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WORRY SMART AND PROSPER

Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Dec 1, 1999 – Dr. John F. Murray – In an earlier Mental Equipment article, I suggested that fear and worry are your constant enemies, and that reducing worry is a key to success (See Confronting Fear in Tennis). While this is still true, there are times when it helps to worry a little more and relax less. You might toss and turn at night, and fidget in your chairs this month, but at least you’ll use this nervous energy to your advantage by learning to worry smart.

A recent article in The Plain Dealer highlighted the danger of “toxic worry,” described as “worrying about the worst thing that can happen,” such as visualizing yourself hitting a golf ball into the water … or perhaps botching an easy overhead smash on match point! This unnecessary form of worry is contrasted with “good worry” which makes you more creatively prudent, like taking steps to ensure the ball is hit away from the pond. Let’s examine some ways to worry smart, as well as the benefits you’ll derive.

Identify Real Needs

To worry smart, first identify what is most relevant to your performance. Begin by carefully analyzing your matches. By reviewing the article “Increasing Self- Awareness,” you’ll become more aware of what is most important for self-improvement. With this clearer understanding of needs, proper goal setting is also possible (See The Art of Goal Setting). The end result is better understanding, a real purpose, and a means to achieve what you want.

Focus on Control

Worry smart by focusing only on controllable factors such as developing an effective strategy after scouting your opponent. As you worry about these performance tasks, energy is directed productively toward future performance. By contrast, worry wasted on uncontrollable or irrelevant factors (e.g., spectators, weather) only breaks your concentration (See Attentional Control in Tennis) and reduces efficiency.

Keep Your Cool

Excessive worry, no matter how task relevant, reduces performance. Smart worry involves staying on your toes and fully alert, but knowing when worry is excessive and using methods to lower intensity (See Optimizing Arousal in Tennis). The bottom line is to keep a clear and cool perspective. If not, you may need to engage in a few stress reduction exercises too (See Stress Relief in Tennis).

Prepare Well

Get really well prepared by worrying smart in practice. This requires hard work and anticipation of what you need in the upcoming match. However, when you are totally prepared, this worry is gradually transformed into increased self-confidence (See The Art of Confidence).

Avoid Upsets

When you are playing an inferior opponent, or someone you are supposed to crush, worry more so that your motivation remains high! This guards against the tendency to become too comfortable when the going is easy. Review “The Motivation to Achieve” for a better grasp of this process.

Retain Your Self-esteem

Many chronic worriers are perfectionists whose every performance determines their self-worth. Avoid this trap by reviewing “Eliminate Perfectionism for Success.” Smart worry is not to be confused with the illusory quest for perfection.

In Closing

If you must worry, worry smart. Remember to identify real needs, focus on control, keep your cool, prepare well, avoid upsets and retain your self-esteem. This kind of worry may keep you on edge, but you’re gaining a winning edge.

ACCEPTING DEFEAT GRACIOUSLY

Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Aug 1, 1999 – Dr. John F. Murray – Last month we explored real loss and grief, a topic far too relevant after the JFK Jr. tragedy. This month we’ll discuss the much lighter topic of reaction to loss on the tennis court. I argue that how we handle defeat often influences our performance and overall well being even more than court savvy and smarts.

The Problem

In all sports, people talk about sportsmanship, class, or grace following defeat. Unfortunately, many tennis players still have not mastered this skill. Rather than crediting the opponent, defeated players often sulk, ignore eye contact, or invent clever excuses. We’ve also known players who refuse to shake hands, insult their opponents or just pack up and bolt. Who or what created these monsters? The reasons are abundant and cannot all be listed here, but let’s examine a few.

Obsession with Outcome

Some players become so obsessed with outcome that the cost of possible loss is magnified tenfold. This thinking not only distracts one from a healthy “present focus,” but creates catastrophic fear and pressure too. Once the match is over, courtesy and regard for the opponent is simply impossible because the losing player is still obsessed with the outcome!

Perfectionism

Perfectionism may appear noble on its surface, but crumbles apart under closer scrutiny (See the Mental Equipment article Eliminate Perfectionism for Success). This kind of thinking may also set the stage for negative or disrespectful conduct toward the opponent following a defeat. Perfectionists usually develop their personalities by trying to please others, or live up to some impossible standard. So, after a loss, it’s not too far removed to expect sour grapes since these players see their loss as just another personal failure rather than opponent success. The problem is that by acting nasty, these players further motivate their opponents for the next match, and lose support along the way.

