Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Miami Dolphins Player Jim “Crash” Jensen Endorses Dr. John F. Murray’s New Football Book

Palm Beach – December 17, 2010 – A new book signifying a paradigm shift in sports toward greater respect for the mental game and mental performance, and that is about to be released, just received a strong endorsement from a former NFL player, Jim “Crash” Jensen, Miami Dolphins 1981-1992. Nick Lowery, the most accurate placekicker in NFL history, and Doug Blevins, one of the NFL’s top kicking coaches over the years, also endorsed the book. Blevins writes that this book is a “masterpiece” and Lowery writes “read this book!” More about Lowery and Blevins in a future article as their endorsements were just received. This article will focus more on the book and Jim “Crash” Jensen’s endorsement.

The book’s title is “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” by John F. Murray, Ph.D. Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Lesley Visser wrote the epilogue. The book is published by World Audience in New York City (ISBN: 978-1-935444-89-3) and will be available before the start of Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Briefly about the book: Murray writes about repeated fortuitous experiences and people who inspired him to become a sports psychologist so that he could inspire others with an exciting new science and profession. After receiving the best education possible for this profession, and doing a PhD on a national champion college football team, Murray discovered that there was lots of work to be done before he and others would have a bigger impact. Rather than welcome the new science of success as a mental advantage, NFL head coaches and others in major sports often resisted it like a plague had arrived and everyone needed to keep things hushed.

When Murray found that something was conspicuously absent in team performance statistics, he seized an opportunity to correct an historic flaw that looks so obvious in retrospect that it shocks everyone who stops and really considers it. Mental performance was hugely influential, and fairly easy to quantify, but no one had taken the time to do it. It was treated as some mysterious X factor when it was really just another aspect of human behavior and performance. Reading in Hegel that “the obvious often remains unknownâ€? Murray attempted to correct this historic omission by creating a statistic measuring degree of perfection in American football performance with physical and mental components included.

In the book, Murray tests and provides empirical and statistical support for his theory that mental performance greatly influences performance and outcome and proclaims that a paradigm shift in sports has begun with a new respect for the mental game. Later, Murray goes back and reviews every game in Super Bowl history from a new perspective including the mental game where it should have been all along.

Lesley Visser writes an epilogue on Bill Walsh and his San Francisco Forty-Niners success. Visser knew Walsh well and her chapter is a window into his genius and the consistent dominance of the Forty-Niners.

Jim “Crash” Jensen, who endorses this book, is known as one of the toughest and most versatile players in NFL history. Originally drafted as a quarterback, Jensen played at least ten different positions, throwing and catching touchdown passes, running for touchdowns, and making big plays on special teams. In 1988 Jensen was name the NFL Special Teams Player of the Year, and in 2006 he was awarded the Miami Dolphins “Unsung Hero” award. After reviewing an advance copy of the book, Jensen provided the following endorsement: “Everyone is gifted, but not everyone opens the package. Open this package and you will understand the secret advantage that helped keep me in the NFL for 12 years!” — Jim “Crash” Jensen.

In providing the endorsement to Dr. Murray for this book, Jensen also wrote: “I saw a sports psychologist in the 80’s and he helped me tremendously on focus. I learned how to visualize and before every game I would throw a towel over my head, see myself in the backfield or out wide, see myself run the route, create separation from the defender (get open), get my head around, catch the ball and get the first down … I got pretty good at it … it helped me stay in the league for twelve years!”

I hope you enjoyed this update from sports psychology!

A Sneak Preview of CaneSportMagazine.com and Football Psychology

Note: Publisher Jim Martz writes a great column on football at CaneSportMagazine, an online and print publication dedicated to the University of Miami. In the not-yet-published upcoming issue, he spoke with Dr. John F Murray about the letdown teams experience after success, and about real versus artificial enthusiasm. Below is the raw and unedited version of Jim’s contribution, re-printed here in its entirety with his permission. Those interested in the University of Miami football should subscribe to this terrific publication and all the great contributions at http://www.CaneSportMagazine.com. I hope you enjoy the below article as an example of quality of writing you will find there.

By JIM MARTZ – CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. – It sounded like New Year’s Eve here Saturday afternoon. Every time Virginia scored, the band would strike up “Auld Lang Syne.” And they did it often, much to their surprise and delight. They change the words, of course. It’s not about “Should auld acquaintance be forgot?” For the Cavaliers’ fans it’s a celebration song, and it was party time on this cool, sunny day.

