Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

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.

Coaches Who Can Turn A Phrase

Sport Psychology Commentary by Dr. John F. Murray – December 26, 2012 By DOM AMORE, The Hartford Courant

It’s one of the most famous phrases ever uttered by a coach, and yet Vince Lombardi always regretted saying it.

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

“He actually hated that,” said Dan Lauria, the veteran actor and Southern Connecticut State University grad who portrayed Lombardi on Broadway last year. “He didn’t mean it the way it came out — obviously, he didn’t think you should cheat to win. The saying he did always like was, ‘If you pursue perfection, you can reach excellence.’ ”

Back in September, Kevin Ollie became the UConn men’s basketball coach, and he opened with a memorable phrase of his own: “We’re going to take the stairs — escalators are for cowards.”

That one is now available on T-shirts. And since then, he has used his gift for turning a phrase, or in some cases tweaking a phrase to make it his own, to fashion a number of what one might call “Ollie-isms.”

“Ten toes in, not five” … “First you bring the sugar, then you bring the hot sauce” … “You don’t go through life, you grow through life.” … “In trying times, you don’t stop trying.”

The buck doesn’t stop here, to paraphrase Harry S Truman. History offers many examples of catch phrases that define a leader — a coach, a general or a politician. Ollie, 39, has made a favorable impression in his first season as coach, and his way with a phrase is obviously part of the reason, as he tries to get out a message, not only to his own team, but to fans and potential recruits about what he, and his program, will be all about.

“They can have a lot of value,” says Dan Gerstein, former adviser to Sen. Joseph Lieberman and president of Gotham Ghostwriters, a New York based writing firm. “Especially today, when the Internet and social media has made for such a cacophonous environment, it’s much harder to stick out. If you can come up with phrases that are short, pithy and memorable, it can be a great asset.”

Sometimes, they happen by accident. Leo Durocher, the most famous baseball manager of his day, watched the opposition work on the field and predicted to a sportswriter in 1946 that the team would finish last, because they were not competitive enough, but all nice guys … and “Nice guys finish last.”

It became the title of Durocher’s memoirs, and it stamped him forever as the ultimate hard-nosed, fiery competitor among his peers. But he saw a need to clarify it after he retired.

“Writers picked it up and made it sound as if I were saying you couldn’t be a decent person and succeed,” Durocher wrote. “But, do you know, I don’t think it would have been picked up like that if it didn’t strike a chord, because as a general proposition, it’s true. Or, are you going to tell me that you’ve never said to yourself, ‘The trouble with me is, I’m too nice.’ ”

Durocher also said he would “trip his mother” if she were rounding third with the winning run against him.

Catch phrases may become oversimplified, but the ones that stick do have that strong strain of universal truth in them. John Wooden, who coached UCLA to 10 national titles, had dozens of them and is often quoted by both Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma at UConn.

Calhoun’s favorite: “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.”

Others from Wooden included, “Discipline yourself and others won’t have to.” … “Ability may get you to the top, but takes character to keep you there.” … “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

Author Rick Reilly wrote of Wooden: “He believed in hopelessly out-of-date stuff that never did anything but win championships.”

Alan Castel, associate professor of cognitive psychology at UCLA, interviewed John Wooden just before his 98th birthday while doing research on aging and memory.

“There are likely many reasons coaches develop these short catching phrases,” Castel said, “ranging from, the phrases can be easily remembered and recited to the idea that they can be widely applied – often beyond a sports context. Wooden was a classic example.”

The catch phrases that catch on, naturally, are the ones backed up with success. Jerry Izenberg,a veteran of over 60 years of sportswriter, has written 13 books, one of them, on a week behind the scenes with the Giants, took one of Bill Parcells’ catch phrases as its title — “No medals for trying.”

“You have to remember that what works for college doesn’t always work for the pros, and vice versa,” Izenberg says. “Woody Hayes had a lot of sayings, and once in his locker room, there was a sign over the trainers’ room — ‘You can’t make the club in the tub.’ … Could you imagine saying that over and over to professionals? They’d laugh at you.

“And when Vince Lombardi first got to Green Bay, diagramed a play, his ‘Lombardi sweep,’ and the tackle had to make this incredibly difficult block. The tackle, Forrest Gregg, said it was ‘impossible,’ and Lombardi said, ‘if you think it’s impossible, I’ll find someone who thinks it is possible.’ … You couldn’t say that to college players.

