Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Bowden, experts differ on generation gap

Sports Psychology Commentary – Orlando Sentinel – June 27, 2009 – Andrew Carter – Bobby Bowden has been coaching football for more than a half century, the past 33 years at Florida State, and he said recently that he’s often asked one question in particular more than most: How have the athletes changed from generation to generation?

And his answer, he said, is usually the same: They haven’t, really.

“These kids come into my office, players, whether it’s 55 years ago or last week, [a] player walks into my office, I look at him . . . [it’s the] same sweet kid,” Bowden said recently during one of his spring booster tour stops. “Same sweet, innocent boy. You know it? Only his hair his longer. Or he’s got earrings . . . and he wears his underwear outside instead of inside.

“But he’s still the same sweet kid [as] that kid I had 50 years ago.”

Bowden’s opinion notwithstanding, the philosophy and psychology of coaching the athletes of today has become a business — the subject matter of instructional videos, coaching seminars and books. At the 2009 Nike football coaching clinic, held in Orlando in late February, Alabama’s Nick Saban gave two speeches.

One was titled, “3-Deep Matching Zone.” The other: “Coaching Today’s Athlete.”

The idea was to help football coaches better inspire and lead a changing generation. The athletes might be the same at heart, as Bowden believes, but the pressures and expectations surrounding them have changed, experts say.

“The generational profile of today’s kids, they’re so goal-driven they know exactly what they want and what it’s going to take to get there,” said Mike Voight, a Connecticut-based sports-psychology consultant who has worked with teams at USC, Texas and UCF. “But they unfortunately don’t have some of those key coping resources. So once they’re hit with some adversity, some tend to crack.

“And you hear that continuously from the coaches, especially, [that] kids just break down.”

Voight and others who specialize in sports psychology say the athletes of today are more specialized than those in previous generations. They grow up spending Saturday mornings not in a sandlot or in a neighborhood playground, as kids decades ago might have, but instead at camps or on travel teams designed to maximize their potential.

Few athletes enter college with as much pressure as those who play football. Florida State this week welcomed its incoming class of football players. They’re still months away from their first college game but many Seminoles fans have, in some cases, followed their recruitment for years.

As college football recruiting has gained popularity — exposed through fan-driven Web sites affiliated with Rivals.com and Scout.com — the expectations surrounding young players have soared.

“One of the big challenges [in coaching] is that we’re in the information age,” said Dan Mullen, Ole Miss head coach and former Florida offensive coordinator. “A young man that comes in to play in the Southeastern Conference right now for two years has been profiled the whole way through. With the Internet, with all the attention given to these young people, they come in and I think they feel a lot of pressure . . .

“The expectations are so high with today’s athletes that for an 18-year-old, that’s a lot to deal with.”

And, experts say, the current generation — classified as “millenials” — is less equipped to handle such pressure, even if much of it is self-applied. According to Voight, who has led seminars about coaching today’s athletes, dissatisfied college athletes are more likely to transfer schools, complain to the media, lead a coup against a coaching staff, fake injuries to get out of practice and instigate a player mutiny or revolt.

Still, the idea of coaches adapting to fit the needs of their players is still a relatively new concept, Voight said.

“There’s definitely kind of this missed connection,” he said. “Especially the older coaches; you know they’ve done it a certain way for so many years and it’s worked for them so why should I change?”

Bowden isn’t alone in his assertion that athletes haven’t changed much over the years. Asked if players grow up more quickly these days, or if coaching them is somehow different, first-year Auburn Coach Gene Chizik said, “They’re still 18 to 22 years old and they’ve all come from various places and backgrounds and that’s kind of what’s neat about being a coach . . . And I don’t think they’ve changed over the years.”

Experts say that mindset is outdated.

Yet it persists, they say, especially in the world of football — a sport so much defined by its physicality that its mental side might perhaps be overlooked.

