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FOCUS GIVES LANCE HEAD START

USA Today – Focus Gives Lance Head Start as Tour de France Nears – Jul 4, 2005 – Sal Ruibal – On Saturday, Lance Armstrong will begin an unprecedented attempt to win a seventh consecutive Tour de France, besting the record he set last year in the world’s biggest cycling race.

Much has been written and said about his prodigious physical skills and ability to generate tremendous speed on his bike. But those who know him best â€? his mother, his coach and his team say the key to Armstrong’s success is not in his well-muscled legs or bellows-like lungs but in the deepest core of his personality, a burning competitive drive that leaves no detail unexamined in the pursuit of a goal.

The physical embodiment of that focus is his intense stare during critical portions of a race. His blue eyes open wide as he directs all of his energy to the task at hand.

“I am focused,” Armstrong says. “I’ve always been that way, even as a kid. That’s because I have a responsibility to perform at my best. … I’m paid to be obsessed. I’m paid to win.”

It is a trait that has served him well in his more than 20 years of athletic competition, a span that began with neighborhood runs and swimming races in Plano, Texas, and will end at the finish of this year’s Tour when he will retire from the sport that has made him a global household name.

‘Mr. Millimeter’

For Armstrong the superstar athlete, his slavish attention to minute detail is much more than an amusing or frustrating personality quirk. It is a way of life.

A small detail, such as his daily routine of measuring his bicycle to make sure the finely tuned geometric relationships of saddle, handlebars and pedals are exact, can make a significant difference in his efficiency on the bike. In a race in which, after three weeks and more than 85 hours of high-intensity racing, the gap between winning and losing has been as little as eight seconds, he truly believes every second counts.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that ‘Mr. Millimeter’ stuff,” he says. “This is a natural obsession. Some people are very detail-oriented, and others aren’t. I’m a stickler, a stickler about the facts. In sports, it is easy to compare the facts: You have the same bike, the same power meter, the same course. You can compare year-to-year.”

Lance Armstrong is going for a seventh consecutive Tour title, so interest in what might be cable’s longest-running reality show is still high. What has changed for 2005 is that Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service Team has switched sponsors and is now the Discovery Channel Team. For viewers at home, that means new uniforms to find in the fast-flowing pack of riders (white with bright blue trim instead of Postal’s dark blue and red) and more Armstrong-related programming on the Discovery channels to go with the traditional live coverage on the Outdoor Life Network.

OLN will have all-day coverage from Saturday through the finish July 24 in Paris. Prerace programming runs from 8:30 to 9 a.m., with the race live from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Race repeats are noon-2 p.m., 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. The prerace show will repeat from 8 to 8:30 p.m., followed by prime-time coverage from 8:30 to 11. That show will repeat from midnight-2:30 a.m.

All times are Eastern. Go to OLNTV.com for the detailed schedule.

Lance Week began Monday on Discovery’s multiple channels, but there’s plenty of opportunity to catch repeats of The Science of Lance Armstrong on the Science Channel and the five-part Chasing Lance series on FitTV and Discovery HD Theater.

To stay up-to-date throughout the Tour, go to usatoday.com for live-text coverage of the race, Le Blog de Tour and audio clips.

It won’t be easy to find comparisons with this year’s Tour. No other rider has been in position to win a seventh Tour, and, at 34, Armstrong is almost a senior citizen in the professional cycling world.

He had planned to skip the race to spend more time with his three children � Luke, 5, and twin daughters Grace and Isabelle, 3 � and rock star girlfriend Sheryl Crow. But with his new title sponsor, The Discovery Channel, investing millions in his team, Armstrong changed his mind in April.

The Tour covers a different route every year, and this year’s 21-stage, 2,241-mile course undercuts Armstrong’s strengths by offering shorter individual time-trial stages and just three mountaintop stage finishes. His rivals are younger and have fresh legs, while Armstrong concedes his “acceleration skills” have declined. He has used powerful bursts of speed on mountain ascents to gain an edge.

Armstrong says “there’s not the same sense of urgency that I had last year” and readily reveals he’ll be just as happy “if the race dictates that someone else from Discovery wins.” That could happen. Recent Tour of Italy winner Paolo Savoldelli is on Discovery this year, as is Yaroslav Popovych, a lanky Ukrainian whom Armstrong already has singled out as his likely successor.

But should his rivals � or his teammates � be dreaming of wearing yellow in Paris when the race ends July 24?

“There are many cyclists out there with great genetic gifts,” longtime personal coach Chris Carmichael says. “But none of them have his ability to focus on all the details it takes to win.”

Armstrong’s mother says his analytical obsession began at age 12, when he started logging data from every 6-mile training run onto a desk calendar.

“After a run, he’d come back to the house and start writing down all the details: his split times, his intervals, weather and temperature,” Linda Armstrong Kelly says.

“Before his races, I’d drive our old pickup truck while he ran the course, memorizing every inch.”

Although he was raised on “my home cooking, biscuits and gravy and club sandwiches,” Armstrong Kelly says, he soon adopted the eating habits of European cyclists, especially pasta.

“I made the sauce,” she says, “but Lance would make his own spaghetti for a snack after school or training. He insisted on making it the Italian way, al dente. So he’d boil it, then throw pieces of spaghetti against the wall. When it stuck, it was ready. Lord, we had spaghetti all over the wall.”

Armstrong retains some of that habit in his adult insistence on having his coffee made the same way every time, every day. “Peet’s Major Dickason’s blend, brewed only with Dasani bottled water,” says Mark Higgins, Armstrong’s sidekick and media coordinator. “That’s the winning formula.”

A million parts

Armstrong didn’t set out to obsess over what he now calls the “million parts to the puzzle” that is the Tour de France.