“… But the main thing is, these guys won. Imagine Lombardi saying, ‘winning isn’t everything …’ if he lost?”

The Giants won the Super Bowl the year “No medals for trying” came out. Parcells had many phrases, but Izenberg did not recall his using them behind closed doors. Behind the scenes, he tailored his messages to the individual.

When a coach becomes too closely identified with his sayings, it can obscure his true talent for leadership.

“What happens,” Lauria says, “is that these things get taken out of context. Vince Lombardi knew how to push the right buttons with each individual player.”

The value in phrases is that they can make good habits second nature. That, Ollie said earlier this year, is what he has in mind.

“It’s the mind-set I’m so concerned with,” Ollie told The Courant in November, “that you don’t take the easy way in life. I think taking escalators is the easy way. You should take the stairs in life, each and every step. … I try to use [the sayings] sparingly, I don’t want to use them all the time. I am trying to make a point, and I try to use word pictures. I think it resonates with guys. Instead of a, b, c, d, they can picture things in their own minds.”

Dr. John F. Murray, a Florida-based sports psychologist, says the most popular page on his website (johnfmurray.com) is the one that lists more than 100 famous quotes from coaches. However, he says, catch phrases should be considered only one of many tools a successful coach uses in reaching his players.

“The danger,” Murray says, “is that they can become a superficial mask for serious issues. But when they’re used properly, they can be a very effective tool.”

Dr. John F. Murray has compiled a list of quotes from great coaches to help motivate your players mentally.

Locker room tolerance and sensitivity have simply changed forever with Michael Sam

Sports Psychology News – Dr. John F. Murray - February 10 2014 – A look into the locker room after Michael Sam.

NBC News, Melissa Dahl -  We now know what Michael Sam’s teammates have long known: The All-American defensive lineman from the University of Missouri is gay, and could very well become the first ever openly gay football player in the NFL.

Much has and will be written about the historical impact of Sam’s coming out, but a quietly remarkable aspect of Sam’s story is this: For at least an entire college football season, Sam’s teammates knew his secret, and they not only accepted it, they helped him keep it.

Sam has said that he came out to his team before the 2013 season, during a team meeting in which each player was asked to tell a secret about himself. “I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Sam told the New York Times. His team, and the coaches, kept their star player’s secret, even as the team faced building media attention as they competed for a national title.

But even in a generation notorious for social media oversharing and in a sport not known for its tolerance, no one let Sam’s secret slip. Not even Sam’s dad found out.

“I think it’s tremendous, in this day and age, that they could do that without anything leaking,” said Leif Smith, a clinical and sports psychologist who works with athletes at Ohio State University.

It’s also possible that his teammates didn’t think it was that big of a deal, Smith and other sports psychologists said. “I do think it’s more of a ho-hum issue for this generation,” Smith said. “It was a big issue to address it, but once they started playing football, they could care less.”

According to the day’s stereotype of a macho-bro culture like college football, an admission like Sam’s could lead to ostracization, or a Miami Dolphins-esque case of bullying. And indeed, some unnamed NFL insiders have reportedly already responded to Sam’s admission by saying things like an openly gay player would “chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

But sports psychologists who work with college athletes say that they see this generation being more tolerant when it comes to the matter of their peers’ sexual orientation. Seventy percent of millennials — defined here as those born after 1980 — said in a 2013 Pew Research Center survey that they support gay marriage, and that percentage is rapidly increasing, up from 51 percent in 2003.

Sam’s teammates said his sexuality was no big deal in the lockerroom, and many of them joined a chorus of public support that included first lady Michelle Obama.

Sam is a gifted athlete, named in his last year at Mizzou to the College Football All-America Team, which means his team has even fewer reasons to care about his personal life.

“I think the bottom line for most players is — if you have a teammate that can help you win, it doesn’t matter,” said John Murray, a clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla., who has worked with NFL athletes.

If Sam did explicitly ask his teammates not to share his sexual orientation, the team’s secret-sharing may even have strengthened their cohesion as a group.

