Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

25 Inspirational Olympic Games Quotes

In honor of the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi, here are 25 inspirational Olympic Games quotes that capture the heart of sports psychology

“The Olympics have been with the world since 776 B.C., and have only been interrupted by war, especially in the modern era.”
-Bill Toomey, American decathlete, 1968 Summer Olympics

“You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”
– Coach Herb Brooks

“If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.”
– Mark Spitz, winner of 7 Gold medals, 1972 Munich Olympic Games

“It’s all about the journey, not the outcome.”
-Carl Lewis, Winner of 9 Gold medals, 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games

“I Didn’t Set Out to Beat the World; I Just Set Out to Do My Absolute Best.”
– Al Oerter

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”
-Wilma Rudolph, Winner of 3 Gold Medals, 1960 Rome Olympic Games

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
-Muhammad Ali, Winner of Gold Medal, 1960 Rome Summer Olympics

“Nothing is impossible. With so many people saying it couldn’t be done, all it takes is an imagination.”
– Michael Phelps, U.S. Gold medalist, Swimming

“Luck has nothing to do with it, because I have spent many, many hours, countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it would come.”
-Serena Williams, Winner of 2 Gold Medal, 2000 and 2008 Olympic Games

“What keeps me going is not winning, but the quest for reaching potential in myself as a coach and my kids as divers. It’s the pursuit of excellence.”
– Coach Ron O’Brien

“The Olympics are always a special competition. It is very difficult to predict what will happen.”
-Sergei Bubka Ukrainian pole vaulter, 1988 Summer Olympics

“The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that’s wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us.”
– John Williams

“The first thing is to love your sport. Never do it to please someone else. It has to be yours.”
– Peggy Fleming, Gold medalist, figure skating 1968 Olympic Games

“One shouldn’t be afraid to lose; this is sport. One day you win; another day you lose. Of course, everyone wants to be the best. This is normal. This is what sport is about. This is why I love it.”
– Oksana Baiul, Olympic Gold Medalist

“For athletes, the Olympics are the ultimate test of their worth.”
– Mary Lou Retton, American gymnast, 1984 Summer Olympics

“It has been said that the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games is something that an athlete will remember for the rest of their life. It is true. That moment when you walk into the Olympic Stadium as part of the Australian Olympic Team, is a moment that I will never forget.”
– Jeff Fenech, Australian boxer

“It’s always an honor to be able to represent your country at the highest level.”
– Coach Basheer Abdullah

“I wanted no part of politics. And I wasn’t in Berlin to compete against any one athlete. The purpose of the Olympics, anyway, was to do your best. As I’d learned long ago from Charles Riley, the only victory that counts is the one over yourself.”
– Jesse Owens

“My only focus was the Olympics because in my sport, that is the ultimate. Everything is geared toward that, and my entire life was geared around getting there and winning gold.”
– Cammi Granato

“At the Olympics, you there to do a job. I feel you should take it seriously. You should be respectful. You are putting on the red-white-and-blue and going out there to perform for your country.”
– Shannon Miller

“Victory is in having done your best. If you’ve done your best, you’ve won.”
– Coach Bill Bowerman

“Never put an age limit on your dreams,”
– Dara Torres, U.S. Gold medalist, Swimming

“You have to train your mind like you train your body.”
– Bruce Jenner, Gold medalist, Decathlon 1976 Olympic Games

“Runners in the western world have a tendency to create psychological barriers for themselves, but Morceli runs at will, with no inhibitions.”
Eamonn Coghlan, 3-time winner, Olympics Games

“A lifetime of training for just ten seconds.”
Jesse Owens, 1936 Olympic Games

If you’ve enjoyed reading these, here’s my collection of great quotes from coaches.

MPI Being Taken to a New Level

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Billick (Super Bowl XXXV)

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

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

Jon Gruden (Super Bowl XXXVII)

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

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

Mike Ditka (Super Bowl XXXVII)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Type of Pre-Game Speech is Best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Tennis Psychology and the Parents’ Role in American Tennis Development

John F Murray – May 10, 2013 – Special Report – With a country the size of the United States and the many resources available, you would think that a return to the glory days of the early 90s or the tennis boom in the late 70s and early 80s would be only natural, but the process has been sadly taking a lot longer than anticipated. The truth is that USA tennis has been outfoxed for years now by players and organizations in much smaller nations.

