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NFL PLAYOFFS – PSYCHED OUT

Baltimore Sun – Jan 25, 2005 – Ken Murray – NFL teams trying to get over the hump in big games carry psychological baggage only Freud could appreciate.

At the height of his frustration in the mid-1990s, then-Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf let out a howl of exasperation that could be heard all the way to Dallas.

“They could put seven helmets and four players out there and we’d find a way to fall over a helmet,” Wolf said of the Cowboys.

Wolf was worn down by an eight-game losing streak in a lopsided series. Three of the losses came in the postseason, the worst being the NFC championship game in January 1995. It wasn’t until the season after the Packers won the January 1997 Super Bowl that they finally exorcised their Dallas demon and ended the streak.

Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Pro Bowl quarterback, knows how Wolf felt. McNabb has lived through the agony of losing three consecutive NFC championship games, two of them at home.

He can only hope the Atlanta Falcons roll out their black helmets and play four-man defense today at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, where he will try one more time to reach the Super Bowl.

By going 0-for-3 in the championship game, McNabb also has stepped into elite, if somewhat infamous, company in the NFL. Quarterback Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills lost four Super Bowls and Fran Tarkenton of the Minnesota Vikings was winless in three. The Cleveland Browns’ Bernie Kosar lost three times in the AFC championship game.

And John Elway of the Denver Broncos didn’t win his first Super Bowl, either, until he had lost three of them.

This is no place for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach. It is where history is made, reputations are forged and dreams are smashed.

Unlike the Packers of the 1990s, the Eagles have no single nemesis to confront. They lost to the St. Louis Rams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers the past three years at the threshold of the Super Bowl.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to us the last three years, but it’s just a different feeling this year,” McNabb said during a news conference last week. “We’ve had a special season; things have really been moving in a positive direction.”

Getting teams or individual players over the big-game hump is a job that often falls under the purview of sports psychologists.

Harry Edwards, a sports sociologist, retired Cal-Berkeley professor and longtime consultant for the San Francisco 49ers, watched as coach Bill Walsh crafted a dynasty after one of the most traumatic defeats in team history.

The defeat came in the 1987 playoffs, when the 49ers, with a 13-2 regular-season record, were upset at home by the Vikings in a conference semifinal, 36-24. San Francisco already had won two Super Bowls under Walsh, but the Minnesota loss was particularly devastating.

The 49ers came back the next year to beat the Chicago Bears in the NFC championship game and the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl, the last of Walsh’s three NFL titles.

“The key to it was how the leadership of the organization handled that crushing disappointment,” Edwards said. “I remember before the Super Bowl against the Bengals, Bill said there were going to be ebbs and flows in the game. That took out the idea that if something bad happens [as in 1987], ‘Here we go again.’

“If the Eagles go out on the field thinking, ‘Here we go again,’ they’ll lose.”

John F. Murray, a sports psychologist in West Palm Beach, Fla., believes the Eagles should embrace the potential for losing to relieve the pressure of winning.

“I would let them go to the possibility they might lose again,” he said. “That’s outcome. In sports psychology, you focus on performance, not outcome. Outcome can never be controlled, just as you can never control when a tsunami hits your house.

“We choke if we blow up the magnitude of the situation. It comes down to what’s going on inside each person’s head.”

Losing big games regularly plays havoc with the head, Gil Brandt said.

“I don’t think there’s any question that it gets into your mind,” said Brandt, the Cowboys’ personnel chief through their formative years into the Super Bowl era.

Brandt watched the phenomenon weave its damage in the 1960s, when the Cowboys were Next Year’s Champions, the title of a book that chronicled their early failures in big games. The Cowboys lost consecutive NFL championship games to the Packers at the dawn of the Super Bowl era in 1966 and 1967, then lost to the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs the next two seasons.

Dallas didn’t get to the Super Bowl until the 1970 season, and didn’t win the Super Bowl until the 1971 season. How did the Cowboys get over the hump?

By trading for tight end Mike Ditka, flanker Lance Alworth and cornerback Herb Adderley, who brought mental toughness to the team.

“Those three veteran players had a dramatic influence on our team,” Brandt said. “You can add a descending veteran player and it gives the team the thought, ‘They’re trying to help us win.’ The Eagles went out and got [Jevon] Kearse and [Terrell] Owens, and the players said the team tried to do everything it could to win.”

Three decades later, the Packers endured their six-year losing streak against the Cowboys. They lost to Dallas in the divisional round of the playoffs after the 1993 and 1994 seasons, and the NFC championship game the next year. All but one of the eight losses came in Dallas.

“We couldn’t get them [to play] in Green Bay,” Wolf said. “It was like a nightmare. It got to the point they played a [quarterback] named Jason Garrett and beat us. Obviously, it’s a psychological thing when you put out a guy like that and win.

“It’s like seeing Indianapolis and New England now. Indianapolis can’t go to New England and win the game.”

The Packers won the Super Bowl in the 1996 season after losing a regular-season game in Dallas, but didn’t have to face the Cowboys in the postseason. In 1997, they finally got the Cowboys in Green Bay and punished them, 45-17. End of streak.