Virginia’s football season had been practically down the toilet going into the game. Now the University of Miami’s season is on the brink of being down there. It’s anything but party time.

Virginia’s stunning 24-19 upset victory over 22nd-ranked Miami marked the third time in the last four games that the Hurricanes seemed flat for much or all of a game. How can that happen Saturday on a team that controlled its own destiny toward a BCS bowl? On a team that finally had the schedule in its favor?  Who’s to blame: coaches or team leadership? Or both?

“Tough loss,” said coach Randy Shannon. “You can’t win a game when you have six turnovers (it was five) like we did. We moved the ball offensively but when you have six turnovers there’s no way you should win games. “We played well in the fourth quarter and got a chance to win it. Defensively we hung in there the whole entire time, just didn’t come up with the third down play to get off the field and give the offense another shot at it.”

The Hurricanes can still reach the ACC Championship game in Charlotte but they’ll need help. Someone will have to knock off Virginia Tech, and, of course, the Hurricanes will have to defeat the Hokies at home Nov. 20. And, obviously, the Canes will have to defeat Maryland at home this Saturday and win at Georgia Tech on Nov. 13. And they may have to do it with their fourth-string quarterback, true freshman Stephen Morris.  “We’ve got to bounce back,” Shannon said. “We don’t control our destiny any more. We’ll bounce back and get ready for Maryland next week.”

Does Saturday’s setback alter the goals? “No, we still have to win each game one by one and just keep going from there,” Shannon said. Each year lately the Hurricanes tease you, make you think they can play for the ACC title. Then they break your heart. Yes, the loss of Jacory Harris early in the second quarter was huge. But against a 3-4 Virginia team that had been blown out by Florida State and North Carolina, the Canes should have been able to win without him. They should have been able to win by just pounding the ball. The Cavaliers ranked 114th in the nation in rushing defense, for heaven’s sake. Georgia Tech ran for nearly 500 yards against them. I thought the backs for the most part ran hard, but they didn’t have many holes. If someone had said to me before the game that Virginia would intercept five passes, I would have said that’s impossible because you don’t need to throw a whole lot to win that game.

Lots of unanswered questions, such as: Why didn’t Lamar Miller didn’t touch the ball until the fourth quarter? During the too-little-too-late comeback, why was Stephen Morris throwing deep so often when the Canes were finally getting big chunks of yards on the ground? Why are there so many dropped balls by receivers still at this stage of the season? Zero sacks by a Hurricane defense that was second in the nation in tackles for loss? Only one turnover for a defense that also ranked among the best? Unacceptable against a team the caliber of Virginia, especially with all that was at stake. Twelve penalties costing 95 yards? Unacceptable against anyone.

It’s hard to offer answers when questions can only be posed to the head coach and four players after a game. That’s all that was made available to the media after Saturday’s game. The media used to be able to go in the locker room and interview – if you hustled – a dozen players and two or three assistants. Now, since the locker room has been closed in recent years and assistants have been off limits, only Shannon and a few players are brought in to an interview room. A few more players are available at the Tuesday press conference but no assistants, and a few players, sometimes assistants, are available after early week practices.

My point: Access to UM football players and coaches has never been this limited going back to the 1970s, perhaps even longer. So, when fewer answers are available, even more questions are raised and unanswered. And just when you thought the Canes’ stellar play in the romp over North Carolina a week ago had quieted the critics, the negativism now will soar on the talk show and chat rooms. It won’t stop unless the Hurricanes run the table and get some lucky help.

Even that probably won’t quiet things because this question will remain: Why are the Hurricanes so inconsistent mentally and physically? Allow me to offer this, and it’s not an excuse: College football has never been more fluid than it has been the last five seasons. It becomes moreso every year. How else do you explain all the wacky scores, like undefeated fifth-ranked Michigan State trailing 30-0 at the half against Iowa.? Or Virginia Tech losing at home to James Madison, or was it Dolly Madison? Or Texas getting stomped on at home by UCLA and Iowa State but knocking off undefeated Nebraska on the road? Or the Florida Gators returning most of their team but losing three in a row? The list goes on and on.

I asked Shannon if the team was excited or flat before Harris was injured. “We were still excited no matter what,” he said. “Any time you lose somebody it’s going to go down a little bit. Like I said, we bounced back and the guys responded.” With all these ups and downs, maybe the Hurricanes need some psychological help. Sports psychologists are more involved in working with athletes and teams than ever. Some old school coaches see it as a sign of weakness; others embrace it.

