Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

3 Time National Champion Football Player from Alabama Endorses Sports Psychology

Note from Dr. John F. Murray:

I am thrilled to have recently received the following sports psychology endorsement from a fine individual and key member of the University of Alabama offensive line that won 3 national championships:

“Working with Dr. Murray was not only beneficial in my athletic endeavors but my personal life as well. Through his guidance I was able to overachieve and accomplish my childhood dream of playing football at the University of Alabama. I still use some of the methods he taught me in my everyday life. I am forever grateful to Dr. Murray and his ability to take a blue collar kid and develop him into a national champion!!!

RTR – KELLEN WILLIAMS (2009-2013), Pat Trammel Award Winner and 3 Time BCS National Champion, Alabama

Thanks so much Kellen!

 

Dr. John F Murray Launches New Show Jumping Column

Palm Beach, FL – February 16, 2017 – JohnFMurray.com – Clinical and sports performance psychologist John F Murray has launched a brand new column on sports psychology on the world’s premier website for show jumpers at www.WorldOfShowJumping.com. The column is called “Mental Equipment,” similar to some of his past columns and radio shows, and is designed to help show jumpers all over the world to improve mental skills such as focus, confidence, and resilience as they prepare for and enter the show ring.

“Over the years, I’ve noticed a modest but steady flow of show jumpers in my private practice, so it’s about time that we have a regular feature column on the topic,” stated Murray. “It will be fun.” You can find the first column at the following link:  Mental Equipment Column at www.WorldOfShowJumping.com.

 

 

Hot Take: Redskins should use a sports psychologist

USA TODAY – Washington Redskins Wire – By Lake Lewis, Jr. – January 26, 2017 – Over the years, sports psychologists have helped some of the top teams and high profile athletes gain a mental edge over their opponents. And while NFL athletes are some of the most physically gifted individuals, fragile egos can quickly lose confidence if their play and performance are not up to par.

The Washington Redskins, for whatever reason, have a history of epic meltdowns during prime-time games. In fact, some of their worst games were matchups with big consequences.

This past season, the Burgundy and Gold had could have clinched a playoff spot with a win in either of their final two home games, but their performances were lackluster.

Could a sports psychologist have helped determine a different outcome?

Some of the more storied franchises in sports have used sports psychologists, and these teams are known to be mentally tough.

Teams that have won championships, such as the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, have used forms of sports psychology to help them perform better. Other elite pro teams, such as the New York Yankees (MLB) and the San Antonio Spurs (NBA), have employed it as well.

Dr. John F. Murray, a well-known author, speaker, clinical psychologist and sports psychologist has worked with several high-profile athletes and teams over the years.

Murray states that the “athletes known as overachievers constantly outperform those with more raw speed or strength because they make better decisions. They stay focused rather than getting rattled in the heat of battle. They remain confident and resilient no matter what the situation is, and we all recognize that their performance has nothing to do with their limbs and muscles and everything to do with their brain.”

Several current and former players I spoke with revealed they had sports psychologists in college but not with the Redskins. Players can seek out help independently, which many in the league do, if their team doesn’t offer the service.

Washington could use help in the mental approach to the game. Too many times they have underachieved when the lights were the brightest or the stage was unforgiving.

The team could start performing at a higher level winning if they maximized the mental approach to the game, since the talent has improved over the past several seasons.

The Patriots are back in the Super Bowl with a roster that is not the most talented. They were also hit hard by injuries and still didn’t miss a beat. Their mental approach to the game from coach Bill Belichick to quarterback Tom Brady is better than it ever has been. (Tom Brady, it should also be noted, recently stated after the 2017 championship win over the Steelers that the mental toughness was the most important factor in team success)

This is the difference between teams with talent and teams with a mental capacity that can’t be broken.

Hope you have enjoyed this feature from the world of sports psychology.

Sports psychologist on Odell Beckham: Time to learn ’emotional control’

Metro New York – January 25, 2017 – By Kristian Dyer – After a season with plenty of antics and ravings from Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants fans might need some therapy if they are going to endure another emotional year with their star wide receiver. The tantrums that have become associated with Beckham are concerning, but the nation’s most prominent sports psychologist advises that it simply means the diva wide receiver needs to develop not just his physical side but his mental one as well.

From picking a fight with the kicking net one week, to last year’s fight on the field with Josh Norman, there is no denying that Beckham is a lightning rod for criticism. While his production on the field remains strong – he did lead the Giants in receptions and receiving yards this year – his actions continue to be a distraction and they show a penchant for self-destruction. It seemed at times this past season that he simply checked out of games and/or was baited into emotional responses – as a certain piece of drywall at Lambeau Field can attest to.

While a diagnosis is impossible from a distance, Dr. John F. Murray thinks that Beckham might benefit not just from running routes and lifting weights this offseason, but also from some mental training.

“A diagnosis is never appropriate from afar and if I were working with him clinically I would certainly keep it confidential,” Dr. Murray told Metro. “There are many popular and usually erroneous notions about erratic behavior in sports in which that behavior is connected to bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder or some other mental instability. While those things are possible, it is more likely that this athlete with enormous talent is simply underdeveloped in one of the key mental training areas that I would call ‘emotional control’ or ‘energy control.'”

Dr. Murray, author of The Mental Performance Index as well as the highly-acclaimed Smart Tennis, is one of the nation’s foremost sports psychologists. He is often called “the most quoted psychologist in America.”

He cautions not to read too much into some of Beckham’s behavior over the past couple of seasons and that he wouldn’t want to change the player or the personality.

