Archive for the ‘Publications’ Category

Dimension XII: How the MPI Captures Actual Performance Better than Before

In writing “The Mental Performance Index” I consciously went right to the top to study the NFL Super Bowl. It was my belief that by understanding what happened on this monumental platform, when the eyes of the world were upon players and coaches with the greatest scrutiny, and the biggest prize loomed, we would learn lessons of success, teamwork, and passion in whatever we are doing in life, and especially in demanding pressure situations.

I studied each play a little differently than in the past, looking not only for traditional performance as seen in yards gained, first downs, turnovers etc., but also for observable aspects of mental performance that could be incorporated into the team performance r

Mind Games: All 3 Phases Destroyed Georgia Tech

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see how the Hurricanes did it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind Games: Miami Escaped Bullet in Rare Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind Games: Reviewing VT, Setting UNC Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Comments

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks and Go Canes!

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

Mind Games: Miami Must Get Better on Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this say about this Saturday?

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

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

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

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

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

Mind Games: Canes Failed in Pressure Situations

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – September 28, 2011 – John F Murray – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.

The loss to KSU really had to hurt. We all envisioned a little boost of momentum going into the extremely tough part of the schedule starting with Virginia Tech on October 8. Miami had just overcome that huge obstacle in destroying Ohio State, and maybe, just maybe, there was a little too much post-OSU euphoria, or that it lasted a little too long for the team to be completely ready for KSU.

I don’t think Al Golden is to blame. He has been a student of Bill Snyder’s coaching, respects his abilities greatly, and made the strong point that KSU could not be overlooked. Still, one wonders if all the players really bought in to this 100%. Even the fans seemed just a little too comfortable going into the cross hairs of a Snyder attack. Maybe we should have focused a little more on just this one game, called it a huge impending battle, and stopped worrying so much about individual traits such as Jacory Harris’ maturity level or game managing capabilities.

Before the game, I received emails from KSU faithful saying that Miami was in for a huge challenge and probably a long day. I tried my small part by posting a warning in a Canesport forum. “Bill Snyder is genius,” these Kansas people asserted, yet the team wasn’t even in Kansas anymore as they strolled along South Beach and into a hostile Miami stadium with history on its side. It didn’t matter. Naive Kansas lads who didn’t even know the meaning of the word “fear” hid behind wheat fields, unleashed a surprise Snyder attack, and made candy canes of this bunch.

Now that the damage is done, I’m sure we all wish we had yelled louder about the threat of Snyder-trained Wildcats. That KSU team deserved their success, yet UM still had a chance to win at the end. Hats off to KSU. Congratulations to Bill Snyder for another fine football clinic. Lose with dignity when you lose, but please never forget how painful this one was. The “U” will take it and come back stronger in the future because of it. The lesson is as old as time. Always respect your opponent. You are never as good as you think you are, and your opponent is never as bad as you think they are. Painful, hard, and agonizing? Yes. Required reading? Absolutely!

Now that tears are dry and gaping holes in sports bar bathroom walls are repaired, let’s move on. I’ve always loved the phrase: “while mopping up your past you wipe out your future,” and it applies here. No more dwelling on defeat. We have a chance to get to .500 against Bethune Cookman this Saturday, and we will. Nobody will come close to making Bethune Cookman a favorite, but Miami still needs to go out and make it happen in a big way. They need to unleash a major attack with all three units and get a big win against somebody — anybody. They need this game for confidence. Lose this, and I’ll suggest that the U transfer to a flag football conference. Win big and get ready for war on October 8. Then beat Virginia Tech and the whole season has new meaning. Never say never!

Knowledge is power and you learn more when you lose, so let’s take a quick look at what actually happened against KSU. In a game played at a quality level slightly below average, KSU very barely outperformed Miami on the MPI-T by a score of .496 to .494.

If you look at the above chart, however, you will realize that while Miami started slow, by the end of the third quarter they were dominating the game on this overall performance rating .512 to .480! Give KSU credit for their 4th quarter touchdown drive and for keeping Miami out of the end zone on multiple pressure plays at the end. They really rose to the occasion and put a whipping on UM in the fourth quarter. Overall performance only slightly favored KSU and they also won the game 28-24.