I talked to prominent sports psychologist Dr. John Murray of Palm Beach about ups and downs. He had a poignant message: “It’s so easy after success to have a letdown,”he said. “After success you’ve really got to focus on making your game even better. Immediately get in there and set another goal to make it even better than it was before. Number two, you need to have a sense of urgency. There’s always room for improvement. Three, keep doing what you do best. And finally, walk the walk. If you want to improve, just don’t talk about it.”

Then there’s the matter of genuine enthusiasm (is that what we saw in the North Carolina game?) and false enthusiasm, such as the day at Louisville a few years ago under Larry Coker when the Canes stomped on the Cardinals’ midfield logo before the kickoff, then got stomped on themselves by Louisville.

“Real or genuine enthusiasm is the sincere overflow of hard work, effort, and a long-term focus on a worthy goal,” Murray said. “It is a no holds barred passion that shows that a person’s past history or team is invested fully in what they are doing, and that they are going to give 110% effort to accomplish the task they are focused on no matter what happens or no matter how long it takes. “When I think of real enthusiasm I think more of great performances than cheerleading. I think of Kellen Winslow (Sr.) in the 1981 playoffs for the San Diego Chargers, who looked like he had been pulled off the battlefield five times and just kept on going back out. I think of Marcos Baghdatis continuing to play despite a terrible cramp. I think of Dan Marino and the Dolphins preventing the Bears in ’85 from stealing their immortal accomplishment in ’72 of going undefeated and beating the Bears in front of a national audience.

“Artificial enthusiasm is when a player or team gets excited when things are going well, but then goes flat when there is adversity. Artificial enthusiasm might also have less of a focused or enduring or patient or persistent quality than real or genuine enthusiasm. Vince Spadea coming back from the biggest losing streak in the history of pro tennis by grinding for two years in the middle of nowhere until his ranking was decent enough to return to the sport he loved even more after the effort – that is real or genuine enthusiasm. It is also more characterized by a team or player’s desire to do well themselves rather than to put down another team or player. In other words, genuine enthusiasm is focused on performing well and realizing a long and hard-fought desire or goal. It has neither time nor interest in putting others down or stomping on logos, for goodness sakes. It is a more healthy selfish quality of affect that is oblivious to the opponent and how ugly they might be or how much that rival is despised.”

The Canes don’t stop on logos any more. Fans wish they’d stomp on opponents more often like the teams of the 1980s and early 90s. Dream on, you’re not going to see that again at UM. But a team can strike a balance between the taunting days of old and false bravado. The 2001 national champion Hurricanes had that balance. They had big-time swagger and class. The current Canes have class. The swagger seems to make cameo appearances.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of Miami Hurricanes football and sports psychology.

Motivation is a key part of Fisher’s job

The Tennessean – October 18, 2010 – Jim Wyatt – Sports psychology feature – Coach has used several methods over the years.  The night before their game in New York last month, the Titans got an emotional lift. They heard a speech by Will Jimeno, a Port Authority Police officer who survived being buried under World Trade Center rubble for 13 hours on 9/11.

A couple of days before their game against the Cowboys last week, the Titans got a kick in the pants. They heard an expletive-filled tirade by their usually mild mannered head coach, who questioned their readiness to play.

Over the years — 17, for those counting — Jeff Fisher has used a variety of methods to motivate the grown men who call him coach. He’s inspired them, challenged them, insulted them, and made them laugh.

Judging from his longevity, it’s working. Fisher has lasted longer in his job than any other active NFL head coach, and he ranks third among active coaches in career wins (144), trailing only Bill Belichick (166) and Mike Shanahan (157).

While X’s and O’s and developing players have a lot to do with a coach’s success, Fisher has shown an uncanny ability to keep other things fresh, from his teaching methods to his handling of players and what’s needed to stimulate their collective psyche.  And he knows how to pick his spots.

“Until you’ve sat in that head coach’s chair in the National Football League you really don’t understand what all it entails and how all encompassing it is,’’ said Titans linebackers coach Dave McGinnis, a 37-year coaching veteran who was Cardinals head coach from 2000-03. “All of the different things you have to be able to juggle, from the mental aspect of the game and the temperament of your football team and when to press a hot button and when to press a cold button, when to pull them together.

“That is the biggest thing that separates head coaches from guys who have head coachingpositions. To be honest, there are guys right now that have head coaching positions in this league that have no business being head coaches. But a real head coach gets it, and Jeff Fisher is at the top of that list.’’