“I bang my head against the wall trying to get more and more NFL coaches trying to come around to the idea [of sports psychology],” said John Murray, a noted sports psychologist based in Palm Beach. “I think there’s an old mindset that eventually needs to die out.”

If Saban’s seminar is any indication, perhaps the “old mindset,” as Murray described it, is fading.

Rich Brooks, the veteran Kentucky coach, said psychology is more a part of his job than it ever has been. Brooks, who has been coaching more than 40 years, said recently players have become more difficult to coach and that “it’s probably because of the information age and expectation levels.”

“They all come in believing they can play as freshmen,” Brooks said. “They all come in believing that they’re going to play in the NFL. And in reality that ain’t going to happen. So dealing with those expectations, I think, takes a little bit more psychology than it used to in coaching.”

Part of the issue, Voight said, is that the athletes of today are savvier, better connected and less patient. He said the phrase he hears most often from coaches to describe athletes of today is that they arrive on campus “with a sense of entitlement.”

Yet the trend of how athletes have changed over the years is difficult to quantify, Voight said.

One thing that has changed, Bowden said, is the parental responsibility placed on coaches. He told a story during the booster meeting about a parent who’d complained to him after one of his players had found trouble.

Bowden’s response: “You had him 18 years. I had him two.”

“You go back to your youth, how your parents raised you — made you go to school, made you go to church, made you do this and that,” Bowden said. “They don’t do it anymore. They don’t do it anymore.”

He told the crowd that the players hadn’t changed but that the parents had — and that they needed to get better. Those in attendance applauded.

Another contribution from sports psychology.

Baseball’s Winning Glue Guys

Wall Street Journal – July 15, 2009 – Darren Everson – Baseball’s Winning Glue Guys: The Gritty, Gutty Players Who Hold Teams Together and Help Them Succeed – There are aces, closers, sluggers and Gold Glovers. And then there are the really important people in a ballclub: the glue guys.

“Glueâ€? guys, in baseball parlance, are the players whose oft-overlooked performance quietly holds winning teams together—and without which, presumably, the team would fall apart. Statisticians don’t buy that they exist, but psychologists do. And players and managers swear by them.

“He’s the scrapper,â€? says Charlie Manuel, manager of the defending World Series-champion Philadelphia Phillies. “The guy who plays every day. Who gets big hits. Hustles. He’s the guy who, in his own way, whether it’s quiet or spoken or whatever, he leads.â€?
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Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies

Jason Bartlett is a glue guy. Before he joined the Rays last season, Tampa Bay had baseball’s worst record in 2007, due greatly to having the majors’ worst defense. Then Mr. Bartlett came over from the Twins and took over the shortstop position. The Rays’ defense became the best in baseball last season and they reached the World Series.

Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox’s knuckleball pitcher, is a glue guy. As Boston’s pitching staff has evolved over the past 15 years—with youngsters coming, veterans going and pricey additions like Daisuke Matsuzaka not always delivering—the dependable constant has been Mr. Wakefield, a first-time All-Star this year at 42 who has made at least 15 starts each season.

As baseball enters the second half of the season Thursday, the top contenders all have a glue guy or two whom they attribute part of their success to. With the Tigers, it’s All-Star third baseman Brandon Inge, who not only has a surprising 21 home runs but is also hitting .348 in close, late-game situations. With the Yankees, as usual, it’s shortstop Derek Jeter, who owns the highest on-base percentage among the American League’s starting shortstops despite being its oldest (35). And the Phillies insist slugger Ryan Howard is a glue guy—despite not fitting the tag’s small, scrappy stereotype—because he quietly never takes a day off.

“They’re the reliable guys,â€? says Braves president John Schuerholz, “who, in the toughest of circumstances, in the biggest of moments, deliver the goods.â€?

The legend of the glue guy is an extension of the age-old question in sports over whether natural “winnersâ€? exist—players who are greater than their statistics indicate, who win in part because of their force of will or ability to perform under pressure. Whether it’s with superstars who make clutch plays or unknowns who have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, fans and observers ascribe special talents to these players—often exaggerating their actual contributions.

