Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

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.

MPI Based NFL Power Rankings – Week 10 of the 2014 NFL Season

JohnFMurray.com – Saturday November 8, 2014 – By John F Murray, PhD: Welcome to the state of the art. In a continuing effort to show the power the MPI (Mental Performance Index as written about in the book by the same name), I am offering readers complete performance based power rankings at the mid-point of the 2014 NFL season. These rankings are based on a careful MPI analysis of every play so far in the NFL season. Considering that there have been 9 weeks of games already, that equates to approximately 40,500 plays that have been reviewed with precision by the MPI.

Enjoy these rankings, which include total performance that includes observable mental performance too such as how well teams cope with pressure situations, how well they avoid careless mistakes, how well they avoid penalties and turnovers and execute properly.

Decide for yourself if these rankings correlate with the outcome of the games this weekend. What teams do in the past is not always what they will do in the future, but I will confidently add that this is about as good as it will get in 2014 accurately assessing the actual performance of a team. You tell me how well it correlates with outcome after the games. These are just the facts, and yes, those numbers beside each team show their total power and they are roughly equivalent to how many points any given team should win over any random opponent in the NFL. If the value is negative, this means that they should on average lose by that many points against any random opponent if past performance matters.

Interestingly, the Miami Dolphins are number one on this midseason report, even though most media based power rankings have them in the mid-teens. I am not concerned with media hype or opinion. I based these rankings exclusively on facts, the facts of every single play so far this season. Enjoy and be sure to tell me how these rankings perform this weekend!

MPI BASED POWER RANKINGS PRIOR TO WEEK 10 OF NFL SEASON

Miami Dolphins 8.5
Kansas City Chiefs 7.6
Philadelphia Eagles 7.2
Denver Broncos 5.5
Indianapolis Colts 5.4
New Orleans Saints 4.6
New England Patriots 2.3
Pittsburgh Steelers 2.1
Arizona Cardinals 1.1
Baltimore Ravens 1.1
Minnesota Vikings -.20
Detroit Lions -.30
Cincinnati Bengals -.40
Seattle Seahawks -.40
San Francisco 49ers -.60
Washington Redskins -.60
Dallas Cowboys -.70
Buffalo Bills -.80
Jacksonville Jaguars -1.2
St. Louis Rams -1.4
Green Bay Packers -1.7
New York Jets -2.5
Carolina Panthers -3.0
Cleveland Browns -3.1
Atlanta Falcons -3.1
Houston Texans -3.1
Chicago Bears -3.4
NY Giants -3.6
Oakland Raiders -3.7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -4.5
Tennessee Titans -5.6
San Diego Chargers -6.1

Hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse into the world of sports psychology and the Mental Performance Index!

Super Bowl predictions and MPI

Sports Psychology Feature by Dr. John F. Murray

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 27 – PRNewswire — The Raiders were favored, but the Buccaneers would win — and Dr. John F. Murray, sport psychologist and creator of the Murray Performance Index(TM) (MPI)(TM), told you so.

“The Football Shrink” accurately forecast that Tampa Bay would dominate Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII using the MPI, which quantifies the degree to which a team performs to perfection. His bold prediction — the Bucs would win by at least two touchdowns — was broadcast on more than 270 radio stations in the week leading up to the game, by the likes of Bloomberg Radio Network (interviewed by Bob Goldsholl) to KDBR-AM in Flathead Valley, MT.

“Clearly the Tampa Bay defense was superb and much better than Oakland’s offense, but the Buccaneers executed better in all phases of the game and handled pressure situations better,” said Murray. “Their performance index,
which was heading upward in their previous two playoff games, continued, and so did the Raiders’ trend downward.”

The Buccaneers’ 48-21 Super Bowl victory was reflected in the MPI scores from Murray’s play-by-play analysis of the game. Tampa Bay compiled a .563 index out of a possible 1.000, Oakland .423 Murray, a 41-year-old Ph.D. licensed sport psychologist, evaluated every NFL playoff game, assigning point values on each play. A humdrum 3-yard run may earn 50 points; a sensational clutch catch, 100; a play with penalty or turnover, zero. Game totals range from 0 to 100 percentage points (perfection).

Dr. Murray posted results on the MPI website (www.murrayperformanceindex.com) and the MPI was covered by ESPN The Magazine (Dec. 23, 2002) and endorsed by Sporting News columnist Fritz Quindt and Ron Sellers, the former NFL wide receiver.

“The Football Shrink” plans to distribute his invaluable MPI analysis in the 2003 NFL season via a subscription service — and he is available for private evaluation of NFL, college and high school games.