The Titans head into tonight’s game against the Jaguars with a 3-2 record. A year ago they were 0-5, on the verge of crumbling as talk about Fisher’s job security rose well above a whisper. Then the Titans won eight of their last 11 games.

Fisher’s personality never changed during the trying start or the strong finish, his players said. Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio once put an axe and a big block of wood in the locker room to enhance a “keep chopping woodâ€? theme, only to have his punter hurt himself with the axe.

Fisher’s motivational methods have been equally creative — no word if he’s placed calls to any Chilean miners recently — but from every indication he really hasn’t had one backfire.

“Jeff always had something new up his sleeve,’’ former Titans punter Craig Hentrich said. “And there’s a method to his madness every time he does something.’’ The night before the Sept. 26 game against the Giants, the Titans watched a clip from the 2006 film World Trade Center. Seconds later, Jimeno walked in and shared his story of perseverance.

Before a 2003 playoff game against the Steelers, the Titans watched a clip from Remember The Titans. Then the high school coach who was the inspiration for the film, Herman Boone, made a surprise appearance.
Fisher also likes week- and season-long themes. One was “212 Degrees, The Extra Degree,â€? that included posters tacked up around Baptist Sports Park and a movie. “At 211, water is just hot water,’’ safety Donnie Nickey said. “But that extra degree gets it boiling and changes the physics of it. The message was to get that extra degree, and see what we get. It was a challenge to us. It was unique.’’

Fisher once had all 53 players place a small stone into a pile in the LP Field locker room. The message: Here’s how big you can grow working together. Once he sensed that players needed a laugh the night before a game. He stunned them by having “Office Linebacker Terry Tateâ€? of TV commercial fame come out of nowhere to tackle strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson, whose cell phone had “accidentallyâ€? gone off during a team meeting — one of Fisher’s pet peeves. It broke the tension in a hurry.

In 2008, Fisher risked life and limb for the sake of motivation, jumping from a helicopter with the 101st Airborne Parachute team and landing on the practice field as astonished players looked on. “We were 10-0 and the pressure was mounting and we were getting tight, not wanting to lose,â€? linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “That was his way of loosening things up.’’

The Titans lost the following Sunday, “but Coach Fisher is very clever with what he does and that is a credit to him and how long he has been around,â€? Tulloch said. “And players have a lot of respect for him.’’

Fisher, 52, is a big practical joker, but during last Friday’s practice he unleashed a darker side. The Titans looked lackadaisical. Two players began chirping at each other, which escalated into pushing and shoving as others joined the jawing. Fisher charged in with a rare show of anger and harsh language. “It was necessary,’’ defensive back Vincent Fuller said. “He knew that we couldn’t get what we got done in Dallas done if we weren’t together, if we weren’t as a team.’’ Immediately after practice, Fisher apologized to a female reporter who witnessed the tirade.

The flash of fury was not planned, Fisher said. The Titans entered the game as a seven-point underdog, but won 34-27. “There is no manual, that is probably the best answer,’’ Fisher said of his methods. “I reacted (that day) to an accumulation of things. But I am not one to circle a date and say, ‘This is the date you’re going to do it.’

“Every game is different and no game we play over the course of however so many years is similar. It’s a different set of circumstances each week and you adjust. What I try to do is get a sense from the players, from their preparation habits, commitment, and what is required going into a game.’’

John F. Murray, a sports psychologist from Palm Beach, Fla., said a coach has to keep his messages from getting stale if he’s going to survive with one team as long as Fisher has. Of course, Fisher also benefits from an ever-changing roster, a new batch of players to motivate each year. “By varying the presentation, no matter how you do it, people will pay attention,â€? Murray said.

I hope you enjoyed this article on the topic of sports psychology.

With hearts heavy from death of player, Pokes prepare for No. 5 Texas

Casper Star Tribune – September 11, 2010 – Eric Schmoldt – After tragedy, Wyoming returns to field. Grieving continues to be a daily process. For the Wyoming Cowboys, it takes its next step today.

Just five days after the tragic death of freshman linebacker Ruben Narcisse in an automobile accident, the Pokes must return to the field for a game at No. 5 Texas.

“Emotions are going to be running high,â€? UW senior wide receiver David Leonard said. “It’s a tough time right now, but when you have tough times, you come together as a team and a family. I don’t think we have a choice.â€?

Subhed: “There’s no way around griefâ€?

As with the grieving process throughout this week, the responses the players and coaches will have today are wide-ranging and somewhat unpredictable.