“Temperament is like hair color,” Murray said. “It comes in all different forms. Top athletes can often appear manic or even depressed after games but this does not necessarily mean they are going off the deep end. The key is smart performance on the field that allows an athlete to play consistently at his highest level.”

Hope you have enjoyed this feature article from the world of sports psychology.

Jamar Taylor Helps in Cleveland Browns First Win & Endorses Dr. John F Murray’s Sports Psychology

Sports Psychology Feature – December 27, 2016 – Former Miami Dolphins and current Cleveland Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor is back in a very big way. The Miami Dolphins probably should not have let him get away. His terrific play last Sunday helped the Browns to their first victory of the season, and he was rewarded for his play with a new 3-year, 15 million dollar contract extension. Prior to the season he was released by the Miami Dolphins, and his status as a newly signed Cleveland Browns player was uncertain at best. He wasn’t even on the top of the depth chart. But he wanted more and he wanted to have a great season mentally and to make it in the NFL.  Taylor called sports psychologist John F Murray and they began working together in the spring of 2016. The rest is history as he had a superb season. After the big win against the Chargers in week 15, Taylor wrote the following about the benefits of mental coaching and sports psychology:

“Dr. John F Murray’s mental coaching and sports psychology services helped me get ready for the 2016 season with great confidence and focus. We focused on what I have done in the past to help me reach what I wanted in the future. With great confidence and focus we were able to get positive results”    Jamar Taylor, Cleveland Browns cornerback, December, 2016

Thank you for the comments Jamar and keep up the great work! Below is an article that just came out after the Browns  stunning victory over the San Diego Chargers:

CLEVELAND — WYKC TV – The Cleveland Browns rewarded veteran cornerback Jamar Taylor with a three-year contract extension (for 15 million dollars) earlier this month, and he repaid that faith with a solid defensive performance against the San Diego Chargers at FirstEnergy Stadium Saturday.

Taylor defended three passes, intercepted another and registered five total tackles in helping the Browns to a 20-17 win over the Chargers for their first victory of the season.

“They kept trying me, but I knew I was just going to keep making plays,” Taylor said. “I didn’t know if they thought I was going to be the weak link, but I knew I wasn’t going to be that guy. My teammates depend on me, and our coaches do a great job of preparing us all week. Every time they tried to make a play, I tried to make one too.”

The Chargers scored on each of their first two drives of the game, and the 43-yard field goal from Josh Lambo gave them a 10-7 lead over the Browns with 1:49 to play in the first quarter.

Lambo’s field goal capped off a seven-play, 50-yard drive that took 3:23 off the first-quarter clock.

The Chargers started the drive at their own 25-yard line, but a 15-yard pass from quarterback Philip Rivers to wide receiver Travis Benjamin moved the ball up to the San Diego 40-yard line.

On the next play, Rivers found wide receiver Tyrell Williams for a 27-yard gain that became a 42-yard play when Taylor was flagged for unnecessary roughness after exchanging shoves and words with Williams out of bounds.

However, Taylor broke up a potential touchdown pass and his interception led to a Browns field goal.

“He made some plays,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “He is a guy I am glad our organization signed back here. I think he is another one of the young building blocks on our football team as we move forward.

“He has made some plays all year, and the guy has been playing injured, so I am really appreciative of his effort and what he has tried to do by staying out there. We have a lot of guys that are banged up, but they were not going to give up the chance to win a game together, and that is what they were able to do.”

After playing a critical role in the outcome, Taylor embraced the fact that the Browns’ win over the Chargers broke a 17-game losing streak.

“It was a great team win,” Taylor said. “The offense started on fire. They held it down when we were messing up. The defense, we capitalized. They were driving and we got off the field, and that’s what it’s about. Getting off the field, give the offense a chance and give them a short field. We just played our tails off.

“It’s real special for Cleveland and for Head Coach Hue. It hasn’t been the best year, but we know if we just stick together and find a way, no excuses, just find a way. It’s big for Cleveland, but more importantly, this team and Coach Hue.”

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

You Have to See this Amazing New Watch: The Smartest Watch on the Planet

Special Feature by Dr. John F. Murray, Palm Beach based Sports Psychology – November 26, 2016 – It gives me great pleasure to review the Indiegogo campaign and new Equilibrium watch produced by the YES watch company. YES has sponsored me in the past when I was traveling a lot on the ATP Tour, going to Olympic games, doing workshops in London and worldwide, coaching fighters at UFC championships, and much more, and they are sponsoring me again now. I have the fortune of continuing my work with the best and brightest and helping them develop smart skills to be even better, so this smart watch product and campaign makes sense.

I am proud to wear and promote the extremely unique and high quality watches produced by YES. I wear my Cozmo and Kondalini watch proudly and people are always interested in looking at because it is so different and rare. Read below about some of the features of YES watches and you will understand what I mean. Also be sure to read about the new Equilibrium and look at the photos and features described in detail on this website. This watch will retail at around $1400 next June when it is produced, but you can get one now at a ridiculous and incredible savings if you order it now.

In this article, I would like to explore with you what I believe are special about YES watches for athletes like tennis pros, and I am sure that I will miss much but hopefully this will give you a taste. Be sure to check out the website at YESwatch.com for all the exciting watches.