In 2008, the futility of American tennis coupled with the reduced talent on the women’s side, prompted the United States Tennis Association to reorganize its player development system, launching new programs including regional residential training centers, new national coaches to develop and train prospects, and an increased budget (upward of $100 million over 10 years). The plan was comprehensive and ambitious, and its goals were to generate new great players for the future.  While organizational changes were needed, the truth of the matter is that passionate parents still have a much greater influence on tennis player success than any political initiative.

Looking at the current WTA world ranked players in the top 60, Americans Serena Williams (1) and Venus Williams (21) are still up there, but this run will not last forever. After the Williams sisters we are left with only Sloane Stephens (17), Varvara Lepchenko (27), and Christina McHale (55). This is downright sad for a country of over 300 million and with the rich tennis history we have. By contrast, there are 7 Russian women in the top 60.  On the ATP Tour, the results are even worse. In the top 60, the only Americans are Sam Querrey (18), John Isner (21), and Mardy Fish (42). By contrast, Spain has 7 players in the top 60 and France has 6.

So if the organizations are not doing it as well as they could, what can tennis parents do? Maybe they need to be a bit more passionate. Some have even called it crazy! The sports psychology implications are immense.

The story goes that Richard Williams, upon learning of the opportunity that women’s tennis offered, just decided to make his next two kids into tennis pros. He hid his wife’s birth control pills when she did not want children, taught himself the game, and taught his kids on very rough courts in the hood before sending them to a tennis academy to finish the product.  His daughters succeeded beyond all possible expectations. And while they just continued to win, Richard just continued to show the eccentric behavior that led him to believe in his daughter’s chances in the first place.

Other stories are even more astounding. Tennis star Suzanne Lenglen was the product of a nutty father who withheld jam from her bread if she practiced badly. Lenglen won 31 Grand Slam titles. Jelena Dokic’s father and coach, Damir, admitted hitting Jelena (“for her sake”) and was eventually ejected from three major tournaments. Since Jelena stopped talking with her father, he has threatened to kidnap her and drop a nuclear bomb on Australia, where his daughter now lives. Maria Sharapova’s father, Yuri, is currently so hated for his coaching during matches and aggressive behavior that Anastasia Myskina refused to play in the Federation Cup if her countrywoman was named to the Russian team.

The stories go on and on. And while I would never advocate insane behavior in order to produce a champion, there is often a lot passion in that insanity, and that raw passion and desire needs to be fostered more in children at a young age. In other words, remove the abuse, but keep some of that raw passion and excitement for the game, and you will become a better and more influential parent in your kid’s lives!

Tennis, and all sports really, are sometimes not unlike combat. The late David Foster Wallace wrote that tennis “is to artillery and airstrikes what football is to infantry and attrition.”  Great players learn how to remain objective and reduce their matches and their opponents to targets that must be eliminated. It is that singular focus and the intensity that accompanies it that I believe helps make these players great.

Arthur Ashe once stated that if he didn’t play tennis, he’d probably have to see a psychiatrist. After all, you have to be somewhat over the top to submit to the nomadic lifestyle and brutal realities of professional tennis. This is the type of lifestyle that presents numerous challenges from a tennis psychology perspective. “If you want to win the French Open, which is like desert warfare, you better darn well have a coach like Jim Pierce who exposes you to some of the most intense training, but I always state that it cannot be abusive in a way that he was known to be abusive. No hitting, no screaming, no slapping. For every Wimbledon champion that is punched, there are probably 1000 players who did not make it because they were abused!