Likely, each player will feel a little differently about the experience.

“It does affect a tight-knit group that has been in camp for months and knows each other really well just like a family,â€? said Dr. John F. Murray, a renowned sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla. “You can’t really accelerate grief reactions or bereavement types of responses. They differ widely based on the relationship with that person and the individual that’s coping with it.

“[But] there’s no way around grief except through grief. You’re going to have to deal with it sometime.â€?

Few have dealt with a situation quite like this one.

Narcisse, a 19-year-old from Miami, Fla., was riding in a vehicle with three other teammates on their way back from Colorado early Monday morning.

The driver fell asleep and the vehicle drifted off the road, rolling down an embankment on Highway 287 in northern Colorado.

The three other passengers have been treated and released from hospitals, but Narcisse did not survive.

Now the Cowboys not only have to deal with the death of a teammate, but they must do so in the middle of the season while trying to play football.

“I would say that in that case you’ve got to put on your gameface quick and it might actually delay the response,â€? Murray said. “Some of the players might not deal with it until after the season or might not fully process it.

“[But] some kids won’t be affected at all. A lot has to do with their personal histories, what they’ve dealt with and what they’ve seen in terms of death.â€?

Subhed: “They grew up in life real quickâ€?

The Connecticut Huskies found themselves in a similar situation nearly a year ago.

Star cornerback Jasper Howard made 11 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble during a victory over Louisville last year. Hours later, he was stabbed to death on campus.

One week later, the Huskies were back on the field, honoring their fallen teammate.

“It was hard, but I also think it was good,â€? UConn coach Randy Edsall said. “It was therapy for us to get out there and really kind of get our mind off some of those things.

“We took his jersey with us to all the games. We still have his “JHâ€? on the back of our helmets this year because he would still be a senior and he’s an honorary captain for us.â€?

The Huskies lost a close game at West Virginia on the Saturday following Howard’s death.

The grieving process was far from over.

“The next task then was, on Monday after that Saturday, was to go to the funeral and to bury Jazz,â€? Edsall said. “That was something that was a difficult part to do and then you go back and play again the following Saturday. It’s very difficult, but our kids grew from it, they grew closer together and they grew up in life real quick.â€?

Subhed: “You’re still not over it todayâ€?

Jasper Howard’s face greets the Huskies every day.

A plaque in their facility’s lobby greets them with a smile from a fallen teammate.

Inside their locker room, the cornerback’s locker sits behind glass, untouched.

“It was just something we felt like we had to do,â€? Edsall said. “In life, things do happen, but you still have to move on and find ways to honor the young man. You never forget about it and you never will.â€?

The Cowboys are following a similar approach.

They’ll wear helmet decals with Narcisse’s initials during today’s game and a player will wear Narcisse’s No. 12 jersey, probably for at least the rest of this year.

Back in Laramie, the young linebacker’s locker will remain as it was for the next four seasons, when Narcisse would have graduated.

“It helps to memorialize that person’s meaning to the team,â€? Murray said. “It could also work to their benefit to help inspire the team with a little reminder that they’re playing for somebody who died.â€?

The constant reminders will keep the memory of Narcisse fresh on the mind for the next few seasons.

It will also mean a constant reminder that the grieving process may not end after one game, one week, one month or even one year.

“Every day was a healing process for us as we went forward from the day that he was murdered,â€? Edsall said. “You’re still not over it today. We’ve dealt with it, but it’s something that’s never going to leave us.â€?

The Cowboys take the next step in the healing process today.

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

The Super Bowl Sets New Standards

Enjoy this article from SportsPro Magazine, sport’s money magazine, showing the continuing dominance of NFL football as this most recent Super Bowl was the most watched program in USA television history! Also, stay tuned for my new book titled “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” to be released this year by World Audience. Enjoy! John F Murray, Sports Psychologist, Palm Beach, Florida

The Psychology of Missed Field Goals: Was Nate Kaeding’s Performance Part of a Choking Outbreak?

Newsweek – Ian Yarett – January 22, 2010 – San Diego Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding’s shocking performance in Sunday’s 17-14 loss to the New York Jets caught football fans everywhere—even Jets fans—by surprise. After making 32 out of 35 field-goal attempts throughout the entire season, Kaeding proceeded to miss all three chances in Sunday’s game. That makes Kaeding, who has the highest regular-season percentage in league history (87.2), the first kicker to miss three out of three field-goal attempts in a playoff game since 1995.

