Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

NFL teams examine minds of potential draft picks, too

McClatchy Newspapers (Published in over 70 media outlets including AP Wire, Kansas City Star, Boston Herald, Honolulu Advertiser, and more) – Kent Babb – April 19, 2009 – KANSAS CITY, Mo. — They want a breakthrough. They want to dig deep enough to scratch a nerve, break it down and tear through the protective layers of toughness and ambition.

Here’s the scene: A stranger taps you on the shoulder, pointing the way toward a room or a hallway or a corridor, and that’s where he’ll ask questions about your childhood or your past or your parents. You met this person two minutes ago, and you trust the stranger because — why? He’s working for a NFL team at the league’s scouting combine, yet another of a hundred questioning gatekeepers, like the man who measures the vertical jump or the other who initiates the bench-press display.
This stranger is giving a test, and with the right answers, you may pass through his gate and hear your name called at next weekend’s NFL draft. The right combination of answers, and entrance could be worth $40 million.

What if your father is in prison? Or you busted your roommate’s nose at the beginning of sophomore year? Or skipped class for three weeks straight? Or told your coach once to take his playbook and shove it? Or tried Ecstasy once, or was it twice? Or don’t especially enjoy playing football?
“Questions about yourself, nitpicking at your character,â€? says Chiefs offensive tackle Branden Albert, a first-round pick last year. “You’ve got to be honest.â€?

He’ll ask those questions and make notes. He’ll measure your words, your tone, your body language. When he’s finished, you’ll head toward another test, and the sports psychologist will begin compiling a report to share with more strangers, and they’ll determine not just whether you’re worth millions, but if you can handle the reality of being worth that kind of money.

As pro football races to adapt to its next generation — with its growing salaries, refined branding and sharper scrutiny — there is a disturbing byproduct that the league is now trying to curb: Some men are just not mentally prepared for the NFL’s demands.

Former first-round draft picks such as Vince Young, Matt Jones and Plaxico Burress have, within the past year, allegedly displayed regrettable judgment and signs of perhaps questionable mental health, and teams are trying to figure out whether to help players with psychological problems or simply avoid them. They’re trying to settle that debate by examining draft prospects’ minds in the same exhaustive way that, for years, teams have tested players’ bodies.

The combine used to measure height and weight, and that was about it. But that was when an entire team could be paid what a lower-rung player makes today. They might have missed some things back then, and that might not have always been a bad thing.

“There’s got to be some sort of psychological problems with me,â€? says Joe DeLamielleure, a Hall of Fame guard who was drafted in 1973. Joe was undersized, and the Buffalo Bills overlooked that. They also overlooked that before Joe finished Michigan State, his mother was the educated one in the house, having completed eighth grade, and Joe was one of 10 children and a bed wetter and a kid who woke up at 2 a.m. on weeknights to clean his dad’s bar in downtown Detroit, and then he’d climb back into bed for two good hours before it was time to dress for school.

“Teacher told my mother that nobody yawned as much as me,â€? Joe says now. “These days, they’d have looked at all those issues and said, ’Nah, I don’t think this kid can do it.â€?’

NFL teams want the whole truth, and that means digging deeper than ever. Whether it is the best or worst new habit by NFL teams, it is difficult to argue that some don’t yet know how to appropriately gather and digest this information.

According to two well-known doctors, sports psychology in the NFL is held back by intimidation and soiled by inexperience. The problem with all that is teams have never placed as much emphasis on players’ mental framework as they are doing now.

Teams want to eliminate risk, and they have embraced psychological evaluations as a worthy research tool. It’s a start, but some teams’ commitment, comfort and expertise in the science remain in their infancy.

“We’re still in the dark ages,â€? sports psychologist John Murray says. “There are going to be a lot of mistakes as people stumble around.â€?

That was made clear in February, when Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, the likely No. 1 overall draft pick, was evaluated at the scouting combine. A psychologist affiliated with the San Francisco 49ers reportedly prodded Stafford, 21, about lingering issues related to his parents’ divorce. Stafford bristled, and that made him look evasive; bottled up. The psychologist compiled a report and delivered it to team officials. Stafford’s reaction to the probing compelled a testy but resolute Mike Singletary, the 49ers coach, to say on a radio show that Stafford had failed an essential test — and as a result, Singletary’s team wasn’t planning to draft Stafford.

“Maybe he doesn’t belong here,â€? Singletary told Bay Area radio station KNBR.