The intensity and uniqueness of passionate parents carries with it a sort of genius that I believe is indeed helpful in getting players to the top. Examples include Charles Lenglen’s decision to eschew the soft playing style of women in his time in favor of training Suzanne against men, and Gloria Connors’ insistence on teaching Jimmy a two-fisted backhand in an era of one-handers. In fact, my client for many years, Vince Spadea, who made it to the top 18, was trained by a father who decided that there were no two-handed backhands on the pro tour. He decided to create one in his son after watching Chris Evert play in the 1970s, and Vince’s backhand was one of the best on the tour for years.

In addition to smart and passionate parents, the role of the mental coach or sports psychologist is crucial. By helping the parents stay sane while they develop their kids’ talents, and by helping the players themselves develop their confidence, focus and energy control, the machine becomes a controlled passion rather than a passion ran amuck with abuse. Add in solid technical coaching and a great fitness program and you have the recipe for success.

If American tennis is ever going to return to the glory days of past, and it should with the immense resources we possess, there needs to be a return to passion on the part of the parents infused with the latest tennis psychology training, coaching, and fitness available. The United States Tennis Association can only do so much. Like many areas of human development, the lessons learned in the home are the most powerful and the most lasting. School cannot even compete with what is learned at home.

Ditch the abuse, retain the passion, and invest in sports psychology to the hilt, and in 10 years this country should have 10 players in the top 40 on both the men’s and women’s tours. I hope you enjoyed this tour of the world of tennis psychology.

The Crucial Role of Imagery in Golf Psychology

Special Report by Dr. John F. Murray – May 12, 2013 – I’m often asked what the most demanding sport mentally is and my answer is always “golf.”  The types of demands placed upon a golfer define the fact that managing thoughts, feelings, and sensations are essential while the potential distractions are immense. The brain must figure out how to do this consistently all day for anywhere from 65 to 80 shots.

A top priority in golf psychology includes having a well thought out pre-shot strategy. Note the emphasis on “thought out.” It does not just happen by osmosis. It must be envisioned and envisioned clearly and properly to work. The golfer must choose the proper club for the task at hand. He or she must also learn how to bounce back from bad shots while staying extremely calm and centered. It goes against nature when the mind and body just want to explode in anger following an errant shot.  But without proper stress management and steady mood states, you might as well take up another sport.

Analogies between golf and cerebral board games like chess and checkers have long been made. I personally think hitting a ball and walking in a gorgeous part of the world is a lot more fun and better physically than sitting in a stuffy room, but the mental demands can be similar. Proper mental skills are needed not only for match day competition, but also in training and developing physical tools for the game (e.g., building a solid swing, getting to the gym).  Without solid fundamentals gained in lessons it’s very hard to move forward in this challenging sport. It’s not like you can just run faster, jump higher or hit harder to get that little ball to fall into the cup. It’s far more refined than that. Athletic ability of course is important in any hand/eye sport, but the mental demands call for more advanced brain development and training that is acquired through proper imagery.

One of the most important aspects of golf psychology is imagery, or “making movies in the mind”. This is a mental technique that programs us to respond as planned, using all the senses to recreate or create an experience. Whenever we imagine ourselves performing an action in the absence of physical practice, we are said to be using imagery.  Golfers use it to rehearse new skills, practice and refine existing skills, and prepare for particular situations such as the first tee shot. Research in the area of imagery shows that it is very useful in in a number of ways such as reducing the time it takes to warm-up, decreasing tension and fear, and boosting hope and confidence.

Imagery, like many physical skills, needs to be practiced frequently to become effective. It doesn’t just happen overnight. Golfers are notorious for the time that they spend eagerly refining their swings while neglecting the importance of golf psychology.  But the greats were well aware of the benefits of imagery even before the scientists were talking about it.  Jack Nicklaus was a firm believer in imagery.

Be careful not to sabotage your game. If your understanding of strategy and/or technique is deficient, or if you are total beginner, you’ll likely just reinforce bad habits if you try to use imagery. Before getting started, make sure your knowledge and basic skills are solid. If you are a professional or advanced golfer, this should pose few difficulties. Beginners and intermediates should take lessons and watch plenty of video before getting started.