I have coached players at all 4 major ATP Tour and WTA Tour tennis tournaments (Australian Open, US Open, Wimbledon, and French Open) as both a coach and sports psychologist, and helped reverse the biggest losing streak in tennis history with American tennis pro Vince Spadea when he was playing. I also wrote a best-selling book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game, cover endorsed by the world’s number one ranked tennis player, Lindsay Davenport. I have been fortunate in my career to be around great athletes in all sports, and have a little idea about what it takes to be smart and successful in sports. This year, I was also fortunate to have articles were written about me in both USA Today and Psychology Today, calling me the best in the business. Whether that is true or not, I am not going to argue against it (Laughing). My purpose is never to brag, but just to inspire others about mental training and to share now that I feel that YES watches and the exciting new Equilibrium represent extreme quality and high performance, just like a pro athlete’s performance or high level sports psychology counseling.

Here are my main reasons for getting behind the YES brand and particularly the new Equilibrium campaign:

1. I know what it takes to win in tennis and other sports, and I am confident that YES watches are a great asset to any tennis player or world traveling athlete.

2. The YES mantra of being the “most intelligent watch on the planet” fits perfectly with what I have taught and promoted in my almost 20-year career as a sports performance psychologist. Smart and successful athletes and business executives need a smart watch on their wrist and this one meets the bill without taking all the bills out of your wallet!

3. Precision and rhythm are everything in sports. They are also everything the YES watch brand epitomizes, and especially the new Equilibrium. While the watch is indeed cool and trendy, and much more interesting and functional than the Apple brand of I-watches, I think the better argument is that having this monster on your wrist alone provides a confidence and focus boost due to its incredibly complex and precise nature. This watch is more exciting functionally than the more expensive and complex movements that cost over $100,000 and it’s the ideal gift or conversation piece.

4. Tennis pros, other athletes and business executives travel the planet multiple times in short order due to the fact that tournaments, business meetings and conferences are worldwide on a regular basis. Jetlag and travel fatigue are common, so having a complex computer on the wrist to help orient the tour player, coach, or executive is fantastic. What is amazing is that the YES watch brand goes far beyond black and white time of day. Knowing when the sun rises, moon phases, times in hundreds of different cities, and having a nice alarm, and in multiple languages is simply too amazing and powerful to ignore!

5. The stopwatch function is critical in training in sports and the watches take a real beating with their high-quality construction. The YES watch can be worn frequently in the gym and on the court or field in multiple training activities with both sports and fitness activities.

6. As a sports performance psychologist, I know the incredible value that learning alone can provide in terms of sharpening awareness and professionalism. This watch is so informative as it teaches the wearer about the earth and planet, and gives them a feeling of immense joy from the pure learning it creates.

7. Getting familiar with the times in the next city and cities you will be visiting during your travels helps alleviate the tiring and often confusing effects of travel. Tennis players, for example, who lose in the first or second round quickly move on to other cities, and I have often heard tennis players complain that travel is one of the most difficult aspects of being a tennis pro. Players who win tournaments also have to more quickly get to the next tournament, so it works regardless of results. This watch helps makes the grueling travel all more fun and bearable.

8. The Swiss construction and materials represents the highest level of quality. For a long time, the Rolex brand has been associated with tennis as the tennis timekeeper and we all know the impact that Swiss watches have had over the years and how influential Roger Federer has been. This YES watch/Swiss connection just adds credibility and quality awareness. Imagine a day when the YES watch provides the score-keeping functions at the Olympics or Wimbledon. Why not? The smartest watch deserves a place in the spotlight too. Whether it makes it to Wimbledon or not, you will like it on your wrist.

9. The YES watch brand is a winner, and the YES Equilibrium will be the most exciting watch in a long line of successful products that tennis pro and talent agent from Beverly Hills, Vince Spadea, and I wear and enjoy. There is a final angle that might be even more valuable. It simply looks great on the arm and it attracts lots of eyeballs and conversations. It is a masterfully smart tool that is immensely fun!

In sum, I am thrilled to again promote the YES watch line of products, and especially recommend this upcoming Equilibrium watch at pre-production prices that will never be available again. I got behind this brand because the YES watch promotes what I emphasize daily in my work – namely, intelligent performance. Vince Spadea is showing his YES watches now to his clients in his amazing talent agency in Beverly Hills and on the tennis court with people like Donald Trump and Bill Gates, and now you can have this amazing watch too.

I hope you have found the above information useful. It is indeed shameless promotion for a great product. For the most current and informative website for this new Equilibrium, go to the following site YES WATCH EQUILIBRIUM

New Study Demonstrates Power of Mental Performance in NFL over 8 Years

By John F Murray, PhD

I would like to share some exciting news. I am going to keep it simple and concise, but I think you will realize that this is very powerful.

As many of you know, I wrote a book after developing a new way to analyze football performance that included for mental performance. Both the new statistic and the book were titled “The Mental Performance Index” and the study discussed in the book on all the Super Bowl games showed that this index correlated with winning in the Super Bowl more than any other traditional statistic. It worked because the MPI captures more of reality than more dry statistics that do not include the observable mental aspects of performance and it also works because it measures every moment. It is both a mental measure and a measure of consistency over every play.

On the one hand this was very thrilling and I secured a 4-time Super Bowl winning coach, Tom Flores, to write the forward, and America’s most beloved and successful female sports broadcaster, Lesley Visser, who wrote the epilogue. Many NFL people provided supportive quotes including Don Shula and the late Steve Sabol of NFL Films, but my purpose here is not to promote this book, but to share something much more exciting and new. I aim to just further promote the vitality of mental performance and the need for mental coaching. I think my study has accomplished this. Read on.