“We know that when people choose to confide secrets with us, that can draw us closer together, because that disclosure signals trust and intimacy in itself,” said Clayton Critcher, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has researched the psychology of secret-keeping.

In ideal circumstances, a team may function much like a family, experts say “Teams are going to protect their own,” Murray said.

“The family will kind of circle the wagons, and protect their secret,” he said. “Because a family very well represents that concept of a unit that needs to be able to be cohesive to be able to perform well, to be able to win.”

A fascinating view into the world of sports psychology.

 

MPI Being Taken to a New Level

lombarditrophy

Sports Psychology Commentary – John F. Murray, PhD – December 14, 2013 – Two years after publishing my book “The Mental Performance index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” with the exciting news that mental skills matter, and that when you analyze the top 37 football performance statistics available including my newly developed MPI, the MPI correlates with winning higher than any other, there is some new buzz in the works.

“In the past couple months,” says Dr. Murray, “I’ve began looking at the MPI as a viable means of possibly predicting what might happen in future games, and the initial statistical analyses are encouraging.” While Murray never intended the Mental Performance Index to be used for prediction, he realized that the strong correlations with winning (as high as .81 statistically) could simply no longer be ignored, and he has begun that long arduous process of pilot testing to determine how well it predicts.

“I enjoy football as a fan and as a consultant to teams and players, and now I’m beginning to realize that the MPI’s clarity in accurately rating both mental and physical team performance might have some other interesting uses. Stay tuned for the developing excitement!

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

 

Super Bowl Pre-Game Speeches from a Sports Psychologist’s Perspective

Have you ever wondered what type of speech you would give to your team if you were a head coach and your team was about to play in the Super Bowl? What type of speech would be most effective from a football psychology standpoint?

There are a few pre-game speeches that any general sports fan could likely recite if asked to do so. Many people would probably choose Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper” speech or perhaps John “Bluto” Blutarsky asking his Delta Tau Chi members if it was “over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor”.

So what does a real coach say to a real team of men right before they play in one of the biggest games of their lives? The best way to find out is to ask them and the people that were there to listen to them.

Here are a few quotes from some of the great Super Bowl coaches and their pre-game speeches.

Don Shula (Super Bowls III, VI, VII, VIII, XVII, XIX)

Don Shula coached his teams to 6 different Super Bowls including two Super Bowl wins with the Miami Dolphins. When asked about his pre-game speeches that he gave before each Super Bowl, Don has said that “What you try to do is do the things that got you to where you are… you don’t want to be someone that you’re not. The thing I tried to do is summarize what it took to get there.”

“Once you reach the Super Bowl, both teams are talked about during the week,” Shula said. “But when the game is over, [the media] only go to one locker room. I told them to make sure it was our locker room.”

Don Shula’s record as a head coach also included 4 Super Bowl losses. After losing one of these Super Bowls and preparing to begin a new season, Shula decided to deliver the same message to his players from the first day of practice right through the end of the season.

“We lost the year before, so my message from the beginning of training camp was that our goal wasn’t to get to the Super Bowl,” Shula said. “Our goal was to win it.”

Brian Billick (Super Bowl XXXV)

Brian Billick led the Baltimore Ravens to a victory in Super Bowl XXXV. Peter Boulware (4-time Pro Bowler and 1997 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year) later spoke about what Billick had said to the team in the locker room before the game.

“He said to approach this like any other game,” said Peter Boulware. “We took a very businesslike approach. That’s what helped us. We didn’t get tight. We just worked the same way.”

Jon Gruden (Super Bowl XXXVII)

In 2002 Jon Gruden led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII. One of his players; Ryan Nece had been injured during the 2002 season and was watching from the sidelines during the Super Bowl. He later commented on Gruden’s pre-game speeches saying that “Coach Gruden always was a great pregame [speech] guy. He was always good.”

Gruden’s words seem to have been intended to stir up more emotion within his players than the quotes that you can read above from Don Shula and Brian Billick. According to Nece, Gruden said something to the effect of “This is the time of your life… go out and take what’s ours. It’s destiny. Just go out there and take what is ours.”

Mike Ditka (Super Bowl XXXVII)

Mike Ditka delivered his pre-game speech to the Chicago Bears on the evening before Super Bowl XX. While many coaches wait until just before the game to do this, I think that this was an interesting yet wise decision.