Imagery can be done while sitting in a comfortable position or lying down in a quiet room, fully relaxed, with eyes closed.  A longer version of imagery can last anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes and is often used prior to a match. Here, the player rehearses a perfect performance, often visualizing a complete round shot by shot. A much briefer form of imagery, lasting only a few seconds, can be used during match play. For example, prior to teeing off, the golfer visualizes an ideal shot to the perfect location. Imagery can also help familiarize a golfer to high percentage shot sequences.

Some golfers are better at making images than others. Here are some tips for those with difficulty forming images or seeing vivid details:

(1)  Begin thinking in pictures instead of words.

(2)  Review photos or videos of proper technique before using imagery.

(3)  Remain in a peaceful state to avoid losing focus.

Here are some good ideals to practice imagery in golf:

(1) Make sure that the imagery is perceived as realistically as possible by including all senses, in full color and detail, within a similar emotional context.

(2) Like any skill, practice is needed, so practice imagery frequently as it may take months before seeing great improvement.

(3) Half of the battle is just having the confidence that imagery will help. Your attitudes and expectations enhance the effect more than you might realize.

(4) Stay relaxed, calm, focused and centered while using imagery.

(5) Sometimes see yourself hitting the shot (from your mind’s eye), rather than viewing yourself from the outside looking in as you would see in a movie or picture. At other times, the outside picture view (called the external imagery perspective) is just fine. Mix it up.

(6) There is little point in visualizing mistakes. Imagine great shots. This boosts self- confidence and helps you develop great habits.

There is no doubt that imagery works. It is a very potent mental technique that will raise the level of your game by helping you build positive habits. Habits then rule our behavior and the beauty is that we don’t even have to think about it. You don’t want to be thinking too much. Isn’t it amazing that to become mentally strong in the most demanding sport mentally, you kind of want to turn down the computer!

I hope that you enjoyed this golf article on sports psychology.

Football Sports Psychology Tips From 1972 Dolphins QB Earl Morrall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(4) Work hard.

(5) Do the right thing.

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

My Guarantee

Special Report by John F Murray, PhD – May 8, 2013 – The world of sports is constantly evolving. New techniques and plays are always being developed and there is an almost linear progression that seems to takes place from year to year as more money, research and accumulated experience contribute to a better performing mousetrap. NFL passes thrown as they were in 1946 would be easily picked off by most high school safeties today. Tennis forehands in 1930 at Wimbledon would not come close to winning in the first round of any boy’s 16 year old championship today, and major league baseball pitchers from the 1920s would probably be knocked out in the first inning of every division I college game today. Darwin was right … evolution is relentless!

One of the still rarely discussed, but no less important aspects of peak performance improvement takes place in the training of the mind or “mental coaching” as it is often called. While athletes may only be able to jump so high and sprint so fast, there is an equally important aspect of achievement that is much more flexible and amenable to change. It has unlimited potential unlike the physical ceilings of jump height or strength. It resides between the ears in that most marvelous computer of all – the brain – and it flexes its own form of elbow grease in areas such as hope, confidence, focus, resilience and smarter decision making.

Sports psychology is the science and practice most responsible for this training of the brain for high performance, and many casual observers just assume that all great athletes have a sports psychologist or mental coach, but I have found that not to be true at all. In fact, in my estimation having worked 14 years as an independent practicing clinical and sports psychologist, it seems that less than 10% of college, pro or Olympic athletes are doing mental training regularly and properly. While this may seem very odd, since gaining a performance advantage is crucial and the most pressing need for these great competitors, consider the reality. When I completed my specialized internship in sports psychology from 1997 to 1998, it was the only sports psychology internship in the United States that was also approved and accredited by the American Psychological Association’s internship consortium! I’m not sure the situation is much better today, 16 years later. Training opportunities are rare and hard to find.

The truth is that the profession that trains practitioners to do mental coaching and sports psychology work is still in its infancy. Let’s consider the analogy of the development of the field and practice of psychology itself. While the science of psychology began in a Leipzig, Germany lab in the 1880s, it was not until the 1960s and 70s that it was commonplace to see a psychologist in private practice. I like to call this beginning recognition of the field as the “Bob Newhart” era, after the popular sitcom of the 70s depicting the Chicago-based psychologist we all know and love.