Kaeding’s failure topped off an already growing number of unforgettable missed kicks during the playoffs in the preceding week, including two by Cincinnati’s Shayne Graham against the Jets and another by Arizona’s Neil Rackers against the Packers.

All of this raises the question: could the preceding outbreak of failed field-goal attempts have precipitated Kaeding’s spectacular meltdown? Did Kaeding fall prey to a shanking epidemic?

According to Dr. John F. Murray, a Palm Beach-based sports psychologist, it’s a plausible theory, although impossible to prove. “It’s certainly safe to say that [Kaeding] made a mental mistake,â€? Murray says. “Exposure to other people’s failures could have gotten inside his head.â€?

For experienced and consistent players like Kaeding, a good kick is an automatic move that requires little thought. So little, in fact, that extra thinking can be the very thing that does in a player under high pressure. If a memory of another player missing a kick popped into Kaeding’s mind as he prepared to take his shot, that neural signal could have interfered with Kaeding’s mental preparation.

“When you’re kicking a field goal, you’re mostly using your motor cortex—that’s what controls kicking. So when you send a neural impulse from your brain down the spinal cord to the legs to make the kick, you don’t want to have a lot of interference from the frontal lobe or temporal lobe having a memory of some guy who missed a kick last week or any other distraction,â€? Murray says.

Still, if exposure to the failures of other kickers is what did in Kaeding, one would expect field-goal misses to come and go in groups. But, historically, this is not the case, says Steve Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau. Even though these playoffs have been a particularly bad time for field-goal kickers, Hirdt says that missed field goals do not always cluster in this way—at least not enough to identify a trend given the limited data available.

Indeed, there are many other possible psychological explanations for Kaeding’s aberrant misses. He could have gotten caught up in the pressure of the moment, which could feel like “having a gun to your head and being told to ‘make that field goal or I’m going to pull the trigger’,â€? Murray says. Alternatively, Kaeding could have missed one shot due to a technical flaw or a fluke, and then missed the next two because he was dwelling on the past. Or he could have just had a fight with his wife earlier in the day or gotten a speeding ticket on the way to the field, disrupting his concentration.

Patrick Cohn, another sports-psychology expert and owner of Peak Performance Sports, favors these kinds of explanations over the possibility that other failed kickers psyched out Kaeding. “When kickers miss uncharacteristically, it comes down to the pressure they’re feeling,â€? he says. “They don’t pay attention to what other kickers are doing, but a bad miss early in the game could lead to more misses later on.â€?

We’ll probably never know for certain the exact cause of Kaeding’s choke—even Kaeding himself may not know what happened, Murray says. But it surely comes down to mental preparation, which Kaeding will have to work on before he kicks again.

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

Will Urban Meyer Ever Mellow Out?

Palm Beach Post – Greg Stoda – Dec. 28, 2009 – sports psychology commentary – The best question asked of Urban Meyer during Sunday’s news conference in New Orleans was this one: Is he in the situation he’s in because of who he is or because of what he does?

“Yes,” Meyer said in smiling reply.

And that’s it, exactly.

It’s what makes it almost impossible to believe that Meyer, who in less than 24 hours switched from retirement to a leave of absence as Florida football coach, will be able to change his style and work habits regardless of how much time he takes off.

He’s wired in the manner he’s wired, and it’s what makes his job even more consuming than it is on its own. The coaching DNA coursing through Meyer’s veins is a significant element — perhaps the primary one, he’ll tell you — in what has made him so successful.

He need not apologize for any of that, and doesn’t.

But neither is he necessarily deserving of our sympathies.

It has taken a health scare to get Meyer to say it’s time to “re-prioritize” his life in terms of faith, family and football. But a series of quotes attributed to Meyer’s wife, Shelley, after the news conference makes it clear she has her own doubts about her husband’s ability to change.

“He has to learn to relax,” she said. “I think he’ll make a really good attempt at that, (but) I don’t know if he can do it. I can tell you I can’t imagine him not coaching again, because that’s all I’ve ever known.

“I can’t have him looking or feeling the way he has been, but I don’t see him becoming a man of leisure. It’s going to be interesting.”

She will have a close-up view of Meyer undertaking the reinvention he promises. He has driven himself at 100 mph all these years, but will slam on the brakes and then re-accelerate in search of the proper speed at which to live and work. The Gators’ date Friday night against Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl looks less like a football game and more like a coaching petri dish.

Steve Spurrier, a Gators icon as a player and a coach who is now in charge at South Carolina, once left the job Meyer now holds. Spurrier tired of unreasonable expectations.

