Posts Tagged ‘al golden’

Mind Games: Miami Escaped Bullet in Rare Game

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – October 19, 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.

This game started like wildfire with hopes of a huge Canes rout, then kept you right there on the edge of your seat till the very end as UNC almost came back to win after being down 27-3.

Time expired and Miami was victorious. It was a win very much needed for the young regime of Al Golden after heartbreaking losses to KSU and Virginia Tech in the final seconds, and especially the improbable reversed call inches short of the goal line on the last play against KSU.

But was this win over a decent North Carolina team (and in their house) the result of unlucky odds evening out, or did Miami truly outperform the Tar Heels and justifiably walk away victorious?

We’ve asked this question for years after games, but now with the Mental Performance Index we can also answer the question directly.

Here is your answer: Miami escaped a bullet like never before because North Carolina performed clearly better overall through the entire four quarters in this game. Thank your lucky Hurricane stars above, because 9 out of 10 times Miami would have lost based on analysis of hundreds of games using the MPI.

I am not saying that UM did not earn its victory fair and square according to the rules of the game. The Hurricanes scored 30 points to their opponent’s 24 points, and that qualifies for a win because scoring more points is how you win. So huge congrats to Miami, but just know who your daddy really was last Saturday rather than getting some overconfident notion that UM took apart UNC. It was actually the reverse. UNC outperformed Miami.

While scoring points is the key to winning in football, points are just another statistic like yards gained or turnovers. You might even be shocked to learn that several of the 14 MPI statistics correlated with winning better than points scored or given up in the studies I did in my new book “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” (World Audience, New York, 2011).

This may seem absurd at first glance, but it makes sense when you consider that teams like Miami last Saturday might score on several big plays but then play terrible for the rest of the game as the other team roars back and almost wins. In the end most are only excited by the win, but smart coaches, fans and players should also know if that win was one of those rare 1 in 10 games where sunshine smiles on the outperformed team. In this game, UNC clearly outperformed Miami on the MPI-T by a margin of .521 to .500, yet Miami found a way to win the game in spite of that.

Better overall team performance almost always leads to victory, and this is why good coaches and sports psychologists keep their players focused on the nitty-gritty play-by-play process and consistent performance factors in practice rather than allowing them to think too much about game outcome.

And that is another reason why I take the time to measure this play by play performance in the moment. It yields a richer statistic than all the others (even points scored) and when coaches have this data in their arsenal, they are better positioned to prepare their team for victory in the next game. If I were Al Golden and I saw this data, I would tell the team to be very careful about overconfidence and to realize that they got away with murder last Saturday, and that unless they continue to get and play better moment to moment they are going to be easily dispatched with a similar performance when fate is not so kind.

Exceptions to the notion that better performance leads to winning occur for a number of reasons. Just a couple broken assignments or rare big plays can lead to a 14 or 21 point swing as it did for the Pittsburgh Steelers in winning Super Bowl XL despite being outperformed by the Seattle Seahawks on MPI-T. Of the 45 Super Bowl games, only 4 times did the outperformed team on the MPI-T win. And if this Canes/Tar Heels thriller had been a Super Bowl game, it would have qualified as the 5th rare game in Super Bowl history.

Let’s start by looking at the goals set for this game from the last article and see how the Hurricanes fared:

Goal 1: Improve Defensive Performance to at least .480: Result: GOAL ACHIEVED! The Canes defense was better in this game and scored .494 on defense (MPI-D), which is slightly above average as a defensive performance goes, but still 4% worse than UNC’s offensive score on the MPI-O of .535. So while the defense was better than in previous games, it was still manhandled by UNC’s offense. Regardless of this, the goal was set and the goal was achieved!

Goal 2: Improve Special Teams to at least .600: Result: GOAL NOT ACHIEVED. Miami scored at an even .500 on the MPI-ST statistic and again failed to maintain the standard of great special teams play set in the first few games. So while the play was not terrible, it was not good either, and Miami knows they can improve here.