Some teams never make it over the hump, though. The Browns of Kosar and tight end Ozzie Newsome endured three championship losses in four years, all against the Broncos, and never reached the Super Bowl.

The first loss in the 1986 season was highlighted by Elway’s 98-yard touchdown drive to force overtime, where the Broncos won, 23-20. The second, a year later, was punctuated by Earnest Byner’s fumble inside the 5-yard line as he was about to score the tying touchdown. The Browns lost, 38-33.

Two years later, they were blown out by the Broncos, 37-21.

Even though Newsome, as a front office executive, helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl four years ago, it didn’t take away the sting of those three defeats.

“In that I had the opportunity to win a Super Bowl, it has been softened,” the Ravens’ general manager said. “Not being able to go and play in it, it is some of the emptiness that I have.”

There was some satisfaction in going to the championship game three times, he said.

“It was a great accomplishment, but not as big as the Bills going to four straight Super Bowls. That was a lot tougher to do, and a lot tougher to deal with,” Newsome said.

Even while the Bills were losing four straight Super Bowls from 1991 through 1994, coach Marv Levy was never concerned about a psychological minefield.

“No, I really wasn’t,” Levy said, “because I made up mind, it wasn’t going to prey on me. I knew I couldn’t change the previous outcomes.”

Levy, of course, can feel empathy for the Eagles’ plight today.

“I admire their resilience,” he said. “They’re going to battle back. They didn’t fall apart because they suffered a tremendous disappointment.

“I don’t know if their story is going to parallel ours, but if they win, I will feel good for them.”

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

PLAYING THE BRAIN GAME (GOLF PSYCHOLOGY)

Bergen County Record – Jun 13, 2005 – Greg Mattura – You’re at the first tee, preparing for the swing that will set the tone for the entire round, perhaps the entire day. If it’s in the fairway, it means a good round, and probably a good day.

You take a quick peek behind to see how many people are watching and waiting to tee off after you, and hope this first drives finds some part of the fairway and –

Stop – you’re doing it all wrong.

Welcome to the Brain Game, the frequently frustrating facet of the game that happens between your ears and often does more harm than good. It’s that evil little inner voice that can sap you of enthusiasm, energy and confidence.

The Brain Game is the reason sports psychology continues to gain popularity, particularly for golfers and tennis players.

“In golf, there’s a lot of time to think, and it’s very difficult to fight fear or to try to be perfect, and people get in their own way,” said Lynda L. Cunjak, a psychologist and sport coach with an office in Highland Park. “You have to be able to train your mind as well as your body.”

You can train your mind, but like the game itself, it takes time and practice.

“Golf is the ultimate stress sport. In golf there’s not too many things to do, but there’s too much time to think about it,” said Robert Gilbert, an associate professor at Montclair State’s department of exercise and physical science education who teaches courses in sports psychology.

“The whole secret of sports psychology is to keep your mind off your mind.” It’s about fun and focus

Suggestions from John F. Murray, a clinical and sports performance psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla., whose clientele includes many golfers:

1. “Remember it’s fun, so have fun. Having fun in itself will take care of so many mental blocks. It erases so many problems.”

2. “Keep your focus on the moment. Don’t let your mind wander. Keep it in the present. Golf is only one shot. Even though you may shoot 72 shots if you are a scratch golfer, it’s really only one shot. It’s one shot repeated 72 times.”

PRE-COURSE PREPARATION: The Brain Game begins several hours, or even days, before you arrive at the course. It starts with your focus and commitment to avoiding the emotional highs and lows that come during a round.

“You can decide days before you play what is the perfect mental state to have,” said John F. Murray, a licensed clinical and sports performance psychologist in West Palm Beach, Fla., whose list of clients include many mini-tour golfers. “And you don’t let the moment or the disappointment or the excitement in any way, shape or form disrupt the process that you decided is beneficial to perform.”

The Brain Game also includes lots of positive imagery, before and during the round. Imagine yourself at the first tee hitting a good shot. Imagine a good chip, and a putt that finds the cup. Imagine it and you have a better change of doing it.

“You don’t want to just see it,” Gilbert said. “You want to see it, hear it, feel it, taste it.”

PRE-ROUND PREPARATION: When you arrive at the course, leave your troubles behind. Bad week at work? Problems at home? An unpleasant drive to the course? Forget about all that.

“I hear people say that they just need to clear their mind and get rid of those distractions, those stresses in life,” Murray said.

“You are going to be distracted by negativity and by bad events – those events always are going to be around you. So do you respond like [Green Bay quarterback] Brett Favre did when his father died, or do you respond the opposite way and let it destroy your performance?”

PRE-SWING PREPARATION: When you arrive at the first tee, the focus should be on your pre-swing routine. You must have a pre-swing routine, because it keeps you focused on what’s in front of you, not around you.

“Golf is such a mental sport in a sense that so much of the time is spent preparing for the next shot, so you have to be able to prepare the mind with what I call preshot routines,” Murray said.

“So what you’re doing between shots is just as, if not more, important than the shot, because that’s already an ingrained skill that hopefully you have.”