Singletary’s comments underscored that NFL teams are no longer muting the importance of mental health. But Stafford’s case also raised concerns about the unpolished manner in which the player was evaluated, worries that the details of a confidential meeting with a psychologist had been discussed and judged publicly, and the reality that some teams view this delicate and complicated science through a black-and-white lens: that a player is either fit or unfit to play professional football.
“You have something that people don’t understand,â€? says Jack Stark, a clinical psychologist who conducted player evaluations during the combine in 1996. “They don’t know what they want.â€?
Here’s the scene: It’s late January 2003, and Barret Robbins is gone again. He’s the Oakland Raiders’ Pro Bowl center, and he has picked Super Bowl week as the time to disappear, wandering San Diego’s streets at night and heading across the border to Tijuana, Mexico. He’ll say later that he drank himself into a stupor and even considered suicide — all because he’s uncertain he can handle the expectations and pressure of playing in the Super Bowl.

After nearly a week of wandering, Robbins is incoherent at the team’s Saturday night meeting. The Raiders suspend Robbins for the Super Bowl, which the team loses, and Robbins’ teammates are furious. A year later, Oakland gives up on him, and Robbins won’t play football again. It is revealed too late that Robbins suffered from bipolar disorder and severe depression. A more haunting fact emerges: Robbins’ problems could have been treated years earlier, possibly preventing his Super Bowl breakdown and a chain reaction that killed his career.

“There were some signs,â€? says Robbins’ agent, Drew Pittman. “It’s a brutal, brutal thing. My awareness of it was changed forever by … seeing the things that happened to him.
“Society in general is not very sympathetic. Over the last five years, society has changed dramatically. The same thing is happening in the NFL.â€?

With Robbins in mind, and last year’s mysterious one-day disappearance of Tennessee Titans quarterback Young, the league is setting foot on unfamiliar ground. The principle of mental evaluations is decades old, but the emphasis is new. Until recently, teams haven’t ruled out prospects because of their psychological profiles.

“If Jeffrey Dahmer could run a 4.2 40,â€? Stark says of the old way, “somebody would go after him.â€?
Today’s standard is driven by the hope that, one way or another, episodes similar to Robbins’ can be avoided — for players’ sake and so that teams’ high-stakes gambles are more likely to pay off. With many examples of breakdowns still fresh, teams are finely tuned to erratic behavior, and they’re no longer burying mental-health concerns under a sea of toughness and machismo, a pair of elements that might have made players reluctant to seek help or admit they needed it.

Most NFL teams do not employ team psychologists. Some keep doctors on retainer or contract them as consultants, such as the time Stark evaluated players for the Miami Dolphins in 1996. Stark says he interviewed two or three players at a time, making notes of the players’ traits — self-promoter, team player, violent history, introverted, etc. — and submitted a single-spaced, one-page report on about 75 prospects. But he also noticed that some team psychologists were not qualified to assess players.

“People would call themselves doctors who weren’t doctors,â€? he says. “The owner will hire somebody they knew or because they did marriage counseling with their kids. It’s not like they go and look for the top 10 guys in the country.â€?

Stark says one “psychologistâ€? at that combine held no doctoral degree and possessed no sports psychology experience. He was, in fact, a counselor at a prison in Louisiana.

“An old boys’ network,â€? Murray says. “Legitimacy is ignored. They’re going to get what they paid for.â€?
Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of public relations, says the league doesn’t regulate how teams conduct evaluations, enforce a standard for teams to follow, or suggest whom a team should choose to analyze prospects.

More unsettling, Stark says, is that some haven’t acknowledged that psychology begins, and doesn’t end, at an evaluation. As teams struggle to understand what their observations mean, players with perceived problems are being shunned.

“There’s a stigma,â€? Pittman says.

Here’s the scene: At the same combine that Stafford was questioned, scouts were eager to watch another potential No. 1 pick, former Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith. He is big, strong and athletic — the prototype NFL lineman. Earlier this year, Smith had been rated by ESPN’s scouting service as the most talented prospect in the 2009 draft class. But there was a problem when it was Smith’s turn to face the gatekeepers: He had disappeared.

Last month at Alabama’s pro day, Smith, a 332-pound lineman, stunned observers by removing his shirt before lumbering down a track. Last week, he fired his agent. All this after Smith was suspended for January’s Sugar Bowl.

Smith’s episodes of unpredictable behavior have added up, and he’s seen as a risky player. Now, ESPN ranks Smith as the No. 14 prospect, and he might fall from the draft’s top 10, perhaps costing him millions. Alabama coach Nick Saban, a former NFL coach, has tried to slow Smith’s fall by explaining to league officials that he simply received and followed bad advice.

“Andre Smith is a good person, a good guy,â€? Saban says. “This is a little bit of a lesson for maybe all players to learn.â€?

Stark says he has recommended to coaches that they hire full-time sports psychologists to help players who display erratic behavior, sometimes an early signal of a disorder. That way, the team that drafts a player such as Smith can determine whether he is among the 40 percent of the United States population that, according to Stark, suffers from mental illness.