Goal 3: Improve Offensive Firepower to at Least .550: Result: GOAL NOT ACHIEVED. Miami also scored at .500 on the MPI-O which was coincidentally the same score that UNC’s defense posted (MPI-D = .500). This indicates average overall offensive performance last Saturday despite the big plays in the first half and nowhere near the goal set.

Goal 4: Reduce Penalties from 9 to 5: Result: GOAL ACHIEVED WITH FLYING COLORS! Miami had only 3 penalties against a team that is historically penalized less than their opponent. The same was the case in this game as UNC only had 2 penalties. Even so, Miami’s greater focus and reduction of carelessness had to help in this win and the Hurricanes should be proud for achieving this goal.

Goal 5: Win the Turnover Battle Again: Result: GOAL ACHIEVED! Miami had only 1 turnover whereas UNC had 2. Congrats Miami! This is a very important statistic, and this one also shows good focus.

Of the five goals set, the Canes succeeded in achieving three of the goals and one of them with flying colors (reduced penalties). We know from goal setting research that goals should be set at a moderately difficult level, and that teams don’t always succeed on all goals set. Achieving 3 of 5 goals as the Canes did here is a very positive sign of progress even in a game where they were outperformed.

The game overall was played at a slightly higher quality level than most games, and this was primarily due to reduced penalties on both sides of the ball (5 total). Looking at the other data, there were very few extreme scores on the normal distribution curve, which means it was a fairly close game and fairly average as performance goes. While the performance of the two teams was close, there is still no doubting that UNC played better and should have won. UNC outperformed Miami on 8 of the 14 MPI variables, and almost all of the traditional variables too.

But while UNC outperformed Miami, Miami had UNC’s number in key pressure situations, and this shows improving mental toughness.

UNC performed slightly better on offense, defense and special teams than Miami, but Miami outperformed UNC on all 6 pressure indicators! UM’s greatest dominance in pressure situations came on defense (MPI-DP=.643, 75th percentile). Overall, the performance of Miami in pressure situations was better than UNC by 13% (MPI-T = .567 for Miami, MPI-T = .438 for UNC).

In more traditional statistics, Miami was horrible in rushing the ball (44 yards, 11th percentile) but good in passing (267 yards). Overall net yards gained favored UNC (429, 87th percentile) to 311 (near the 50th percentile).

Of course the most important statistic in this game was points scored versus points again, and Miami found a way to do it, winning 30-24 on the strength of better pressure performance in all areas, reduced penalties, reduced turnovers, and a little long overdue good fortune!

See what can happen when mental performance improves? Even a team that is manhandled can sometimes just find a way to escape that bullet and win the game … and Miami did exactly that!

Go Canes, but count your blessings in this game and perform better next week or it could get ugly fast!

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 email johnfmurray@mindspring.com.

Mind Games: Reviewing VT, Setting UNC Goals

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – October 11, 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.

I’d like to begin by saying congrats to this young team and congrats to coach Al Golden for never quitting in Blacksburg. Being completely dominated 21-7 at the half, the crowd noise almost unbearable, this team could have quit.

The national television audience added pressure, and a string of past defeats to V-Tech hung like thick smog in the air. And still, still this team fought, still this team grinded and came back.

If it had not been for that final stop at the end (or a few other factors you’ll discover), this Hurricanes team really could have won. It was one of the most exciting college football games I’ve ever seen, and definitely the most exciting college game I’ve ever rated with the MPI.

Football is a team sport, and the MPI ratings focus on team and not individual accomplishments. As a team, Virginia Tech outperformed Miami overall .515 to .473 on MPI-T. They were also better on 13 of 14 MPI statistics. For these reasons, it is not surprising that Virginia Tech won. They should have won, and if they had not won with that kind of dominance it would have been strange indeed.

Despite the team nature of football, there are times when it is also appropriate to give individual credit where it is due. In this case, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas was the player with the single greatest influence on the outcome. He went 23 for 25 for 310 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. No matter how much we hate these facts, Miami fans should give Thomas credit for such a masterful display of quarterbacking.