I developed the MPI to help football teams by describing overall performance more accurately, because it includes a vital mental component usually ignored, but I never intended to use it to predict future games. Sure, I went on national radio and on television to talk about the Super Bowl over an 8 year stretch to give my fun pick based on MPI data, and I was right against the spread 6 of 8 years, but that was the fun angle and never the point of the MPI. It was intriguing success to get 6 of 8 correct, but an entirely too small sample size of only 8 games does not allow the serious scientist to get too excited about the predictive qualities of the MPI. I needed to do more to wake up the world.

Enter the year 2013. At this point, I realized that many in the sports world, and particularly in football, were still slow in grasping the importance of mental performance and mental coaching, so I endeavored to do something new to help illuminate the importance of mental performance and to also determine on my own how well the MPI could actually predict. I wasn’t sure, but if I could show that the MPI could reliably predict future games, it would add firepower to the notion that since I was measuring an important but often ignored part of the game – the mental game – I would also be able to predict better than most because I was using a tool that others did not have, and a tool that was capturing rich data that was often ignored.

Sure, I had already shown that the mental measure I created correlated best in winning the Super Bowl, but taking it to the level of game prediction was an entirely different animal. I was stuck on game description, but not future game prediction. I did not quit my day job as I have a duty to still see clients out of my office, on the phone, and at client sites, but this side project became a huge passion too, and I am happy to say that I have some very interesting results after having studied the MPI to predict games over an 8 year period of time from 2007 to 2014.

It would be entirely too complicated to discuss in this brief article how I took the MPI and turned it into a prediction machine. It was a great challenge and I tackled it with passion and purpose, starting with the raw data that the MPI produced and tweaking it relentlessly (based on numerous mini studies) for a variety of factors such as home field advantage, the established line on the game, the strength of schedule, and many other factors, but the essence was still a measure that included observable mental performance using the MPI that I discussed in my book.

I even hired professional statisticians to check my work and make sure I was doing everything properly. I have a background in statistics, having taught it at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but I needed to pay someone to check on my work, and I wanted someone who does this work full time.

In developing my study, I borrowed from a format that the world is very familiar with in the Westgate Super Contest, the largest handicapping contest on the planet. Contestants picks 5 games each week and make their picks against a contest line. So each season contestants picks 85 total games and the most recent contest had over 1700 entries. It is exploding in popularity. The player with the highest win percentage (represented as total points) is the winner. I used their method of selecting 5 games each week, but I did it over an 8 year period of time, and methodically applied the system I developed to select 5 games each week in a totally systematic/objective manner.

The study actually included 4 different composite variations of a multiple regression approach, but the purest multiple regression approach was the clear winner, and boy did it win. The total sample size was very large as there are over 2000 NFL games to choose from over an 8 year stretch, but picking 85 games each year narrows that down to 680 game picks. Since in weeks 1 and 2 there is not enough data, I began each year at week 3, leading to a total of 600 picks. I did not count pushes (ties) in my analysis. If there was a push, I treated it as if it did not exist. In the contest, pushes count as half a point, but I did not give myself that luxury, so my findings conservatively underestimate my true success.

I am only going to share the findings from the most successful approach, the simple linear regression approach that fit the data best. In sum, I used my regression formula to select 5 games each week over an 8 year period of NFL games, and I used this formula in conjunction with the MPI that had been tweaked multiple times into a complex algorithm. The end result was that by using this formula I was able to first identify the 5 best games from which to make my picks, and then the algorithm which had produced an MPI line on the game was used to select a team either above or below the established line to make the actual picks. It was either a win or loss, or it didn’t count as a push. Keeping it simple, I ended up with 5 picks each week from week 3 to week 17 in each of 8 years.

If what I had created was meaningless, we would expect to find close to 50% success rate in an ATS (against the spread) format. The established contest line (or Vegas line) does a very good job of making it virtually a coin flip, so not matter what team you pick, the inexperienced or unsophisticated person making a pick will get closer and closer to 50% over time and since we are starting with close to 2000 games, the statistical power is such that any deviation above a 50% success rate would be interesting. A baby or person with an IQ of 75 making selections would be close to 50%. Professional handicappers who do this regularly and have records on them over an 8 year period of time usually get it right 50, 51 or 52% of the time. Very good ones are at 53% or rarely 54%, and the very best in history are still usually below 57 or 58% over hundreds of games of selections. It is one of the hardest things in life to do to win in an ATS format.

What kind of results did the MPI get? I am thrilled to report that it hit the ball out of the park! Below are the actual records for each of the 8 years of using this system to make picks in this study:

2007: 48 wins, 27 losses (64%)
2008: 44 wins, 31 losses (59%)
2009: 37 wins, 38 losses (49%)
2010: 45 wins, 30 losses (60%)
2011: 46 wins, 29 losses (61%)
2012: 44 wins, 31 losses (59%)
2013: 39 wins, 36 losses (52%)
2014: 44 wins, 31 losses (59%)
________________________________
Overall Average Success Rate Over 8 Years = 58%

What does all this mean? I am more than excited about this approach that took a few years to refine, and I plan to actually use it in future Super Contests to see if I can place in the top 50. From the data above, if I had played the contest using this exact system approach each year, I probably would have been in the top 50 about 5 or 6 out of the 8 years.

58% success did not come by accident. If this had meant nothing, it would have registered a 49.8% success rate or very close to 50%, but this 8% jump on chance over close to 2000 observations and 600 selections from that is huge evidence about how critically important the mental game is in football and all sports.