One could argue that a player is likely to worry about the game the most on the evening before the big game (rather than during pre-game when there are routine things to do like team warm-up).

After the fact, Ditka noted to the media that “Basically I said this was not about me and not about the city of Chicago. I told them this is the one memory you will have of each other for the rest of your lives.”

Chuck Noll (Super Bowls IX, X, XIII, XIV)

Chuck Noll was the Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 to 1991. He had several great players in his lineup during the 1970s like Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swan, and John Stallworth. He likely didn’t have to say much in order to inspire these types of players or lead them to victory.

Lynn Swan later said “Chuck was a very level, low-key kind of guy, not a fire-and-brimstone type of guy. Very directed in terms of what he wanted to get done. We didn’t get those type of speeches from Chuck Noll… but we didn’t lose a Super Bowl, either.”

I would imagine that Noll’s pre-game speeches were similar to that of Don Shula.

Vince Lombardi (Super Bowls I, II, NFL Champions in pre-Super Bowl era’56, ’61, ’62, ’65)

How about the man who had the Super Bowl Championship Trophy named after him? Jerry Kramer recently handed over some audio to ESPN from Vince Lombardi’s Super Bowl II pre-game speech. You can click on the link after this sentence and listen for yourself what he had to say. Vince Lombardi’s Super Bowl II Pre-Game Speech

What Type of Pre-Game Speech is Best?

So what type of pre-game speech is the most effective for players? Something simple like what Don Shula is quoted as having said? Or perhaps something more likely to stir emotion such as “It’s destiny. Just go out there and take what is ours”?

“There’s definitely a place [for a motivational speech], but it’s all how much the players respect the coach,” Ryan Nece has said. “If guys are just out there and don’t respect the coach, they’re not going to ‘win one for the Gipper’ or anything like that.”

Lynn Swan has also said that “It’s a coach-by-coach thing”.

There is a lot of truth to these statements. One of the last things that a coach should ever do is come into the locker room before the game and do something out-of-character simply in an effort to inspire his players.

This might work after a team plays horribly during the first half of a game and their calm-demeanored coach comes into the locker room and starts throwing water jugs around. That might help to get their attention and change their mindset from whatever it had been during the first half of the game. However, for a pre-game speech, I just don’t think that this would be productive.

Most sports psychologists will tell you that if a coach like Jon Gruden gets his players too fired up or too excited with an emotionally charged speech, this can actually put his players at a disadvantage. I don’t expect athletes to perform at their peak levels if they are too pumped up with energy.

While there are no exact guidelines, and the speech must be appropriate for the team and situation, I’ve always admired the more low-key, cerebral, intelligent approach like we have seen from Don Shula.

Football Sports Psychology Tips From 1972 Dolphins QB Earl Morrall

Sarasota, Florida – April 25, 2013 – By Dr. John F. Murray – A new football season is approaching and every year this brings back great memories for me. I was fortunate enough to meet a great NFL player whom I had watched play when I was a young boy. His name is Earl Morrall; and given his place in history and the overtone of this article, I suspect that he will need some kind of an introduction for the readers here.

It has now been just over 40 years since the Miami Dolphins completed their legendary “perfect season”. They remain as the only NFL team to win the Super Bowl and finish the season with an undefeated record to this day. You will find very few people in the football sports psychology world that don’t view the Dolphins’ 1972 team as “iconic”. I find it startling that the ’72 team can live on in the history books with such notoriety, but yet the name Earl Morrall remains forgotten by almost everyone except for those who were there to see him play.

I was lucky enough to have been in the stadium that year and I was able to watch Don Shula coach his men to greatness. Some of my greatest memories from that season include Don Shula pacing the sidelines and QB Bob Griese throwing the ball down the field with seemingly un-measurable velocity. Alongside of Don Shula and Bob Griese, I also remember Earl Morrall; the sometimes forgotten Quarterback who led Miami to win 71% of their games that year.

Earl began the 1972 season as a backup QB. During the 5th game of the season Bob Griese suffered a broken ankle and Earl was put into the game as the new QB. Earl proceeded to lead his team through the season with an undefeated record. When the championship game arrived, Bob Griese was put back into the game and he won the Super Bowl just as if he had never missed a play.