“It could be a red flag,â€? he says of Smith’s behavior, “but it could be a normal reaction to being scared. Some of these kids have nobody to talk to.

“If I’m going to pay 25 million for this guy, I need to know if he’s going to walk out of camp if my coach yells at him. But let’s get him some help from the day he gets here.â€?
Stark says at least three teams — the Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers and New York Giants — acknowledge the value of thorough evaluations conducted by qualified doctors. He says their examinations are comprehensive and as thorough as time constraints allow.

“They know what they’re doing,â€? he says.

But some executives and coaches remain skeptical. He says some have told him it is the coach’s job to manage players’ moods, and in the event of a crisis beyond the coach’s expertise or patience, players are directed to the team chaplain.

Stark says he would be surprised if Stafford ever trusts a therapist after his combine interview. Worse, the episode might have stifled the NFL’s progress toward taking mental health seriously. Stafford was, in a way, punished for being honest — and Stark says Stafford, and others who paid attention, might have taken from that experience that it’s better to deny or ignore problems than to address them. Stark says that contradicts what psychology is meant to accomplish.

“It’s a mess,â€? he says.

Murray says that players’ inevitable hesitation will not ease until teams invest in licensed, legitimate doctors and understand that a player’s mind cannot be disassembled and understood in the 30-minute blocks afforded each team at the combine. San Francisco 49ers director of public relations Bob Lange would neither identify the psychologist who interviewed Stafford, whether he or she is licensed, or reveal whether he or she was a team employee. Lange says that as a matter of policy, the team doesn’t discuss any part of the team’s medical approach.

“For too long,â€? Murray says, “they’ve tried to sweep it under the rug and say it’s not important. But now that they’ve embraced it, they’re doing it awkwardly.

“It’s a complex, mysterious thing, the mind. It’s a very delicate thing you have to deal with. You get all this training and you get all geared up to go, ready to help some team, and they’re afraid of it.â€?
Murray says that teams haven’t mastered how to retrieve information or find a suitable avenue to use it, but he admits it is encouraging that the NFL has begun to acknowledge the mind as a pathway to success or failure.

The mind, after all, might be the last natural frontier of predicting the difference between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, players who look the same on film but are far different in how they approach success and handle it. An informed, educated opinion might win a Super Bowl, and a wrong decision might set in motion a $40 million mistake.

“That decision is so critical,â€? Stark says. “Any little edge is huge. They’re looking at you and saying, ’Jack, I can’t be wrong on this one. I’ll lose my job.’ There’s just too much money involved. You can’t afford to guess wrong.â€?

Niners need to get their heads checked for stance on Stafford

Si.com – Austin Murphy – Murphy’s Law – The Jay Cutler telenovela having played out, a consensus seems to be coalescing among NFL draftniks that the Detroit Lions will make Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford the top pick in the draft.

They like his potent arm, his intelligence, his field generalship, forged in the crucible of the SEC. (Cue NFL Films orchestra, please.)

But are they missing something? Might Stafford be concealing a flaw, some pathology of character that could give fresh life to the Bobby-Layne-leveled curse that has plagued this franchise for the last half-century?

The San Francisco 49ers have done their homework, having gone spelunking in Stafford’s brain, and they’ve found something to give them pause. And we need to listen to the 49ers. It’s not as if they’re some sad-sack franchise like the Lions, who’ve been down so long it looks like up to them. No, the Niners have won 32 times since 2002 — a whopping six more victories than Detroit has managed in the same period.

In a recent SI feature, Stafford revealed to Peter King that during an interview at the NFL combine, the 49ers team psychologist pressed him on the subject of the divorce of Stafford’s parents when the quarterback was in high school. Stafford says he assured the shrink he’d adjusted well, only to be told he “sounded if he might have unfinished business.” After wisecracking to King that he wondered, in that moment, “how much I’m being charged per hour for this,” Stafford was quick to point out that he got it: with clubs forking over fortunes for first-round talent, no one wants to leave a stone unturned.

That mini-controversy was given fresh life recently, when Niners head coach Mike Singletary all but dismissed the possibility of drafting Stafford in a radio interview with KNBR in San Francisco. “If you’re going to look at drafting a guy in the first round,” he told host Ralph Barbieri, “and you’re going to pay him millions of dollars, and asking him about a divorce about his parents, if that’s going to be an issue, then you know what? Maybe he doesn’t belong here.”

By that point in the interview, it bears noting, Singletary was a bit testy. Hoping to talk about minicamp, he was instead peppered by Barbieri with knottier questions: Who is in charge here? What is the club’s chain of command? Did the 49ers get played by Kurt Warner? What happened with Stafford?