Michael Jordan famously said in a 1997 Nike commercial that he’d missed 26 potential game-winning shots. “He’s probably been successful about 50 times,â€? then-Bulls coach Phil Jackson said at the time. But when Mr. Jordan retired from the Bulls in 1999—seven months after making his iconic shot to beat the Jazz for the championship—the total number of game-winning shots he’d hit was 25.

Skeptical about whether winners exist, statistician Scott Berry of Berry Consultants studied the matter in 2005. Taking the statistics of more than 14,000 players who had played in Major League Baseball, he created a formula to find the ultimate winner: the player whose teams exceeded their win-loss expectations the most when he happened to be on them.
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Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox

The winners’ winner? Dennis Cook, a journeyman lefty reliever in the 1990s. Several players whom fans widely regard as winners and glue guys did fare well: Mr. Jeter, the Yankees shortstop, was in the 97th percentile, and David Wells, a noted big-game pitcher in the 1990s and 2000s, was in the 99th. But the presence of the relatively unknown Mr. Cook at the top, Mr. Berry says, proves his point. “Announcers refer to players who just have the will to win,â€? he says. “The fact that he comes out on top pokes fun at that notion.â€?

But Mr. Cook does believe in glue. Although he admits he was lucky to bounce from one winner to the next—including the 1996 division-winning Rangers, the 1997 world-champion Marlins and the 2000 National League-winning Mets—Mr. Cook says his teams won in part because they invested in overlooked roles like middle relievers.

“A long man who eats up 100 innings a year, he saves the rest of your pitching staff,â€? he says. “Those guys don’t get recognized, but they’re every bit as important. Baseball people see that, but number-crunchers don’t.â€?

Psychologists say there is indeed a spill-over effect with glue guys that helps their teams win, one which goes beyond quantifiable contributions. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist
in Palm Beach, Fla., says that teams are much like fraternities or high schools in that players spend a massive amount of time in close proximity to each other. Because of this, “they’re constantly influencing one another,â€? he says. “One of the keys to confidence is social support and modeling. If you have some outstanding role models who deal with pressure effectively, that glue is going to spill out of the bottle and help everyone.â€?

A huge hole in the reasoning of glue believers is that it’s impossible to know in retrospect how teams would have fared without their glue players. For example, the Rays won 58% of their games (11 of 19) earlier this season when Mr. Bartlett, their slick-fielding shortstop, was out with an injured ankle. They’ve won 54% overall. But the first-place Phillies’ abundance of glue, according to both them and their opponents, appears to be what’s put that franchise over the top—just a few years after it had a reputation for underachieving. “It’s not about just one guy,â€? says All-Star second baseman Chase Utley.

The Phillies’ most-talented players also happen to be their glue guys, including Mr. Utley, who has led the majors the past two years in times hit by pitch, and Mr. Howard, who has played in 362 of Philadelphia’s last 363 games. Unlike many left-handed hitters over the years, he even refused to take a day off against Randy Johnson once last season.

“He’s definitely a leader, just by keeping his mouth shut,â€? Mr. Manuel says. “I call him the Big Piece. As in the big piece of the puzzle.â€?

… just another example of the benefits of sports psychology.

Simple formula fuels UFC’s appeal

Watch Video: Palm Beach to Las Vegas for UFC 100 (many more on the way)

Las Vegas Review Journal – July 9, 2009 – Adam Hill – Fighters’ physical, mental toughness stoke fan interest. Brandon Beals looks like every other Ultimate Fighting Championship fan walking around Mandalay Bay three days before the mixed martial arts outfit’s historic Saturday night card.

Beals and six friends are assembled near the doors where they expect some of the competitors in UFC 100 to exit on their way out of Wednesday’s media workouts, hoping to get a glimpse of some of the sport’s biggest stars.

The 38-year-old Beals said he has been a fan since UFC 1, nearly 16 years ago.