Since Earl Morrall began 1972 as a backup and finished 1972 as a backup, his name does not receive the same type of notoriety that a winning quarterback from a championship team would usually receive. Earl Morrall played a crucial role in the Dolphins’ success during the ’72 season and his name certainly deserves a fair amount of recognition.

In 2009 I was lucky enough to meet Earl Morrall outside of a local Hyatt hotel.

A small part of me is now glad that I didn’t meet Earl when I was younger. I likely would have asked him the type of questions that you would expect from an 11 year old boy. It would have been entertaining for me of course, but I probably wouldn’t have picked his brain very much from a sports psychology perspective.

Here are some football sports psychology tips that I was able to siphon from my childhood hero on this occasion.

(1) Communicate well with everyone around you and make sure you are all on the same page.

(2) The difference between good and great is often just to do a little bit more.

(3) Sacrifice and keep your focus on the team rather than yourself.

(4) Work hard.

(5) Do the right thing.

I hope that Miami Dolphins fans will do their best to remember Earl Morrall. He led the team to some great victories and played a crucial role on the Dolphins’ team during the ’72 season. I hope that he will be remembered as a leader, a champion, a man that played a defining roll in the greatest NFL team ever, and a guy who – in his day, had one of the finest crew cuts that the professional sports world has ever seen.

My Guarantee

Special Report by John F Murray, PhD – May 8, 2013 – The world of sports is constantly evolving. New techniques and plays are always being developed and there is an almost linear progression that seems to takes place from year to year as more money, research and accumulated experience contribute to a better performing 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. In fact, in my estimation having worked 14 years as an independent practicing clinical and sports psychologist, it seems that less than 10% of college, pro or 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, 16 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 experience 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 10 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. It is still rare for the phone to be ringing off the hook from the coaches and managers of major sports teams despite the obvious benefits the field had to offer. I want that to change, and it is partly why I wrote “The Mental Performance Index.”

If you would like to read more about this coach/sports psychologist relationship and how to ensure that everything goes smoothly to best help the team, how coaches are respected as the boss, how problems are prevented before they occur, and much more, you will want to read “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.”

I want everyone to know 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 football players tweak their mental performance just a little, the whole team benefits. 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. The days of fear are over. The biggest fear might be not investing in mental coaching for our teams and players.

This is my guarantee.

Concentration is Crucial in Football

Sports Psychology and Concentration in Football

Careless mistakes caused by distractions are all too common in football, and sports psychology may have the best answers to this problem. Two important elements of attentional control, selective attention and concentration, are discussed followed by tips for improving attentional control during games for players at every position. Enjoy this education in mental toughness training.

We are constantly bombarded by an endless array of internal and external stimuli, thoughts, and emotions. Given this abundance of available data, it is amazing that we make sense of anything! In varying degrees of efficiency in top sports, we have developed the ability to focus on what is important while blocking out the rest. This process of directing our awareness to relevant stimuli while ignoring irrelevant stimuli is termed selective attention. Some sport psychologists believe that selective attention is the most important cognitive characteristic of successful athletic performance.

Concentration, on the other hand, is the ability to sustain attention on selected stimuli for an extended period of time. Although this might appear to involve great strain and exertion, the reverse is actually true. Effective concentration has been described as effortless effort, being in the zone, a flow state, and a passive process of being totally absorbed in the present and fascinated by the object of fixation. Working on the mental skills in football may pay bigger dividends than physical training.

Concentration is a difficult skill to master because our minds tend to shift focus when presented with novel stimuli. Known as the orienting response, this bias toward new sights and sounds alerted our ancestors to dangers in the wild, but often makes us the prey to meaningless distractions on the football field.  A split second loss of concentration during a critical play can spell the difference between winning and losing.

Careful planning and practice are required to gain supremacy over our attentional faculties. Fortunately, selective attention and concentration are skills that can be learned, refined, and perfected just like razor sharp passes or perfect blocks. Since few players invest quality time on attentional skills, there is an immediate and tangible reward for those who do! I believe the struggle with oneself over attentional control and mental toughness is even more fundamental than the clash with the opponent, for only after preparing ourselves for battle are we ready to take it to the enemy.

Here are 10 specific ways of improving attentional control in football:

1. Avoid negative thoughts and feelings, as these are needless distractions which rob us of limited attentional resources. Stay positive and realize your objectives.