Where KSU really excelled and Miami faltered was in pressure moments. KSU destroyed Miami in all three categories of pressure play by approximately 30%! Their total pressure score (MPI-TP=.643) was at 64.3 percent (95th percentile)! Simply stated, KSU came up big when they had to and Miami folded when the chips were on the line (MPI-TP=.336, 5th percentile).

Part of this I credit to a good coaching scheme by Snyder, and part of this falls on the players. KSU executed in the clutch and Miami did not. It was best exemplified when Miami could not get into the end zone after having a first and goal on the two.

Both offenses had their way in the game compared with the defenses. Whereas Miami’s offense dominated the KSU defense by 6.4%, KSU overwhelmed the Miami defense by 9.9%, and this latter statistic is at the 89th percentile for domination.

It was notable that Miami only performed at .439 on defense overall, far below average, whereas KSU performed better at .469. For the third week in a row, Miami’s special teams unit was the best one on the field even though their .550 performance was less than in the first two weeks.

In my last column, I laid out 5 goals going into the KSU game. Let’s see how Miami did on the goals established:

Goal 1: No more than 1 turnover and a T + P < 8

Results: Goals achieved! The Miami Hurricanes had one turnover and 4 penalties (T + P = 5). This is great progress. Jacory Harris does need to perform more effectively, but this is not the game to talk about turnovers and penalties!

Goal 2: Better balance with 240 yards rushing, 250 yards passing, 0 interceptions, and an MPI-T > .565

Results: Only 1 of 4 sub-goals achieved. On the positive side, Jacory and the Hurricanes threw for 272 yards. Rushing, however, was reduced to 139 yards despite Lamar Miller’s good performance. There was one interception, and the MPI-T score was nowhere near the .565 target set (MPI-T=.494).

Goal 3: Continued great special teams play with MPI-ST > .630

Results: Not achieved. However, the special teams unit has been the best on the field for Miami. Their score in this game of .550 is well above average even if it did not hit the .630 mark targeted.

Goal 4: Offensive dominance of at least 12%

Results: Not achieved. The Hurricanes offense did dominate the Wildcat’s defense, but by a more modest 6.4% (MPI-O Hurricanes = .533, MPI-D Wildcats = .469).

Goal 5: Dominate in pressure situations by 25%

Results: Are you kidding? Not even close! Not only did Miami fail to achieve this goal, but KSU actually dominated the Hurricanes in pressure situations by 30.7%! Great performance in pressure moments of the game belonged to KSU and this is the single greatest factor in a KSU victory. Overall pressure play for KSU, as stated, was at the 95th percentile.

I hope you enjoy the new graphic this week (you need to read the article at canesport.com to see the graph) in which I showed the cumulative MPI scores for each team every quarter. I will not do that every week, but wanted you to see how the game progressed, and how KSU really turned it up at the end whereas Miami faltered, and especially in the red zone at the end.

Let’s keep this painful loss as a lesson. Never underestimate your opponent, and realize that without smart play and execution in pressure moments, a win that seems easily in reach with first and goal at the 2 yard line can easily become a loss.

But how do you train the mental skills and get players to perform better in pressure situations? Aha, you had to ask a sports psychologist. This is what I do. We specialize in training athletes to prepare for the most difficult pressure moments imaginable so that when game time comes it should be a breeze. It works most of the time and I love what I do.

Let’s take a break for a week on setting goals. The talent levels between Miami and Bethune-Cookman are so different that I will not waste my time. If Miami loses, I will help them vigorously in their new flag football league. Sorry Canes world! I have to find a way to use humor to cope in a difficult time. I love this team and will continue doing whatever I can to help in this column. It all begins with brutal honesty in what the MPI numbers and percentiles reveal.

Win this game big, and we’ll get set for a tremendous week of excitement as we prepare to beat Virginia Tech! Don’t give up hope. This program is growing and will continue to get better even after such a painful lesson as the Snyder attack from behind the Kansas wheat fields last Saturday in Miami.