Immaturity

Another reason why some players fail to lose with grace is due to faulty expectations based in immaturity. These players unrealistically think that they have complete control over the match. Their self-centeredness keeps them from appreciating the opponent when they lose, and they lose often due to overconfidence! While tennis is an individual sport where reliance on the self is critical to success, in its worst form it may also contribute to disrespect for others.

Does This Really Matter?

Okay, so some players act like poor sports following defeat. Who really cares? Ask yourself how you felt the last time you played against a poor loser? You might have enjoyed exploiting the defective mental equipment in your rival, and you should, but did you want to get together with this person again soon? Probably not! Does this attitude grow the sport or help you find practice partners easily? I doubt it.

If you play tennis for the fun, fitness, or competition, you’ll hopefully realize that respect for the opponent is a fundamental skill that needs to be taught and constantly encouraged. We could all learn a lesson or two from players like Steffi Graf and the grace she has shown the game throughout her career. Even in loss, she usually keeps her cool and credits her opponents.

Tips Following a Loss

Immediately and enthusiastically shake your opponent’s hand and say something nice.

Avoid making excuses for your loss. There are many reasons for outcome, but direct focus on your opponent’s strengths that day rather than on your own shortcomings.

Keep your sense of humor. This is only a sport for goodness sakes and there are many tomorrows!

Make a list of everything you will do better next time – and just do it.

Reinterpret a loss as a free lesson rather than failure. It’s only when we’re pushed to the limit that we really grow.

How Are You Doing?

I really hope you win more matches than you lose, and I hope that Mental Equipment is helping you accomplish your goals. Send me a message using this form and let me know where you are still struggling so I can address your needs in a future column.

WALTZING DOWN MEMORY LANE

Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Dec 1, 1998 – Dr. John F. Murray – Every now and then it’s a good idea to pause, take a nice deep breath and examine where you’ve been. Whether in tennis, on Wall Street, or in the operating room, performers all need time to reflect and view the scene from afar. It’s so easy to be caught up in daily challenges and lose the long-term focus. Since repetition facilitates learning, let’s reach deep into our mental equipment box and pull out the oldies as well as the more recent goodies. I only hope this is more fun than home movies!

1995

July: High Performance on the Net

The Mental Equipment column made its debut in July, 1995 when the words internet and email were still foreign to many. I stumbled upon the Tennis Server that year and decided it would be a great place to post a few articles. It’s been so much fun that I haven’t stopped! The first article introduced the cutting edge science and profession of sport psychology. I hope by now you understand that sport psychology is a great source of knowledge and well being for many competitive endeavors. Benefits are beginning to be realized but many still have not fully heard the sport psychology message.

August: Daydreaming with Purpose

The powerful tool of imagery was introduced. Players at all levels use this high-tech weapon to keep their mental and physical skills sharp.

September: Optimizing Arousal

Many considered this an attempt to upstage Viagra before FDA approval, but I had to reassure readers that I was just helping them manage their intensity level. Those who heard this improved considerably!

October: Quickness

Mental factors improve quickness. Better information processing and court positioning adds a speed advantage that is often underestimated.

November: Attention!

How important is proper focus and concentration in performance? Need I say more?

December: Pressure Cooker

Competitive pressure is inevitable to sincere performers. Learning to manage this pressure is the key.

1996

January: Confidence

Confidence is never inherited, but born of hard work and knowledge. Everyone including your caddy has the ability to gain supreme confidence.

February: Know Thyself

Ways of increasing self-understanding were demonstrated.

March: Trip Report 1

I shared with you my sport psychology seminar at the ATP Tour HQs in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

April: Adult Fun

I described how adults have fun with tennis camps and sport psychology seminars.

May: Target Practice

Without goals you’re lost. I emphasized the value of goal-setting and some of the principles involved in setting them properly.

June: Playing with Your Mind

You emailed many examples about how players use mind games to gain a competitive edge. I enjoyed your stories and printed several.

July: Trip Report 2

Back to Ponte Vedra Beach to see the wonderful grass courts and emphasize mental toughness to a new group.

August: Getting Even

Anger kills you rather than your opponent. Ways of dealing with anger were explored.

September: Non-trivial Pursuits

Healthy motivation was examined. Being “success oriented” gives you the “go for it” attitude of Dan Marino in a last second drive.

