Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Wessler: Cubs can’t couch their shortfalls

Peoria Journal Star – Kirk Wessler – Oct 9, 2008 – Honesty being the first and most important step toward recovery, let’s start here:

The Cubs choked.

That’s not to say a left-handed power bat wouldn’t make the Cubs better. But really, how much better than 97 wins do they need to be? The Cubs have good bats. Good fielders. Good pitchers. Good manager. They had a terrific regular season.

Then came October, which has not been a good month for the Cubs since 1908.

Now, it’s possible, perhaps even probable, the Dodgers would have won the Division Series even if the Cubs were playing their best ball.

But the Cubs never gave themselves a chance. When it came time to step onto the playoff stage, the Cubs turned into Paris Hilton trying to play Lady Macbeth.

Ryan Dempster, a 17-win pitcher with a 2.96 ERA who walked seven rival batters the entire month of September, walked seven Dodgers in less than five innings of Game 1. Every Cubs infielder committed an error in Game 2. Aramis Ramirez, a career .284 hitter who consistently ranks among the National League’s top 10 in RBIs, is batting .061 with zero RBIs in his last six playoff games. Derrek Lee batted .714 with the bases empty in this series, but only .250 (a single, two strikeouts and a double play) with men on base and matched Ramirez’s RBI output.

Of course, you know all this and more. What you don’t know is why.

Why do good players choke? Why do good teams choke? Why did these good players on this good team gag the day the calendar turned to October?

I have a theory.

The Cubs could not separate themselves from the expectations of their fans. Cubs fans, the majority of whom had not been born the last time the team even played in the World Series, are unfailingly loyal – and desperate. These Cubs knew that by successfully defending the National League Central Division title as predicted, by posting the franchise’s most successful regular season since 1945, they were expected to reach the World Series for the first time in 63 years and win it for the first time in 100. So they carried their fans’ expectations into October, along with the desperation.

And they failed in spectacular fashion.

“Nobody can do well with a gun to their head,” sports psychologist John Murray says.

Murray, based in Palm Beach, Fla., has gained national recognition in recent years for his Mental Performance Index which measures how well football teams execute under pressure. Baseball isn’t football, but pressure is pressure, and the ability to manage pressure and continue to perform at peak efficiency is integral to winning.

“If what you say is true” about the Cubs wilting under the expectations of their fans, “it’s similar to a child trying to meet the parent’s expectations, rather than playing for himself,” Murray says. “When you do that, you rob yourself of the pleasure of the pursuit.”

Athletes who focus on the end result, rather than the process, are virtually doomed to fail, Murray says. Games and championships are not won in a grand instant. Winning is accomplished moment by moment, pitch by pitch, at-bat by at-bat, inning by inning, game by game.

“If you think about winning, you’ve already lost,” Murray says. “You have to get back to the moment.”

What’s required on the North Side of Chicago is a culture change.

Dusty Baker tried to do that in his tenure as manager of the Cubs. He got off to a good start; got the Cubs to the 2003 playoffs and five outs away from an NL pennant and a spot in the World Series before everything unraveled. The club never recovered and Baker got fired.

Lou Piniella has done a better job than Baker. This year, for the first time in a century, the Cubs won a title – the NL Central – for the second season in a row. Try as he might, though, Piniella can’t perform lobotomies on the players, who already know the history of franchise failure. Nor can he wave his hand and make his team blot out the urgent pleas of the fans to reach the Promised Land just once in their lifetimes.

“When you live in a fishbowl,” Murray says, “you try too hard, think too much, and your energy level is too high. If you’re too jacked up, you’re not going to do well.”

So how does this problem get fixed? Find a charismatic player with a “screw everything else and just play, baby” attitude? Develop one from within? Lock the gates to Wrigley Field and keep all the fans at home?

“You fix it by winning,” Murray says.

He points to the Boston Red Sox, who never could get past the New York Yankees in a close division race or playoff series. Then, down 3-0 in their best-of-7 American League Championship Series with the Yanks in 2004, the BoSox suddenly cut loose, rallied and started to win. They’ve claimed two of the last four World Series titles after nearly 90 years of previous futility.