In the early 1990s, he was a one-day race specialist and was considered by his coaches to lack the endurance and climbing skills needed to win a three-week grand tour.

It wasn’t until he emerged from cancer treatment in 1996 that he began to see the bigger picture. Cancer had reduced his muscle mass, and the resulting weight loss now made it easier to climb the steep mountain stages essential to winning the three-week grand tours of Italy, France and Spain.

He also met Johan Bruyneel, a top Belgian racer who in his 12-year career won two Tour stages and wore the race leader’s yellow jersey for one day in the 1995 Tour.

It was a perfect match.

In Bruyneel, Armstrong saw a brilliant, detail-driven strategist with a consuming desire to win.

In Armstrong, Bruyneel saw a rider with tremendous physical gifts, a detail-oriented focus and an all-consuming desire to win.

In 1998, Bruyneel retired from racing and became the director of Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team. Armstrong’s streak of Tour wins began in 1999.

“It was not difficult to make the transition from rider to director,” Bruyneel told USA TODAY in a 2002 interview. “As a rider you do what the team wants you to do, but all of that time I was thinking about these things.”

Those “things” were a detailed template for winning the Tour de France. At its simplest level, that plan called for a strategy of staying out of trouble in the flat stages, building a lead in time trials and establishing big margins over rivals in the mountain stages.

The Discovery Team will use that same plan this year with a few changes, most notably the addition of more climbing specialists to assist Armstrong in his efforts to wring out every second of time advantage in the Alps and Pyrenees.

From the start of their relationship, Bruyneel and Armstrong wanted to make sure their plan could survive surprises such as mechanical problems or crashes. They have examined every aspect of the race in search of valuable seconds that could be shaved as a cushion against the unexpected.

That meant annually investing in $5,000-an-hour wind tunnel testing to perfect Armstrong’s position on the bike, pushing bike manufacturer Trek to reduce the weight of the team’s equipment while maintaining structural soundness and developing race uniforms with Nike that would slip through the air while also cooling the rider.

Sometimes there were painful confrontations.
Winning margins
Lance Armstrong begins his quest Saturday for his seventh straight Tour de France win. A look at his winning margins in his six victories:

1999: 7 minutes, 37 seconds
2000: 6:02
2001: 6:44
2002: 7:17
2003: 1:01
2004: 6:19

Just before last year’s Tour, Armstrong rejected a new Trek time-trial bike and went back to the previous year’s model because the narrow-framed machine caused him to produce slightly less power.

Tests showed there was potential for greater speed on the new bike, “but the possibility of losing even a few seconds was totally unacceptable to him,” Trek team liaison Scott Daubert says.

Armstrong is riding a new Trek TTX time-trial bike this year, and it has translated into bigger sales for Trek. The TTX is not available to the public, but Daubert says Trek factories are working double shifts to meet consumer demand for the 2005 Lance-inspired Madone road bikes, which cost $2,999 to $7,699.

Armstrong’s obsession also covers seemingly mundane issues, such as his eyewear and saddle.

For the last 10 years, Armstrong has insisted on wearing Oakley M-Frame glasses with a special lens that originally was designed just for golfers. Despite Oakley’s efforts to get Armstrong into a more current model, he won’t budge.

“His attitude is always, ‘Why fix it if it isn’t broken?’ ” Oakley’s Stephanie McIlvain says. “He’s always been a little picky, even when he was younger. But sometimes he’ll reject something, then come back months later and say he wants it. But that’s Lance.”

Armstrong will place his millionaire bottom on a $59.95 Selle San Marco Concor bike saddle, a 20-year-old model that had been discontinued but has been kept alive because of Armstrong’s interest.

Coach Carmichael says Armstrong insists on seeing a map of his daily training workout route before riding it even if he has done it many times. He rides his time-trial bike at least once every week and gets a massage every day during the eight weeks leading up to the Tour.

“You can’t argue with him about it,” Carmichael says. “You’ll never win.”

The payoff

To those who scoff at his obsession, Armstrong points to the 2003 Tour.

His usual attention to detail failed him when the team established a time-trial warm-up spot under a grove of trees in the south-central France town of Gaillac. The weather was sunny and very hot, but Bruyneel felt the shade of the trees would be an advantage.

In his warm-up ride on a stationary bike, however, Armstrong began to sweat profusely in the stifling 95-degree heat. Team buses and crowds of onlookers blocked a breeze from reaching Armstrong.

His main rival, German Jan Ullrich, had established a warm-up area in an air-conditioned bike shop.

A dehydrated Armstrong wilted on his time-trial ride, finishing second to Ullrich and losing 96 seconds to his archenemy. His lead had shrunk to 34 seconds, and the steep Pyrenees were coming up.

Armstrong later would give the most dramatic performance of his career on the last mountain stage of that Tour, surviving a scary crash, then storming past all of his rivals to win the stage at Luz Ardiden. That 67-second margin lasted into that Tour’s final time trial, where a desperate Ullrich crashed in the rain trying to catch Armstrong.

Armstrong won the overall race by 61 seconds, the closest of his six wins. “Looking back at that first time trial in Gaillac, it was the worst performance in my athletic career,” Armstrong says.

“I gave up lots of time, but I was still ahead. If I had not paid attention to all those little details, I would not have had that cushion and the situation on Luz Ardiden would have been more serious.

“If it hadn’t been for that focus on all of those details over the years, we would be talking about winning only three or four Tours instead of six.

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

Press Enterprise

Jun 9, 2005 – Jim Alexander – The most important talisman of Cal State Fullerton’s run to the 2004 College World Series championship may have been the toilet.