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

Mind Games: Reviewing OSU, Preparing for KSU

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – September 21, 2011 – John F Murray – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.

The Ohio State victory was great to watch, and I later enjoyed chatting online with a few posters from CaneSport.com. While there were many critical comments about the team to go along with the more positive ones, the mood was bright overall.

The detailed level of scrutiny on this team after defeating a powerhouse like Ohio State 24-6 only illustrates more that this is a proud team with super high ambitions. There is nothing wrong with expecting to be the best, and that is actually what I tell my clients to think all the time. I love the competitive fire of this program and those associated with it.

Before we look at the Ohio State game, and beyond it to KSU this Saturday, I want to share a little more about why I believe so much in using the MPI and statistics to help teams like the Canes. Today I’ll discuss four benefits of this approach:

1. MEANINGFULNESS
2. SIMPLICITY
3. RELEVANCE
4. PRECISION

Let’s zoom in a little closer:

Meaningfulness: Most statistics provided after a game give only “raw numbers” such as yards gained, time of possession or quarterback attempts and completions. So much is thrown at you in such a short time that it’s often impossible to make heads or tails of it all. This is because raw numbers are not standardized, or converted into scores which make immediate sense. However, in my analyses, I use percentiles to show more precisely what a number means. I get these by having an extensive database of past games. Furthermore, the seven main MPI statistics are already presented in a standardized form from .000 to 1.000, and this roughly translates into “degree of perfection” which anyone can relate to. So the first benefit of these analyses is that they make much more sense than what is usually presented because the numbers are more meaningful.

Simplicity: The MPI Total score (MPI-T) is just one single number showing how well a team performed overall in a game. How much easier could that be? The MPI Total Dominance score (MPI-TD) tells how much better or worse a team was from its opponent in terms of a percentage. With these two main numbers you instantly know how the teams performed. This simplicity of just one number allows for great tracking of progress from quarter to quarter, game to game, or season to season.

Relevance: Coaches and sports psychologists encourage their players to “perform” their best in every moment of a game. This emphasis of “play well” or “perform” over poorer advice such as “score points” and “win” has been long known to work because players are more aware specifically of what they have to do, more focused, more consistent, and less worried about losing. I often tell my clients to “place process and performance over outcome.” The MPI statistics measure only performance or what is relevant to do, and not outcome. I wanted my clients accountable to what I asked of them, so I needed to measure those relevant factors. Everyone can “perform” well as it is 100% controllable, but only 50% of teams win. Making the MPI relevant was crucial to putting my ratings where my mouth was! If you want to measure free throw shooting percentage, you don’t ask your players to shoot lay-ups. The same holds here. I want my players performing well in the moment, and that is exactly what I measure.

Precision: By including the factor of mental performance in my game reviews, I obtain greater precision through more complete data. I gain this because I am capturing something that is so important in football, or any sport, but not represented in traditional statistics. Mental performance is always present and frequently observable. In fact, it was so obvious (and right in front of our noses that we could sniff it) that we forgot to measure it until the MPI was invented. Isn’t that amazing? Now that we have corrected this historical omission in football statistics with the MPI, we have a more precise instrument. We are able to paint a more accurate picture of how a team actually performed. If you were to paint horses, you would probably not go to a barn where the horses had only three legs and their tails missing. Then why would you rate a football game and ignore the role of the mind or smart play? The key was seeing “mental performance” as just another aspect of performance with all different levels from poor (careless mental errors) to great (smart play). You certainly don’t want to ignore the role of the brain or smart play in depicting the reality of a game.

That was your MPI lesson for the week and I hope it helped you understand the method to my madness a little more.

Now let’s get back to the game, and wasn’t it a thriller!? I don’t care how many ways you criticize this game, the bottom line is that the University of Miami crushed the No. 17 team in the country 24-6, and the team’s name is Ohio State. I have been to that Columbus, Ohio campus, and those folks live and breathe football success as much as any group in America. So let’s start by giving a huge round of applause to this UM team and especially to coach Al Golden. I am so impressed by the knowledge and professionalism he has displayed so far as head coach, and I think Miami’s future with him is very bright for years to come.