“The Cubs are not doomed forever,” Murray says. “At some point, the Cubs are going to win. Even 100 years, from a statistical standpoint, is not that big a deal.”

A century isn’t a big deal?

There are 30 teams, Murray points out. That means, statistically, each team has one chance in 30 of winning the World Series in a given year. So the Cubs are only three titles shy of where they ought to be.

“I can almost guarantee you,” Murray says, “that in the next 50 years the Cubs are going to win one.”

That should come as encouraging news to fans who’ve already been waiting 100 years.

Bowling

Dr. John F. Murray has worked with bowlers at the professional and amateur levels.

At first glance, bowling might seem rather straightforward in its mental demands. When you look closer, however, you soon realize the enormous complexities of changing lane patterns and wax placements, surfaces, challenges of qualifying, and the killer instinct needed to win on the final day of an ESPN televised championship to name a few. It’s a great sport with tremendous mental demands, and like all sports the training off the lanes is just as important mentally.

Dr. Murray recently attended the Bowl Expo in Orlando, Florida as a guest of Tommy Delutz Jr., former #2 ranked bowler in the world and a regular client who asked to make this public. Tommy recovered from major wrist surgery and made a big comeback.

This page is still under development. Thanks for your patience.

Football

Dr. Murray loves working with football players and teams at all levels. He also developed the “Mental Performance Index” (MPI) for football six years ago, and it is the first team measure of sports performance that incorporates mental factors in the scoring. It is an invaluable resource for coaches to help their teams.

See the Mental Performance Index page here

See Dr. John F. Murray’s New Site in Football Called Coaches Football

Golf

Dr. Murray works with lots of pro and amateur golfers to help them improve their mental games and we all know how important that is in this wonderful sport. Stay tuned as this page is under develoment

Tennis

Dr. John F. Murray has worked with over 100 pro tennis players on the ATP and WTA Tours, two division I college teams, for a full year each, and hundreds of junior and adult competitive tennis players. He has presented at major conferences, written for Tennis magazine and Tennis Week, and coached tennis worldwide in the 1980s. He is also the author of the best-selling tennis psychology book, “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game,” cover endorsed by Wimbledon Champion and world #1 at the time, Lindsay Davenport. Dr. Murray still plays competitively for fun.

This page is still under development. Thanks for your patience.

SHAQ HAUNTS MAGIC FANS

FLORIDA TODAY – Jul 12, 2004 – Jeff Dalessio and John Denton – Impending deal to Miami means more meetings against Orlando.

He’s 7-foot-1 and 340 pounds with arms like Popeye, tree trunks for legs and three NBA Finals MVP awards on his mantel.

And he’s coming to your division, 18-year-old Orlando Magic rookie Dwight Howard.

“Who wants to play Shaq and get in a wrestling match with him all night?” Howard said as news broke that Shaquille O’Neal was on the verge of joining the Miami Heat. “He could probably just put a finger on me and push me out of the way.”

Word of a pending trade between the Los Angeles Lakers and Heat isn’t just the worst nightmare for the 6-11, 243- pound Howard, who’s sure to be on the receiving end of a few O’Neal elbows when the two teams tangle at least four times next season in the newly formed NBA Southeast Division.

It’s also sure to bring frowns to the faces of Magic fans, who had a tough enough time watching their former center collect three NBA titles three time zones away in Los Angeles.

Now, pending NBA approval of the trade, O’Neal is headed back to the Sunshine State in a move that will reportedly net the Lakers Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, another player — possibly Caron Butler — and a future draft pick.

First, Tracy McGrady is sent packing. Now, the guy who led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals joins its biggest rival.

Hang in there, Magic fans.

“Magic fans are going to be struggling with this for a long time,” said John Murray, a South Florida sports psychologist. “It would be like Larry Csonka or Dan Marino coming back to play for the Jets. The only solution for Orlando is to sharpen their mental skills and beat Miami. This would give them double satisfaction.”

