Archive for the ‘News & Events’ Category

SPADEA’S RENEWED DESIRE AND FOCUS

Orlando Sentinel – Sep 18, 2005 – Short Takes – We received this “breaking-news” e-mail this week, headlined: “Vince Spadea Makes a Public Guarantee to Achieve a Top 10 Ranking with Renewed Desire and Focus.” Our first thought was, “Vince Spadea is still playing tennis?” Our second thought was, “OK, how’s he going to get back into the top 10?” According to the e-mail, “To prove his new commitment, Vince recently began working again with his sport-performance psychologist [John F. Murray]. He now guarantees that mental coaching will help him achieve his highest career ranking ever, top 10 in the world.” According to the e-mail, Spadea is 49th in the world rankings.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

LET’S HEAR IT FOR OUR LOSS LEADERS

Financial Times of London – Simon Kuper – Sept 17, 2005 – The Kansas City Royals were already the worst team in baseball, but on Tuesday they had their worst moment of the season. When a Chicago White Sox batter hit a fly ball, two Royals outfielders settled beneath it. Both began jogging to the dugout, each assuming the other would catch it. The ball dropped for a double. The Royals lost.

They aren’t even the years worst losers. The Royals recent 19-game losing streak, baseball finest in 17 years, was bettered last Saturday by the English football club Sunderland, who have now lost 20 consecutive Premiership matches, counting the last time they graced the division in 2003.

Losing is sports great neglected topic. All attention goes to the winners, but it’s losers who represent the human condition. The sports annual cycle is hope (this could be our season), disappointment (I cant find my form), renewal (theres always next year), and finally exit prompted by physical decay. The ‘parallels with life are uncanny. Today, when sport means big-market teams thrashing small-market teams, there are more losers than ever.They merit serious study.

This is not to forget the long-dead losers. Who could forget the 1899 Cleveland Spiders baseball team, whose owner shipped all their best players to his other club? Losing 40 of their last 41 games, the Spiders drew only 6,088 spectators all season, whereas Kansas City got 9,535 last Tuesday night alone.

Nobody has forgotten the 1962 New York Mets, who may have been a Marx Brothers tribute team. The Met outfielder Richie Ashburn, tired of always crashing into his Venezuelan shortstop when chasing the same ball, finally learned to shouœI got its in Spanish. When the next popup came, he yelled Yo lo tengo!. The shortstop duly stopped, and Ashburn was instead knocked over by Anglophone leftfielder Frank Thomas. A friend of mine, a Sunderland fan, admits: At a certain point you become so bad that it becomes comic. Almost.
Then there is Luxembourg’s national football team. When their manager, Paul Philipp, was finally released in 2001 after 17 years of losing more matches than any other international football manager ever, I asked him if it hadnt been depressing. I wouldn’t have missed a second of it! Philipp replied. At times we only narrowly lost to the big nations. And there had been the 1-1 draw with Belgium in the 1980s, the 0-0 against Scotland and, well, so on.

The truth is that losing builds character. Winners never quit, says the clich, but its easy not to quit when youre winning. Only when youre losing does getting out of bed require courage and persistence, especially if you are a professional athlete. These people are born winners. They were stars at school. They have mansions and groupies. Then suddenly they feel worthless. Losing, in short, teaches them about life for normal people. When I put this to my friend the Sunderland fan, he muttered: The difference is that in football you lose in very stark fashion: you get no points. Losing in life is a little more nuanced.

That is why losing in sport “ no ambiguities “ is the best practice. I realised this while studying economics. It was bewildering. One day I was trying to figure it out with a friend – a woman who could do everything “ when she broke down crying. She had never failed before. I felt morally superior, because sport had taught me losing. Driving with teammates to a soccer game around that time, a new song came over the radio: im a loser baby (so why dont you kill me?) Within 30 seconds the whole car was singing along. Loser became an anthem. As Beck, the singer, later noted: “The vacuous 80s pop song has a sense of winning and being on top. In fact, its worse: the mass media are a conspiracy to promote the ideology of winning.

Losers should embrace losing. I think it was Darlington soccer fans who chanted, “You thought you had scored, you were right, you were right,and in the 1980s, while the Columbia University football team was losing 44 straight, the band would play the Mickey Mouse Club theme when the players ran out.

When losers win, they know how to appreciate it. They arent instantly off on lantern-jawed quests for the next trophy. Instead they release in the moment. Nick Hornby, in his fan’s memoir Fever Pitch, describes supporting Cambridge United the day they won their first match in six months. “In the last five minutes, with Cambridge thumping the ball as far into the allotments as possible, you would have thought that they were about to win the European Cup. At the final whistle the players (most of whom had never played in a winning team) embraced; and for the first time since October the club DJ was able to play, Ive Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.

