.

I was very honest about the defense in my Mind Games column before this game, not in an attempt to bash any player or coach (I want this team to win!), but simply because the numbers after four games clearly indicated a major discrepancy between offense and defense.

I wanted the team to know precisely how really different those two units were. Sadly, the pattern continued in this game and Miami’s defense did not play well (MPI-D=.415, 13th percentile).

What you might not realize, however, is that Virginia Tech’s defense played even worse (MPI-D=.386, 5th percentile!). While it is true that Miami’s defense played 3% better than Virginia Tech’s defense, that is the same as saying that Custer defended himself effectively at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Dead is dead, and both defenses were bad.

One possible underappreciated factor in this quarterback derby was the matchup of special teams units. While Miami was superb in the first four games, they stumbled mightily in Blacksburg (MPI-ST=.423, 12th percentile) and were much worse than Virginia Tech’s special teams (MPI-ST=.607, 87th percentile).

Had Miami’s special teams performed like in previous games, UM might have won. As it stood they were dominated by V-Tech’s special teams by about 19 percentage points (MPI-STD=88th percentile).

What about pressure play? V-Tech was better overall, but neither team really shined in the clutch. Penalties and other mistakes in pressure situations for both teams offset great plays under pressure (MPI-TP=.481 for V-Tech, 41st percentile, MPI-TP=.427 for Miami, 22nd percentile).

Miami had the penalty bug again – (9) compared with 5 for V-Tech – but the Hurricanes had zero turnovers to Virginia Tech’s one. Overall, this slightly favors Miami since turnovers are much more costly. But nine penalties are always too many. The crowd noise probably had a major role in a few on the offensive line in the first half.

In summary, Virginia Tech performed better than average overall and beat a Miami team that performed below average overall. In this epic offensive shootout, the 1,001 total yards gained by both teams occurs roughly in less than 1 of 100 games played. Virginia Tech was almost perfect passing the ball as Logan Thomas made Stanford’s Andrew Luck almost seem to be human. The Virginia Tech special teams dominated Miami’s special teams.

At this point, let’s glimpse at a big picture of the entire season.

After five games, Miami is averaging .506 overall on the MPI-T, which is slightly above average and at the 56th percentile. On offense, Miami is averaging .538 (66th percentile), and on special teams Miami is averaging .599 (85th percentile).

Miami’s defense is still the weakest link (MPI-D=.458, 33rd percentile) and Miami is averaging better in pressure situations on offense (53rd percentile) than on defense (31st percentile).

There is likely major growth here as the Canes withstood pressure and crowd noise, a major deficit, and history, and they almost did the improbable by winning.

The huge heart and no-quit attitude of this UM team tells me that they have stepped it up a notch and will have even more pride and confidence going forward. I think Coach Golden is smart and doing a good job that is not easy.

What can we expect with upcoming opponent North Carolina at their house? This is no doubt another tough challenge, but it will make Miami better from the experience. A win, of course, would do wonders for this team’s confidence. To grab a win against UNC, I have outlined 5 performance related goals below:

Goal 1: Improve Defensive Performance to at least .480: This is a very reasonable goal set only 2% above the season average of .458. It is very attainable, but the players need to dig deep and execute the fundamentals, while coaches have to come up with a smart plan to slow or stop the 43rd best rushing team in the nation.

Goal 2: Improve Special Teams to at least .600: The V Tech game was an off week for special teams, but I expect for them to get it back this week with better kickoffs and tackling on coverage, better blocking and runbacks, and solid field goal kicking, punting and punt coverage.

Goal 3: Improve Offensive Firepower to at Least .550: The running and passing game really exploded last game and this balance is awesome. Performing above the overall season average for offense (.538) would be a sign of continued progress. Jacory Harris is getting better and better and this is exciting to watch.

Goal 4: Reduce Penalties from 9 to 5: It will be loud again this Saturday, but UM now has a week of experience to pull from as they go into foreign territory. Five penalties is average for a team, and that is a reasonable goal to ask for and it should help immensely.

Goal 5: Win the Turnover Battle Again: The Canes were +1 in the important Takeaway minus Giveaway category. If they do it once again or even better at +2, their chances for a win on the road are exponentially increased.