What about the future? Some people reading this will be impressed that I have found that measuring the mental game is now proven to have predictive powers. This is not surprising to me but it took a ton of work to get there. Others will not be impressed at all, and that is fine. It will probably take a public application of my system with consistent proven future results in contests to sway the doubters. I plan on now applying my system the same way I have in the study to see if I can get similar results, and that will be the proof everyone needs. Doubting Thomas people are fine. Doubt is the hallmark of science so I totally understand. The null hypothesis begins by saying that nothing exists. It does not begin with belief. I love that.

In sum, the main purpose of this study was to determine if using the MPI as a predictor is possible, lending further likely support to my study revealed in the book, that mental performance really does matter. Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals if it matters. Ask Blair Walsh the same question now.

The take home message from my book, and these newly released results, is that if you would like to be your best in any sport you had better pay attention to mental performance and the best way to do that is through consistent long-term mental skills training or mental coaching.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into the exciting world of sports psychology!

The Mental Side of the NFL Playoffs and a Little Guarantee

By John F. Murray, PhD

First, What is Happening in the NFL Playoffs!

Hello from clinical and sports performance psychologist Dr. John F. Murray in Palm Beach, Florida. With all the excitement and craziness that is the NFL and the 2016 playoffs, I thought it was time to chime in again.

There is no question that the Cincinnati Bengals just lost a game mentally to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only did they lose it, they lost it big and they lost it because they had obviously not been properly prepared to deal with emotions in the heat of battle. Joey Porter taunted them and they bit. This kind of behavior is unacceptable and they are sadly at home watching the rest of the playoffs because their mental performance stunk. It is a hard lesson to learn, but one that teams seems to keep forgetting about time and time again.

With proper advanced imagery and resilience training, those kinds of mistakes would never happen. Players would have been so inundated with mental distractions and frustrations in visualization sessions where they were forced to keep their cool that the likelihood of a meltdown would have been close to zero. We have seen this thousands of times in sports and we will continue to see it most often in teams and athletes not training their mental skills regularly.

Over in another wildcard playoff game, Blair Walsh missed a chip shot field goal that was closer than an extra point to lose a game when the team had all but sealed the victory against the Seahawks. On the one hand I must feel really bad for Walsh and we are all human and this can happen. On the other hand, the success rate of a 27 yard field goal is above 98%, so the skill itself is virtually automatic. This same skill under the extreme pressure of winning or losing is not so easy. This demonstrates that what you see is not what you get when it comes to pressure, and it only argues further that players need to train regularly their minds for such occasions.
In my work, I see these things all the time because mental performance comes out in the ordinary moments of sports just as it does in the critical moments. There are countless careless lapses in the first quarters of games, just as there are horrible chokes in the fourth quarters. The reality is that mental performance is always around us, and the team or athlete that manages their mental skills better (areas such as confidence, focus, goals, resilience, emotional control, imagery etc.) gain an often decisive advantage over those who do not. In fact, in my book “The Mental Performance Index” I discovered that this newly created measure that included mental performance accounted for success better in the Super Bowl games than any other factor and it was upwards of 80% correlated with success. Ignore mental skills only to your peril was the take home message of my study and book.

My Guarantee

Now I’d like to share with you a little guarantee that I made to the entire sports world and it’s a slight variation of a previous article that I published.

Sports are constantly in flux and evolving. New techniques and plays are always being developed and there is an almost linear progression that seems to take place from year to year as more money, research and accumulated experience contribute to a better mousetrap. NFL passes thrown as they were in 1946 would be easily picked off by most high school safeties today. Tennis forehands in 1930 at Wimbledon would not come close to winning in the first round of any boy’s 16 year old championship today, and major league baseball pitchers from the 1920s would probably be knocked out in the first inning of every division I college game today. Darwin was right … evolution is relentless!

One of the still rarely discussed, but no less important aspects of peak performance improvement takes place in the training of the mind or “mental coaching” as it is often called. While athletes may only be able to jump so high and sprint so fast, there is an equally important aspect of achievement that is much more flexible and amenable to change. It has unlimited potential unlike the physical ceilings of jump height or strength. It resides between the ears in that most marvelous computer of all – the brain – and it flexes its own form of elbow grease in areas such as hope, confidence, focus, resilience and smarter decision making.

Sports psychology is the science and practice most responsible for this training of the brain for high performance, and many casual observers just assume that all great athletes have a sports psychologist or mental coach, but I have found that not to be true at all. My estimation having worked 17 years as an independent practicing clinical and sports psychologist is that less than 10% of college, professional and Olympic athletes are doing mental training regularly and properly. While this may seem very odd, since gaining a performance advantage is crucial and the most pressing need for these great competitors, consider the reality. When I completed my specialized internship in sports psychology from 1997 to 1998, it was the only sports psychology internship in the United States that was also approved and accredited by the American Psychological Association’s internship consortium! I’m not sure the situation is much better today, 18 years later. Training opportunities are rare and hard to find.

The truth is that the profession that trains practitioners to do mental coaching and sports psychology work is still in its infancy. Let’s consider the analogy of the development of the field and practice of psychology itself. While the science of psychology began in a Leipzig, Germany lab in the 1880s, it was not until the 1960s and 70s that it was commonplace to see a psychologist in private practice. I like to call this beginning recognition of the field as the “Bob Newhart” era, after the popular sitcom of the 70s depicting the Chicago-based psychologist we all know and love.