Going into this game with the MPI data from the Maryland game shared in my last Mind Games column, I came up with 5 performance goals to crush OSU. Let’s see how the Canes did on these 5 specific performance goals:

Goal 1: Improve total performance on MPI-T from .475 to .500.

Results: Goal achieved with much room to spare! With an MPI-T score of .547, the Miami Hurricanes far exceeded expectations and scored at about the 85th percentile for a football team overall. Teams that perform this well rarely lose and this was the case here, too.

Goal 2: Reduce combined turnovers and penalties from 14 to 6 and have no more than one turnover.

Results: Goal not achieved but definite improvements made. The Hurricanes cut back turnovers and penalties from 14 to 7 instead of 6, but still had two interceptions or turnovers instead of just one (and two other near interceptions). While they only missed each mark by the count of 1, there was clearly a lot of improvement compared with the Maryland game. Al Golden’s message to reduce mistakes was heard.

Goal 3: Improve defensive performance on MPI-D from .424 to .490 and improve pressure play on defense on MPI-DP from .469 to .550.

Results: Goal achieved with flying colors! The defense was the weakest link against Maryland (.424), but improved to .519 overall (71st percentile) and to .688 in pressure situations (86th percentile) against OSU. It certainly helped to have those suspended players back on defense, but I didn’t expect performance in clutch situations to be this high. Huge Congrats!

Goal 4: Maintain great special teams play by scoring .650 on MPI-ST

Results: I say this goal was achieved (read my fine print!). While the special teams unit actually performed just slightly off the mark at .646, readers should know that this is the 95th percentile and represents the best Canes unit of the field once again! I will, thus, round up to an even .650 and say that this unit achieved the goal. Remember when your math teacher changed your 89.6 grade by rounding up to a 90 and giving you an A? I am doing exactly the same thing here, but there is even more reason to do this here since 95th percentile is big guns. Great job again special teams!

Goal 5: Improve offensive performance from .479 to .520 on the MPI-O and dominate the OSU defense by at least two percent.

Results: Achieved with much room to spare! Despite the miscues in the passing game, this offense ran the ball extremely well and overall offensive performance hit the 73rd percentile at .551 on MPI-O. Further, the UM offense dominated the OSU defense by seven percent, above the two percent target.

In review, goal setting showed how this team could crush Ohio State and the team passed this first test well. Miami achieved four of the five goals set, and even improved in the goal they did not achieve. The Canes should be very proud of their overall performance against Ohio State.

Other highlights included time of possession at the 80th percentile, total pressure performance at the 96th percentile (MPI-TP=.679), and rushing yards at the 98th percentile (240).

Now that great improvement has been made in most areas, it is going to be extremely important that Miami keeps performing better and consistently, and not get complacent or overconfident. When a team is supposed to win easily is when I get most nervous as a sports psychologist.

Everyone has concluded that Miami is going to enter the Virginia Tech game with a 4-1 record. Are we forgetting the sting of history, and the amazing upsets that occur each week in any sport and especially the emotional game of football. Read my lips, Miami, “DO NOT LET UP.” Each team that plays against The U will be playing their version of a Super Bowl, so do not think it will be easy and you will be in the best place mentally.

Here are my specific performance goal recommendations for the Kansas State game based on the trends seen so far in the first two games:

1) UM escaped a bullet with only two turnovers and two is not even good. It is average. I would like to see this team reduce turnovers to 1 or less, and maintain a T + P score of no more than 7. This means continued refinement, focus, consistency, and effort directed at perfect execution.

2) There was little balance in the last game between passing and running the ball. Running was exceptional and passing was far below average. KSU is a division one team, but has not been one of the top 25 teams at the end of the year in quite a while. Miami needs to continue blocking well and run the ball for at least 240 yards again, but take care of the ball better in the passing game and have no interceptions while throwing for at least 250 yards. In addition, total team performance needs to remain high, and since Miami is not playing a team as strong as OSU, I would like to see MPI-T rise to above .565.