You probably saw it if you watched any of ESPN’s coverage last June. It was a tiny porcelain replica, perched on a shelf in the dugout whenever the Titans played. The object wasn’t to take a bat to it after a particularly aggravating strikeout, but to use it as a reminder to flush away a bad at-bat or a bad pitch — to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by previous failures.

The powerful reminder was the work of Ken Ravizza, a professor in the school’s Division of Kinesiology and Health Science. The success that followed was another boon to the growing, maturing relationship between sport and psychology.

“Mental skills training,” it’s called. Athletes spend a lot of time on strengthening their bodies and honing their mechanics, but there’s also an increasing emphasis on the way the brain affects performance.

Yes, it may be too new age in some quarters, where the macho, I-can-fix-my-own-problems attitude still applies and some coaches and managers feel threatened by outside advice.

Still, when the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez recently acknowledged that he was undergoing therapy to deal with personal issues, it may have busted some more barriers.

“I think it’s definitely becoming more and more accepted, simply because of the influence that the mental side has on performance,” said John F. Murray, a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla., in a telephone interview. “Often, the difference between winning and losing, or between performing well and not performing well, is how you manage the enormous amount of potential distractions.”

Fullerton’s baseball team, which continues defense of its national title in an NCAA super regional at home against Arizona State beginning Friday, seems a classic example of what happens when you tend to the mind as well as the body.

Flash back to early April 2004. Ravizza, who teaches courses in sport philosophy, applied sport psychology and stress management at Fullerton, received a call from Titans coach George Horton seeking help. Nothing else was working: CSUF was 15-16 and out of the national Top 25, and Horton was out of ideas and out of patience.

Ravizza’s first words to the team: “I don’t know why you are feeling so sorry for yourselves. You have the chance to make the biggest comeback in Cal State Fullerton history.”

In individual and group sessions, Ravizza worked on players’ confidence, focus and sense of team, while providing methods to cope with pressure and stress. He started the momentum and the team took it the rest of the way, winning 32 of its last 38 games and the school’s fourth national championship.

“I saw guys who were insecure, who had lost their confidence,” Ravizza said in an interview with Athletic Management magazine. “I saw guys who couldn’t focus. Mostly, I saw guys who were trying too hard and not getting results. And the harder they tried, the worse it got. And as it got worse, they had no strategies except to try even harder. And ‘try harder’ never works. You have to have something else to go to.”

Ravizza has worked with the Angels, the Nebraska and Arizona State football programs, UCLA’s softball team and a number of U. S. Olympic teams in different sports. And he’s pulled off the neat trick of advising both Fullerton and its baseball arch-rival, Long Beach State.

“He’s really wonderful at rolling up his sleeves and digging up the dirt with the guys,” said Sue Ziegler, a sports psychologist at Cleveland State University, in a phone interview. “He’s a guy’s guy. He’s very effective in terms of communicating, giving you quick and easy strategies that you can implement right off the bat.”

The lessons continue with the 2005 Titans. During last weekend’s regional tournament at Fullerton, Titans outfielder Sergio Pedroza was asked about dealing with a recent hitting slump and whether his approach changed.

“I did the same thing,” he told reporters. “I stuck with the process. I wasn’t getting rewarded. Sometimes it happens in hitting. I talked to Ken Ravizza and he told me it (slump’s end) was going to happen eventually as long as you don’t let it get to you.”

The field of sports psychology, or at least the study of the mind’s effects on performance, goes back as far as the early 1900s, when Indiana University psychologist Norman Triplett determined that cyclists rode faster in groups or pairs than they did when alone. Coleman Griffith of the University of Illinois began more expansive research on sports in the 1920s, and actually did some consulting for the Chicago Cubs for a time in the late 1930s.

But sports psychology didn’t take off until the 1970s, after Eastern Bloc success in the Olympic Games prompted people in this country to take a closer look at the techniques the other side was using.

Today, athletic departments such as Penn State and Oklahoma employ full-time sports psychologists. Most other schools — such as Fullerton, with Ravizza, or UC Riverside, which borrows Bob Corb from the school’s Counseling Center — will use a sports psychologist on an occasional or as-needed basis. Some professional organizations retain psychologists as consultants, and a greater number of individual sport athletes have sought help.

“(Golfer) Brad Faxon said that in 1984 if you worked with a sports psychologist, people thought you were weird,” Murray said. “Now if you don’t work with a sports psychologist, people think you’re weird.”

After all, the most important muscle is often the one between the ears.

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

SEATTLE TIMES BATS FOR SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY

Seattle Times – Jun 1, 2005 – Steve Kelley – Fear doesn’t strike out as A-Rod steps up to the plate – Every player talks about the transforming magic of the Yankees’ pinstripes. Each gushes about the sanctity of Yankee Stadium.

But the players also understand the enormous expectations and the pressures that come with those pinstripes.

Eventually every Yankee, even Derek Jeter, will experience the wrath of a stadium crowd. It’s as inevitable as a delay on the D Train.

In a little more than a year as a Yankee, third baseman Alex Rodriguez already has run the emotional gantlet. He has experienced the exhilaration of a pennant race, followed by the devastation of a history-making playoff loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Who knows what it is like to be A-Rod in New York?

To carry all those heavy expectations every day. To listen to the boos that tumble on him from almost every park in the American League. To feel like he has to play like a Hall of Famer every game to justify the largest contract in big-league history.

This season, he has been exceptional. Rodriguez is leading the American League in home runs, runs scored, RBI and slugging percentage. He is third in on-base percentage and fourth in batting average.

So who knows what combination of stresses and successes led him into therapy? But last week Rodriguez, perhaps the world’s most image-conscious athlete, announced he is seeing a shrink.