Dr. Phil is an extension of Bob Newhart in the media today, but even he is not a sports psychologist. So when you consider that it took about 90 years for the science of psychology to become a viable widespread clinical practice, there should be no surprise that qualified and experienced sports psychologists are few and far between since this science only began in the 1960s and 70s, or just 40 years ago. By psychology standards, the field and practice of sports psychology is like psychology was in 1925! It was all over the world in academic and research settings, but only a handful of rare individuals practiced psychology back then. It was not until after WW2 with the training opportunities of the VA hospital system brought about by head injuries sustained on the battlefront, that psychology really had an opportunity to become a profession. The Boulder Conference, as it was called, created hundreds of internships for future practicing psychologists overnight in the VA system. There are many thousands of psychologists today but still only a handful of properly trained and qualified sports psychologists.

I knew I was taking a little bit of a risk in getting into such a new field when I went back to graduate school in 1991. I had been a tennis coach worldwide, and mostly in Europe, and over there the idea of mental coaching had taken much firmer hold philosophically, but the graduate school education was still far better in the United States. So I came back to the University of Florida, got a couple masters degrees, a PhD, the aforementioned specialized internship, and finally a specialized postdoctoral fellowship. By 1999, I was on my way with a new practice in a very rare field.

I was in a field that was so new that I realized I had to publish to get the word out. I wrote hundreds of articles and I wrote the book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” and got the top tennis player at the time, Lindsay Davenport, to endorse it. It is now in three languages with almost 20 printings. I later wrote a second book that expressed my passion for all that is football and titled it “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.” This book was also very well endorsed. The reviews from NFL Films and Tom Flores were excellent. Even Don Shula gave me a quote. However, even these powerful recommendations will take time to hit the mainstream. I had to do more.

In writing this second book, I realized that I had stumbled upon a major finding, and I grow ever more excited whenever I ponder this. Since the beginning of mankind, mental skills and smart play were always important for survival. In the cave era, if you wanted to feed your village, you had to remain calm, poised and focused to be able to properly throw that spear into the wooly mammoth. While there were certainly no sports psychologists back then, and still few today, the truth then and today remains that mental performance is and always was critical to success. Spear throwers had to figure it out alone back then.

Broadcasters, sports writers, and authors all lend credence to the vast importance of peak mental performance that still exists today. Athletes known as overachievers constantly outperform those with more raw speed or strength because they make better decisions. The stay focused rather than getting rattled in the heat of battle. They remain confident and resilient no matter what the situation is, and we all recognize that their performance has nothing to do with their limbs and muscles and everything to do with their brain! It was this realization that mental performance matters that led me on the passionate journey of creating a “Mental Performance Index” and writing a book with the same name in order to share my passion.

I realized that mental performance was critical, but I was astounded that nobody was taking the time to measure it. There were no statistics to capture how well a team performed mentally, so I decided to create one, and the abbreviation is MPI. The most amazing part of this is what happened when I analyzed the data for my book. I had studied every play in Super Bowl history and rated each play with the MPI, essentially measuring football a different way by looking at each moment and including an adjustment for the mental performance. When I did this with the help of several statisticians, I discovered something phenomenal. It was this MPI, or measurement of the moment, that correlated best with winning when compared with almost 40 other statistics. This emphasis on performance in the moment and mental skills, in other words, had best captured what it takes to win a football game. In my mind, what had always been known, but never formerly measured until the MPI, was not only important to success …. it is probably the most important factor in success!

Since my book and passion are very much centered on the sport of football, why are there still so few sports psychologists in the NFL? How about the other major sports of hockey, baseball and basketball? While I’ve worked with professional franchises and their top stars, both privately and paid by the teams, it has usually been to put out fires or help a single player rather than as a program to prepare entire teams for success.

The bottom line is that coaches and executives in the major professional sports have still not really discovered sports psychology. Given that today is still analogous to only the year 1925 in psychology terms, this should not be too surprising. But given the amount of money spent on top players, and the turnover rate in coaching and high management, one would think that mental coaching would have been long ago discovered as essential for every team from day one of training camp. What else could be going on you might ask?
I think there is still a fear of the unknown. It is a fear that coaches and managers have about mental coaching and peak performance sports psychology. Could this be a fear that hiring a top employee or consultant will somehow steal the thunder of the head coach, or put the team at risk in some way? Coaches cannot be that controlling, can they?

While I cannot speak for other sports psychologists, I always start with the assumption that the coach is the captain of the ship and I am there to provide a needed service just the same way any professional would, all the way from the team physician to the dentist, trainer, assistant coach, and massage therapist. I am not the coach and have no desire to be the coach. He brings me in to help with his own philosophy of football. I am there to adapt to his needs to help him and help the team and players achieve worthy goals.

I do know that about 12 years ago, while on the sidelines of an NFL team practice, the head coach said the following to me: “While you might be the best and most well trained sports psychologist in the world, I just cannot stand in front of my team today and tell them they have a psychologist.” That comment still reverberates with me today as the possible reason why there is hesitancy, but I think times are changing. In other words, in the past there was the idea that it was shameful or showed weakness in some way to seek mental coaching. When you consider the history of mental health care, which began in treating those who were mentally ill, it makes sense. That coach somehow thought that telling his team that they had a success coach was the same as telling them they were all mentally ill. How ludicrous, but how probably true! I get it. He was afraid!

It is my hope that today more coaches and managers will realize that just as doctors and lawyers and coaches study for years and practice for years to accumulate knowledge and practical wisdom in their chosen area of study, smart sports psychologists are no different. I did not get into the field to treat mental illness. I did not spend years in graduate school to have someone be ashamed of my profession. I had been a worldwide coach, and I wanted to open my expertise to the new and exciting findings about training the mind rather than just the body.