“I don’t think he’ll need the whole year off,” Spurrier said in comments e-mailed through a South Carolina spokesperson. “I think in three or four months, he may be ready to get back. Maybe he can delegate a little more.

“Some coaches, if they don’t stay (in the office) until midnight or come in at 6 in the morning, they don’t feel like they’re working hard. … He needs to have some outside interests. He’s got a place on a lake not too far from Gainesville, but I would imagine when he’s (there), he’s probably checking with his coaches. He stays on top of everything from what I understand.”

Spurrier said he thought Meyer — who reportedly lost 20 pounds in recent weeks — looked “exhausted” during the televised news conference.

Now, there are a lot of professions more stressful than being Florida’s head football coach at a salary of $4 million per year. Almost any Web-search list on the subject will include physicians and surgeons, airline pilots and air-traffic controllers, fire fighters and police officers, social workers and customer-service reps, and teachers and retailers and stockbrokers.

But it’s what Palm Beach sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray called the “fishbowl” existence of a high-profile football coach that creates a witch’s brew of stress and pressure.

Relieving that isn’t easy.

“It really does come down to the noggin and how you think,” Murray said. “It’s what makes a situation manageable or not. Nobody can create effective change in life unless there’s a true recognition that there’s a need to change.”

Informed of Meyer’s health issues — chest pain, migraines, high blood pressure — Murray said stress frequently triggers such symptoms.

“If you’re doing that kind of job and don’t have some kind of relaxation technique, it’s a sure path to self-destruction.” he said. “Anyone under stress is at risk of making a mistake when it comes to important decisions. You make good choices when your mind is clear, and you tend to be erratic when emotions are running high.”

Which might explain Meyer’s sudden swing from retirement to a leave of absence.

I hope this article was enjoyable, on the topic of sports psychology.

Can Meyer really ease up?

Orlando Sentinel – George Diaz – December 31, 2009 – sports psychology commentary – Urban Meyer’s obsessive pursuit of perfection has been a constant in life. It’s the essence of who he is, from his days as a defensive back coach at Saint Xavier High School in Cincinnati, to the storied Swamp in Gainesville, where he has hoisted a Waterford Crystal Trophy twice to celebrate a national football championship with the Gator Nation.

Meyer now faces his greatest challenge:

Urban Meyer needs to make that guy go away.

His chase to be the best is like a deal with the devil, and it may crush Meyer if he isn’t careful. The chest pains, dizziness, insomnia, loss of weight are a compass, pointing to the dark side. He must change direction, and reinvent himself a less-maniacal, lower-stressed coach.

That journey begins here Saturday night, when the Gators play the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl. But the more telling moments will come in the next weeks, and in the next months. For the first time in his life, Meyer will need to find another speed other than fast-forward.

“What does slowing it down mean?” said one of his high school buddies Tom Penna. “Not talking to recruits? I don’t think he can do that. Does he stop looking at film? Delegate more to his assistants? What does he stop doing? What can he give up and still be productive?”

Meyer is going to have to ask himself all of those introspective questions, and plenty more. Those who know him now and those who know him from back in the day remain perplexed about how Meyer can find that balance.

Failure is not in his DNA. His father Bud wouldn’t allow it. Urban learned that early on during his days as a baseball player at St. Johns High, when Bud gave him a dollar for home runs and 50 cents for an RBI, but insisted on getting 25 cents back for every strikeout. Football was much the same: While all his friends went out partying after games, Urban would go back to his house to review aspects of the game and how he played with his father.

“He’s been bred for this since he was a kid,” said Rick Pugliese, another one of his hometown friends from Ashtabula, Ohio. “He’s a perfectionist.”

Penna and Pugliese have joined Mark Orlando and George Dragon as four guys from Ashtabula who have made an annual road trip to see Meyer during the football season, dating back in the days when he was a wide receivers coach at Notre Dame. They spend a few days together leading up to kickoff.

He always tells them the same thing: “If we win, come over the house. If we lose, I’ll see you next year.”

Now 45, Meyer’s Type-A personality has many other quirky manifestations. The incessant ring of his cell phone to the beep of a new text message. The lunch that goes cold on his desk because he doesn’t have time to eat. The remotes shattered in a fit of rage while screening game film.

It’s all about working harder than the next guy, busting your butt because that’s the only way you know. It gets you to places that few of his peers will ever see.

It brings two national titles, an undefeated run that stretched 22 games, and three-time National Coach of the Year honors.