“Most people think it’s about the mind – it’s about the body,” Gilbert said. “Your acting can change your attitudes, your motions can change your emotions and your movements can change your moods.”

BATTLING ADVERSITY: Be prepared to work through adversity. Don’t let an errant shot or a bad hole destroy the round.

“Just like in life, everybody has a terrible day, and you have a choice,” Cunjak said. “You can either continue to obsess about the terrible hole, or you can say, ‘OK, I [goofed], but I have eight more holes to go and I’d really like to have a good time.’Ÿ”

IT TAKES TIME: Mastering the Brain Game takes time. A lot longer than 18 holes. It could take months.

“I don’t think there are any quick fixes out there – that’s a mistake,” Murray said. “If you look at a graph of an arrow going upward, which indicates success, there are many, many faults or failures along the way. But over time, you do improve. So you don’t want to get caught up in the short-term approach to that.”

“Mastering your thinking is not that difficult,” Cunjak said. “It has to be cultivated like any other skill. And if you’re motivated, you’ll do it.”

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

VIOLENCE IN SPORTS SURVEY RESULTS

JohnFMurray.com – Dec 17, 2004 – Feature – As Discussed on BBC Radio by Host Anita Anand & Dr. John F. Murray.

Thank you very much to all who participated in the Violence in Sports Survey. You have spoken and your comments have been tabulated in this report which aims to help improve sports by first understanding the situation better. I asked you to comment about what you felt was the main CAUSE and SOLUTION to the sports violence that erupted three weeks ago during the Indiana Pacers/Detroit Pistons game now known as The Basketbrawl.

I received an outstanding response to this survey as 376 of you emailed back. Many were very long and thoughtful letters offering multiple causes and solutions. The makeup of the population included one NBA coach and player, three NCAA basketball coaches, one NFL coach and two NFL players, seven NCAA Division I athletic directors, 21 professional athletes from a variety of other sports, and a couple hundred junior and recreational athletes and fans.

From your responses, it soon became clear that you felt this was an extremely complex issue with multiple causes and multiple solutions. As such, I carefully recorded each and every listed cause and solution and arrived at the Top 10 Causes and Top 8 Solutions to the problem as well as an otherâ category for less popular responses. I calculated the percentages to show you how frequent specific responses were, and have them listed below in order of most frequent to least frequent.

CAUSES

(1) POOR EDUCATION (24%): Athletes Today Receive Poor Education in the Areas of Character, Discipline, and Sportsmanship

(2) MONEY IN PRO SPORTS (20%): Excessive Money, Privilege, and Adoration of Pro Athletes Leads to Greater Self-Absorption and Less Responsible Behavior

(3) VIOLENT AND STRESSED SOCIETY (17%): Society Becoming More and More Violent, at War, and Collective Stress of 911

(4) FAN PROVOCATION AND RESTLESSNESS (16%): Fans Provocation of Players, and Fans Desire for More Stimulation

(5) SECURITY (5%) Poor Security in the Arena

(6) MEDIA (5%): Media Attention for Fans and the Reality TV Era

(7) AGGRESSIVENESS OF SPORT (5%): Player Frustration, Testosterone, and the inherent Aggressive Nature of Sports

(8) VIDEO GAMES (1%): Video Games Teach Violence

(9) FAN FRUSTRATION (1%): Frustration and Jealousy Among Fans

(10)Â RON ARTEST (1%): Ron Artest is a Unique Case

(11) OTHER (5%)

SOLUTIONS

(1) MORE CHARACTER EDUCATION (29%): Sportsmanship and Character Education Needs to be Better Developed and Implemented

(2) EXTREME DISCIPLINE ON PLAYERS (24%): Fines, suspension without pay, and much tougher standards on all players

(3) EXTREME DISCIPLINE ON FANS (21%): A range of suggested measures

4) MORE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY INVOLVEMENT (14%): Sport Psychologists Need to be More Involved with Athletes and Teams to Better Anticipate and Resolve Problems

(5) MEDIA (3%): Need to Return to Promoting and Worshiping Real Heroes who are True Role Models

(6) DISCIPLINE ON TEAM MANAGEMENT (2%): Fines on Team Owners and Franchises Whose Players Act out as Incentive for Change

(7)SECURITY (1%): Better Security in the Arenas

(8) ALCOHOL (1%) Eliminate Alcohol at Games

(8) FUND PROGRAMS FROM FINES (1%): Use the Money Collected in Fines to Directly Fund Programs of Education for Athletes, Teams and Leagues

Here are my thoughts based on the quality and proportion of your responses:

1. This is a very popular, complex and multifaceted issue.

2. You perceive lack of education as the biggest contributor to the violence and more education as the biggest potential solution.

3. You call for far tougher standards and more severe penalties for all the parties involved including players, fans, and team management.

4. You support the greater involvement of sport psychologists as a viable contribution toward helping install preventive measures and develop solutions too.

5. You call for a return to family values and sportsmanship.

Feel free to send me any more of your thoughts.