Dr. Phil is an extension of Bob Newhart in the media today, but even he is not a sports psychologist. So when you consider that it took about 90 years for the science of psychology to become a viable widespread clinical practice, there should be no surprise that qualified and experience sports psychologists are few and far between since this science only began in the 1960s and 70s, or just 40 years ago.  By psychology standards, the field and practice of sports psychology is like psychology was in 1925! It was all over the world in academic and research settings, but only a handful of rare individuals practiced psychology back then. It was not until after WW2 with the training opportunities of the VA hospital system brought about by head injuries sustained on the battlefront, that psychology really had an opportunity to become a profession. The Boulder Conference, as it was called, created hundreds of internships for future practicing psychologists overnight in the VA system. There are many thousands of psychologists today but still only a handful of properly trained and qualified sports psychologists.

I knew I was taking a little bit of a risk in getting into such a new field when I went back to graduate school in 1991. I had been a tennis coach worldwide, and mostly in Europe, and over there the idea of mental coaching had taken much firmer hold philosophically, but the graduate school education was still far better in the United States. So I came back to the University of Florida, got a couple masters degrees, a PhD, the aforementioned specialized internship, and finally a specialized postdoctoral fellowship. By 1999, I was on my way with a new practice in a very rare field.

I was in a field that was so new that I realized I had to publish to get the word out.  I wrote hundreds of articles and I wrote the book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” and got the top tennis player at the time, Lindsay Davenport, to endorse it. It is now in three languages with almost 20 printings. I later wrote a second book that expressed my passion for all that is football and titled it “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.”  This book was also very well endorsed. The reviews from NFL Films and Tom Flores were excellent. Even Don Shula gave me a quote. However, even these powerful recommendations will take time to hit the mainstream. I had to do more.

In writing this second book, I realized that I had stumbled upon a major finding, and I grow ever more excited whenever I ponder this. Since the beginning of mankind, mental skills and smart play were always important for survival. In the cave era, if you wanted to feed your village, you had to remain calm, poised and focused to be able to properly throw that spear into the wooly mammoth. While there were certainly no sports psychologists back then, and still few today, the truth then and today remains that mental performance is and always was critical to success. Spear throwers had to figure it out alone back then.

Broadcasters, sports writers, and authors all lend credence to the vast importance of peak mental performance that still exists today. Athletes known as overachievers constantly outperform those with more raw speed or strength because they make better decisions. The stay focused rather than getting rattled in the heat of battle. They remain confident and resilient no matter what the situation is, and we all recognize that their performance has nothing to do with their limbs and muscles and everything to do with their brain! It was this realization that mental performance matters that led me on the passionate journey of creating a “Mental Performance Index” and writing a book with the same name in order to share my passion.

I realized that mental performance was critical, but I was astounded that nobody was taking the time to measure it. There were no statistics to capture how well a team performed mentally, so I decided to create one, and the abbreviation is MPI.  The most amazing part of this is what happened when I analyzed the data for my book. I had studied every play in Super Bowl history and rated each play with the MPI, essentially measuring football a different way by looking at each moment and including an adjustment for the mental performance. When I did this with the help of several statisticians, I discovered something phenomenal. It was this MPI, or measurement of the moment, that correlated best with winning when compared with almost 40 other statistics. This emphasis on performance in the moment and mental skills, in other words, had best captured what it takes to win a football game. In my mind, what had always been known, but never formerly measured until the MPI, was not only important to success …. it is probably the most important factor in success!

Since my book and passion are very much centered on the sport of football, why are there still so few sports psychologists in the NFL? How about the other major sports of hockey, baseball and basketball? While I’ve worked with professional franchises and their top stars, both privately and paid by the teams, it has usually been to put out fires or help a single player rather than as a program to prepare entire teams for success.