“A-Rod making a statement like that, an athlete of his stature saying that, could advance sports psychology by 10 years,” Dr. John Murray, a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla., said by telephone this week. “A-Rod’s efforts will hopefully go a long way toward removing the stigma of getting the help of a sports psychologist, be it for simple mental skills training, or serious counseling.”

Murray, 43, worked with Jim Bauman (now a U.S. Olympic Committee psychologist) at Washington State in 1998, and has worked with the University of Florida and the Miami Dolphins. In his private practice, he has counseled numerous golfers, cyclists and football and tennis players. This week he started a Web site “CongratsARod.com”  he hopes will take the psychological pulse of the athletic community.

“I see it a lot of times, especially in the traditional sports like baseball and football,” Murray said, “where the players might be somewhat reluctant to seek the counsel of a sports psychologist when they’re feeling panicky, or they’re choking, or they’re losing the motivation and wanting to quit. It’s a case where we need to break down barriers.”

Baseball, probably more than any other team sport, is susceptible to psychological problems. The daily seven-month grind, the contemplative pace of the game, the fact that, at its heart, baseball is a one-on-one sport, can make players emotionally vulnerable.

In 1971 Pittsburgh’s Steve Blass pitched two complete-game World Series victories. The next year, he won 19 games. The next year, he walked 84 batters and struck out only 27. And in 1974, his last season, he pitched one game, walked seven and never pitched again.

St. Louis’ Rick Ankiel, who is attempting a comeback as an outfielder at Class AA Springfield, never rediscovered the strike zone after his infamous playoff implosion in 2000.

Reliable-fielding second basemen Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch, all of a sudden, had difficulty making the simple throw to first. Catcher Mackey Sasser often had to double-clutch just to throw the ball back to the pitcher.

“What starts as a slump, like going three games without a base hit because of a slight technical or mental flaw, suddenly takes on a life all its own,” Murray said. “Players can lose confidence. They can lose focus. They have trouble managing their energy problems, which leads to anger, fear, even apathy and boredom.

“What players need to know is that there’s nothing to be ashamed of in seeking counseling. Why should there be a stigma? Hopefully, some day we can get to a place where seeking help is commonplace.”

Murray said athletes have to remember a simple message: “As tough as things can get, the mind is even tougher.” And he offers the case of tennis professional Vince Spadea as proof.

In the midst of a record-breaking slump, Spadea came to Murray . Once ranked as high as 19th in the world in 1999, he lost an ATP-record 21 matches in a row and, by 2001, his ranking had fallen to 229th.

“He was ready to quit tennis. The fire had died,” said Murray. “He spent a year and a half living in a cellar. He needed something to re-ignite the fire that was the reason he became a tennis player in the first place. He needed to believe in himself again.

“When he was winning, I don’t think he really appreciated how great he was. I think success happened so quickly, he didn’t realize how good his life was. He was very reluctant to come to me, but he listened. All he really needed was a pep talk.”

Spadea, 30, won his first ATP tournament last season in Scottsdale, Ariz., beating Andy Roddick in the semifinals. He finished 2004 ranked all the way back to 19th.

Spadea needed to hit rock bottom before he sought help. Who knows what moved A-Rod to seek therapy?

Maybe he too needs a pep talk. Or maybe he needs to talk about a childhood where his father left the family when Rodriguez was 9 years old.

Whatever the reason, it took courage for him to make public this very private part of his life. And for this, all of us who have jeered A-Rod now should cheer him.

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

SPADEA HIP-HOPS HIS WAY TO THE CLAY

Palm Beach Post – May 24, 2005 – Charles Elmore – PARIS â€? Here, truly, is a clash of the old world and the new. Albert Costa won the 2002 French Open. He grew up on clay courts in Spain. He likes to play cards, and supports soccer teams in Lerida and Barcelona. His favorite movie is Ben-Hur.

In his path today stands Vince Spadea, ranked No. 41, who came of age on the hard courts of Boca Raton. Along the way, Vince acquired the occasional urge to bust a rhyme.

Spadea offered this Roland Garros rap by e-mail in response to a request from The Palm Beach Post:

“Ladies and gents will be jumping the fence to catch a glimpse of Vince at the French, he’s so intense, doesn’t give you an inch!

I went from sitting on the bench with a dollar and fifty cents, to a corporate account at Merrill Lynch,

But let me know what yous think, when you see them dragging me off the links, at Roland Garros,

‘Cause Spadea will break you down, like a broken arrow, a golden pharaoh, fighting to be the hero at Roland Garros,

I’m tennis’s Robert DeNiro, and I’m representing South Florida, champagne pouring out, that don’t rhyme?

Shore it does, trying to keep up with the Joneses like Norah does… “

Sure, Costa knows how to slide on clay.

But can he hip-hop?

Spadea has advanced as far as the third round in Paris three times.

He offered this breakdown of today’s first-round matchup with Costa: “He’s a clay-court specialist who has been on tour for as many years as I have. No doubt there are better draws out there, but at the same time, he has dropped his ranking and performance a great deal from his win at Roland Garros, has showed signs of apathy, injury and inconsistent results on all surfaces, including clay. I see this as a good opportunity for me to see how well I can play against a well-established clay-courter. I know I’ve made improvements in the past year, and I welcome this challenge.”

Costa has won two of three times they met, but interestingly, Spadea won the last one, in the same year Costa won the French Open, 2002. Spadea triumphed on hard courts during the round of 64 at Tennis Masters Canada 6-3, 6-1.

Shoulder tendinitis kept Spadea out of action recently for about three weeks. He has packed plenty of Fig Newtons and Balance bars to keep his energy up.