“I think it’s nonstop action. There’s lots of upsets. I think it’s also very fan-friendly,” Beals said. “There’s more action than boxing, and that’s cool.”

Yes, Beals might be like any other UFC fan — except he is the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church in Lynnwood, Wash., outside of Seattle.

He does not think the sport conflicts with the values he preaches at his church.

“If it was still no-holds barred, if it was underground or illegal, then yes,” he said. “But this is legal and sanctioned. It’s got rules. You’re talking about stellar athletes, so I don’t believe it does at all.”

Dr. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla., said the adoption of rules went a long way to helping mixed martial arts gain acceptance among mainstream fans and that the sport will continue to grow.

“As far as the blood-and-guts aspect, some people will be turned off by that, and that’s understandable,” Murray said. “But if you look at it as a pure sport, and the rules are important to that, it’s not that way. If they continue to make it something that won’t turn off a large part of the population, it will just continue to get bigger and bigger.”

Murray has worked with MMA fighters in the past. He said he was not interested in the sport until he started learning about some of the athletes.

“It wasn’t something I would have naturally gotten into,” said Murray, who was a tennis player. “I’ve grown to appreciate how amazingly complex it is and how much the mental skills need to be a part of any training.”

Frank Mir, the interim heavyweight champion who will try to unify the belt against current heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar on Saturday, thinks much of that mental aspect is ingrained in the sport’s competitors.

“I think that we’re kind of genetically wired at birth to be a certain type of individual,” Mir said. “The same kind of guy that will jump out of an airplane or go bungee jumping. The same kind of guy that signs up to go into the military and doesn’t just sign up to go fix cars, but he wants to sign up to be a ranger and be the first guy into battle.”

Mir said a fighter’s mentality differs from that of other athletes.

“I mean, in a football game, you go and hit somebody. Everybody’s wearing helmets and pads. It’s not that personal level of seeing the guy in front of you and causing him discomfort,” he said. “Whereas in the competitive arts, such as boxing, wrestling and MMA, there is that closeness of combat. And so first and foremost, you have to have that mindset that you’re willing to overcome those fears and just, you know, a less PC term, you’re just kind of crazy, I guess, to begin with.”

Stephan Bonnar, who will fight Saturday against Mark Coleman, says the mental aspect is still a struggle, particularly during grueling training camps.

“It definitely takes a different kind of person. It’s not for everyone,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s still hard. Every day, you get pushed to your breaking point. It’s a constant struggle just trying to stay in the best shape possible. It’s not like baseball, where you can get your swing down and you’re just hitting dingers. It takes tons of work every day.”

As for what keeps drawing fans to the sport, Murray says the formula is pretty simple.

“It’s one person against another person, and they can bring whatever skills they have to the table, within reason,” he said. “It’s raw.”

That has helped the sport grow quickly with fans across all demographics.

In fact, while Beals attends his fourth live event Saturday, the pay-per-view broadcast of the card will be shown back home at his church.

Dr. Murray is in Las Vegas this weekend for UFC 100 and sports psychology.

That was Best Match in Tennis History

Special to JohnFMurray.com – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – The match is not even over, and Dr. John F. Murray, a Palm Beach sports psychologist has already declared that Roddick/Federer in the Wimbledon Final of 2009 is the best match in tennis history. “It is not even close,” said Murray. This was a battle for the ages, and both players went beyond human in this epic struggle to see who would crack first.

Murray posted frequent tweets on the website at Twitter.com and at one point declared that if the match went another 30 minutes it would be the best ever. Well it did … and the declaration came well before 1 PM New York time … this was the best.

“This will be a match we will watch forever, said Murray, and the pressure play will be studied carefully and help help raise the mental performance of competitors in all sports.”

There is not doubt that this match was a case of the player who had performed best in the area of sports psychology!

Video on Mental Benefits of Stretching

Sports Psychology Tip #3 – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – Stretching before any athletic competition is very smart. The physical benefits are obvious, but what you might not realize is that this helps remarkably to relax the athlete and get them ready mentally too.