3) Special teams play has been the story of the year, so why stop now. I would like them once again to be the top performing unit, and achieve at least at .630 mark on MPI-ST. Offense and defense should strive to outperform special teams on their MPI scores.

4) Despite Miami’s impressive rushing attack against OSU, offensive dominance was still at only an improved garden variety level at 7 percent (39th percentile). I would like to see the offense of Miami dominate the defense of KSU by at least 12 percent in the upcoming game.

5) Finally, Miami excelled in pressure situations overall against OSU (MPI-TP=.679, 96th percentile) with a nice balance between offensive pressure play (MPI-OP=.672) and defensive pressure play (MPI-DP=.688). I would like to see this overall pressure play dominance (MPI-TPD=.268) continue to be strong and for MPI-TPD to be at least at a level of .250 or 25%.

That’s enough for now Canes. If you are listening football team, keep up the good work, and maintain the swag, but also be on guard. I know of a team with the letters KSU that would like nothing more than to make their season with a K S on U! Don’t let it happen. Continue to represent!

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

5 Performance Goals to Crush Ohio State

Sports Psychology in Canesport Magazine – September 15, 2011 – John F Murray – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.

Call me a team strategist this week, not a clinical and sports psychologist. Nobody is sick around here. Miami is a team with a great coach and a talented bunch of players. How can you not get excited about a game against Ohio State? If the Hurricanes all come together and perform as well as I know they are capable of, then it should be a very happy weekend.

To make this all easier, I have outlined my five performance goals for the team. If they achieve these goals, I am convinced they will also win the game. I set the goals moderately high and certainly at an attainable level in terms of performance.

In my last column (CLICK HERE for the archived story) I gave a fairly thorough explanation of the 14 new statistics included in my patented Mental Performance Index (or MPI) and explained how I also look at traditional stats and the bell curve in giving meaning to all data. Keep in mind that the MPI is a team performance rating system including every meaningful play, and it includes mental performance as well as execution and physical performance. The key is that it measures performance (how the team did relative to their opponent) and not outcome (how many points or scores they made. Since it scores every meaningful play, it is also a good measure of execution and consistency at any point in the game. As a rule of thumb, an MPI score of .500 is roughly average, .400 is terrible and .600 (or 60% of perfection) is superb, and about 98% of games will have a total team score (MPI-T) that ranges between .400 and .600.

While the cast of characters often changes from week to week based on who is doing well and who is healthy, there is far more than cosmetic improvement in Miami’s lineup, as senior quarterback Jacory Harris, defensive tackle Marcus Forston, defensive end Adewale Ojomo, linebacker Sean Spence and receiver Travis Benjamin all make their returns following suspension. I’m excited to see them return and they’ll hopefully contribute to a better team performance against Ohio State.

I’ll remind you below of Miami’s performance numbers last week, point out areas that need most improvement, and then give the team five solid performance goals in order to have a good chance to defeat Ohio State.:

PERFORMANCE GOAL ONE: RAISE TOTAL TEAM PERFORMANCE 2.5%, FROM .475 TO AT LEAST .500 ON THE MPI-T

The first number to look at is the MPI-T, or total team performance statistic, as this is the best single estimate of how the team as a whole performed. As a reader you will get more familiar with the numbers and what they represent as the season unfolds. Miami’s MPI-T score of .475 was not impressive and it was definitely below average last week. Teams can win games at 47.5% of perfection, but it is rare, and to do so the opponent usually has to perform below average too. This was not the case last week as Maryland was slightly above average on total team performance (MPI-T=.508) and the scoreboard showed this too.

For Miami to beat Ohio State, I would like to see Miami’s total performance rise at least 2.5% to an MPI-T score of .500, and even higher would be better. To do this, the team needs to cut down on penalties and turnovers and execute better overall.