“My biggest challenge going into clay-court events, especially Roland Garros, will be the grueling physical and mental demand it places on me,” Spadea said. “There are no free or easy points on clay. The three out of five sets at Roland Garros forces your fitness level to be at the highest standard. It’s just a war of attrition on clay. Difficult to win pretty. A strategy adjustment I need to make is to hit my strokes with more topspin for consistency and play percentage tennis, and use angles and drop shots to win extra points.”

A new Web site, vincespadea.com, features photos and updates on all matters Spadea. Among the links is one to sports performance psychologist John F. Murray of West Palm Beach, who has worked with Spadea.

This is the sort of advice Murray says he gives athletes looking to regain confidence after an injury: “Adapt your style to the injury. Set difficult, yet realistic, goals on how you want to play the upcoming match based on the possible effects of the injury. For example, if your shoulder is hurt and you cannot serve hard, you might plan to play a gritty match with many long points and win the battle of attrition. If the injury affects your forehand but your serve is fine, you might plan a more aggressive serve and volley game where you end points sooner. “

Another way of putting that might be: break you down, like a broken arrow, a golden pharaoh, fighting to be the hero at Roland Garros.

Costa is ranked No. 72 but holding every former champion’s suspicion that he has one more title in him.

By this time tomorrow, one of these two men, representatives from the old world and the new, will be tapped out or rapped out in Paris.

“Peace out, I gotta start jump roping, before I leave Paris without the crown at the French Open… â€?spadea”

Because at the end, only one man can be Le Shizzle.

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

TUNE IN TO YOURSELF

Newsday – May 24, 2005 – John Hanc – Heading out for some exercise? Try leaving the headsets behind for a change. You’ll be safer, and you can still get in a great workout. Here are some tips that can help you tune in during your workout without turning on the iPod:

Be sensible: Use all your senses … not just hearing. “Visually, a runner or walker can focus on their surroundings,” says sports psychologist Jack Bowman of Port Jefferson Station. A beautiful day in spring can be a sensual feast. Feel the cool breeze; listen to the waves of the ocean or the chirping of birds. Don’t stop, but do smell those roses.

Exercise your mind: “Review what is working well in your life and what you would like to change,” says sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray of West Palm Beach, Fla. “Be specific and set goals. Come up with new ideas and refine them. Invent something. Solve one or two problems.” And if all that is giving you a headache, he says, “just unwind, enjoy the process and get your body in tune with nature.”

Tune in to your own channel: Technical race director David Katz has met a lot of elite runners in his years working at the Long Island and New York City marathons. He’s learned something about mental endurance. “The really good runners tune into themselves,” Katz said. That is, instead of “disassociating” themselves from the activity through music or other distractions, they monitor their bodies during performance, tuning into the rhythm of their own breathing, heart-rate, foot strike. You can do the same no matter what your activity or proficiency.

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

MIND GAME: CROSSWORD CRAZE HITS DEVIL RAYS’ CLUBHOUSE

Bradenton Herald – May 15, 2005 – Roger Mooney – One across: Nickname for rebounder Rodman. Lance Carter moved to another clue. Boston hockey great. Three letters. “Orr,” Carter said, and with a pen, he wrote the name of Hall of Famer Bobby Orr in blue ink.

It was four o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-April. The first pitch for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ game at Tropicana Field wasn’t for another 3 hours, 15 minutes. Carter and fellow Rays pitcher Travis Harper completed a long-toss session 20 minutes earlier. The players didn’t have to be on the field to stretch before batting practice for another half-hour. Now what? Why not warm up the brain? Crossword puzzles.

“In baseball there’s a lot of downtime,” said John F. Murray, Ph.D., a clinical and sports performance psychologist from Palm Beach. “Anything players can do in between, cross-train mentally, I call it, can give them a little breather and help them come back stronger.”

Crossword puzzles?

“I think it makes sense,” Murray said.

Baseball, it’s been said, is a timeless game.

If you believe that, you should watch time drip by before a game.

Players reach the clubhouse at least three hours before game time. Some arrive one to two hours earlier than that. Batting practice is scheduled for 1 hour, 15 minutes. That leaves nearly three hours of free time. Some players need that time to receive treatment for injuries. Others lift weights. Some watch film of the opposing pitchers or of themselves hitting.

Subtract another 15 or 20 minutes for a pregame meal, and you still have a lot of time to fill.

What to do . . .?

“Being bored can be a problem for athletes,” Murray said. “You can lose your edge. So anything you can do to occupy your mind is good.”

After his throwing session with Harper, Carter began a ritual he follows almost daily, at least when the Rays are home. He showered and changed into his batting practice attire – white uniform pants, green Rays T-shirt and green pullover warm-up jacket. He grabbed the classified section of a local newspaper, opened to Page 2, folded the paper into a small rectangle, reached for a pen and sat down in front of his locker.

Soon Harper appeared at his locker, which is to the left of Carter’s. Then Trever Miller, another member of the Rays’ bullpen whose locker is next to Harper’s, joined in. Together, they work through a crossword puzzle.

“I’m not very good at these,” said Carter, the former Manatee High and Manatee Community College standout. “I usually wait for Trever.”

There are four televisions in the Rays’ clubhouse. On this afternoon, players had their pick of the Cubs-Padres on one screen and ESPN Classic on another. One set was tuned to a music video channel. The one closest to Carter’s locker, for some unexplained reason, showed an infomercial touting a revolutionary new mop designed to make our lives easier.

Carter ignored the miracle of the once-dirty floor now sparkling clean. He was deep into his puzzle.

“I do these to kill boredom,” he said. “And to avoid sports writers.”