The trade can’t be completed until 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, when the NBA’s two-week player movement moratorium expires, but it’s reportedly a done deal. Perry Rogers, O’Neal’s agent, told the Los Angeles Daily News, “As of right now, there is an agreement to agree” and spoke of his client’s love for the city of Miami and admiration of Heat president Pat Riley.

O’Neal also was high on Orlando, where he still maintains a home eight years after leaving the Magic for the bright lights of L.A. But because of his massive contract — O’Neal is due to make an NBA-high $27.7 million next season — Orlando GM John Weisbrod last month called a Shaq-Magic reunion “pretty close to mathematically impossible,” adding, “We’d be fielding a roster of seven guys.”

The 32-year-old O’Neal soured on the Lakers after the team was eliminated, 4-1, by Detroit in the NBA Finals. When discussing the Lakers’ future afterward, general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters he never would trade star guard Kobe Bryant, but wouldn’t rule out the possibility of sending O’Neal elsewhere.

The next day, O’Neal demanded a trade.

Despite a dip in O’Neal’s statistics this past season — a career-low 21.5 points with 11.5 rebounds and 2.48 blocks — Magic coach Johnny Davis calls him “the most dominant player in the game.”

“There’s just nobody else like him in our league,” Davis said. “He’s so big that he’s almost unstoppable.”

His presence in Miami is bad news for the rest of the new Southeast Division, which includes three teams coming off forgettable seasons — Orlando (21-61), Washington (25-57) and Atlanta (28-54) — and the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.

With O’Neal in the middle, the Heat (42-40 in 2003-04) would go into next season as the undisputed team to beat and a possible NBA championship contender. Even with the loss of three starters — Odom, Butler and Grant — they return Olympian Dwyane Wade at point guard and Eddie Jones, their leading scorer each of the past four seasons, at shooting guard.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Lakers fans are hoping O’Neal and the team will have a change of heart before 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

That also sums up the feeling in Orlando.

“I think he’s OK right where he was,” Davis said.

____________________________________________________

The NBA’s other big trades involving the big men

1965

The deal

Two days after the 1965 All-Star Game, when he had 20 points and 16 rebounds, two-time reigning NBA scoring champion Wilt Chamberlain is sent from the Golden State Warriors to the Philadelphia 76ers for Connie Dierking, Lee Shaffer, Paul Neumann and $150,000.

The impact

The 76ers went on to post the NBA’s best record the following season, then knocked off their nemesis, Boston, on their way to the NBA title the following year.

_____________________________________________________

1968

The deal

Following his fourth, and final MVP season, Chamberlain is shipped from Philadelphia to the Los Angeles Lakers for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff.

The impact

Chamberlain spent his final five seasons in L.A., helping the Lakers to the NBA Finals four times. At age 35, he grabbed 19.2 rebounds a night and was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team.

_____________________________________________________

1975

The deal

Unhappy in Milwaukee, three-time MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar requests the Bucks trade him to either New York or Los Angeles. He gets his wish, going to the Lakers in a deal for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters.

The impact

The Kareem-led Lakers win five NBA titles — 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988 — and he picks up three more NBA MVP awards, giving him six total.

_________________________________________________

Why Shaq’s still got it

1. As bad as he is at the line, no one shoots better from the field (NBA-leading 58.4 percent last season).

2. Anyone catch that 36-point, 20-rebound effort in Game 4 of the NBA Finals?

3. When he’s motivated and in shape, no one can stop him down low.

Why Shaq’s slipping

1. He’s coming off a career-low season scoring — 21.5 points a game.

2. He made just 49 percent of his free throws — down from his 62.2 clip the season before.

3. He’s been injury-prone and overweight, not playing in more than 67 games in any of the past three years.

— Jeff D’Alessio, FLORIDA TODAY

______________________________________________________

AP file

Sunshine Superman. Shaquille O’Neal is coming back to play in the Sunshine State and that could mean trouble for Orlando Magic rookie Dwight Howard and their fans when they meet four times.
Edition: F Final All
Section: Sports
Page: 01