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

EIGHT KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL MENTAL PERFORMANCE

Palm Beach Post – Oct 21, 2004 – David Fox- Youth Sports Extra: Coach’s Corner –

John F. Murray, clinical and sports performance psychologist: This week’s tip: Eight keys to successful mental performance

Quote: “Treat these mental skills the same as physical skills. They cannot be ignored.”

“After games, ask your self how you did in the following areas:

“1. How confident were you? Did you believe in your abilities? Did you have expectations of high performance and success?

“2. How focused were you in your performance? Were you distracted by a past play or fear of not winning or not looking good?

“3. Did you have a purpose or goal? Did you know what you trying to accomplish? How close did you come to that goal? Was the goal specific?

“4. Did you keep your energy level in check? Did you feel nice about the challenge? Or did you let anger or other emotions get the best of you?

“5. Were you resilient? Did you bounce back from adversity? Did you hang in there? How did you bounce back when things got tough?

“6. Passion. How much fun did you have?

“7. How hard did you work today? Were you disciplined? Have you practiced hard all week?

“8. Imagery. Did you imagine what you were going to accomplish before you did it? Did you imagine yourself playing well that day?

“If you rate yourself on these skills and find out where you’re lacking, focus on those skills next game.”

KICK TO THE PSYCHE

Palm Beach Post – Sept 8, 2004 – Tom D’Angelo – TALLAHASSEE â€? Fate cannot be that cruel. It can’t happen again. Five failures in 13 seasons. Three times since the turn of the century.

If Florida State’s hopes of beating Miami on Friday in the Orange Bowl come down to a field goal, Xavier Beitia will be reminded of the Seminoles’ inglorious past â€? by his own memories as well as the roar and taunts of the Hurricanes’ fans.

And if Beitia is asked to end Florida State’s five-game losing streak against UM with his foot, one professional hopes the senior kicker has done something in private that he has not done publicly in the past eight months.

Talk about his failures.

“I feel sorry for him if he didn’t get significant help,” said John F. Murray, a licensed sport performance psychologist from West Palm Beach. “When a person does this twice they have a traumatic memory, a stimulus response. When he gets in that situation again, he’s going to have that same response.”

Beitia is a member of Florida State’s infamous “Wide Right Club,” one that includes three other kickers, all of whom have missed a potential game-winning or game-tying field goal wide right (Beitia also is the charter and sole member of the “Wide Left Club) against Miami.

The most recent was the 2004 Orange Bowl Classic, in which Beitia pushed right a 39-yard attempt with 5:30 remaining that would have given Florida State a one-point lead. Miami hung on for a 16-14 victory.

Two seasons ago, Beitia missed a 43-yard attempt wide left as time expired, preserving Miami’s 28-27 victory.

“I’d hate for my son to go through that,” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. “To walk off that field, man, it’s tough. But it happens all the time. It’s the nature of the job. And it happens in pro ball for millions and millions of dollars. If the kid ain’t tough, he can’t make it. Thank goodness, Xavier has got a little toughness about him.”

Is a “little toughness” all it will take? Most psychologists say no. Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Art of Failure, believes that once an athlete “chokes,” the odds of a repeat improve the next time the situation presents itself.

His example is Jana Novotna in the deciding set of the 1993 Wimbledon final against Steffi Graf. Leading 4-1 and serving at 40-30, Novotna lost five consecutive games. Two years later, in the third round of the French Open, Novotna lost to Chanda Rubin after leading 5-0 in the third set.

“It seems little doubt that part of the reason for her collapse against Rubin was her collapse against Graf â€â€? that the second failure built on the first, making it possible for her to be up 5-0 in the third set and yet entertain the thought ‘I can still lose,’ ” Gladwell wrote.

Before the Orange Bowl, Beitia said his confidence was high and that the 2002 miss � after which Beitia was inconsolable� was erased.

Former Florida State kicker Bill Capece has mentored Beitia since he arrived from Tampa’s Jesuit High in 2001. Capece, a Leon County sheriff’s deputy and a former NFL kicker, holds several school records. He talked to Beitia last season about forgetting his first miss. This off-season, the talks became more serious.

“He’s talking to somebody who’s been through it, not just with somebody who has 20 college degrees,” Capece said. “He is able to let it go with somebody who can say, ‘I’ve felt the same thing and this is what I heard and this is what I did.’ ”

Capece and Beitia spoke about concentrating from the time he walks on the field for pre-game practice.

“He knows when he comes out of that tunnel in Miami, he’s going to hear it,” Capece said. “I said, ‘If you can stay in the game and just worry about kicking the ball, then that stuff will bounce off you.’ ”

Beitia has the failed-kick triple crown. No only has he missed right and left against Miami, but last season his game-winning attempt against North Carolina was so low that it was blocked. Florida State won the game in overtime.

When asked if Beitia’s failures in the clutch are mental, Capece first said, “I really don’t believe that.” Then, he added. “That’s hard to say because I’m not in his head.”

Murray knows the answer.

“A skill that is automatic in practice, you start blowing the situation out of proportion,” Murray said. “The problem with this guy is he’s going to have the possibility of choking much higher.”