2. Remain focused on the present, attending to what is immediately important and blocking out past and future concerns. Following a mistake, briefly note any changes necessary then move decisively to the next play.

3. Recite key words or phrases to yourself prior to the play to remind yourself to concentrate (e.g.,focus, attack, hit the hole).

4. Be task rather than outcome oriented. Thinking about the score or how you look are common distractions. The outcome only improves when you ignore it and attend to the immediate needs and circumstances.

5. Slightly relax in between plays while avoiding external distractions. Some players achieve this by staring at a specific area (e.g. , opposing runner’s mid section) and visualizing terrific execution.

6. Recharge your batteries in between plays. Replenish your energy and calmly gear yourself up for another great play.

7. Add a ritual, or consistent routine, to your performances. This might be the way you adjust your feet, tap the ball, or set your mind, and it all helps to fight off needless distractions and keep your mind from wandering.

8. Be particularly vigilant when fatigued. Players often lose their focus when tired and you can also exploit this fatigue in your opponent if you see it.

9. Attention and arousal are closely related. Avoid becoming overly excited while remaining focused on executing and implementing your strategy to football perfection. Brief breathing and/or relaxation can help prepare the way for great focus on the play.

10. Football coaches should make practices interesting by frequently varying the drills and routines in a realistic manner. This variety usually increases motivation which also leads to improved focus. Yelling rarely helps focus, but doing things to naturally improve focus like this help a lot.

Good luck and I hope to hear from you as your game continues to get better and as you continue to invest in sports psychology techniques.

Tough Guys Talk Initiative

Below is an excerpt from my most recent book “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” from pages 54-55 of the book by John F Murray (World Audience, 2013)

Stephan and I had often discussed the misconception about talking to a psychologist or counselor that seemed to exist in our society, and especially in some of the more powerful quarters. It needed to change. The supposedly tough types that we often saw in business and pro sports, like the CEOs, NBA stars, or head NFL coaches had somehow learned to associate “toughness” with grueling schedules, physical pain tolerance and the hesitancy to open up about problems or seek counseling. But once they did open up it was clear that this repression had exacted a toll and they were filled with more needs than most. Examined closer, it just jumps out at you that what is really going on when an athletic or business culture fails to encourage help seeking, or when anyone avoids dealing with a serious issue, it is anything but “tough” and more accurately quite “weak!” Not meeting issues head on is actually rooted in deep fear and insecurity.

One example that was recently brought to my attention was when NFL hall of fame quarterback Warren Moon wrote a book in which he admitted that he was seeing a therapist for many years and sneaking in the back door of his therapist’s office at night so that nobody would notice he was seeking help. Pro football hall of famer, Lesley Visser, who writes a beautiful epilogue in this book, called to tell me the news of Warren Moon’s admission. I thanked her and told her that I would make sure to convey the message in this book that the toughest among us are those who when faced with problems and are not afraid to seek help, and I called it “tough guys talk.” Warren Moon should be proud that he faced his issues, but societal pressure made it harder for him to share the benefits he was receiving with others until now.

I have a solution, and it starts with every top executive in major sports as a campaign to encourage star athletes to face problems head-on and talk with a counselor or sports psychologist when needed. Every senior executive and coach or manager in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL should institute a program and call it: “Tough Guys Talk” with a poster and just these words on top in bright bold lettering. It should be posted in every locker room listing some of the great players who won national championships while talking with a sports psychologist or counselor. The list would be most impressive because some great athletes do seek help but then don’t talk about it because of the stigma that they will appear weak. Hogwash! These leaders would in one fell swoop begin to eradicate idiocy and allow more players to access care and be tough by talking rather than running like little children in fear of being ostracized.

The program I propose would start with just one team’s GM. And since I am related to one of the greatest ever and feel that he can have an enormous impact like none other, I personally and cheerfully challenge Cousin Bill Polian to institute a “Tough Guys Talk” program with the Colts. When Mr. Polian or another top executive in sports does this he will establish himself even more as a visionary who cared enough for his people to allow them to develop and improve.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from sports psychology.

 

Mind Games: All 3 Phases Destroyed Georgia Tech

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see how the Hurricanes did it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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