I love what I do today as a sports psychologist. But I still get the majority of my clients from pro and amateur athletes calling on their own, or the parents or private coaches calling. I want that to change, and it is partly why I wrote “The Mental Performance Index.” If you read this, you will learn about this coach/sports psychologist relationship and how to ensure that everything goes smoothly to best help the team, how problems are prevented before they occur, and much more about the best teams mentally and physically in Super Bowl History.”

My guarantee is that your team and players will prosper with mental coaching. You will discover that there is no shame associated with trying to make yourself or your team better through proper mental coaching. A player can only run so fast and hit so hard, but by helping players tweak their mental performance just a little, the whole team will benefit. I guarantee it! Imagine what would happen if each player got 15% more confident, more focused, and more resilient. Do you think the team would also benefit. You can bank on it because I guarantee it. The days of fear are over. The biggest fear might be not investing in mental coaching for our teams and players.

I hope you enjoyed this initial walk down the avenue of sports psychology.

Early retirement: players call it quits in prime of careers

Sports Psychology in Associate Press – By JANIE McCAULEY – July 30, 2015 – SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Patrick Willis walked away first with a nagging toe injury that kept him from being the dominant All-Pro linebacker of his prime.

Then his heir apparent and San Francisco teammate Chris Borland followed with his own stunning retirement on the heels of his spectacular rookie season, citing concern about head trauma over a hard-hitting career.

Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker called it quits after four seasons. Next, ex-Pittsburgh pass-rushing specialist Jason Worilds bid farewell to football. And then yet another 49er joined the list of departures from the NFL while still young: Offensive lineman and 2010 first-round pick Anthony Davis also chose his health and future over more punishing knocks in the head after a concussion left him dazed for weeks late last year.

“You don’t want to see guys walk away, but at the end of the day everyone has their own problems and things they need to deal with, their own reasons,” San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis said. “We didn’t expect Patrick to retire.”

Around the league, players began taking the leap to that unknown life after football — at 30 or younger, no less.

“As many players that do consider perhaps the long-term risks and the cost benefits of a long-term career in a contact sport, you’re going to get that,” said sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray, based in Palm Beach, Florida. “We’ve had more education and increased awareness from many avenues about the risks of concussions long term, the risks of the effects of that.”

In an offseason overshadowed by deflated footballs, Willis, Locker and the 27-year-old Worilds retired in a stunning 24-hour span starting March 10.

Five-time All-Pro Willis retired at age 30. Davis is 25 and Borland 24. Locker, then 26 — the NFL’s eighth overall pick in 2011 — never played a full season and appeared in only 30 games in all.

Willis left without a Super Bowl ring, coming so close following the 2012 season in a three-point loss to the Ravens.

“I always told myself that I wanted it to be on my terms,” Willis said in an emotional announcement at Levi’s Stadium last spring. “I wanted it to be in a way that was just amazing. … In my head, I’m already a Hall of Famer. I am leaving this with closure, saying that I am happy today, more happy today than I was the day I was drafted. That says something to me.”

San Francisco players expressed mixed emotions at the turnover, as fearsome defensive end Justin Smith also retired, though the 35-year-old had 14 years in the league.

Borland and Anthony Davis feared concussions and head injuries.

“When I started there wasn’t a whole lot of awareness on concussions,” 40-year-old 49ers placekicker Phil Dawson said. “Now, guys are informed. The doctors are on top of it. I think it’s a good deal.”

Willis, San Francisco’s defensive captain and locker room leader, explained his tender size-13 feet “12½ when they’re bent” could no longer handle the grind of NFL practices, let alone the demands of game day. He had surgery on his left big toe, went on season-ending injured reserve on Nov. 11 after getting hurt at St. Louis on Oct. 13.

“I have no regrets. I’ve had the most amazing eight years of football of my life,” he said.

Locker has returned to his roots in Washington state with his wife and two young children.

Davis, the outspoken offensive lineman, left open returning if his body fully heals. Davis had been considering leaving for a few years, announcing his plans in a statement.

“This will be a time for me to allow my brain and body a chance to heal. I know many won’t understand my decision, that’s OK,” Davis said. “I hope you, too, have the courage to live your life how you planned it when day dreaming to yourself growing up. Your life is your dream and you have the power to control that dream. I’m simply doing what’s best for my body as well as my mental health at this time in my life.”

For veterans who have stayed healthy, thoughts of retirement might be far from their minds.

“When you have those things going for you, why not keep playing?” 38-year-old Raiders safety Charles Woodson said. “Even though you’ve got guys retiring, there’s a bunch of guys that would still love to be playing. For all of those guys that I’ve played with that tell me every year, ‘Keep going,’ because they would love to have this opportunity.”

Murray says the NFL shouldn’t be overly concerned about a dwindling talent pool.

“There will always be a demand for multi-million-dollar salaries and the glory that goes with playing NFL football,” he said.

Still, constant change is part of the business.

“Every man in here has the right to decide how long he wants to play. It’s his career,” Dawson said. “Whether it’s retirements, or injuries or trades or cuts or whatever the case may be, for those of us who are still here you’ve just got to come to work and do the best you can.”

AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker and AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report. I hope you enjoyed this item from the world of sports psychology.

Happy New Year 2015 & Where Have 15 Years Gone?