October: Ouch!!

Injuries are an unfortunate reality in athletics. You were shown some attitudes and techniques to reduce injury and enhance recovery.

November: Fear

What were you afraid of? Mental Equipment was there to conquer it.

December: Too Close to Victory

Players often get a big lead and then fold. A few tips were presented to close out matches with the “killer instinct.”

1997

January: Good Conversation

Talking with yourself may seem strange, but if you’re gonna do it make sure the discussion is positive for both of you!

February: Beyond Sport

Tips were provided on deriving personal growth from tennis, and this applies to many other performance situations too.

March: The Thriller

Although the thrill of sport can temporarily vanish, ways to restore the thrill were introduced.

April: Keep on Learning

You were encouraged to find a top notch tennis professional.

May: Masterful

Becoming a master is a worthy pursuit even if your name isn’t Jack Nicklaus. Just having a sense of mastery works wonders.

June: Helping Hands

Social support carries enormous benefits. Lean on others and readily reciprocate.

July: De-stress

Ways of managing stress were offered.

August: Team Leadership

Qualities of top leaders were examined, and tips given to enhance leadership in any team setting.

September: Stop Being Perfect!

The perfectionist is often furthest from his or her title. Ways of overcoming perfectionism were explored so that true success could develop.

October: Breathing Technique

Improving your breathing technique enhances your performance.

November: Dog Eat Dog

Ways of maximizing competitiveness in tennis were examined.

December: Advanced Sensory Processing

Since reality is multi-modal, your imagery sessions should involve as many senses as possible too.

1998

January: The College Scene

Sport psychology services in a major university were examined.

February: Practice Sessions

Practice like you want to play.

March: Performance Focus

The age-old wisdom of a performance over winning focus was emphasized.

April: Moody Today?

Moods affect well-being and performance. Some tips on changing maladaptive moods were offered.

May: College Tennis

A brief introduction to sport psychology services in college was provided.

June: Routine Business

Many top performers have well defined pre-performance routines. You might benefit from them as well.

July: Go see the Counselor

Talking with a counselor, therapist, or sport psychologist was encouraged as a step toward well being.

August: The Rational Thinker (often not!)

Are all performers rational? Reducing irrational notions of doom and gloom often puts you back on track and keeps you there.

September: Listen up Mom and Dad

Advice was offered for parents.

October: Mindsets for Learning

Proper attitudes to encourage and enhance learning were given.

November: Burnout

Ways of understanding and combating burnout in sport were offered.

Looking Forward

We really have spent a lot of time together. I would like to hear from you ALL about which tips are most and least helpful. Your feedback to me using this form is appreciated and crucial in developing ideas for future topics. There are thousands of articles that could be written on the psychology of performance! I hope this doesn’t discourage you, but helps you develop an even greater thirst for mental equipment. Remember that your opponent may be reading about sport psychology too!

Over the past 3 1/2 years I’ve really enjoyed sharing Mental Equipment with you, and there is so much more to learn. I look forward to introducing my new book to you. It’s entitled “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game.” Advanced ordering information and the Smart Tennis Tip of the Week are available at Dr. John’s Smart Tennis Book page at: http://www.smarttennis.com. Comments regarding Smart Tennis should be directed to me using this form.

SIX DEGREES OF RESIGNATION

Dec 15, 2005 – SI.com (Inside the NBA) – Andrew Lawrence – In the NBA, Retiring is Only a Prelude to Returning – Former Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy now appears to have his priorities in order. At an age when most NBA coaches are hitting their stride, Van Gundy, 46, is calling it quits, abruptly resigning this week as coach of the Heat after 2 1/4 seasons.

His plan is to spend more time with a family with whom — between travel, practices and games — he was only going to spend an estimated 49 days this season. While 49 days at home with the wife and kids might seem like hard time to some, for Van Gundy the hard times came when he looked up into the American Airlines Arena stands and saw his 11-year-old son, Michael, waving to him in the distance. Or when his eldest child –14-year-old daughter Shannon — celebrated another birthday, reminding him of the few years he has left with her until she leaves the nest.

“I can’t believe that people have a big problem believing that someone would actually want to spend time with their family,” Van Gundy said at his farewell news conference. “I don’t know why that’s so hard to buy into.”