Beitia spent more time in Tallahassee this summer, mainly to work with a new snapper (Myles Hodish) and a new holder (punter Chris Hall). With the signing of Gary Cismesia of Bradenton, he was pushed during practice more than any time since he arrived.

“It has helped in a lot of aspects,” Beitia said of the competition. “The fact I’ve got to be on my game every time I come to practice. The fact that I don’t have to kick 100 balls in practice, because I had other guys to help out and save my legs.”

But has it helped Beitia’s psyche? That is a question that will be answered only if the outcome of Friday’s game rests on his foot.

“Napoleon said the battle is often won in the mind, or the mind is more powerful than the sword,” Murray said. “If it’s not, patterns have tendencies to repeat themselves. You have to figure out a way to break the pattern.”

UBEROI QUALIFIES

Sun Sentinel – Aug 28, 2004 – Charles Bricker – With her father, Mahesh, frequently calling out from behind the sideline fence, “Come on, Tiger,” Shikha Uberoi, 21, of Boca Raton, qualified for her first Grand Slam by defeating Vilmarie Castellvi 6-4, 6-2.

It’s the first time since 1996 that a woman of Indian heritage (Laxmi Poruri) has been in the main draw of the Open and no Indian woman has won a round here since Poruri in 1989.

Shikha and her 18-year-old sister, Neha, both were in qualifying, but Neha lost in the first round.

GO SHIKHA AND CONGRATUALATIONS! You are the best! Dr. John F Murray After she qualified she wrote to Dr. John F MurrayDR. MURRAY!!!

How are you? I believe you are in London now. I wanted to tell you that I won two 10k events back to back. It was great!!! I was in complete control of my mind and completely relaxed. I wanted to thank you for your support and belief in me. Thanks for everything.

Shikha Uberoi – WTA Tour Tennis Professiona

OTHER EARLY RETIREES UNDERSTAND WILLIAMS’ EXIT

Newark Star Ledger – Aug 12, 2004 – Pete Iorizzo – To the fans, teammates, former players (yes, even you, Barry Sanders) and media members who have been haranguing Ricky Williams, Robert Smith has a message:

Back off. Smith, who abruptly walked away from the Minnesota Vikings after the 2000 season, said he understands why Williams quit the Miami Dolphins last week, less than a week before the start of training camp. He said Williams, a running back like Smith, made the right decision — even if Williams was in his playing prime and the peak earning years.

“For his mental and physical health, it was best,” Smith said. “Playing football is not something you can do 80 percent mentally. It didn’t make sense to keep going.”

Williams became the latest in a string of athletes who caught their sport, their team, their fans by surprise. They are rebels and nonconformists willing to walk away from adulation and millions of dollars to do something else — or nothing else.

Slugger Ken Harrelson left major league baseball in 1971 to take a shot at the PGA Tour. He failed. Superstar Michael Jordan walked away from the NBA to try to play baseball. He struck out. Safety Pat Tillman shunned a multimillion-dollar contract from the Arizona Cardinals to join the special forces. He died in an Afghanistan firefight. Defensive tackle Mike Reid left the Bengals in 1974 at 26 to play the piano. He has since written 10 No. 1 country music hits and has two Grammy Awards.

Smith quit an NFL career and has been laying low since.

Some share a different world view than most, one that clashes with America’s sports-crazed culture. Others simply burn out. But fans, who live vicariously through their sports heroes, feel betrayed.

Smith said his perspective changed when he was a freshman at Ohio State. Before a game against the University of Michigan, Bill Miles, then the OSU offensive line coach, caught him looking nervous. He pulled him aside and said, “Robert, this game is important. But there are a billion people in China who don’t even know this game is going on.”

Said Smith: “That changed things. If you just turn on your TV and listen, there are lots of important things happening in the world. Don’t always put on SportsCenter.”

As a running back with the Vikings, Smith, on Tuesdays, visited children suffering from cancer. He heard their stories, met with their parents and followed their struggles. Then, on Wednesdays, he would answer questions about the upcoming game’s importance. The contrast disturbed him, he said.

When Smith retired, he faced much of the same criticism as Williams. Although Smith had talked about nobler pursuits throughout his career, few suspected he would quit at age 29 after rushing for 1,521 yards in 2000, his best season.

“For someone like me or Ricky, there are just more important things in life,” Smith said. “Everyone was talking to me like, ‘This is a do-or-die game this week.’ Well, I had just spent the day before with a 6-year-old dying of cancer. It just didn’t jive.”

Williams and Smith spoke in June while working together at a camp. Smith talked to Williams about his upcoming book, “The Rest of the Iceberg,” which will articulate Smith’s position on sports in American society and the life of a professional athlete. During their conversation, Williams — painfully shy and suffering from social anxiety disorder, hinted he was considering retirement.

Smith said Williams had mulled the decision for months. He told the Dolphins a couple of days before camp opened because that’s when he arrived at his decision, Smith said. But with their offense built around Williams, a powerful runner, the Dolphins were left with few options for replacing him.