Given the quarterback play, it was hardly surprising that the single best unit on the field that day was the V-Tech offense (MPI-O=.609, 93rd percentile) and that Virginia Tech amassed 482 total yards, placing them at the 96th percentile on this traditional value.

Miami was excellent on offense too in this epic shootout (MPI-O=.540, 67th percentile) and had even more total net yards (519, 98th percentile). We must also credit emerging superstar Lamar Miller for his 166 yards rushing performance.

While net yards gained is one measure of offensive firepower, the MPI-O statistic correlates much higher with winning than net yards. This makes sense, since MPI-O is a cumulative rating of every meaningful play on offense on a scale of .000 to 1.000, whereas net yards can be quite misleading, as just one big run or pass will throw off the accuracy and inflate the number disproportionately.

Clearly, Virginia Tech had a much better offensive performance (about 61% of perfection compared with Miami’s 54%), but both offenses dominated (V-Tech’s MPI-OD=84th percentile, Miami’s MPI-OD=72nd percentile), and again, this is a credit to the amazing play of that explosive Tech passing game.

However, it should also be noted that Miami’s rushing performance (236 yards) was very rare – at the 98th percentile – and this is a great sign of progress along with better passing.

I was very honest about the defense in my Mind Games column before this game, not in an attempt to bash any player or coach (I want this team to win!), but simply because the numbers after four games clearly indicated a major discrepancy between offense and defense.

I wanted the team to know precisely how really different those two units were. Sadly, the pattern continued in this game and Miami’s defense did not play well (MPI-D=.415, 13th percentile).

What you might not realize, however, is that Virginia Tech’s defense played even worse (MPI-D=.386, 5th percentile!). While it is true that Miami’s defense played 3% better than Virginia Tech’s defense, that is the same as saying that Custer defended himself effectively at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Dead is dead, and both defenses were bad.

One possible underappreciated factor in this quarterback derby was the matchup of special teams units. While Miami was superb in the first four games, they stumbled mightily in Blacksburg (MPI-ST=.423, 12th percentile) and were much worse than Virginia Tech’s special teams (MPI-ST=.607, 87th percentile).

Had Miami’s special teams performed like in previous games, UM might have won. As it stood they were dominated by V-Tech’s special teams by about 19 percentage points (MPI-STD=88th percentile).

What about pressure play? V-Tech was better overall, but neither team really shined in the clutch. Penalties and other mistakes in pressure situations for both teams offset great plays under pressure (MPI-TP=.481 for V-Tech, 41st percentile, MPI-TP=.427 for Miami, 22nd percentile).

Miami had the penalty bug again – (9) compared with 5 for V-Tech – but the Hurricanes had zero turnovers to Virginia Tech’s one. Overall, this slightly favors Miami since turnovers are much more costly. But nine penalties are always too many. The crowd noise probably had a major role in a few on the offensive line in the first half.

In summary, Virginia Tech performed better than average overall and beat a Miami team that performed below average overall. In this epic offensive shootout, the 1,001 total yards gained by both teams occurs roughly in less than 1 of 100 games played. Virginia Tech was almost perfect passing the ball as Logan Thomas made Stanford’s Andrew Luck almost seem to be human. The Virginia Tech special teams dominated Miami’s special teams.

At this point, let’s glimpse at a big picture of the entire season.

After five games, Miami is averaging .506 overall on the MPI-T, which is slightly above average and at the 56th percentile. On offense, Miami is averaging .538 (66th percentile), and on special teams Miami is averaging .599 (85th percentile).

Miami’s defense is still the weakest link (MPI-D=.458, 33rd percentile) and Miami is averaging better in pressure situations on offense (53rd percentile) than on defense (31st percentile).

There is likely major growth here as the Canes withstood pressure and crowd noise, a major deficit, and history, and they almost did the improbable by winning.

The huge heart and no-quit attitude of this UM team tells me that they have stepped it up a notch and will have even more pride and confidence going forward. I think Coach Golden is smart and doing a good job that is not easy.