Perhaps because we’ve seen it before, seen the coach or player leave the sporting stage to spend more time at home, only to roll our eyes at the speed at which family soon retakes its place behind coaching or playing.

Almost six years ago to the day, Danny Ainge reached a similar crossroad when he resigned as coach of the Phoenix Suns to spend more time with his wife, Michelle, and their six children. When one of his sons (then a teenager) chided him for becoming too distant, “I couldn’t disagree with him,” Ainge said then. “It really [came] down to wanting to make a statement to my family that they are more important than my career.”

That lasted three years, at which point Ainge reunited with his other family, the Boston Celtics (the team he called home for eight seasons as a player), as its executive director of basketball operations.

When Ainge resigned in Phoenix, he entrusted the Suns to his top assistant, Scott Skiles, who at 35 became the NBA’s youngest head coach. In the six years since, Skiles has stopped working only once — not that it was by choice. (He was forced out after a 25-26 record in 2002.) Last year he led the Chicago Bulls to their first playoff berth since Michael Jordan left the building.

And both times His Airness left the building, it was for the family — or so he told us. When Jordan first retired in 1993, he regretted having not left sooner, admitting that his father, James, had urged him to hang ’em up after the Bulls had won their first title two years earlier. “Now that I’m here, it’s time to be a little unselfish in terms of spending more time with my wife and kids,” Jordan said. The following spring he was in Birmingham, Ala., shagging flies for the Barons before rejoining the Bulls near the end of the ’94-95 season.

When Jordan retired again in ’98, it was to give the carpool another driver. “Now I just want to enjoy my time with my family and friends, just recapture some of the time I gave away,” he said then. But in the end, the only thing he’d recapture was fame, joining the Washington Wizards in 2000 as president of basketball operations and suiting up for them in 2001 as a player.

When Jordan retired for the final time in ’03, the terms were much different. No one could blame him for going home; his wife, Juanita, had filed for divorce a year earlier. (They eventually reconciled in February ’02.)

Jordan hasn’t been the only former Bull willing to trade NBA fame for family. After Chicago’s sixth title, in ’98, coach Phil Jackson jetted off with his first wife, June, to Turkey, before retiring to his ranch in Montana. He didn’t stay there long, signing on with the Lakers in 1999. But there he was five seasons later, headed out the door again, this time flanked by four of his grown children after losing in a blowout to the Pistons in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. “They were hoping I could win a 10th [title] and retire,” Jackson said after the game.

They didn’t need to wait long for him to try again when Jackson re-signed to lead the Lakers last June.

“The problem with coaches and athletes is the perfectionism that pervades their personality,” says sports psychologist John F. Murray. “Nothing against family — you need family. But eventually they’re going to be itching for something more challenging.”

It was an issue Steve Kerr would struggle with after ending his 15-year playing career in ’03. “I was actually a little depressed for the first couple weeks,” says Kerr, a married father of three. “Which is ironic because I was usually depressed because I had to go through training camp. It’s sort of like a death of an era of your life. It can be sort of tough to move on.”

Kerr eventually settled into life after basketball; a job as an NBA analyst for TNT has allowed him to keep a hand in the game and also have enough time to lend a hand to his wife, Margot, in raising children, Nicolas, Madeline and Matthew.

Likewise, Jeff Van Gundy, Stan’s brother, used a career in television to tune out the chaos that had come with coaching in New York. He, too, retreated to TNT after resigning from the Knicks in midseason (citing a lack of focus after dealing with the deaths of two friends in the Sept. 11 attacks). When Jeff told his five-year-old daughter Mattie of his sudden plans to resign, she, like most New Yorkers, was shocked. “Does this mean you get to have lunch with me?” she asked. Of course, her father eventually returned to the bench two years later with the Houston Rockets.

Meanwhile, Uncle Stan will fill out his hours hunting around Miami for holiday lights for the house. This Christmas will mark Stan’s first at home in almost a decade. It should be a welcome change of pace for a man whose life has been consumed by the game from the start — the penance for being born the son of a coach. When Stan was 11 and his father, Bill, was too sick to scout his next opponent, the task fell to Stan, Jeff and their mother, Cindy, to watch the game and write the report. When he returns to the Heat, it’ll be as a consultant who scouts free agents and college players. More important, it’ll be less time-consuming. “I don’t think they need me, to be quite honest,” Van Gundy said of his young brood. “They’re doing fine without me. But I need them.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.