“There’s no question he could have picked a better time,” Smith said. “But it wasn’t like this was an overnight decision, and he decided a week before training camp just to (hurt) them.”

Williams left reportedly facing a drug suspension, and he told the Miami Herald his desire to continue smoking marijuana contributed to his decision to quit. He also may owe the Dolphins $8 million because of his early exit.

All that aside, Smith said if teammates and fans stop and consider Williams’ decision, they will understand it.

“For the fans, look, he has real issues more important than entertaining you,” Smith said. “He doesn’t live to entertain you and make your ticket worthwhile.”

Williams and Smith are not the only NFL running backs to have bailed in the prime of their careers. In 1965, Jim Brown left the Cleveland Browns to pursue an acting career. And in 1999, with Walter Payton’s rushing record within reach, Sanders walked away from the Detroit Lions. But Sanders said he had trouble making sense of Williams’ decision.

“I’m as surprised as anyone,” Sanders told The Associated Press. “Even for me, it seems very strange.”

John Riggins, a running back who turned a holdout into a short retirement, refused to criticize Williams, too.

“He was satisfied with what he got out of it,” Riggins told the Miami Herald. “He’s walking away from the game, running away from the game, which a lot of us can’t do because we played longer than we were supposed to. I’m not overly religious, but the Bible says, ‘To thine own self be true.'”

Williams’ decision was less surprising to psychologists. Athletes burn out, they say, when they feel like they have lost control. Certain personality types, particularly free spirits like Williams, are more prone.

“Burnout often results from feeling trapped in a position,” said Dr. David Feigley, a sports psychologist at Rutgers University. “Sometimes we think of it as overwork. But if it’s overwork and you still feel in control, you’re less likely to burn out.

“Why do you go to practice? If the answer is, ‘I have to,’ as oppose to, ‘I chose to,’ you’re more prone. Burnout tends to happen when you’re working in area you once enjoyed, but now there are all these external constraints.”

That seems to apply to Williams, who said he felt “free” after announcing his retirement.

“My heart tells me, ‘Don’t be controlled,'” Williams told the Miami Herald. “Everyone wants freedom. Humans aren’t supposed to be controlled and told what to do. They’re supposed to be given direction and a path. Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. Please.”

Dr. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist based in West Palm Beach, Fla., said teams need to be more proactive in tapping into with players’ psyches. Having a full-time sport psychologist as part of the coaching staff would be a good start, he said.

Murray said he worked with two high-profile athletes on the verge of quitting. One, he said, went on to win the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. The other was tennis player Vince Spadea, who wanted to quit after enduring a 21-match ATP losing streak.

“There are many ways to keep people fresh and keep their desire to play sports alive,” Murray said. “We have maxed out on physical training, but we haven’t come close to realizing our potential when it comes to dealing with the mental side.

“It’s time for coaches to wake up and realize you can’t address these issues in old-fashioned, antiquated ways. It’s time to wake up and get real and help these athletes.”

In some cases, psychologists say, a break will help an athlete recover and prod him toward returning, as was the case with Jordan.

Smith admitted to missing football. But he believes there are more important things.

“Just because you can do something,” Smith said, “doesn’t mean you should.”

LEAVING SO SOON?

A look at pro athletes who retired early for reasons other than injury or illness:

Bjorn Borg: He won 11 majors, including five consecutive Wimbledons and four straight French Opens before quitting in 1981 at age 25. His comeback at 34 was short-lived.

Jim Brown: Considered the greatest running back in NFL history, he left the game at 30 to become an action-film star and civil rights leader.

Jennifer Capriati: Burnout and drug issues led her to quit at age 17 in 1993. She returned to win three Grand Slam titles, and she became the top-ranked player in the world for parts of 2001 and ’02. Now 28, she is still a top-10 player.

Dave Cowens: At 28, he quit after his friend Paul Silas was traded after the Celtics’ 1976 championship season. Cowens returned after 30 games, retired again after the 1980 season, returned in 1982, then quit again. He has coached Boston, Charlotte and Golden State.

Ken Harrelson: After hitting 65 home runs in his two previous seasons, Harrelson left the game at 30 to try to make the PGA Tour. He fell short but built a career as a baseball analyst.

Michael Jordan: He retired three times, once to play baseball. He returned to lead the Bulls to their second three-peat from 1996-98. He finished his career with two so-so seasons on the Wizards and is now looking for an NBA franchise to own.

Rocky Marciano: After going 49-0 as a pro, the heavyweight champion retired in 1956 at age 31. Unlike other champs, he never returned, and died at 45 in a plane crash.

John Riggins: He was 31 when he turned a holdout into a one-year retirement. He returned in 1981 and was the Super Bowl XVII MVP before retiring in 1986.

Barry Sanders: The Lions’ running back was within 1,500 yards of breaking Walter Payton’s career rushing record when he suddenly retired before training camp in 1999.

Robert Smith: The former Vikings running back led the NFC with 1,521 yards rushing in 2000 and walked away from a potential $40 million free-agent contract.

Pat Tillman: Driven by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Cardinals safety turned down a $3.6 million contract to retire before the 2002 season and join the Army Rangers at age 25. He was killed in a fire-fight in Afghanistan on April 22.