Special to JohnFMurray.com – Happy New Year 2015 from Sports Psychologist Dr. John F. Murray – Palm Beach, FL – Jan 4, 2015 – It was late in 1999 that I finished my post-doctoral training requirements, passed the Florida state licensing exam, and began working as one of a handful of legitimate and licensed clinical and sports psychologists in America. I had jumped through so many graduate school hoops and rings of fire that I considered applying for the job as the dolphin at Sea World. Since my earliest clinical experiences in the NFL included working with players on our long struggling Miami Dolphins, I was definitely considering Sea World.

All kidding aside, I was thrilled to be in private practice, seeing clients both here in South Florida and worldwide by phone, including some of the best athletes and teams in the world. I had begun this journey at age 30 and by 36 had transformed a career in international tennis coaching into an even more exciting and meaningful profession targeted at helping a wider range of athletes and teams refine their mental approach to competition while dealing better with a multitude of potential distractions.

Now 15 years later and in my early 50s, I wonder where the time has gone but can honestly say that I would not have changed a thing. I love what I do and have been privileged to collaborate on so many meaningful missions that I could never even begin to share a small fraction of them in a brief article. What I would like to share today, however, are a couple of the lessons I’ve learned in this past decade and a half, and also state my vision for the future.

Lesson 1

The Need for Restraint and Patience Along with Passion

When I first started, the media as well as some professional teams immediately jumped on the bandwagon, saw the huge opportunity with sports psychology, and quickly accepted my proposals and story ideas. It was overwhelming at times. I was thrilled to be on the cutting edge and to have the new challenges of developing a private practice and working with pro athletes. However, along with that excitement and my total belief in the profession, I might have been a little too eager to seize every opportunity, jump in, take on all challenges, and even push hard to effect change at the organizational level.

The truth is that a lot of people were not ready for change and most are still not ready today. While I clearly saw the need then (and still do today) of having a sports psychologist in the clubhouse of every professional sports franchise, others were not ready then and most are still not ready today. When I started, I figured that by 2015 having a sports psychologist on the roster of every professional sports franchise would be as commonplace as the iconic team dentist on every hockey team in the NHL. I was way wrong.

What I did not anticipate was how slow major change takes place, and how most people would much rather keep the status quo intact even at their own detriment. While there are a number of reasons for this, that is another story saved for another day. So 15 years later, I have learned to retain the intensity and passion in my work, but to slow down a little more in my fervor to transform sports into a mental training enterprise. Athletes and teams find me today when they are ready, not when I am ready. It’s the same with individual clients or students in any field that learning never begins until a true audience appears and is completely ready. It will probably be 30 more years before every sports franchise finally understands and realizes the tremendous benefits of having a sports psychologist on staff, and I am ok with that. Those who see the light will prosper while those who don’t will suffer, and I’m not responsible for their wake up call. I’ve stopped worrying about it. Restraint and patience are virtues that I now hold onto more than ever.

Lesson 2

There is No Substitute for True Experience

In the beginning months of my practice, I was loaded with ideas, methods and solutions, and eager to share them all. What I was lacking as a sports psychologist, however, was true experience. Sure, I had been through some of the finest graduate training available, had worked for years in a cutting edge psychology clinic and before that worldwide as a coach and athlete, but the truth is that as a sports psychologist I was a neophyte. I hope that I did not hurt anyone in those early months with my inexperience, but I’ve since learned that while knowledge and ideas are necessary in any professional toolbox, they take a major backseat to experience and clinical judgment.

When you purchase a book , CD, or DVD you buy ideas and knowledge and the world is already filled with those. Hiring a true sports psychologist with experience dances circles around plain knowledge. With experience hopefully comes wisdom, and with many rich clinical experiences to draw from in helping a client, there emerges a professional perspective that is severely lacking in the beginning professional.

This is why there is a stark difference between what any one of hundreds or even thousands of psychology professors or researchers might be able to offer client in a side practice, compared with someone who lives, breathes and practices the profession daily. It comes down to clinical savvy, key decision-making, and often that subtle avoidance of that “frenzy to cure,” as it was so aptly described by my internship coordinator many years ago. Jumping in eagerly to deliver a solution is often disastrous for the client. Wisdom is hard to come by in any profession without experience. With wisdom comes better clinical decisions, greater confidence on the part of the provider, and an overall more efficient process of improvement for the client. Knowing what not to do is often just as important as what to do, so the value of true experience cannot be overemphasized in sports psychology.

Vision for the Future of Sports Psychology

The future of sports psychology is bright because the need to succeed in competitive situations will never go away. In fact, competition and performance only continues to increase over time, and it will always do so with evolution of training methods, nutrition and strength training as just a few examples. This profession of mental training is the best at preparing people for success, training the mind, developing solid routines, and operating as a practitioner who informs his or her practice with solid science to stay cutting edge.

Coaches and administrators must realize that sports psychologists are not coming to take their jobs away or create havoc. I can no better call plays or develop a defensive game plan for the Dallas Cowboys than my 11-year-old daughter, and I do not want to do so. I am trained and experienced in a profession that is vastly underutilized and has a right to exist because it helps others succeed. Coaches and administrators have no time or energy to spend the countless hours needed to assess or train the minds of their athletes, and I have no time to go on recruiting trips, negotiate salaries, wrap ankles, or perform surgery. Teamwork is truly the key to success in anything. When sports teams and franchises eventually wake up to the necessity of a solid mental training component in their program, they will realize that the sports psychologist is just one essential piece to a complex puzzle. I am too busy and involved in my own work as a sports psychologist to have the time (and I certainly do not have the knowledge) to try my hat as head coach, athletic trainer or massage therapist. However, together as a team we all prosper to make a better team.

I hope that you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into the world of sports psychology.