His wit obviously sharp, it’s his word power that could use some building.

“I’m learning a lot from these,” Carter said.

Like . . .

“Well, first and foremost, how to spell,” he said. “Different meaning for phrases and words.”

Harper leaned over.

“Worm,” he said.

“Worm?”

“One across. Dennis Rodman’s nickname. Worm,” Harper said.

“Dangit. I knew that,” Carter said.

Card games are popular in some clubhouses. Former Rays Esteban Yan and Felix Martinez used to play dominoes.

On a counter just inside the Rays’ clubhouse and on a table inside the visiting clubhouse, you’ll find a small stack of the newspaper sections that carry the crossword puzzle. Grab one quick. They go fast.

Greg Maddux, when he was with Atlanta, was spotted in the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field breezing through a crossword puzzle as if he were writing out a postcard.

Former Rays coach Frank Howard used to find a quiet corner in the tunnel under the stands and make his way through a puzzle. Once he found himself the answer to a clue.

New York Yankee Tino Martinez, who played in Tampa Bay last season, likes his pregame crossword puzzle.

So do current Rays Rocco Baldelli, Josh Phelps and Travis Lee.

“There’s a lot of dead time in this game,” Miller said. “You need something to fill up the time. Crosswords are as good as any. I think if baseball players took all the dead time in this game and used it to study, we’d all be doctors and lawyers.”

Carter shook his head.

“Not all of us,” he said.

Rays manager Lou Piniella occasionally works through a puzzle in his office while talking with reporters before a game, sometimes paying more attention to the clues than the questions.

“What do you think about your next series with the White Sox?” he was asked.

“Hmm?” Piniella said while filling in a word that sometimes can be used to describe himself.

“Testy.”

“I do them to take my mind off the game,” said Piniella who started the habit during his playing days with the Yankees.

A June 2005 edition of Dell’s Crossword Puzzles sat on the top left corner of his desk blotter.

“I can finish the ones early in the week,” Piniella said. “On Sunday, I can only do half.”

The puzzles, for those not in the know, become increasingly harder as the week moves on, with Sunday being the toughest.

Studies have shown crossword puzzles and other games that force participants to think, like chess, checkers, backgammon and word jumbles, can lower the risk of dementia as we grow older. Even ballroom dancing has its benefits.

A study published in the June 2003 issue of the “New England Journal of Medicine” found the risk of dementia in senior citizens who do four crosswords a week was lower then those who did one crossword.

If puzzles help the old, can they also help the young? Especially a major league pitcher who has to use his mind as much as his arm during a game?

Remember, Yogi Berra said 90 percent of baseball is half mental. But then Yogi read comic books before games, and Superman and Flash Gordon didn’t seem to hold him back.

“No,” Piniella said. “(Crosswords) don’t help like that. It’s just to take your mind off the game.”

That alone, Murray said, means they work.

“What can it hurt? It keeps you relaxed. It keeps your mind off the task,” Murray said. “And there’s nothing wrong with taking your mind off the task.”

Especially when that task includes pitching to a lineup that features Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa and Javy Lopez or hitting against the likes of Jon Garland and Johan Santana.

Or managing the Devil Rays.

It can’t be all baseball all the time.

Otherwise, one can become, uh, testy.

Murray, who works with athletes from different sports, knows of tennis players who turn to video games during a match that’s delayed by weather.

“Same thing,” Murray said. “They’re just trying to stay sharp.”

Miller, the unofficial crossword champion among the players (assistant trainer Ron Porterfield is champs among all Rays) sees the mental benefits from the puzzles.

“Like anything else in life, if you don’t use your mind, you lose it,” Miller said. “With crosswords, you have to go back and find things in your memory, unlock doors from high school.”

But, Miller said, he doesn’t think doing a crossword puzzle in the afternoon will help him retire David Ortiz with the bases loaded that night.

“I don’t think this area of your mental ability will translate to how you play on the field,” Miller said. “I would say chess. The ability to play a few moves ahead, to develop strategy.”

Miller played chess before games during a few of his minor league stops.

Chessboards are not found in the Rays’ clubhouse, just TVs and crossword puzzles.

Miller’s choice is the crosswords, confident they will help him long-term, but not so sure they will help him in a few hours, even if Murray said thinking through a puzzle, much like Carter’s mid-afternoon long-toss with Harper, “is warming up the brain.”

Miller pointed to a clue, mentioned the answer and watched as Carter filled in the boxes.

“I’d rather be doing something like this,” he said, “than sitting in front of a TV set watching SportsCenter for the 15th time today.”

Loren Nelson, Sports Editor

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

JAMES BOND FILM ACTOR ENDORSES SPORT PERFORMANCE PSYCHOLOGY

Palm Beach, FL. May 14, 2005 – While many view the benefits of sport performance psychology as limited to sports and business, an accomplished movie actor recently offered a different glimpse into how these advisory services can help those in the film industry.

Rik Van Nutter, the actor who appeared alongside Sean Connery in the James Bond movie Thunderball, (as CIA agent Felix Leiter), with NFL legend Jim Brown in Pacific Inferno, and with Peter Ustinov and Sandra Dee in Romanoff and Juliet, indicates that people in all walks of life benefit from this “science of success.”

Van Nutter writes: Dr. John F. Murray, my good friend and advisor, has helped me a lot. He is well known and respected in his work with professional athletes, executives and celebrities and Im happy to be able to make these comments. His performance psychology services would be very useful in the high-demand film industry, and in many other endeavors where an indiviudal desires more success.” As a footnote, Rik was married to the film star Anita Ekberg in the 1960s and 70s.

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

CHICAGO WONDERS: CAN CURSE-BUSTING CATCH ON?