Sports Psychology in Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated – Dr. John F. Murray Profile – Sports Psychologist – October 14, 2003 – Work in Sports Feature by Mike McNulty – What started as a routine sideline interview after a typical preseason NFL game between the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons, quickly turned into a serious, heart-felt discussion of mental illness. There Ricky Williams stood talking about the social anxiety disorder he recently overcame. It was unusual — but incredibly positive — to see a tough-as-nails, muscular football star admit to something so personal. And Ricky Williams isn’t the only one.

All across the country, the stigma of mental illness is slowly disappearing. As a result, more and more athletes are willing to discuss their feelings with a professional.

One of those well-respected confidants is Dr. John Murray, PhD, who treats NFL players, professional golfers and professional tennis players.

Interestingly, Murray didn’t set out to be a sports psychologist when he started his career. “I traveled the world coaching tennis,” he says. But he saw something glaring while on the road watching matches.

Seeing how critically important the mental game was to success, and how few athletes trained their minds properly, I felt this was the perfect “next step” in my career,he says. “I wanted to do what I was doing in coaching but expand it to a much broader application for all people and athletes in all sports. Sport psychology was a small but growing specialty within psychology and the sport sciences.”

Along with a BA in psychology from Loyola University, Murray went south to Florida and began piling up degrees along with invaluable experience.

“I completed all my graduate work at the University of Florida in the 1990s. Got two masters degrees (Sport Psychology and Clinical Psychology) and a PhD (Clinical Psychology). The 1997 national champion Florida Gators football team was the subject of my doctoral dissertation.”

Now he needed an internship to apply his skills and gain some real world experience.

“I did my clinical and sport psychology internship at Washington State University and a post doctoral fellowship at Florida International University prior to opening my private practice.”

That practice, which is based in Florida and also includes non-athletes, has blossomed in recent years. Through his professional commitment, Murray’s schedule keeps getting more and more busy.

“My day typically involves seeing clients in my office and talking with them on the phone,”he says. “For many athletes this is the main way I work with them–using phone and email follow-up–as they travel throughout the world.”

“I always start with a new client by doing a full evaluation to see where their mental skills are, what they are like as a person, what they are dealing with. Then I devise a plan to help them reach their goals more effectively.”

Because of his success, Murray has slowly become one of the better-known voices in the sports psychology community.

“Other things I do are write articles for magazines, conduct workshops, and speak at various engagements,”he says. “I also do a fair number of interviews for newspapers, magazines, and TV occasionally. Most recently, I was called to do interviews for BBC radio, CBS national radio, NPR, Bloomberg Radio, ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated.”

Another big element of his job is attending sporting events.

“I get out to the athletic site quite often. I spend time on the sidelines, on the court and on the course to see the athlete in their natural environment.”

Murray says one of the drawbacks (or at least issue to keep in mind when considering the field) is the constant hours.

“I am available 24/7 to my clients so it is definitely not a 9 to 5 job!”

Yet the benefits, according to Murray, are endless.

“It’s exciting work helping people achieve more success,” he says. “And the great thing about working with high performers such as athletes is that you can actually see the performance. Just turn on the TV on Sunday.”

How many people can see such direct results? Hey, there goes my client rushing for 467 yards today. Looks like the sessions are working!

Of course, there’s also travel.

Along with visiting clients and athletic sites, Murray says, “I went to London twice this year to do workshops. The cell phone gets a lot of use.”

Perhaps one of the most intriguing things about sports psychology is that it’s still emerging. There’s plenty of room for newcomers to join and enrich the profession.

Murray’s overall advice to those considering a career is this: “To be a sport psychologist you have to wear many hats and credentials are extremely important. I believe the only way to do it is to become a licensed psychologist first, as the bare minimum level of training. You need to know what makes people tick, how they break down, all of the assessment and treatment training.

But a license in psychology is not enough. You also have to have studied the sport sciences–the physical bases of sport–the movement sciences, the biology, the physiology etc. Then, and perhaps the hardest part to acquire, is the hands-on training by another qualified sport psychologist. I was fortunate to train under a current Olympic sport psychologist when I did my internship. It’s a long road with little gratification and a lot of hard work. But now I’m professionally satisfied and challenged, invigorated by what I do, and constantly learning. You never know enough. Performance and competition is always changing so you have to be able to go with the flow, make adjustments with athletes on the fly, and treat clinical problems too when they come up.”

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

STRESS RELIEF IN TENNIS

Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Jul 1, 1997 – Dr. John F. Murray – Although tennis and other physical activities are usually considered excellent forms of stress relief, the serious competitive athlete often experiences stress similar to an ambitious corporate executive or overworked waitress. Too much stress can wreak havok on your mind and body. The bottom line is a less pleasant experience, impaired performance, or even potential health problems. This month, the spotlight is on learning to cope with stress through relaxation.

Players who shine in practice often crumble in tournaments because they manage stress poorly. Although an optimal arousal level must be maintained for peak performance (See my September 1995 article on Optimizing Arousal in Tennis), prolonged and excessive arousal is rarely positive. Failing to prepare for stress is as unacceptable as forgetting to bring spare rackets to the match! Still, many players never invest in stress busting tools.