However, if you find that losing just isnt for you, you can change. Adequacy is always lurking around the corner, like a mugger. John Syer, a sports psychologist formerly with Tottenham Hotspur football club, told me that in a losing streak players forget what winning is like. But they can learn to visualise winning. “There are few athletes who have not had an experience of winning, says Syer. “The obvious thing is to go back to a past occasion and remember what it was like. Most athletes do visualisation very well because they are in tune with their own bodies.

Some losers become winners. The tennis player Vince Spadea lost 21 straight matches in 1999-2000, but rebounded to hit 18th in the world this February. John Murray, Spadea’s sports psychologist, told me an athlete can acquire confidence even if reality “ lost matches“ tells him otherwise. The trick is to ignore that reality. Murray explains: you have to believe you are the author of your thoughts and feelings. You have control over the mental world you want to create. You are not controlled by the past. He sighs: Animals will catch the ball jumping out of the pool, because they dont have mental baggage. We human beings have mental baggage.

This week Spadea came up with a guaranteed: aged 31, battling injury, ranked 59th and sinking, he pledges to make the top 10 for the first time ever. Its the sort of magnificent disregard of reality that ruins a good loser. Click for Photo of Vince Spadea and John Murray as Vince Makes the Guarantee in Boca Raton September 15

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

TENNIS PLAYERS STRUGGLE

Sarasota Herald Tribune – Sep 17, 2005 – John Simpson – Your palms sweat and your mind races. Your body aches, and your stomach’s tied in knots, just when you need to play your best.

The only solace is that your opponent feels the same way.

The tie-breaker in tennis heightens a player’s every move, stroke and strategy. Athleticism and shot-making get the glory in such pressure situations, but the difference between winning and losing is more often mental and emotional.

This is true for both club players and future pros.

Jesse Levine, a top-ranked junior at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, traveled to Michigan in August for the United States Tennis Association National Championships. In one day, he lost two matches on third-set tie-breakers.

It’s not the way he wanted to leave Kalamazoo.

“You have to forget about it,” said Levine, 17. “Obviously, it’s in your head, but once that’s done, there’s nothing you can do about it.

“You have to have a strategy going into the match, but in a tie-break, you’ve just got to bear down even more. You can’t have any mental lapses.”

Paula Gallant, 58, plays recreational tennis at the Punta Gorda Club. She’s learned to ignore the gamesmanship that goes along with tie-breakers.

“A lot of times I’ve found my opponent will try to play head games with me,” Gallant said. “I’ve gotten sucked into that so many times, and I just won’t allow it any longer because I get upset or I doubt myself.”

Art Ehlers, 72, plays senior tennis at the Plantation Golf & Country Club in Venice. Years of competitive experience in basketball and baseball, too, help him remain calm during the tennis version of extra innings.

“I’ve been in a lot of pressure situations,” Ehlers says. “Many of the guys I play with really, really get tense and tight. I may not win, but it’s not because I feel the pressure.”

The psychology of sport

For John Murray, a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, the mental side of tennis isn’t a question. It’s a given.

“Players will admit if you talk to them that the mental game is anywhere from 70 percent to 95 percent or 99 percent in a close match,” he said, “and most matches are close because most players are pretty much the same physically.”

The mental difference between players shows up in the pressure of a tie-breaker.

Momentum is never so important. Perception is never so erratic. The lines of the court are cold observers of any errors or weaknesses.

With tension strung as tight as a racket, what can you do?

Ehlers has a favorite piece of advice for both softball teammates and tennis partners.

“I tell them to play like you don’t care,” he said. “There’s an old baseball pitcher who’s now an executive with the Baltimore Orioles, Mike Flanagan, who pitched for the Orioles for years and years. He tells his pitchers, ‘Guys, I want you to try easier.’

“So you want to keep up your level of intensity, but somehow or another, you want to play like you don’t care.”

Hitting that fine line.

It’s the ultimate challenge in any sport, when the game is on the line. Where is the fine line between raising your game and trying so hard that you choke?

“Athletes have been trying for generations to figure out how to beat that one,” Ehlers said.

But Murray finds that there is help for those who seek it.

“We look at several sources of information,” he said, “when we come up with these ideas of what’s the best mental state to have when you’re performing at something.”

Take a single point in a tie-breaker. It can be reduced to where it’s simpler than it looks.

“Only 15 percent of tennis is actually being in the middle of the rally,” Murray said. “The rest of the time, the 85 percent, is getting ready for the point. Everything is management of thoughts, feelings, actions and sensations.

“It’s all those things, calming yourself down, psyching yourself up. You’d be amazed how much these players get into the management of that.”

Superstition and savvy

Ehlers used to be superstitious in all sports.

In tennis, he would always bounce a ball twice before serving. In softball, he swung two bats in the on-deck circle, and always put his glove in the same spot in the dugout.

“What I’ve found, over a period of time, those things become distractions,” he said. “In the last five years, I’ve gotten over that, and I don’t give superstition a thought. I would do it and lose a point, and I’d start thinking, ‘Gee, did I bounce the ball twice?’