While on a coaching trip with my client Vince Spadea who was playing a tournament in Chicago in July, 2009, I spoke with him about how stretching helps him with his performance.

Enjoy this video at:

The Power of Goal Setting with Spadea

Sports Psychology Tip #2 – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – Setting goals is incredibly important in any achievement situation. I use goal setting with all my clients, but the goals and strategies differ markedly depending on the athlete, the sport and the circumstance. Still you need to be away of some principles. I refer you to an article on goal setting that I wrote as a two page centerfold for Tennis Magazine in 2007.

Below is a video of my client, Vince Spadea, talking about how goals have helped him in his career:

Dr. John and Vince Spadea on Social Facilitation

Sports Psychology Tip #1 – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – If you are a serious athlete it is extremely important to get the crowd behind you. The benefit from an audience is called the “audience effect” or “social facilitation.” It works best with advanced performers in many fields. The opposite effect, social obstruction, can reduce performance with a large crowd when the skills are not well refined. See the article on social obstruction with mention of social facilitation here

In the video below, Dr. John F. Murray and his client Vince Spadea, whom he was coaching in Chicago in 2009, talk about how Vince has benefited from a supportive crowd in Key Biscayne and Delray Beach in his career. He is from South Florida, so he talks about how well he has done in these tournaments and attributes it to sports psychology and social facilitation.

Indians’ Snell deals with depression

Sports Psychology Commentary in the Indianapolis Star – July 2, 2009 – Phillip B. Wilson – He feared he would hurt himself while struggling with Pirates.

Ian Snell’s return to Indianapolis couldn’t have been more unusual. It’s not often a major league pitcher asks to be demoted.

Then he comes down to Triple-A and strikes out nearly everybody. His fastball clocked consistently between 94-96 mph, Snell struck out 17, including 13 in a row, Sunday at Victory Field. This was the same pitcher who threw the stadium’s only no-hitter on May 15, 2005.

But after his outing Sunday, Snell told WTHR-13 he has been battling depression and considered drastic measures about a month ago due to the growing negativity surrounding his struggles in Pittsburgh. He was 2-8 with a 5.36 ERA in 15 starts with the Pirates this year.

“Sometimes people do stupid stuff and I had to fight it, not to do something stupid and take my life for myself and from my family and my parents,” Snell told the station.

The demons, Snell called them, can be common in the high-pressure, big business world of professional sports. But they have earned more publicity recently in baseball. In the past two weeks, major leaguers Khalil Greene, Dontrelle Willis and Joey Votto have been on or off the disabled list with what have been described as anxiety-related issues.

One of the game’s best pitchers, Kansas City’s Zack Greinke, left the team for a while three years ago with a social anxiety disorder. Now he’s 10-3 with a 1.95 ERA.

Snell, 27, decided he needed to get out of Pittsburgh to get his mind right. He lashed out then at the media and fans.

“I just made a decision for myself, for my career and better for my life, so why not do it now than wait for later, until everything really blows up?” Snell said last week after a game in Pittsburgh.

The Indians said Snell is finished discussing the issue. Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark wrote in an e-mail the team does not want to do interviews on a private matter, but added “(we) have taken the appropriate steps to get the appropriate people involved. We are here to support Ian.”

That Snell seeks help is most important, said John Murray, a prominent sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla.

“They’ll say they have a dislocated throwing shoulder, but they won’t say they have a social phobia,” Murray said of the most common problem with clinical depression and anxiety disorders. “Many people are suffering in society because they don’t seek help.

“The more we avoid problems, the more they have a hold on us.”

Snell had an impressive Triple-A season with the Indians in 2005. He went 11-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 18 starts, including that no-hitter. He overpowered Triple-A hitters with 104 strikeouts in 112 innings and had just 23 walks.

He stuck with the Pirates coming out of spring training in 2006 and went 14-11 with a 4.74 ERA, then went 9-12 with a 3.76 ERA the next year.