Dr. Murray’s professional services include sport psychology evaluations & counseling, and workshops for teams and corporations. Among his topics are focus, confidence, goal setting, energy management, imagery, conflict resolution, leadership, and stress management to provide a critical mental advantage.

Contact Dr. Murray by email at johnfmurray@mindspring.com or in the United States at: (561) 596-9898 (cell). He is also available for public speaking opportunities, and workshops on Clinical and Sports Psychology.

Sports Psychology Workshop in London with Dr. John F Murray

Sports Psychology Workshop featuring Dr. John F. Murray.

LONDON, March 7, PRNewswire — You’ve heard of spoons mysteriously bending and breaking. But tennis rackets? This is a very exciting weekend for an exclusive group of tennis players in London intent on improving their mental game and having fun. USA Sport psychologist, Dr. John F. Murray presents a series of workshops on March 11, 12 and 13 assisted by Barry Cowan, the player who took Pete Sampras to 5 sets at Wimbledon in 2001, and LTA Tennis Coach Paul Barton.

Uri Geller, a personal friend of Dr. Murray, agreed to make a guest  appearance on one of the three days, bend a tennis racket, and give a one-hour inspirational message. Spaces are limited to 12 tennis players each day, at any level of play above age 10.

Participants receive a full-day of coaching, complete mental skills workshop (on and off-court), personal sport psychology evaluation conducted by Dr. Murray, the same one he used to help Vincent Spadea (Current #18 on ATP Tour) overcome the longest losing streak in tennis history, and a full year of mental coaching via computer with Dr. Murray.

Guests will also receive a personally signed copy of Dr. Murray’s book  “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” cover endorsed by Wimbledon Champion Lindsay Davenport. Dr. Murray’s workshops are sponsored primarily by my hotel Chelsea and the David Lloyd Club Raynes Park (site of the event). All LTA tennis coaches earn 6 license points for attending. While working regularly with a sport psychologist would normally cost over 5,000 pounds sterling for the year, it is being offered here at a promotional rate for only 250 pounds! There are only several places remaining and players are accepted on a first come first serve basis.

Reserve your place by contacting Dr. Murray at drjohn@smarttennis.com, calling him directly in the United States at: 561-596-9898, or contacting Mr. Paul Barton in London at info@Londontennis.co.uk, Tel: 020 8789 0482, Fax: 020 8789 0479.

For more information and the brochure, just go to http://www.JohnFMurray.com and click the News and Events tab.

Dr. John F. Murray is available for workshops, and public speaking events on the importance of mental skills improvement and sports psychology.

The Importance of Confidence in Sports, Business, and Life

Sport Psychologist, Dr. John F. Murray on Confidence.
PALM BEACH, Fla., Dec. 8 PRNewswire — When sport performance psychologist John F. Murray decided to auction the idea of “Confidence” on eBay he had no idea how much interest this auction would draw. Top athletes and film stars use mental coaches, but he didn’t know whether the general public would pay for what might be called nothing more than an idea.

Bidding opened at $10 and after fifteen bids this idea sold for $250, representing perhaps the first time an “idea” has been sold in an auction. The winner is a recreational tennis player in New York. She will receive one hour of mental coaching by Dr. Murray.

“I had a hunch this would draw some attention since so many are beginning to recognize the value of confidence and mental training. The auction testified to broad-based interest,” said Dr. Murray, who has coached some of the top athletes in the world. “The public response justified my hunch.”

The auction was started to demonstrate public and professional interest in training the brain. “We’ve gone almost as far as we can go physically, but mental training is a territory with unlimited potential for improvement in business, sports, or life,” said Murray, who has spoken on this topic on numerous talk shows.

Many pro athletes, teams, businesses, and organizations receive the benefits of mental coaching, but most people are still often surprised to know that these services even exist as there are few legitimate performance psychologists or other professionals to provide these services.

Confidence is described as an umbrella term reflecting all the thoughts, feelings, actions and sensations reflecting self-belief and expectations of success. Top tennis professional Vincent Spadea spoke on national television about the benefits of mental coaching to reverse the longest losing streak in tennis history and return to top 20 in the world.

For more information about “mental training” and Dr. Murray go to http://www.JohnFMurray.com.

Contact:
John F. Murray, PhD
TEL: 561-596-9898
FAX: 561-805-8662

Dr. John. F. Murray is a Sport and Clinical Psychologist in Palm Beach, FL and helps athletes, and business people build their confidence.