“Sometimes it would help me. Sometimes it would hurt me. Obviously it didn’t help or hurt me, but it did distract me.”

Ehlers, like so many veteran athletes, wishes he knew then what he knows now.

“When I was younger and obviously a better athlete than I am today, when I was trying to work my way up to the major leagues in baseball, I wish I had the courage and understanding of games and situations and the mind-set that I do today,” he said. “If I had that body of knowledge, which you only build up by aging and playing over the years, I would have been a better player.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

NO FEAR – OVERCOMING CHOKING

Input Fitness Magazine (Australia) – September 8, 2005 – Arthur Kelly – Athletic performance is linked to the way you talk to yourself before you compete. Let go of the anxiety, abandon negative self-focus, learn to love the process and choking will become something the other guy does. It’s a moment embedded in the minds of sport fans everywhere â€?American golfer Scott Hoch’s failure to make an 18-inch putt on the final hole of the 1989 Masters a miss that denied him certain victory and made his name synonymous with choking. His is not an isolated case. Choking occurs with depressing regularity at every level of sport.

Whether it’s Canadian speed skater Jeremy Witherspoon falling at the start line of a race, as he did at the 2002 Winter Olympics, or someone missing an easy out at home plate during an industrial league softball game, the same dynamics are at play. “Choking is universal,” says Dr. John F.Murray, a clinical and sport performance psychologist in West Palm Beach Florida (http://www.johnfmurray.com).

“Everyone has experienced it, even the best athletes in the world such as Tiger Woods will choke occasionally, but he does it less frequently.” Typically with choking, a person perceives the event as extremely important, and their focus turns inward, becoming internal rather than appropriately external, he notes. “Their brain starts firing off too much, causing them to lose that smooth and automatic level of physical skill that usually characterizes their performance. They become much less fluid, not only in their performance, but also in their thinking. They become distracted by those internal sensations and thoughts. It’s like tunnel vision. Choking is always a self-inflicted problem.” Having counseled U.S. Olympic springboard diver Michelle Davidson, and many other elite athletes,

Dr.Murray is keenly aware of what transpires in pressure situations: “During practice you’re just kicking balls, but in the Super Bowl with two seconds left and you’re in position to make a winning field goal, an inappropriate focus arises, disrupting motor skills, even though you’re done it a million times, and can do it in your sleep. Choking is very much a disorder. Athletes choke on too many thoughts, whereas panic is the exact opposite. In panic you lose all your thoughts. It’s a non-thinking process. Choking occurs at a very high level of sophistication in which we over think, over analyze and we over worry. It’s a different process then panic, but both lead to performance failure.” Choking’s complexity is apparent in a groundbreaking Australian study that found a connection between pre-competitive anxiety and depression. Researchers theorize that many athletes equate happiness with success.

Among their conclusions, certain individuals are vulnerable to depression because they utilize inappropriate strategies to set and pursue life goals (e.g., winning a sporting contest). If the athlete believes that happiness and wellbeing are conditional upon goal achievement, any thoughts of goal pursuit will be accompanied by a belief that the individual is not yet happy or content. This negative self-focus…is in turn likely to cause an increase in depression levels.” One of the study’s authors, Professor Kerry Mummery, director of the Centre for Social Science Research at Central Queensland University in Rockhampton, Australia, explains the significance of their findings: “We believe that goal linking is an often overlooked source of pre-competitive anxiety. High-level athletes who link their happiness to their next level of achievement simply fail to stop and smell the roses. They habituate to the recent success very quickly, set new challenging goals and tell themselves that they will only be happy when”

Dr. Mummery and his colleagues drew on the views expressed by participants in the 2001 New Zealand Ironman competition. Typically, athletes who set conditional goals are more likely to experience high levels of anxiety before competition, which can negatively impact their performance. “For the most part any anxiety is a bad thing,” notes Dr. Mummery. “Arousal and anxiety are subtly different. Athletes need to achieve their optimal level of arousal to ensure top performance, but anxiety is normally associated with a reduction in performance. Worry or anxiety negatively affects the concentration on the task at hand and has associated physiological responses that impair performance. I agree that maladaptive self-talk is often the basic problem that leads to choking. Focusing on the outcome, rather than the process (I need to make this putt, versus this is what I need to do to make this putt), often leads to sub-par performances in situations where the athlete would normally expect to perform well.”

According to Dr. Murray, pre-competitive anxiety is not gender biased, but is more readily apparent in those who exhibit obsessive traits. He identifies the best possible mind set for athletic success: “The ideal mental state is to have no fear, and a complete excitement for competition. Love that even above winning. Competition is what you have to love, irrespective of outcome. Easy to say, harder to do.” Let the Head Games Begin: To help his clients stay cool under pressure, Dr. Murray employs these helpful relaxation techniques and imagery: * Imagine yourself mastering very difficult situations before important competitions: “Envision an imaginary miner’s lamp on top of your head. Choking is when you turn the lamp towards yourself; proper performance is when you turn the beam outward. Rather than get caught up in your thoughts, get focused on the environment.” * Utilize a process of self-examination: “I talk about chronic and acute causes of anxiety. Athletes need to know and understand how arousal and anxiety affects them personally, then incorporate a positive habitual routine into their pre-competitive preparation. This is done over years of development with the assistance of a good coach.” Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

C’MON, SMASH SOME RACKETS!