Last year’s ERA ballooned to 5.42, when he went 7-12. He walked a career-high 89 batters in 1641/3 innings.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington acknowledged in a recent interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Snell has struggled with the backlash from bad outings.

“Sometimes, a player can be his own worst enemy,” Huntington said. “In this case, we have to find the right buttons to push to help Ian reach his potential.

“The most successful players block it out. The ones that aren’t able to, it wears on them. In Ian’s case, for the better part of a year and a half now, he hasn’t felt like he’s been supported by the fans because he has struggled, and he has not been able to block that out. I think it will be a big step for Ian to make that jump.”

Snell’s next scheduled start is Saturday. The July 4 fireworks crowd at Victory Field is again expected to be a sellout, in excess of 15,000 fans.

“Seek God and positive people around you and look for your true friends, and they’ll come out and support you,” Snell told the station. “A lot of people support me right now. I’m just grateful, because if I didn’t have them, I probably wouldn’t be standing here right now.”

Hope you enjoyed the commentary on sports psychology

Sports Psychology Workshop Videos and Spadea

Wimbledon, England – Special to JohnFMurray.com – It was a long time since Vince Spadea had won at Wimbledon, not to mention that he had not won anywhere in a while. “It was good to see the scrappy veteran prove that when the going gets tough, the rapper gets going in a decisive 3 set victory over Paul Capdeville 6-0, 6-4, 7-5,” said sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray. “It was especially rewarding for me that his success came right on the heels of the 2009 Smart Tennis Sports Psychology Workshops held two days prior, and not too far from the All England Lawn Tennis Club.” Videos of this workshop in several parts are now available on YouTube.

“The British tennis fan and serious amateur competitive tennis player love Vince Spadea,” said Murray. “They tell me that they enjoy his personality and outspoken nature the way they loved John McEnroe, even if their reviews of his musical abilities are mixed.” “He’s eccentric, and the British people are too conservative, so he helps keep us balanced,” said one tennis player who recently attended Murray’s sports psychology workshop.

Murray has been working with and supporting Spadea since his record losing streak and subsequent comeback, and officially coached Spadea to a win over his next Wimbledon opponent, Igor Andreev, at the 2007 Australian Open. “I’ve not traveled with him this year as a fill-in coach. I stick to sports psychology most of the time from my office and usually meet with him when he is in town. Australia was a fun trip in ’07 and I got several coaching wins with him on the Aussie Open tour, but it’s almost unheard of for a sports psychologist to assume the coaching role, even if temporarily, but I had been a tennis coach in the past. What works best for most players, and is really lacking, is solid training in sports psychology”.”

Facebook Attracting Stars Before Sports Psychology Workshop

Sarasota, Florida – June 13, 2009 – As Dr. John F. Murray goes into the homestretch telling people about his upcoming two sports psychology workshops next weekend in London (Friday and Saturday June 19 and 20), he is finding that Facebook, the popular social networking site, is a great place to mingle with the stars of sports and learn about their activities.

“In the past few days I’ve received nice emails from tennis icons Martina Navratilova and Pat Cash, famed NFL field goal kicker Nick Lowery of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Super Bowl broadcaster Lesley Visser, a personal friend and tennis partner. I also had the pleasure of meeting and writing about 1972 Miami Dolphins quarterback Earl Morrall in the past few days, and then tweeting about it on twitter. There is no question that Facebook and Twitter are becoming as important as email, the telephone, and the ancient idea of snail mail to communicate a good message and catch up with friends!”

Murray is preparing to present his 8th annual Smart Tennis Sports Psychology workshops at the Sutton Tennis Academy in London, England on the eve of The Championships at Wimbledon. “I think with Wimbledon excitement in the air, all the greats from the past in any sport tune in and get excited too,” said Murray.

For more information, go to Dr. John F Murray’s website at http://www.JohnFMurray.com or search his name on Facebook and take part in the fun there too.