The bottom line is that coaches and executives in the major professional sports have still not really discovered sports psychology. Given that today is still analogous to only the year 1925 in psychology terms, this should not be too surprising. But given the amount of money spent on top players, and the turnover rate in coaching and high management, one would think that mental coaching would have been long ago discovered as essential for every team from day one of training camp. What else could be going on you might ask?

I think there is still a fear of the unknown. It is a fear that coaches and managers have about mental coaching and peak performance sports psychology. Could this be a fear that hiring a top employee or consultant will somehow steal the thunder of the head coach, or put the team at risk in some way?  Coaches cannot be that controlling, can they?

While I cannot speak for other sports psychologists, I always start with the assumption that the coach is the captain of the ship and I am there to provide a needed service just the same way any professional would, all the way from the team physician to the dentist, trainer, assistant coach, and massage therapist. I am not the coach and have no desire to be the coach. He brings me in to help with his own philosophy of football. I am there to adapt to his needs to help him and help the team and players achieve worthy goals.

I do know that about 10 years ago, while on the sidelines of an NFL team practice, the head coach said the following to me: “While you might be the best and most well trained sports psychologist in the world, I just cannot stand in front of my team today and tell them they have a psychologist.” That comment still reverberates with me today as the possible reason why there is hesitancy, but I think times are changing. In other words, in the past there was the idea that it was shameful or showed weakness in some way to seek mental coaching. When you consider the history of mental health care, which began in treating those who were mentally ill, it makes sense. That coach somehow thought that telling his team that they had a success coach was the same as telling them they were all mentally ill. How ludicrous, but how probably true! I get it. He was afraid!

It is my hope that today more coaches and managers will realize that just as doctors and lawyers and coaches study for years and practice for years to accumulate knowledge and practical wisdom in their chosen area of study, smart sports psychologists are no different. I did not get into the field to treat mental illness. I did not spend years in graduate school to have someone be ashamed of my profession. I had been a worldwide coach, and I wanted to open my expertise to the new and exciting findings about training the mind rather than just the body.

I love what I do today as a sports psychologist. But I still get the majority of my clients from pro and amateur athletes calling on their own, or the parents or private coaches calling. It is still rare for the phone to be ringing off the hook from the coaches and managers of major sports teams despite the obvious benefits the field had to offer. I want that to change, and it is partly why I wrote “The Mental Performance Index.”

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

I want everyone to know that there is no shame associated with trying to make yourself or your team better through proper mental coaching. A player can only run so fast and hit so hard, but by helping football players tweak their mental performance just a little, the whole team benefits. Imagine what would happen if each player got 15% more confident, more focused, and more resilient. Do you think the team would also benefit. You can bank on it. The days of fear are over. The biggest fear might be not investing in mental coaching for our teams and players.

This is my guarantee.

Concentration is Crucial in Football

Sports Psychology and Concentration in Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tough Guys Talk Initiative

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from sports psychology.

 

Evert Tennis Academy Partners with Dr. John F Murray!

Press Release from Evert Tennis Academy – Evert Tennis Academy Partners with Dr. John F Murray! – December 29th, 2012 – Boca Raton, FL – Evert Tennis Academy has joined forces with Dr. John F. Murray, world renowned sport psychologist from Palm Beach, Florida, to enhance the Mental Toughness component of their high performance program.

Dr. Murray has worked with a wide variety of Olympic, professional, amateur, junior athletes, as well as business executives and corporate groups, to enhance personal performance and well-being.  Dr. Murray earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Loyola University New Orleans, after which he coached tennis worldwide throughout much of the 1980s with USPTA and PTR certification.  He returned to graduate school in the United States in 1991 and obtained two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida, specializing in both clinical and sport psychology.

Murray has published several books, including The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History and Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game, in addition he has written hundreds of articles and contributed to thousands of stories in the popular media including Tennis Magazine, Tennis Week, and Florida Tennis. His work has been featured in ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated.

“Chrissie and I are both very excited about the partnership and believe it will benefit the development of ETA students as well as enhance our full-time program,” said John Evert.

For more information about Dr. John F. Murray, please visit his website at http://www.JohnFMurray.com