Sun Sentinel – Apr 3, 2005 – Mike Berardino – Watching the Boston Red Sox end the Curse of the Bambino last October, Ryne Sandberg couldn’t help but smile.

You know Sandberg as the former Chicago Cubs second baseman, maybe the greatest ever to play the position. You probably remember his disappointments in the National League playoffs of 1984 and 1989, how even the great Sandberg was unable to return the Cubs to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

But you probably didn’t know Sandberg has been a closet Red Sox fan all these years.

“I had great feelings [watching Boston win],” Sandberg says during a break at Cubs spring training in Mesa, Ariz. “In a lot of ways, I’ve been a Red Sox fan for a number of years, just pulling for the underdog. I just wanted to see them win finally, which I can relate to here with the Cubs.”

Although the Red Sox hadn’t won the World Series since 1918, Cubs fans have been suffering even longer. Their last championship came in 1908, when it was Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance around the infield and Teddy Roosevelt in the White House.

Their most recent tease came two years ago, when they were five outs from besting the Marlins for the National League pennant with Mark Prior on the mound. Before you could say “Steve Bartman,” the whole crazy notion of a Cubs championship collapsed beneath the weight of history and a stirring Marlins comeback.

Wasn’t a part of Sandberg saddened the Red Sox got to the mountaintop before his beloved Cubbies? That the Curse of the Bambino was toppled before Chicagoans could lay waste to the Curse of the Billy Goat once and for all?

Apparently not.

“I thought it was great to watch,” Sandberg says. “I had a good feeling about it. To me it kind of brings hope to the Cubs getting to the World Series and winning the World Series. It can happen. If you’ve got the right guys, and you’ve got them all playing like a bunch of wild guys like the Red Sox were doing, it works. That brings optimism for me.”

Extending the thought, perhaps the entire city of Chicago should be more hopeful than ever in light of Boston’s Band of Idiots’ unlikely success. Baseball’s second-longest championship drought belongs to the pride of the South Side, where the White Sox haven’t won since 1917.

There have been five postseason appearances since Pants Rowland managed those Sox to the title, but each — most recently a three-game sweep by Seattle in 2000 — has ended in disappointment. Most painfully, 1919 brought the Black Sox Scandal in which eight players were exiled from the sport for their role in fixing a World Series loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

One city. One sport. Two franchises. Two excruciating waits for a modern-day championship.

Maybe that’s why White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen admits he, too, was uplifted by Boston’s comeback from a 3-0 American League Championship Series hole against the hated New York Yankees and subsequent four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

“My reaction was that it was a great thing for baseball, and the way they did it was great, too,” says Guillen, a White Sox shortstop on their 1993 playoff team. “The Red Sox were down and out. All of a sudden they wake up and win.”

To hear Guillen talk, Boston’s victory stirred him into heightened consciousness as well. You can almost picture him sitting bolt upright on his couch in Miami and realizing his destiny was at hand.

“It made me feel like, `Wow, it’s time for us to turn around and do it,'” Guillen says. “It’s just something that you look up and say, `Wow, now it’s the White Sox’s and Cubs’ opportunity.’ We should look at that as an inspiration.”

Breeding confidence

The theory is calling “modeling,” and it has nothing to do with a handful of Red Sox players showing up this season on Queer Eye For the Straight Guy.

According to the concept, which originated in the 1960s with psychologist Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy, the success of one team or individual can improve the confidence and, in turn, the results of another.

Dr. John F. Murray, a South Florida-based sports psychologist, says he “absolutely” would use the theory if he were hired to assist either Chicago baseball team.

“With modeling we can see somebody else like the Red Sox who have finally broken down that door,” Murray says. “We then say, `Hey, I’m a White Sox person. If the Red Sox can do it, now I can do it.’ Confidence can come from others if you do it right.”

Murray has helped expedite psychological breakthroughs before. He helped tennis pro Vince Spadea overcome a 21-match losing streak and rise to his highest career ranking.

In 1997, Murray and Dr. James Bowman, now working with the U.S. Olympic program, conducted regular sessions at Washington State University. The Cougars tennis team spent three months doing mental imagery in an effort to end a long losing streak against its archrival Washington Huskies.

When the breakthrough finally came, the Cougars won by the exact score the team had envisioned.

That same year, the Washington State football team, which also worked with Bowman and Murray, reached the Rose Bowl for the first time in 67 years.

“When you talk about losing streaks or breaking down barriers, you’re talking about the whole concept,” Murray says. “It can almost be like a slump, but a historical slump. How do you break that wall?”

The answer comes from within, although Murray cautions every player on a given team could have a unique set of mental challenges.

“You have to believe in yourself,” Murray says. “It’s critically important. It’s not the only thing that’s important. You also need talent. But confidence is a component that’s relevant.”

`It wasn’t us’

Not everyone buys into this psychological connection between the two cities, or at least not into the notion that the Red Sox’s breakthrough somehow makes the quest more attainable for the Cubs or White Sox.

Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux, who returned to the club in 2004 after 11 years in Atlanta, says watching the Red Sox win was “no different than being in Atlanta when the Yankees won. It wasn’t us.”

Says White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko: “I don’t draw anything from it other than the Red Sox are off the hook. They don’t have to worry about people getting on them anymore or calling them whatever. I guess it just moves to the next couple teams that are in line that haven’t won in a long time, which would be us and the Cubs.”

Former Cubs television analyst and White Sox pitcher Steve Stone downplays the connection as well.