But it also gets you to other places, like the Shands Medical Center in Gainesville where Meyer was treated after passing out at his home in the wee hours following the loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. “Urban, Urban, talk to me,” his wife Shelly is heard saying during the 911 call she made that night.

Meyer’s health remains the source of constant speculation, but it seems fairly clear that Meyer is dealing with a health issue more significant than the accumulation of all that stress and strain.

“If he’s got a serious health problem, he’s got to dial it down and surround himself with people who will convince him to do it,” said former Miami Dophins coach Don Shula, who grew up 30 miles away from Meyer’s hometown.

That inner circle should include professionals who won’t sugarcoat the truth. Meyer is setting himself up for a world of hurt if he doesn’t change.

“Don’t try to do everything yourself,” said sports psychologist John Murray. “If you die chasing success or more money, what’s the point of that? Quality of life issues are important.”

Murray suggests any number of things, from Tai Chi, yoga and exercise to “smelling the salt of the ocean.”

It presents a monstrous challenge. Meyer doesn’t do down time, other than snippets of time here and there with Shelly and their three children. And even on the occasional vacations, Coach Meyer, capital C, tags along. A while back, Urban and Shelly went down to the Caribbean with a few friends. One night, in the middle of a faraway tropical bar, a handful of people looked at Meyer and started doing the Gator chomp. He immediately left.

Pugliese recalls having a casual conversation with Meyer at a football camp for kids. In just a few minutes, 10 people were behind Pugliese wanting to talk to Meyer.

Meyer always finds comfort in his extended family, the guys who wear the orange and blue. It’s not some hokey fairy tale.

The four guys from Ashtabula saw it for themselves when Tim Tebow, David Nelson and a handful of other players showed up at a high school volleyball game to cheer on Meyer’s daughter, Gigi. They weren’t doing it to suck up to the coach. They did it because they care.

The best part was that nobody bothered them, but those moments are rare.

That’s why his friends worry about him. They see Meyer “grinding, grinding and grinding,” as Pugliese says, and wonder how he can reconcile that maniacal drive.

“He’s afraid to take his foot off gas,” Pugliese said. “You can’t go at that speed all your life. I’m in car sales. I counted my call log and I had 124 calls come in one day. That’s nothing to him.”

Meyer, intensely private and guarded, isn’t saying much about his game plan. “I have to learn to do is … what they call … delegate,” he said on Sunday, the day after he changed his mind about resigning and taking an indefinite leave of absence. He was also texting while his players addressed the media that afternoon, reflective of a man who can’t sit still.

Meyer is going to feel the squeeze on his privacy even more as he begins his nebulous journey. Everybody wants to know what’s going on. When is he coming back? Will he come back? What’s really wrong with him? The story is riveting. Why else would NPR devote an “All Things Considered” segment on Meyer’s hazy future?

Meyer will hate every single question. He remains most comfortable in the insular world of football, where there is control and everything is easily defined by a scoreboard.

All those victories, all those championships, and all that bling commandeered by Meyer’s senior class define “this crazy monster that we fed,” as Meyer said Thursday.

Another monster waits with a different group of players. If Meyer learns one thing from this experience, it should be this:

Be careful feeding the beast.

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

Dr. John F Murray on ESPN2 and NFL Films Network

See Dr. John F Murray’s Recent Appearance on NFL Network and ESPN2 (NFL Films Presents)
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Joe Namath Talks about How Difiicult Focus is in Football

Sports psychology comments from the Orlando Sentinel – Ethan J. Skolnick – September 5, 2009 – Towards the end of this article, the coach of the Miami Dolphins, Tony Sparano, is quoted as saying, “So nothing is owed to you. Nothing is guaranted.” Skolnick continues, “And even the guy who made football’s most famous guarantee can attest.” He then quoted Joe Namath: “And I can tell you, our brains throw a lot at us, man,” Namath said. “You know, they’re tricky. We like to think we’re very strong, too, but we can be brought to our knees very easily with some strange things, man … Total tunnel vision is very difficult to achieve. Tunnel vision, my goodness! But focus is so critical and distractions play such a role. We think we’re ready when we’re really not. It’s hard to convince yourself, but sometimes you really get fooled.”As Namath put it, “We talk about how frail the brain is. You lose some of that urgency. You get spoiled, maybe.”

Focus is indeed so important in all sports and sports psychology is the profession best suited to train this critical mental skill. Hope you enjoyed the commentary by another NFL legend, Joe Namath, on sports psychology.