PERFORMANCE GOAL TWO: REDUCE TURNOVERS AND PENALTIES FROM 14 TO 6, BUT WITH NO MORE THAN ONE TURNOVER (T + P < 6; T < 2)

The sad part about last week is that Miami shot itself in the foot. Maryland was a good team (.508), but no world beater, and all you have to do is look at the careless mental mistakes Miami made with four turnovers and 10 penalties (T + P = 14) and you will understand why Miami’s total performance was well below average. As far as I know Coach Golden is not using the MPI statistics yet, but he is emphasizing this truth with the team. The mistakes were by far the weakest link last week against Maryland and that needs to change. The Buckeyes are usually very disciplined, so for Miami to have a chance, I would like to see this T + P statistic kept to 6 or less, but with no more than one turnover max. A second goal here would be to have an equal takeaways minus giveaways (T-G) score. Against Maryland, Miami was a minus 3 on T-G, as Miami had four turnovers to Maryland’s 1. This needs to happen with effort and great focus, and there is no better time to start than this Saturday night.

PERFORMANCDE GOAL THREE: IMPROVE DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCE 6.4% FROM .424 TO .490 OVERALL, AND 8.1% IN PRESSURE MOMENTS FROM .469 TO .550

The Miami defense should be better with the returning players, but remember that they are playing a formidable foe in Ohio State, so that probably makes that a wash. This is a hard game to win.

Last week the single worst unit on the field was Miami’s defense, which performed at only .424 against Maryland’s offense (.544). Contributing to that, Miami gave up 348 yards through the air which put Maryland over the 90th percentile in passing. With better coverage, improved tackling, more dogged pursuit, increased hitting, and a couple of forced turnovers, defensive performance can rise a lot. It would be hard for this unit not to improve from .424. But since this was the lowest area, all eyes will be on defense and I would recommend that Miami target at least a .490 performance on defense, but a .550 performance in pressure moments of the game. They can do this by rising to the occasion as needed to make big plays. Last week performance under pressure for the defense was .469, better than overall performance, but still nothing to cheer about. So at least a .550 performance in these moments is called for.

PERFORMANCE GOAL FOUR: MAINTAIN GREAT SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY BY PERFORMING AT LEAST AT .650

Special teams play was phenomenal last week for Miami (.717) and it would be nice obviously for this to continue. But this is a high performance standard that will be hard to maintain. The coverage was especially good on punts and kickoffs. A Miami performance at the .650 mark or higher would be superb against Ohio State.

PERFORMANCE GOAL FIVE: IMPROVE OFFENSIVE PERFORMANCE 4.1% FROM .479 TO .520 AND OUTPERFORM THE OHIO STATE DEFENSE BY AT LEAST 2% (FOR EXAMPLE: .520 TO .500)

Quarterback Jacory Harris needs to have a good game, the offensive line needs to protect him and open holes for the running backs. The receivers need to do a better job than last year against Ohio State. It is a great redemption game for Travis Benjamin as he was criticized harshly for erratic play last year in the loss to OSU.

Last week the Miami offense was slightly better than Maryland’s defense (.479 to .467), but it was hampered by mistakes including those two very costly interceptions. I expect Harris to be more experienced and poised than Morris was due to his experience. But remember that Ohio State is known for their exceptional defense, ranked 14th in the nation. For Miami to win this game I would like to see the offense improve about 4.1% to .520 and I would like the Miami offense to dominate the Ohio State defense by at least 2%.

These projections don’t provide all of the answers. But, as I have noted before, in developing the MPI over eight years, and using it for my new book that was released this year (“The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History“), I have developed a good idea of what it takes to win a football game. I believe these goals give the Canes a no-nonsense, hard-nosed, and objective perspective that will only help this team get better.

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

I hope you enjoyed this journey into the world of sports psychology.

Mind Games: Coping with NCAA Investigation

Canesport Publisher’s Note: Today we introduce a new feature to CaneSport.com and CaneSport Magazine called “Mind Games.” The column will be written each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint each week as the Hurricanes navigate through a new season. In this introductory column, Murray tells us a little bit about himself and the index and comments on the Hurricanes’ mental rebound from the distractions of the Nevin Shapiro controversy.

I am quite excited to write my first column for CaneSport. Growing up in South Florida I cheered for Hurricanes football in the dreary 60s and 70s right on through the exciting mid-80s. After traveling worldwide for six years in tennis, I returned to the USA to become a clinical and sports psychologist and I’m proud to write a sports psychology column for CaneSport and hope you’ll enjoy it.