Beijing Olympics: Sports Psychology profile of Adler Volmar

Sports psychologist Dr. John Murray is providing Journal Star readers daily updates from the Olympics. The former tennis pro and Florida resident is working with judo competitor Adler Volmar. The goal is to offer insight into the mental and psychological aspect of sports, right up to Volmar’s matches and immediately following them. The doctor will add some Beijing observations both inside and outside the sports venues. Murray’s full work and profile can be found on his own Web site: http://www.johnfmurray.com/

August 12, 2008 – Wednesday early Morning
Adler is nothing but energy! Yesterday was a big day as we finally met up with the man with a heart of gold who is going for the less significant piece of gold. He showed us all around the Olympic complex, the Team USA headquarters and living accommodations, and just about everything there was possibly to see in the Olympic Village.

The security, as you might imagine, is matchless. Once you finally do get in there are countless additional restrictions unless you have this number, decal or color on your badge.

What a great feeling as the weather cooperated following a rainstorm and the air looked actually clear and clean! Athletes were trading badges, walking from training session to another, playing silly video games, lounging, or meeting with media. If you can imagine a major university campus in the USA, with only
all the athletes out and about, and then multiply this by 150 — you get a glimpse of the awe.

I mean these are the best of the best, and the dreams of every country all in one spot.
Let’s talk a little more about Adler. He was born in Miami when his mother visited his sister, but he grew up in Haiti. When he was a teenager he was picked on by bullies and given a good beating. His mother insisted that he learn to defend himself, so at age 13 he started training for judo. By 15 he was a black belt and three years later, he was going to his first Olympics in Atlanta, where he carried the national flag.

After Atlanta, with very poor English, he was tricked into thinking that he had to join the US military and served in the Navy as a combat medic. He missed the 2000 Olympics largely due to his military service but tried again for the judo team in 2004 and missed, coming in third. Many would have given up but Adler persisted with the dream for the gold and he rose in the ranks and won several major international events leading up to the Beijing Olympic trials.

That is when he tore both his anterior cruciate ligament and lateral cruciate, and the Miami Dolphins team physician, Dr. Caldwell, surgically repaired his knee in February and told him he had between a 0 and 1 percent chance of even competing at the June Olympic trials. Adler heard “one percent” and he said “that was plenty enough for me!”

At the trials, he had to win in a sudden-death overtime and it was a highly controversial ending … but the fact is he won and he now represents the USA Team Judo in the 100kg class.

I’ve given you just a sketch of the facts. What you might not realize is that he is one of the most humble and caring persons I have ever met! Can you believe this … for a world class athlete. His mother died last year and she has been an inspiration. His wife has been tirelessly patient and supportive as he reaches for his goals. He had a great training staff in his recovery and then I had the honor of him calling for an appointment only a little over a month ago. We hit it off immediately and he kept telling me that he was taking me with him to Beijing. I kept denying it sarcastically. Well … he felt strongly enough about the mental game and our rapport that he inisted I go and got the plane ticket and hotel reservation.

Very few in the world media or judo land really believe in Adler. He is a definite sleeper from those in the supposed know. But when you meet him, you realize it is never about Adler; rather, he is on a mission to change lives. He has a great family with three kids and he wants to make their lives better.

He wants to get the first gold for judo in U.S. history. He even told me that he wants to help me with the sport
psychology. The man is sincere and he is funny, too. During our long walks around the village he often teased and joked, but the serious side came out too and there is no doubt in his mind that he will walk away with gold, but even that he ultimately gives up to a higher source — his belief and his faith.He never should have been here after that injury, but he is, and the world will have to deal with it.

There are 32 fighters in the draw at the 100kg class and his first opponent Thursday is from Bosnia. He says, “just five steps to change our lives forever,” meaning just win five matches and he will fulfill his mission, and his faith removes any anxiety.

As he said, “This is way beyond me … I’m here for the ride!” Thanks for all your support readers. Today we will go watch some live judo matches and I’ll do some more imagery and relaxation training with Adler. He is one of the best that I have ever seen mentally … yet he also realizes that he needs to be tip-top shape physically as well as mentally. So he takes our work together seriously … looking for ever-so-slight an edge.
I’m going to get some more sleep now.

Dr. John F. Murray attended the Beijing Olympics to provide his unique perspective from the world of Sports Psychology.