ESPN.com – Sept 2, 2005 – Patrick Hruby, Page 2 Columnist – Wasteful, infantile, wantonly destructive. All of this is true. Yet to hear Bud Collins tell it, there’s an even better reason tennis players are discouraged from smashing their rackets.

“It can be dangerous,” the longtime tennis commentator says.

Collins laughs. He speaks from embarrassing experience. Once, while playing in a South African senior tournament, he flubbed an easy shot. Up went his blood pressure. Down went his wooden racket, right into the court.

“I threw it,” Collins recalls. “I didn’t realize it would have a life of its own. It bounced over the fence. A parking lot was there. A guy was getting out of his car. It hit him.”

Mardy Fish. C’mon Mardy … you know you want to … do it for the people! Wait. Hold up. The racket hit a guy in the parking lot?

Sweet.

With apologies to American Express — which really should be seeking our forgiveness for those annoying Coach K ads — there’s something missing from this year’s U.S. Open. And it ain’t Andy Roddick’s mojo.

Nearly a week into the tournament, we’ve seen Serena Williams lose a $40,000 earring, defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova lose in the first round and British hope Andrew Murray lose his lunch on the court. Twice.

Which, admittedly, was pretty cool.

So what’s missing? Try a first-class meltdown — the singular, glorious sight of a ticked-off player rearing back, blowing up and sending his or her oversized boom-stick to graphite Valhalla.

Frankly, tennis fans deserve better.

“I haven’t seen one [smashed racket] yet this year,” says Carl Munnerlyn, a locker room attendant at the National Tennis Center. “Nothing broken. Nothing mangled.”

Munnerlyn knows cracked rackets. In over two decades at the U.S. Open, he has handled more splintered grips and bent frames than he can count, professional athletic instruments violently transformed into masterworks of nonrepresentational modern art.

But the last few years? Not so many.

“You definitely see less of it,” he says. “I think players are under more control. They come in knowing they can get beat at any time. Losing doesn’t bother them as much anymore.”

Don’t worry, be happy. Sigh. First hockey goons, now this. To paraphrase Pete Seeger: Where have all the smashers gone?

Once, colossi such as John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase roamed the tennis terra firma, striking fear into the hearts of equipment manufacturers everywhere. Racket abuse became open-air theater. No one was immune.

Back in the 1950s, Collins recalls, former American No. 1 and noted tennis good guy Barry MacKay chucked a racket clear across a lake in Adelaide, Australia.

“Well, it was more like a very broad river,” Collins says with a chuckle. “Probably 100 yards. Either way, that was an impressive feat.”

Sadly, such feats have become the stuff of tennis legend. Today’s players are more likely to emulate Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras, stoic craftsmen who never found fault in their tools.

Take Roger Federer, the sport’s top talent. A tempestuous racket-mauler in his youth, the defending U.S. Open champ now sports a calm, unflappable demeanor. Asked at Wimbledon when he last smashed a racket, Federer couldn’t remember.

His most recent toss? Try this spring, when the frustrated Swiss let his racket fly during a match against Rafael Nadal in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Tellingly, the racket didn’t break. No way it would have cleared 100 yards.

“It’s more challenging now,” Collins says. “Wood was much easier to smash.”

Maybe so. But how about a little pride?

Don’t get the wrong idea: Tennis still has a few hardy souls willing to put the kibosh on harmless inanimate objects. Injured Aussie Open champ Marat Safin — a man who once totaled 50-plus rackets in a single season and reportedly played with graphite shards embedded in his arm — could be the greatest smasher ever. Frenchman Richard Gasquet was tossed from last year’s U.S. Open qualifiers after nearly beheading a line judge with a heaved racket.

Players ranging from Andre Agassi to Serena Williams have been known to abuse their equipment, if not always in public. Munnerlyn recalls a well-known player’s recent locker room eruption.

“He came in after a match, set his bag down, waited about 10 seconds,” says Munnerlyn, who declined to give a name. “He took out one racket. Bam! Bam! Bam! Smashed it against the floor.”

Out came a second racket. And a third. Munnerlyn shakes his head, eyes wide at the memory.

“Three rackets, trashed,” he says. “I’m thinking, ‘Stop! Stop! Don’t break that!’ Throw a pillow underneath or something.”

More common, however, is the pillowy sportsmanship exhibited by Kevin Kim during his Wednesday afternoon loss to Switzerland’s Michael Lammer.

Marat Safin. Marat Safin’s racket tantrums are legendary.
Tempted to crush his racket, the 27-year-old Californian held back. The reason?