By refusing to wilt before Singletary’s clear and mounting displeasure, Barbieri served as an advocate for 49ers fans desperate for salvation from, among other things, the club’s ghastly play at the quarterback position in recent seasons. Things aren’t exactly looking up in ’09, as the Niners get ready to roll with the hydra-headed three-and-out machine otherwise known as Shaun Hill, J.T. O’Sullivan and Alex Smith.

Of the 49ers myriad needs, none is more pressing than this position. So you can’t blame Niners fans for their confusion and frustration over the fact the club has taken draft’s highest-rated signal-caller off its board because some shrink divined a buried trauma from Stafford’s adolescence.

Who is being unreasonable here? I asked Dr. John F. Murray, a Florida-based author and sports psychologist, to provide some perspective.

Of Stafford’s reluctance to “go deep” on the divorce issue, says Murray, “I can see how Singletary might view that as possibly an example of not coping with stress; of exhibiting defensiveness. They’re going to need to work closely with this guy, so if he’s reluctant to open up, that could be a red flag for the future.”

At the same time, he says, “It’s easy to see how questions about family, about sensitive situations, during a brief interview at the combine could put [Stafford] off.”

Before they tackle heavy issues, Murray explains, psychologists first spend many hours establishing a rapport and comfort zone with patients. “I’m getting to know them,” he said. “I’m asking questions in a confidential way to develop a profile so I can help them over time.” If Stafford was grilled by a stranger he viewed as a “tool trying determine his fitness for the NFL,” says Murray, “it’s easy to see why he would get his back up.”

The problem, he says, is that while NFL coaches are finally realizing “how critical mental skills are to success, they’re still experiencing growing pains in terms of understanding and dealing with psychology.” Some teams don’t get, in other words, “that it’s inappropriate to kind of shove a psychologist in somebody’s face at the last second for a particular test.”

Stafford’s awkward interview typifies the sort of heavy-handed, Orwellian overkill with which the NFL combine has become synonymous — and for which Singletary, for one, does not apologize. Once he’d simmered down on the KNBR’s air, the coach defended his team’s decision to subject Stafford to the Freud treatment.

Emphasizing the need to do homework on these guys, he pointed out that “there’s only about five or six [first-round picks] that really make an impact … It’s not an exact science, but you just have to work your tail off.” That’s why they flew in a psychologist, he went on. And even if the shrink’s questions sound “silly” and “dumb” out of context, “all of that information goes into our decision-making.”

This is where they run into problems. How much weight to attach to different nuggets of information? J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI compiled smaller dossiers on suspected reds than NFL teams have on potential free-agent signees. They’ve got two or three or four years worth of game tape. They’ve got combine results, pro day results. They’ve invited guys to visit them at their headquarters. By the time the draft rolls around, they are drowning in data.

Of course it’s important to work hard. Everybody in the NFL works hard. The 49ers are trying to return to the heights they first scaled under Bill Walsh, who died in 2007. While they scan the reports submitted by the team psychologist, members of the 49ers brain trust (such as it is) would do well to remember that, as much as he valued hard work, Walsh believed it was even more important to work smart.

Basketball

Just Received: “After having micro fracture surgery on my knee, I knew it would be a long road to get my my body back into playing shape. I also knew that to complete my total recovery, I needed to get assistance from a mental coach. Dr. Murray helped me regain my focus after being out of the game for a long period of time. I used Dr. Murray’s techniques of positive imagery and felt the benefits immediately. It helped my game tremendously.”

Tracy McGrady, 7-Time NBA All Star & 2 Time NBA Scoring Leader, Detroit Pistons

Dr. Murray loves basketball and considers Bill Russell the greatest player ever for his amazing skills and contribution to so many NBA championships. Michael Jordan is a close second!

Dr. Murray has worked with division I teams and players, and NBA players. He has consulted with players privately, given pre-game speeches in the locker room, and consulted with the coaching staff. The mental game can no longer be ignored in basketball.

This page is still under development. Thanks for your patience

Baseball

Baseball
Baseball is Extremely Demanding Mentaly! Solid Sport Psychology is a Must in this Great Sport

Dr. John F. Murray has worked with many baseball players and teams. The work is confidential. His expertise as a rare legitimate sport psychologist (licensed psychologist and sport performance psychologist with extensive work with athletes) will help your team.

Baseball is a sport with extreme mental demands. It is actually both an indiviudal and a team sport at the same time.

Thank You for Visiting. Call 561-596-9898 or send an email to johnfmurray@mindspring.com

Life

This is a main category called “Life,” indicating that sports psychology and clinical psychology has wide application in almost everything that we do in life that is important.  Scroll down for the other headers or you can also click them on the right!

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.