Beijing Olympics: Competition looms

Sports psychologist Dr. John Murray is providing Journal Star readers daily updates from the Olympics. The former tennis pro and Florida resident is working with judo competitor Adler Volmar. The goal is to offer insight into the mental and psychological aspect of sports, right up to Volmar’s matches and immediately following them. The doctor will add some Beijing observations both inside and outside the sports venues. Murray’s full work and profile can be found on his own Web site: http://www.johnfmurray.com/

August 13, 2008 – Thursday Early Morning
The day began with the most delicious won ton soup on this side of the Great Wall!
I went back twice to the special hotel soup bar, quite analogous to a nice omelet station in an American hotel. This morning’s “snake sausage” was replaced with “link sausage” so I curiously asked the hotel staff if it was snake meat and they bent over backwards in apologies – explaining that it was just a typographical error on the sign above the food, and then sent me a huge beautiful basket of fruit to my room as a gesture of apologies.

My goodness, I did not expect this and was somewhat embarrassed! But thank you China Resources Hotel, a superb 4-star accommodation about 20 minutes taxi ride from Olympic Village.

Crystal, Earl and I engaged the same routine of walk, subway, and walk and made it to the gorgeous gymnasium before noon to watch a full day of judo. By the way, the subways are ultra modern and I have been in the best and consider Beijing’s subways cleaner and faster than others, with nice digital tvs to watch the Olympics while you wait.

The people seem overall happy, like people in any large city, but there is a strange fascination with cats and dogs which we have seen few of. One cat yesterday came up to Adler in between our watching judo and sprawled on his back right in front of him for a 20 minute nap. Countless locals approached with smiles to take pictures.
I’m not sure what the fascination with a simple cat was, but it aroused more attention than an appearance by the greatest judo master ever — who never lost a match in his entire career — Yasuhiro Yamashita.
I was excited to meet Yamashita and get his autograph on my Olympic flag with a photo and I left the cat where he was.

Adler today was very reflective about his overall mission and how this all fell into place, winning at the trials and now having a chance to represent Team USA. The one thing that is absolutely clear is that he believes totally in his chances and works as hard as anyone in training, but at some point lets go and realizes that it is out of his control, and that competitive outcomes are influenced from an above higher source.
He is indeed very Christian in his beliefs and wants his success to give him the platform to show others what faith does. If it moves mountains tomorrow and he wins gold, he wants the world to know that it was much more than Adler.

As he stated again, this is way beyond me. While he appeared ready to rumble the next day, my only concern was that he not overextend himself in being the perfect tour guide and judo commentator, and get back to his village and get ready for war tomorrow.

He assured me repeatedly that his being with what he calls “his family” here (Earl, Crystal and I) was far more helpful than going back to his dorm room in Olympic Village. So he stayed with us all day until he finally slipped off around 7 p.m. to head back while Crystal, Earl and I watched the semifinals, bronze matches, and gold medal bouts of the day.

Perhaps the most interesting storyline was the performance by a Georgian Judoka, who beat a Russian with sheer passion and then went on to win the gold medal. Seeing the emotion and hugs you just knew there were the politics of Russia and Georgia as much as you want to keep that element out of the games.
Today is the day now that we have all been waiting for. The table is set, the cards are shuffled, and we will soon witness Adler Volmar in all his raw form as he goes up against the absolute best 31 other judoka in the world in the 100 kg class today.

The 32-man draw is set up that you have to win 5 matches in a row to win the gold. If you lose, you can still fight an extremely hard uphill battle for the bronze medal but you need some help in that the person who beat you needs to win the next round. It is sort of like a single elimination tennis tournament with a small chance for third place.

Whether Adler wins or loses, I will be extremely proud of him and eternally grateful for his bringing me to Beijing to experience all of this. While the matches are televised in some parts of the world, they are not being televised in the USA, so your best bet by far — where all matches can be seen live — is to log in to www.nbcolympics.com and you can see it as if you are in the stands!

Beijing is 13 hours ahead of Peoria time, so you would want to get your computer ready no later than 10:45 p.m. and be ready to start watching matches at 11. Be attentive because these matches can last over 15 minutes with the timeouts, or be over in a flash before they start.

Adler appreciates all your support, prayers, and love. He sincerely realizes that social support from the so many good people he has met over the years will be a major force. Now he needs to just compete and I am sure he will be brutal today. If someone beats Adler today, I will credit them endlessly.

I can tell you that I would not have to face this determined warrior today. This is the day he has been waiting for his entire life so tune in and watch him win the gold! None of the traditional press has given him a chance. I know he can do it. Go Adler!

Dr. John F. Murray attended the Beijing Olympics to provide his unique perspective from the world of Sports Psychology.