“I didn’t need the extra attention,” said Kim, ranked No. 70 in the world. “And I don’t want to get fined.”

Racket smashing isn’t cheap. Kim once was fined $1,050 for tossing his stick at a minor-league tournament in Tennessee — more than double the $500 Safin was docked for racket abuse at last year’s French Open, and a far cry from the $15 Collins says it took to replace a splintered wooden racket.

Smashing also is against the rules. Five years ago, Goran Ivanisevic was disqualified from a match after he smashed three rackets and had nothing left to play with. More commonly, a cracked racket results in a code violation — and a point penalty, if the offending player immediately switches to a new stick.

As a result, Kim explains, racket-breakers often will play a point with a busted frame.

“Sometimes you might win those points,” he says with a smile. “Sometimes if you crack it, it’s still playable.”

To avoid the above indignities, Kim adds, he limits his smashing to practice. Good for his temper. Bad for our amusement.

No matter the cause, the decline in public racket pulverizing is a shame. And probably unhealthy. Frustrated tennis players can’t vent to their teammates. Or scream at their coach. Tackling isn’t allowed, and haranguing the chair umpire only goes so far. So they steam and stew, each one a pressure cooker in wristbands.

Angry player. Highly breakable object. Something has to give. Playing in San Diego, Taylor Dent once lost to someone named Maurice Ruah. Not good.

“I walk off the court, line up all my rackets on a tree,” recalls Dent, pantomiming a baseball swing. “One after another, six in a row, until there was nothing left. I just left them there. See you later. See you tomorrow.”

Did Dent feel better? Absolutely. Always does. During a March tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., he dropped a 6-1 first set to Cyril Saulnier.

Dent blamed his racket. Forcefully. Racket wrecked and spleen vented, he rallied to win the match.

“It can help you play better,” he says. “John McEnroe was the perfect example. He would throw the racket sometimes, throw a tantrum, and it would help him out.”

More help: While most junked rackets end up in the trash, Dent signs his, then donates them to charity. All’s well that ends well.

“That’s why I do it,” he says with a laugh.

In another sense, crumpled frames bring fans and pros together, physical manifestations of our common immaturity. The average club player can’t relate to Roddick’s Teutonic serves, Agassi’s whiplash reflexes, Federer’s otherworldly touch.

But racket smashing? That’s as natural as throwing a golf club. When Borg broke a racket as a boy, his parents kept him off the court for six months. He never cracked one again. His famed temperament? It was learned.

“I play tennis, and I’ve broken some rackets,” Munnerlyn says. “Sometimes, I’m about to and I catch myself. I think, ‘Hey, I don’t get free rackets like [the pros].'”

None of us does. Which is part of what makes their newfangled restraint so infuriating. Psychic Uri Geller bent a racket with his mind.

Nadal can’t crush one with his pumped-up arms?

Thankfully, the U.S. Open junior tournament starts next week. So there’s hope. In the meantime, though, we’re still waiting for a handle-shattering, shard-scattering eruption. Because when the best racket-smashing story from this year’s tournament belongs to Collins — well, it’s enough to make a fan want to break something.

“What I’d like to see is somebody tear one apart with their bare hands,” Collins says. “With wood, you’d have a chance.”

Wait. Hold up. Tear a racket to pieces? By hand?

Now that would be pretty sweet.

PALMEIRO COULD BE TRYING TO BLOCK OUT ‘INNER CHATTER,’ TOO

Baltimore Sun – Sept 1, 2005 – Bill Ordine and Roch Kubatko – Medical: Oriole may be trying to quiet ‘inner chatter,’ too, psychologists say. Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro can wear earplugs, stuff wads of cotton in his ears, even put on headphones and listen to Green Day full blast – and it won’t necessarily block the distractions that might be responsible for his feeble hitting since returning from a 10-day suspension three weeks ago after testing positive for steroids, according to some sports psychologists.

Palmeiro wore earplugs Tuesday night in Toronto to muffle the jeers from Blue Jays fans; he went 0-for-4, and is 2-for-26 with one RBI after the suspension.

“It might be that he has some inner chatter going on, and it’s not just the external distraction from the booing that’s affecting him,” said Patrick J. Cohn, an Orlando, Fla., sports psychologist.

“We often think that professional players can go into their own bubble, their own cocoon, and continue to perform well even with the distractions. In some cases, the internal chatter might include the player putting greater expectations on himself to perform. Then when they think their performance doesn’t match their own expectations, they can crumble.”

Palmeiro played down the earplugs before sitting out last night’s game.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do. I’ve never been in a situation where I’m getting booed so badly, and I really don’t know how to handle it,” he said.

“I don’t mind being booed. I’ve been booed before. I was just trying to concentrate on my at-bat and do the best that I can to help my team. And, at the time, I thought that was the best I could do. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I did what I had to do at the time.”