This forum will allow me the opportunity to discuss the psychology of the team, and also serve as the launching pad for new insights into the Canes football performance each week. I will be unleashing a powerful and exciting tool that I developed over the past eight years and wrote about in my recently published book “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.”

This Mental Performance Index (or “MPI” for short) captures how well a football team performs with just one standardized statistic on a scale of .000 to 1.000 (like a team batting average), and for the first time including a “mental performance” component.

So the MPI adds enormous precision and comparisons never before possible. I’ll be sharing details of this more in my second column after the Maryland game when I use the MPI to quantify how the team actually performed. For now, just realize how excited I am to be absorbing everything related to Miami Hurricanes football. I hope that offering this unique service to CaneSport readers will make you the most informed fans in the country.

Getting back to the present day, I’d like to discuss in this first column how the Hurricanes football team is coping psychologically with the dark clouds of uncertainty caused by the assault by convicted swindler and traitor Nevin Shapiro.

Shapiro obviously had an axe to grind and showed his true team colors to be hatred and chaos for a program he supposedly loved. The university is reacting appropriately and cooperating fully with the investigation. I applaud UM for this, and for holding all students and coaches accountable for their actions. The U needs to first help the NCAA bring the truth to light.

Well needed integrity and leadership have been shown in comments by President Donna Shalala and coach Al Golden, and these two experienced leaders are a huge asset to UM during this period of pain and uncertainty. While the spotlight and scrutiny on the program could lead to some understandable distractions which reduce team performance, Miami is far from going under as a result of this, and I believe this team will only emerge stronger in the long-term.

This is a new era for Hurricane football, so it is ironic that the investigation comes when it does, but it might as well run its course so that the team can once and for all deal with it and begin with a fresh approach. It appears that some Miami players and coaches may have made some mistakes, but the idea of the death penalty is absurd and feelings of guilt amongst current players over the past are inane.

Booster violations are wrong, but Nevin was a master manipulator and Miami does not hold the monopoly on transgressions despite the impressions. Other programs have flaws too, and college players ought to be paid anyway in my opinion, but the history and tremendous success of UM football and the amazing allure of South Beach makes this a perfect storm for Miami haters.

What else is new? Everyone knocks a winner. It comes with the territory.

The way in which this team is coping so far is difficult to assess without being in on every team meeting or as a fly on the wall in the locker room, but what I’ve gathered from players and coaches indicates that this team is doing as well as any team possibly could in coping. The Hurricanes have had a huge target on their backs ever since they started winning … and even when they have not been winning in recent years. To many they are an evil empire on par with the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Steelers, Manchester United or Real Madrid.

Regardless of the legacy of the U, this is a totally new start with the Golden era, and the investigation poses a greater threat to reputation of a dynasty than the current reality. Sorry. You cannot rewrite a history of greatness, and possibly paying inappropriately for yacht outings, wild parties, or an abortion offers little advantage on the gridiron. If anything it could lead to laziness and distractions. Football is a sport won in the trenches play by play through the sweat and grit, pain and dedication of warriors devoted to a cause. Say what you want about the transgressions of past players or teams, but the Hurricanes earned their titles and respect the old-fashioned way, not through trickery and mirrors.

Back to the present, I’m quite impressed with the way Al Golden appears to be managing the mess. Golden was a huge success at Temple and he is doing and saying all the right things by setting a great example for this team in encouraging them to focus on details. He is known as having extensive plans for every aspect of the team, and he seems positive and optimistic. He encourages an almost tunnel vision focus and was preaching distraction management months before Nevingate popped up its head out of the slime.

Practices have been cut-throat for the many open positions and there appears to be an intensity and teamwork approach that has only grown as a result of the US versus THEM reality. I agree with Gary Ferman’s assessment that it’s really just about the “us” rather than the “them” and players appear to understand that there is no need for worry about things they cannot control.

Time will tell if Golden is the answer to what this team needs, but the comments out of camp are so far exemplary. The investigation will yield whatever it yields, and there is nothing current players or coaches can do about it. Even more, I believe this investigation will bring the team closer together than it would have been without it!