Final Comments

Thanks to many who emailed your support for what I am writing about in this column with the MPI and the team performance statistics. Many of you now understand the importance and benefits of this new way of rating games that includes mental performance in the rating, and also in giving percentiles that show how average or extreme a particular performance is. For those who still do not understand, please keep reading.

We all know that the offense has been better than the defense this year, yet it’s still important to know precisely how much better a particular unit has been to set goals, anticipate the future, know where we are heading and so much more.

If there were no speedometer in your car, would you be able to regulate your speed and avoid tickets? Probably so, but speedometers make it easier. If I had no watch or clock, how would I know when my client’s hour of mental coaching was up?

Lack of precise measurement causes error, confusion and chaos. Measurement is the key to documenting and understanding performance, but the usual football statistics rarely if ever offer percentiles, do not include mental performance in the ratings, and do not provide standardized numbers to allow game comparisons.

If you have not read my new book yet where I explain all this, I would encourage you to do so soon. It also aims to remove many stigmas about the mental game in sports in general, and the book is titled: “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.”

Thanks and Go Canes!

Dr. John F. Murray, described as “The Freud of Football” by the Washington Post, is a South Florida native and licensed clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach. He provides mental coaching and sports psychology services, counseling, speeches and seminars. He recently authored his second book, “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” destroying stigmas about the mental game in sports and showing football teams how to perform better and win more games by enhancing team performance assessments and training. For further information call Dr. Murray at 561-596-9898, visit johnfmurray.com or email johnfmurray@mindspring.com.

Mind Games: Miami Must Get Better on Defense

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – October 4, 2011 – John F Murray – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.

While many Miami faithful squirmed and complained early during the recent victory over Bethune-Cookman, and rightly so, all’s well that ends well in this convincing 45-14 victory.

It was a win more than needed for this team and community and new head coach. The devastating loss to Kansas State by inches after having a first and goal on the two stung for a long time, but the win over “boys who wanted to play for Miami but got snubbed” sort of righted the ship. “Sort of” implies that we are far from out of the woods with the daunting task of V-Tech in Blacksburg looking like a very rough assignment.

But isn’t this what we live for in sports? Challenge is what it is all about. So bring on the mighty Virginia Tech program. Bring them all on. This is the “U,” and while this U might not be as successful as the great teams of the past, there is no shortcut to greatness. We might as well shut up, face as many great teams as possible, and get used to it.

But before we jump into the line of fire too quickly, remember that all great athletic (like military) accomplishments must be led by intelligence and wisdom. By understanding our recent clashes, we are in a better position to battle hard in the upcoming skirmish. And the MPI combined with traditional statistics and percentiles gives us an edge over all those other fans, coaches, players and teams who do not use the MPI. It helps us to see more precisely what really happened so we can prepare for V-Tech by knowing how our team is doing in a precise way that also includes mental performance.

While Bethune Cookman was having its way with Miami early in this game, several angry fans posted all sorts of crazy messages on the message board at Canesport.com. I enjoy rating these games in my favorite sports bar with wi-fi, so I got in on the action and encouraged fans to relax and look at the MPI stats. Once Miami scored, I predicted a 42-14 blow-out win, and I was not far off from the 45-14 final score.

The point is not to brag, but to demonstrate again that the numbers I get show what is likely to happen in a game. In all of Super Bowl history, for example, teams that perform better on the MPI-T (total performance) win about 90 percent of the time (see this all in my new book “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History“).

Performance does not lie. It is not always aligned with winning, but it seems to be about 9 out of 10 times. Performance (including mental performance) is the best we have at rating a team and I had noticed that despite Bethune’s success the trend was changing quickly in Miami’s favor. As Bethune started playing worse, Miami performed better and I sensed a blow-out win even with the score tied at seven. This was less hunch, and simply performance related statistics!

Keep in mind that Bethune-Cookman has a lot of talented players. While they are no match for a team like Virginia Tech, they were hardly a teenage girl’s touch football program either. They were damn good, and many were transfers from big division one schools! Miami should be proud of the win and the way they won, and that is what we are going to now analyze

The first thing that jumps out at me is that Miami’s special teams, which started slowly, ended up dominating this game in a manner that is seen in fewer than 1 in 1000 games! Miami (MPI-ST=.661) has been playing great on special teams all year, and combined with Bethune’s horrific showing (MPI-ST=.266), this unit dominance of almost 40% represents the 99.9th percentile for the Hurricanes. It is almost unheard of in football. The significance of this, however, is probably not appreciated by the vast majority. But you are Canes fans!