Sports psychologists said Palmeiro’s recent slump could be due to any number of factors, including some as basic as not being able to regain a hitting rhythm after his layoff. But they didn’t discount that Palmeiro simply isn’t used to the vitriol that followed the disclosure of his failed steroids test.

“If, during most of his career, he has been well-received by fans and well-respected by his teammates and that’s been a big motivating factor in helping him reach milestones and breaking records … then that would be an important factor,” Cohn said.

“If he really cares about teammates’ and fan approval,” Cohn added, “that could cause some issues.”

Palmeiro said he used the earplugs to help his concentration.

“I’ve been booed before. Obviously, not this heavily,” the 40-year-old first baseman said. “It’s part of the game. But when I’m up at bat, I’m trying to focus on what I have to do, and it’s just hard to really focus when the whole stadium is booing and yelling. I thought that would maybe be a way to block out some of the booing.”

Two negative things can happen when distractions overtake an athlete, said West Palm Beach, Fla., sports psychologist John Murray.

“One, you might not process information as effectively as you normally do … you might not be as visually aware, for instance,” Murray said. “And second, the information may not be communicated as well from brain to body. You might have the ability for great motor skills, but the message from your brain is blocked in getting to your arms and hands.”

Again, that could be because of external distractions – booing – or an internal distraction, “a little bit of guilt, a tinge of a depressed mood or sadness,” Murray said.

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo could have done without Palmeiro’s earplugs.

“I probably would rather have not seen it.” Perlozzo said. “I’m sure that it helped a little bit, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet it drew attention to it and could possibly make it worse. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention by any stretch.”

If distractions – either external or internal – are contributing to Palmeiro’s problems at the plate, the remedies can be elusive. It could be the player needs to get back to a regular routine of sleeping, eating and interacting with his teammates and coaches as he did before the problems surfaced, Murray said. Or the fix might not come until there is a catharsis involving the murky circumstances of Palmeiro’s steroids difficulties.

“Without addressing Palmeiro specifically, if a player took steroids and is battling those demons, he’s not going to get rid of the distractions until he comes clean,” Murray said. “On the other hand, if he felt totally blameless, then he might be playing better because it’s him against the world.”

Cohn wasn’t as sure clearing the air would help lift a transgressive player’s batting average, though.

“If the allegations are true and he has been using steroids on and off, there’s probably no need for a catharsis,” Cohn said. “He has benefited from cheating the system. Why would he have a need to come clean now?”

Palmeiro said he wasn’t sure whether he would try the earplugs again.

“It’s been hard. It hasn’t been easy,” he said. “I’ve never looked at it in a way where I expected it to be good or bad. I’m just dealing with it on a daily basis.”

EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE LIKED

Chicago Tribune – Sep 1, 2005 – Bill Ordine and Roch Kubatko – Experts say earplugs not necessarily answer for Palmeiro – Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro can wear earplugs. He can stuff wads of cotton in his ears. He can put on headphones and listen to Green Day full blast. He can do all that and it won’t necessarily block the distractions that might be responsible for his recent feeble hitting. Palmeiro wore earplugs Tuesday night in Toronto to muffle the jeers from fans; he went 0-for-4. Since his return from a 10-day suspension for testing positive for steroids, he’s 2-for-26 with one RBI. He did not play Wednesday.

“It might be that he has some inner chatter going on, and it’s not just the external distraction from the booing that’s affecting him,” said Patrick J. Cohn, an Orlando sports psychologist.

Palmeiro said he used the earplugs to help his concentration.

“I’ve been booed before. Obviously, not this heavily,” the 40-year-old first baseman said. “It’s part of the game. But when I’m up at bat, I’m trying to focus on what I have to do, and it’s just hard to really focus when the whole stadium is booing and yelling.”

Two negative things can happen when distractions overtake an athlete, said West Palm Beach, Fla., sports psychologist John Murray.

“One, you might not process information as effectively as you normally do … you might not be as visually aware, for instance,” Murray said. “And second, the information may not be communicated as well from brain to body. You might have the ability for great motor skills, but the message from your brain is blocked in getting to your arms and hands.”

If distractions–either external or internal–are contributing to Palmeiro’s problems at the plate, the remedies can be elusive. It could be the player needs to get back to a regular routine, as he did before the problems surfaced, Murray said.

Or the fix might not come until there is a catharsis involving the murky circumstances of Palmeiro’s steroids difficulties.

Palmeiro said he wasn’t sure whether he would try the earplugs again.

“It hasn’t been easy,” he said.

WORLD TALK RADIO INTERVIEW

Aug 15, 2005 – Dr. Murray was recently a guest on World Talk Radio to discuss Overcoming Anxiety in Sports. Anxiety is a very common theme in sports psychology. To find the interview, please access the archive section at World Talk Radio

REMEMBERING ROB RAGATZ (1950-2005)

A Tribute to the Late Rob Ragatz, PhD – Washington State University Psychology Internship Coordinator, by WSU Intern John F. Murray (1997-1998)

“Far more than our year-long stroll with him in those amber waves of grain, where he enlightened us with wisdom, kindness and tolerance, his influence now from the vantage point of stars will be greater”

Rob Ragatz was a rare great man. He was one of the finest mentors I had. He was incredibly insightful, tolerant and non-judgmental. In retrospect, he must have been the reason I traded one corner of America for another for a year of training.