The psychology of how a team copes with the ongoing stress and scrutiny of an NCAA investigation is an interesting reality. It probably has the potential to distract those players being investigated the most, but minimizing the carnage depends on the leadership of coaches and administrators.

What I keep hearing tells me that this team is far from devastated, and maybe even more inspired. In my work with athletes, the best competitive results rarely occur by making practices and imagery easy. Rather, encouraging an athlete or team to cope with remarkable stress is often the ticket to success.

By promoting a unified message of teamwork and by helping the team bond even more because the whole world is against them, Golden is cleverly building a stronger team. You see this in history in the way new governments often shake off the distractions of the past or overcome old enemies with a new battle cry, and the result is that the group or team comes to a new level of independence and self-reliance.

Al Golden encourages his team to “execute the process” according to an earlier CaneSport article. He is right on track, in my view as a sports psychologist, in helping his players perform at their very best. In fact, I will be assessing how well the team “executes the process” in my next column, because that is precisely what the Mental Performance Index measures.

In early 2000 when I kept telling my athletes to focus on performance and process and not on outcome or winning, I realized that I would need a way to measure how well they were doing that, and the MPI was eventually born. No matter how many players are deemed ineligible, Miami will find 11 players to line up against Maryland on both offense and defense, and I will be there analyzing every play to see how well those players on the field perform. We’ll then know if the players are really buying into Al Golden’s message.

Ideals thrown around by the UM football team include tunnel vision, focus on football, honesty, goals, leadership, discipline, optimism and teamwork. Many of these qualities were absent in recent years on the field, but this is a new season, a new start, and no matter how badly anyone wants to destroy this program, resiliency appears to be prevailing.

There is a new hope despite all the allegations and investigations, and I hope my column and the MPI ratings each week help this team to further focus on doing the right things both on and off the field.

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

For Immediate Release

Miami Hurricanes Publication Adds Sports Psychology Column for 2011 Football Season that will Highlight Team’s Physical and Mental Performance Each Week

Miami, FL – August 9, 2011 – America’s foremost authority on Miami Hurricane Sports, the 20-year-old publication known as “Canesport,” recently brought Palm Beach sports psychologist Dr. John F Murray aboard to write a weekly column on Hurricane football throughout the 2011 season. For the first time in the history of a sports column, the “mental performance” of a team will be carefully evaluated and quantified throughout a season. The column will aim to be friendly, easy to read, and uniquely informative. However, Murray also explains that he wants Canesport readers to be the smartest and most well informed football fans in the country.

Murray’s new column will be derived from his own quantitative analysis of every meaningful play in every Hurricanes game, giving readers insight that is not available elsewhere. This is the same approach that Dr. Murray used in reporting on all 45 Super Bowls in his new book, “The Mental Performance Index, Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” (World Audience, Inc., www.JohnFMurray.com). The big finding in the book is that, the new MPI statistic correlates with winning and performance in the Super Bowl more than any other traditional team performance statistic. The message for coaches and teams is to begin measuring team mental performance, and also training players in these areas to stay ahead.

This book is the culmination of eight years of research and introduces a new statistic, the MPI, that captures team performance more accurately than before possible because it includes mental performance as well. “This new column that will appear after every football game in Canesport (www.canesport.com) is both cutting edge and groundbreaking,” said Murray. “It will appeal to the diehard fan who thirsts for more information about the Canes, and it will help inform everyone in football.”

Dr. Murray, once dubbed “the Freud of Football” by the Washington Post, works with elite athletes and teams in his private practice. Tom Flores, two-time Super Bowl winning head coach of the Oakland and LA Raiders, writes in the foreword: “Dr. Murray’s Mental Performance Index can be and will be the next part of sports evolution in the 21st Century.”

Pro football hall of fame sportscaster Lesley Visser also supports the MPI, and Visser writes the epilogue on the genius of Bill Walsh. Don Shula also provided a quote for the book from his coaching days.

For Further Information or interviews:

John F Murray, PhD
Telephone: 561-596-9898
Web: http://www.JohnFMurray.com

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