The second most influential factor was the number of penalties committed by Bethune (12) along with two turnovers and -1 takeaway minus giveaway statistic. This is a very sloppy performance and this team was not going to get away with it against a more talented team like Miami. Their penalty total alone places them at the 99.6th percentile in number of penalties (higher percentile being bad in this case).

As you can tell from the first two most important factors, Bethune shot themselves in the foot more than Miami cleaned them up. In fact, time of possession was a huge advantage for Bethune (at the 96th percentile) but it did not matter because they made so many mistakes and could not cash in with their skill players the way Miami did.

The third decisive factor was Miami’s offensive unit (MPI-O=.585) which achieved in this game at the 88th percentile combined with Bethune’s overall lousy play on offense, defense and special teams (MPI-T = .437), at the 8th percentile only for total performance.

Neither defensive unit performed well (Miami’s MPI-D = .493, Bethune’s MPI-D = .411) but Bethune was much worse, and made worse too by Miami’s skilled passing attack and Lamar Miller’s exceptional running (over 100 yards again).

In summary, Miami won this game on special teams, on mistakes by Bethune Cookman, and on offensive firepower. And this scares me a little as the Hurricanes prepare to face Virginia Tech.

Had Bethune-Cookman played only average on special teams and reduced their penalties greatly, the game could have been much closer. Thank goodness that Jacory Harris and his receivers are beginning to sync up, but there is an obvious talent difference between Miami’s explosive passing attack and Bethune’s woeful secondary.

To Miami’s credit, it reduced penalties to six, only committed one turnover, and had a plus 1 takeaway-giveaway statistic. The more talented team prevailed because it made many fewer mistakes, killed the opponent on special teams, and got the offense rolling against an inferior opponent. I am concerned about the defense entering Blacksburg.

Let’s take a comparison look at a Miami’s MPI scores on offense and defense in its first 4 games. The defense is performing 6.8% worse than the offense.

In game one, the Miami offense scored .479 compared to .424 for the defense.

In game two, it was .551 compared to .518.

In game three against Kansas State, it was .533 on offense and .439 on defense.

Against Bethune-Cookman, it was .585 for the offense compared to .493 for the defense.

The averages come out to .537 for the offense and .469 for the defense.

These numbers really bring to life the truth so far about the 2011 version of the Miami Hurricanes football program. The have an above average offensive performance overall and a below average defensive performance overall and the offense is performing 6.8% better than the defense.

What does this say about this Saturday?

Virginia Tech is ranked 34th in rushing in the country, 15 spots better than Miami’s 49th-ranked rushing attack. Virginia Tech is much better in points against, ranked eighth overall compared with Miam’s No 28 ranking. The offenses are similar in terms of passing the ball and points for. Given the MPI defensive weakness in Miami combined with the Virginia Tech rushing attack, Miami is going to be in for a long long day if it does not get some things fixed on defense in a hurry.

I know that Clemson had its way last Saturday in Blacksburg, but this should do very little to make Canes fans feel comfortable. This will only strengthen the resolve of the home opponent. If I were advising Coach Golden, I would do everything and anything possible this week to improve the defense, especially against the run, keep encouraging the offense to find the big play, and encourage the special teams unit to keep winning games for this team.

Blacksburg will be an epic battle and I am excited to watch it. It is a chance for Miami to grow-up a little bit more and totally erase the bad feelings from the KSU and Maryland losses, and look forward to a much brighter future soon or a wake-up call of continued suffering.

FOCUS ON BETTER DEFENSE is my final message to the team this week.

Dr. John F. Murray, described as “The Freud of Football” by the Washington Post, is a South Florida native and licensed clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach. He provides mental coaching and sports psychology services, counseling, speeches and seminars. He recently authored his second book, “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” destroying stigmas about the mental game in sports and showing football teams how to perform better and win more games by enhancing team performance assessments and training. For further information call Dr. Murray at 561-596-9898 , visit johnfmurray.com or email johnfmurray@mindspring.com.