More than a total professional, Rob was extremely decent. I was fortunate to receive one of his final emails, sent only hours before his fateful journey to the other side. He understood and taught to the end. I had not heard from him in over a year, and I think he wanted to share some final wisdom and generosity before leaving.

Rob always thought more about others than himself. His success was in his students. He cared. For some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about Rob’s final email that evening, even though there was no reason to suspect anything unusual.

Rob reminded me of Abe Lincoln and even looked somewhat like him. Why didn’t we buy him a large black hat? The toughest Rob was with me during internship was after I criticized a graduate student for making repeated careless errors in her report. Rob, with his wisdom of tolerance, and “Unconditional Positive Regard,” emphasized that gentleness and care of the student in supervision is more important than accuracy and efficiency. It epitomized the way he treated us.

How could you not miss Rob? His work on earth must have been complete and he’s moved on to another challenge. Far more than our year-long stroll with him in those amber waves of grain, where he enlightened us with wisdom, kindness and tolerance, his influence now from the vantage point of stars will be greater.

Your impact on me, Rob, and on our internship class during those many group meetings when, at the end, you’d always check patiently to see if there was anything else (“more, different, other?â€?), or when you told us to “resist the frenzy to cure,” all of this and much more live with us forever. You were a friend.

———The Story Below Appeared in the Local Daily Evergreen———–

Robert Ragatz, associate director and director of training of WSU Counseling Services, died on Aug. 11 at the age of 55 due to complications during outpatient surgery. The family would not specify what kind of surgery.

Ragatz was a part of WSU for the past 26 years and during his time worked with students both through training and counseling. Recently, he was an active member of the WSU Student Conduct Board.

Ragatz was married to Beth Waddel, a local psychologist, for 21 years.

“It’s just a tragic situation,â€? Waddel said. “He was a wonderful father and a wonderful husband.â€?

The best tribute to Ragatz would be for students to practice what they learned from him, she said.

Barbara Hammond, director of WSU Counseling Services, worked with Ragatz for 22 years. She said he was integral to the development of psychology students and the evolution of Counseling Services throughout the years he was here.

“For the literally hundreds of students that went on [in psychology] he was the main person in their development,â€? Hammond said.

At Counseling Services, Ragatz would lead group therapy, train participants for the Crisis Line and help as many students and clients as possible, she said.

“He was a very sweet and gentle man,â€? Hammond said. “He is very well regarded by those who worked with him.â€?

Scott Case, the program coordinator of WSU stress management program and the senior staff psychologist, was hired two years ago by Ragatz. He was responsible for persuading Case to come and work in Pullman, Case said, something he will be eternally grateful for.

Case and Ragatz rode together for two and a half hours to the Counseling Service’s annual retreat the day before Ragatz died.

Case said the trip brought out a true side of Ragatz, a more personal one in that he was able to share his greatest interests with Case.

Ragatz had a strong love for automobiles, both modern fast cars and vintage machines, and also an interest in motors that he could talk extensively about. Case said he was a passionate, creative man with a sharp sense of humor that he would use extensively.

“I see it as a great gift to be one of the last people to spend time with Rob,â€? Case said. “He was very at rest and happy to be where he was in life, even geographically, with his family in Pullman.â€?

A ceremony was held on Aug. 17 for Ragatz. Counseling Services will have a flowering tree memorial in the garden outside of the Lighty Building. The memorial can be seen from Ragatz’s office.

“We thought it would be nice to have a living memorial,â€? Hammond said.

Hammond and Case said Ragatz was someone who dedicated many years to the university and its students.

“Counseling Services helps a lot of people,â€? Case said. “He worked with, helped and trained students. That is a pretty important position to be in life. He did it well.â€?

BEFORE UNM CAN TAKE THE NEXT STEP, IT NEEDS TO FIGURE ITSELF OUT

Albuquerque Journal – Aug 8, 2005 – Greg Archuleta – Rocky Long is not a good candidate for psychoanalysis. His University of New Mexico football program, however, just might be.

Long’s eighth season as UNM coach gets in full swing Monday as the team begins fall practice for the 2005 season.

Under Long, the one-time Lobos quarterback, the program is enjoying one of its most prosperous periods: three straight Mountain West Conference runner-up finishes, three straight bowl-game appearances for the first time in the school’s 106-year history.

Losses in each bowl game, however, have kept UNM from finishing on a positive note.

“I don’t agree with that,” Long says. “I think we’ve ended the last three seasons on a positive note. I don’t agree that losing a bowl game eliminates everything you’ve done during the season.”

