Sports Psychology in Canesport Magazine – September 15, 2011 – John F Murray – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.
Call me a team strategist this week, not a clinical and sports psychologist. Nobody is sick around here. Miami is a team with a great coach and a talented bunch of players. How can you not get excited about a game against Ohio State? If the Hurricanes all come together and perform as well as I know they are capable of, then it should be a very happy weekend.
To make this all easier, I have outlined my five performance goals for the team. If they achieve these goals, I am convinced they will also win the game. I set the goals moderately high and certainly at an attainable level in terms of performance.
In my last column (CLICK HERE for the archived story) I gave a fairly thorough explanation of the 14 new statistics included in my patented Mental Performance Index (or MPI) and explained how I also look at traditional stats and the bell curve in giving meaning to all data. Keep in mind that the MPI is a team performance rating system including every meaningful play, and it includes mental performance as well as execution and physical performance. The key is that it measures performance (how the team did relative to their opponent) and not outcome (how many points or scores they made. Since it scores every meaningful play, it is also a good measure of execution and consistency at any point in the game. As a rule of thumb, an MPI score of .500 is roughly average, .400 is terrible and .600 (or 60% of perfection) is superb, and about 98% of games will have a total team score (MPI-T) that ranges between .400 and .600.
While the cast of characters often changes from week to week based on who is doing well and who is healthy, there is far more than cosmetic improvement in Miami’s lineup, as senior quarterback Jacory Harris, defensive tackle Marcus Forston, defensive end Adewale Ojomo, linebacker Sean Spence and receiver Travis Benjamin all make their returns following suspension. I’m excited to see them return and they’ll hopefully contribute to a better team performance against Ohio State.
I’ll remind you below of Miami’s performance numbers last week, point out areas that need most improvement, and then give the team five solid performance goals in order to have a good chance to defeat Ohio State.:
PERFORMANCE GOAL ONE: RAISE TOTAL TEAM PERFORMANCE 2.5%, FROM .475 TO AT LEAST .500 ON THE MPI-T
The first number to look at is the MPI-T, or total team performance statistic, as this is the best single estimate of how the team as a whole performed. As a reader you will get more familiar with the numbers and what they represent as the season unfolds. Miami’s MPI-T score of .475 was not impressive and it was definitely below average last week. Teams can win games at 47.5% of perfection, but it is rare, and to do so the opponent usually has to perform below average too. This was not the case last week as Maryland was slightly above average on total team performance (MPI-T=.508) and the scoreboard showed this too.
For Miami to beat Ohio State, I would like to see Miami’s total performance rise at least 2.5% to an MPI-T score of .500, and even higher would be better. To do this, the team needs to cut down on penalties and turnovers and execute better overall.
PERFORMANCE GOAL TWO: REDUCE TURNOVERS AND PENALTIES FROM 14 TO 6, BUT WITH NO MORE THAN ONE TURNOVER (T + P < 6; T < 2)
The sad part about last week is that Miami shot itself in the foot. Maryland was a good team (.508), but no world beater, and all you have to do is look at the careless mental mistakes Miami made with four turnovers and 10 penalties (T + P = 14) and you will understand why Miami’s total performance was well below average. As far as I know Coach Golden is not using the MPI statistics yet, but he is emphasizing this truth with the team. The mistakes were by far the weakest link last week against Maryland and that needs to change. The Buckeyes are usually very disciplined, so for Miami to have a chance, I would like to see this T + P statistic kept to 6 or less, but with no more than one turnover max. A second goal here would be to have an equal takeaways minus giveaways (T-G) score. Against Maryland, Miami was a minus 3 on T-G, as Miami had four turnovers to Maryland’s 1. This needs to happen with effort and great focus, and there is no better time to start than this Saturday night.
PERFORMANCDE GOAL THREE: IMPROVE DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCE 6.4% FROM .424 TO .490 OVERALL, AND 8.1% IN PRESSURE MOMENTS FROM .469 TO .550
The Miami defense should be better with the returning players, but remember that they are playing a formidable foe in Ohio State, so that probably makes that a wash. This is a hard game to win.
Last week the single worst unit on the field was Miami’s defense, which performed at only .424 against Maryland’s offense (.544). Contributing to that, Miami gave up 348 yards through the air which put Maryland over the 90th percentile in passing. With better coverage, improved tackling, more dogged pursuit, increased hitting, and a couple of forced turnovers, defensive performance can rise a lot. It would be hard for this unit not to improve from .424. But since this was the lowest area, all eyes will be on defense and I would recommend that Miami target at least a .490 performance on defense, but a .550 performance in pressure moments of the game. They can do this by rising to the occasion as needed to make big plays. Last week performance under pressure for the defense was .469, better than overall performance, but still nothing to cheer about. So at least a .550 performance in these moments is called for.
PERFORMANCE GOAL FOUR: MAINTAIN GREAT SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY BY PERFORMING AT LEAST AT .650
Special teams play was phenomenal last week for Miami (.717) and it would be nice obviously for this to continue. But this is a high performance standard that will be hard to maintain. The coverage was especially good on punts and kickoffs. A Miami performance at the .650 mark or higher would be superb against Ohio State.
PERFORMANCE GOAL FIVE: IMPROVE OFFENSIVE PERFORMANCE 4.1% FROM .479 TO .520 AND OUTPERFORM THE OHIO STATE DEFENSE BY AT LEAST 2% (FOR EXAMPLE: .520 TO .500)
Quarterback Jacory Harris needs to have a good game, the offensive line needs to protect him and open holes for the running backs. The receivers need to do a better job than last year against Ohio State. It is a great redemption game for Travis Benjamin as he was criticized harshly for erratic play last year in the loss to OSU.
Last week the Miami offense was slightly better than Maryland’s defense (.479 to .467), but it was hampered by mistakes including those two very costly interceptions. I expect Harris to be more experienced and poised than Morris was due to his experience. But remember that Ohio State is known for their exceptional defense, ranked 14th in the nation. For Miami to win this game I would like to see the offense improve about 4.1% to .520 and I would like the Miami offense to dominate the Ohio State defense by at least 2%.
These projections don’t provide all of the answers. But, as I have noted before, in developing the MPI over eight years, and using it for my new book that was released this year (“The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History“), I have developed a good idea of what it takes to win a football game. I believe these goals give the Canes a no-nonsense, hard-nosed, and objective perspective that will only help this team get better.
Dr. John F. Murray, described as “The Freud of Football” by the Washington
Post, is a South Florida native and licensed clinical and sports psychologist in
Palm Beach. He provides mental coaching and sports psychology services,
counseling, speeches and seminars. He recently authored his second book, “The
Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,”
destroying stigmas about the mental game in sports and showing football teams
how to perform better and win more games by enhancing team performance
assessments and training. For further information call Dr. Murray at
561-596-9898, visit johnfmurray.com or
I hope you enjoyed this journey into the world of sports psychology.