There are as many relaxation programs on the market as there are diets. Most involve some combination of deep breathing, pleasant imagery, and muscular movements. I’ll touch briefly on Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), the “gold standard” of relaxation techniques, developed in the 1930’s and aptly used to defeat a variety of physical and psychological ailments. PMR, and its many varients, is used to help athletes prepare for competition as well as to relax during play.

PMR trains the individual to identify the relative contrast between muscular tension and the opposite sensation of complete calmness. By progressively tensing various muscles and muscle groups for several seconds and completely releasing and relaxing, the individual gradually learns to induce relaxation on demand in periods of high stress. Recognition of the contrast between tension and calmness is fundamental to the success of PMR.

There are two basic spinoffs of PMR that I’ll recommend for tennis players. The first involves a pre-match relaxation routine whereas the second helps in coping with stress in the heat of battle. A warning … these methods will only work if regularly practiced and perfected. I’ll outline them briefly, but remember there is no substitute for the guidance of a qualified sport psychologist in helping meet your individual needs.

10 Minute Pre-Match Routine

Minute 1

O.K., the big match is upon you. Before the warm-up, find a quiet place and comfortable sitting position. Relax totally with eyes slightly closed.

Minute 2

Inhale for about 6 seconds deeply and slowly, then exhale for about 10 seconds. Continue this breathing pattern throughout the routine.

Minutes 3-8

While inhaling, tense a muscle group and hold it tight for the duration of the inhalation. Totally relase all tension upon exhalation. Study, interpret, and examine the contrast between these two sensations (tension and relaxation). Spend about two minutes for muscle groups in each major region of the body (upper, middle, and lower). Vary the exact muscles used as you see fit … but focus on the difference between unpleasant and tight tension, and its opposite, total calmness.

Minutes 8-10

Now that your awareness of relaxing sensations is heightened, visualize yourself performing to perfection (For help with this, see my August 1995 article on The Essence of Imagery in Tennis). After you are finished, stretch out and fire yourself up for a great perfomance.

On Court Routine

Now you are deep in the heat of a match and feel that stress is intruding:

Accept that you are “stressed” but re-interpret the sensations as normal and exciting consequences of caring.

In between points, breath deeply and slowly while tensing those muscles that have been most affected by the stress (often shoulder muscles). As before, release the tension immediately upon slow exhalation.

Recall your pre-match routine (the pleasant sensations elicited by the procedure) and image your next point to perfection.
Now your mental equipment includes two very simple means of coping with stress in tennis (and other situations as well). Remember to practice these techniques often for them to work. There are countless programs for managing stress … are you using only one?

FOUNDATIONS OF TENNIS QUICKNESS

Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Aug 1, 1995 – Dr. John F. Murray – Would you like to improve your overall quickness on the tennis court? If so, some physical means are available through improved conditioning, agility and footwork. After that, you may need to choose faster parents to gain a sizeable physical advantage, since genetic factors (e.g., muscle characteristics) place an upper limit on your movement ability.

What may surprise you is that quickness in tennis has less to do with the ability to move, or even run as fast as Forest Gump, than mental skills! Although physical proficiency is desirable, and necessary at the higher levels of play, mental superiority in the form of anticipatory skills is far more meaningful in achieving quickness in tennis.

Visual scanning research in racquet sports has shown that experts differ from novices in eye fixation patterns and perceptual strategies. For example, whereas experts focus consistently on proximal cues (e.g., angle of racket prior to contact, position of server’s shoulder), novices display less controlled fixations and focus on more distal cues (e.g., position of ball after contact). The ability to attend to relevant proximal cues and interpret them accurately is the hallmark of superior anticipation … and quickness.

In short, tennis quickness involves being prepared, knowing what kind of shot to expect from early visual cues, and acting accordingly on that knowledge. If you have poor anticipatory skills and are constantly late in reacting to your opponent, your world class speed will be useless.

Can anticipatory skills in tennis be taught? The exciting news is that a pioneer study here at the University of Florida shows that the answer is yes! In this study, novice and intermediate tennis players learned to make faster and more accurate decisions regarding the type and direction of shots following a mental quickness training program. Further research is certainly needed, but these results are encouraging.

In my opinion, there are two areas of knowledge where improvements will lead to enhanced anticipatory skills and greater tennis quickness. The first, already discussed, involves helping players recognize the meaning of appropriate proximal cues, and implementing this knowledge in game situations. The second area is more traditional and involves reviewing the fine points of timing and court positioning as they relate to the type of shot hit, position of the player, and position of the opponent. Very few club players have mastered these skills. While watching the US Open, it appeared that some professionals would benefit from refinement in this area as well.

I hope this brief review has helped you realize that quickness in tennis involves far more than swift movements or a new pair of Nikes. Quickness may not be directly observable, since the processes contributing to it (e.g., scanning, recognizing, interpreting) are mental operations. Don’t worry though, the difference will be clearly evident in the score!