No, but the fact is that UNM hasn’t felt good about itself at the end of December in 2002, ’03 or ’04.

This is supposed to be a feel-good story� namely, what can the Lobos do to feel good about themselves at the end of December 2005?

The Lobos are in full preseason-speak mode, saying the MWC title is the goal, they’ve learned from past mistakes, they’ve worked harder this offseason than they ever have. …

Yada, yada, yada. The bottom line is UNM hasn’t won a conference championship in 41 years or a bowl game in 44. Does taking the next step simply mean working harder?

Or does it go deeper? Do the Lobos have a psychological bridge to cross?

Depends on whom you ask.

The doctor is in

“I do believe there’s something there to be dealt with,” says Dr. John F. Murray, a noted sports performance and clinical psychologist based in Florida, referring to UNM’s three successive bowl losses.

“I would want to know more about the particulars about the program,” he said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m some wheeler-dealer that can come in and fix it all. It sounds like (UNM’s) done a good job, improving the program year to year.”

The Lobos went 7-5 in 2004, marking their third straight year the program won at least seven games.

UNM enjoyed breakthrough wins each of those seasons (at Brigham Young in ’02, at Utah in ’03 and at home against Texas Tech in ’04).

Yet, the Lobos have not won a nonconference game outside New Mexico in Long’s tenure. They’re 0-14.

Opponents have outscored UNM by a combined 116-46 in the three bowls.

“It just seems like certain teams have a collective confidenceâ€? do you truly expect to win or notâ€? that carries a team over,” Murray says. “Those teams just seem to have a knack for the big game.

He says confidence is the biggest asset a team can have in playing a “big game.” The greatest source of confidence is past success.

A team without a tradition of successâ€? like UNMâ€? has to “fake it until you make it,” Murray says.

“I don’t think the psychological factor in this case is the primary influence,” Murray says. “I think the primary influence is talent. But I believe there’s something to be said for momentum. Think of how many games come down to a few critical plays. Even if the psychological factor is 10 percent or 15 percent, does that give you a little more strutâ€? not thinking but just doingâ€? and a little more focus at critical times?”

That’s just crazy

“I don’t think it’s psychological at all,” Long says. “I just don’t think we’ve played to our physical ability in any of the bowl games.”

Long says the long layoff between the regular-season finale and the bowl game hurts UNM, which has been a strong regular-season closer. The Lobos are 8-2 in November games from 2002-2004.

“I think what a lot of people don’t realize is our talent level is very comparable to the people we play,” Long says. “If you go back through the league the last six years and see who has won the most close football games, it’s the University of New Mexico.

“That’s proof that our teams have played closer to their A-game than anybody else in this league has.”

Own worst enemy

The Lobos themselves seem to side with the good doctor.

“I think the biggest thing in keeping us from taking the next step is us,” junior offensive guard Robert Turner says. “We’ve been what’s held us back every year. I think for an inexperienced team, that’s the hardest thing to do, to not hold yourself backâ€? whether it’s emotions on the field that cause stupid penalties or a lack of knowledge of the game. Not to take anything away from our opponents, but I think our biggest competitor is going to be us.”

Adds senior running back Adrian Byrd, “It’s become psychological because we don’t want to finish second anymore. We don’t want to go to a bowl game and lose anymore.”

UNM’s 2005 hopes seem to hinge on both physical and mental aspects of the program.

The Lobos transformed their offense in the offseason from a power-based to a spread formation to improve a passing attack that ranked 114th of 117 Division I-A teams in ’04.

UNM is also anxious to find out how well senior tailback DonTrell Moore has recovered from offseason surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Navy in the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 30.

Long says the offense is a strong point entering the seasonâ€â€? which is a mouthful, considering UNM’s defense is one of only three Division I-A teams to finish in the top 30 in the country the past five seasons (the other two: Oklahoma and Texas).

“Going into the season, we’ve got concerns about experience at safety, linebacker and kicker,” Long says. “That’s not a lot of positions.”

The starting experience junior quarterback Kole McKamey gained last season is invaluable, Long says.

Obviously, UNM must avoid injury� the Lobos were 1-4 last season when either McKamey or Moore missed parts of or all of games because of injury.

The team has experience on its side, with 11 fifth-year seniors as starters. The fifth-year seniors are vying to play in their fourth consecutive bowl game, an unheard of opportunity in Lobos football lore.

“We have a lot of players at key positions that have been here for five years,” fifth-year senior linebacker Mike Mohoric says. “That’s the leadership this team needs to push through those times of adversity.”

The tools definitely seem in place for UNM to take that next stepâ€? physically, mentally … whatever.

After three years of “therapy,” the Lobos say the time is now.

“We see it coming,” senior cornerback Gabriel Fulbright says. “We’ve been so close the last three years, like we’re at the edge of the cliff, about to jump. But we ain’t caught flight yet.

“We know exactly what to do now. We’re ready.”