“I think the Red Sox winning has absolutely no bearing on what the Cubs will do,” Stone says. “I just don’t really believe in curses and I don’t believe when curses are broken, it helps other people. It certainly helped the Red Sox, but so did having Pedro [Martinez] and [Derek] Lowe come on and adding [Curt] Schilling to that group. They had a very good team who got hot at the right time and refused to quit, but there’s no bearing on the Cubs.”

He smiles and points down the hall toward the Cubs’ clubhouse.

“If Kerry Wood and Mark Prior go down the first week, how do you think it will affect the Cubs?” he says. “A lot more than the Red Sox winning will.”

Personnel key

Indeed, the fragile co-aces of the Cubs pitching staff have spent much of the spring battling arm problems. No amount of Beantown idiocy would likely lift the Cubs past that sort of hardship.

Along those same lines, trading Sammy Sosa and losing Moises Alou via free agency this offseason wouldn’t seem to bring the Lovable Losers any closer to ending their nearly centurylong drought. At best, the Cubs are expected to have a ferocious battle with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros for the top spot in the National League Central.

Moreover, the White Sox must open the season without their best hitter, Frank Thomas, still recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Most preseason forecasts picked the Minnesota Twins to win their fourth straight American League Central title, with some placing the White Sox below the Cleveland Indians and even the improving Detroit Tigers in a relatively weak division.

But that doesn’t mean people in Chicago can’t dream. The Red Sox breakthrough was that significant.

“I guess this is one of those things over the years: Boston and the Cubs haven’t won in so long, people just tie the two together,” says Cubs Hall of Fame outfielder Billy Williams. “They got rid of the Curse of the Bambino, so we should get rid of the Curse of the Goat and all that kind of stuff. I know this: When you’ve got good ballplayers, no curse could stop you.”

But does Boston winning make things any easier for those in the Second City?

“It depends how you look at it,” Sandberg says. “It can bring hope or now maybe it can bring more of a spotlight and more pressure. It all depends how it’s perceived and how it’s taken. But I look at it as a positive, as there is hope. Now it’s the Cubs and the White Sox, both in the same city, that haven’t been to the World Series in a long time.”

Count Cubs superscout Gary Hughes, one of the early Marlins architects, as a proponent of the “modeling” theory. He sees no negatives whatsoever in the Boston victory.

“If there was doubt before, there can be no doubt now,” Hughes says with his trademark chuckle. “The Red Sox have done it. We still haven’t. So it’s our turn. All those people saying, `It’s never going to happen.’ Well, it just happened. Why not again?”

Then there’s Guillen, who admittedly has daydreamed about a championship parade in the Windy City and what it would mean to his life.

“Having played there for so many years, being one of the biggest White Sox fans in the history of baseball, that’s one of my dreams,” Guillen says. “I told my wife and my family, if we win the World Series in Chicago, I’ll quit managing baseball.”

Wouldn’t that be pretty drastic?

“I’ll be running for mayor in Chicago,” Guillen says. “Whoever wins first is going to own the city.”

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

CHILDREN LEARN FUNDAMENTALS OF THE GAME AND SPORTSMANSHIP

The News Journal (Section: DELAWARE PARENT) – Mar 27, 2005 – Many children are involved in sports through their school or athletic league. Playing sports helps to build character and teaches children to work hard toward a goal.

But how do you explain to a child he or she should be a good sport when the news is filled with professional athletes fighting among themselves and with spectators?

“Parents have a great responsibility to ensure that their children get what they need in terms of support and encouragement, and not place unnecessary pressure on them to win,” said Dr. John Murray, a sports psychologist and author of “Smart Tennis.”

“Children can be taught to be good sports, especially when they face a defeat or a loss. Parents must model good behavior and encourage them to stand tall, smile, congratulate their opponent and look forward to the next game.”

At the YMCA in Glasgow, sports and program director Jerome Garrett coordinates dozens of athletic games and events for children of all ages. He agrees that parents have a responsibility in teaching their children good sportsmanship.

“I feel we can teach children to be good sports mainly by being good role models,” he said. “Children are influenced by the actions of adults that they are around. As adults, we need to conduct ourselves in a way that will be a positive influence on children.”

Adults can instill a sense of fair play in kids who play sports by putting more emphasis on good sportsmanship and the importance of learning how to play sports correctly instead of concentrating on making sure their kids get more playing time than the other kids on the team, Garrett said.

“The YMCA’s sports programs are designed for players of all skill levels,” he said. “We instill the importance of having fun while teaching the character values of honesty, respect, caring and responsibility.”

Adults who serve as coaches also have a responsibility, as parents and as leaders in the sports community.

“It is a coach’s responsibility to try to raise the self-esteem of every player on their team, regardless of their skill level,” said Garrett. “If a coach fails to do this, we run the risk of taking the desire to play sports out of the child. The bottom line is parents just need to get involved.”

SPORTSMANSHIP TIPS

I will follow the rules of the game.

I will avoid arguments and fights.

I will play fair.

I will follow the directions of the coach.

I will respect the other team and officials.

I will play my best.

Source: Dr. John Murray, sports psychologist

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

MIND THE BEND: GELLER BENT A WILSON T-2000 RACKET MADE FAMOUS BY JIMMY CONNORS

BBC – Mar 16, 2005 – Geller bent a Wilson T-2000 racket made famous by Jimmy Connors

Celebrity spoon-bender Uri Geller has proved it isn’t just cutlery he can manipulate with his mind.

At a workshop on psychology in tennis, Geller succeeded in bending a Wilson aluminium T-2000 racket (as made famous by Jimmy Connors) using only the power of thought.

He also took on and beat former British player Barry Cowan in a battle of positive thinking.

The workshop, in Raines Park, London, was organised by Dr. John F. Murray – who famously helped Vince Spadea end his record losing run of 21 matches in 2000.