What can we expect with upcoming opponent North Carolina at their house? This is no doubt another tough challenge, but it will make Miami better from the experience. A win, of course, would do wonders for this team’s confidence. To grab a win against UNC, I have outlined 5 performance related goals below:

Goal 1: Improve Defensive Performance to at least .480: This is a very reasonable goal set only 2% above the season average of .458. It is very attainable, but the players need to dig deep and execute the fundamentals, while coaches have to come up with a smart plan to slow or stop the 43rd best rushing team in the nation.

Goal 2: Improve Special Teams to at least .600: The V Tech game was an off week for special teams, but I expect for them to get it back this week with better kickoffs and tackling on coverage, better blocking and runbacks, and solid field goal kicking, punting and punt coverage.

Goal 3: Improve Offensive Firepower to at Least .550: The running and passing game really exploded last game and this balance is awesome. Performing above the overall season average for offense (.538) would be a sign of continued progress. Jacory Harris is getting better and better and this is exciting to watch.

Goal 4: Reduce Penalties from 9 to 5: It will be loud again this Saturday, but UM now has a week of experience to pull from as they go into foreign territory. Five penalties is average for a team, and that is a reasonable goal to ask for and it should help immensely.

Goal 5: Win the Turnover Battle Again: The Canes were +1 in the important Takeaway minus Giveaway category. If they do it once again or even better at +2, their chances for a win on the road are exponentially increased.

Final Comments

Thanks to many who emailed your support for what I am writing about in this column with the MPI and the team performance statistics. Many of you now understand the importance and benefits of this new way of rating games that includes mental performance in the rating, and also in giving percentiles that show how average or extreme a particular performance is. For those who still do not understand, please keep reading.

We all know that the offense has been better than the defense this year, yet it’s still important to know precisely how much better a particular unit has been to set goals, anticipate the future, know where we are heading and so much more.

If there were no speedometer in your car, would you be able to regulate your speed and avoid tickets? Probably so, but speedometers make it easier. If I had no watch or clock, how would I know when my client’s hour of mental coaching was up?

Lack of precise measurement causes error, confusion and chaos. Measurement is the key to documenting and understanding performance, but the usual football statistics rarely if ever offer percentiles, do not include mental performance in the ratings, and do not provide standardized numbers to allow game comparisons.

If you have not read my new book yet where I explain all this, I would encourage you to do so soon. It also aims to remove many stigmas about the mental game in sports in general, and the book is titled: “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.”

Thanks and Go Canes!

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 email johnfmurray@mindspring.com.

One thing matters in college sports: winning

Sports psychology commentary in the Sarasota Herald Tribune – Doug Fernandes – September 3, 2011 – Today at the University of Florida, all eyes will be on first-year head coach Will Muschamp.

At Florida State and South Florida, Jimbo Fisher and Skip Holtz begin their sophomore campaigns leading their respective teams.

And at Miami, Al Golden starts his first season at a program rocked by a scandal that could have repercussions for years to come.

For the NCAA, its member schools, coaches, players and administrators, the kickoff to the 2011 college football season could not have arrived at a more favorable time.

Frankly, there has never been an offseason during which the sport’s lower lip was more bloodied. Revelations of free cars, sex parties, nightclub visits, yacht trips and players trading memorabilia for tattoos dominated headlines, blogs and radio airwaves.

It forced the resignation of Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, revealed, yet again, the lengths programs will go to court success, and how those in positions of authority often turn their heads to transgressions happening right before their eyes.

All in the name of winning and securing its ancillary benefits. For quite some time now, fans of all sports have been bludgeoned into semi-consciousness with stories of athletes and institutions engaging in myriad nefarious acts.

Whether it’s cyclists and track athletes who dope, baseball players who take steroids, or student-athletes who choose College A over College B for reasons other than — wink, wink — academics, the American sporting public had grown tired.

Tired and apathetic.

Just give them their games.

Just give them their teams.

Provide that three- or four-hour window when nothing else matters except the school emblazoned on their shirt coming out on top.

“Even more than entertained, they want to win,” said John F Murray, a Palm Beach clinical and sports psychologist. “That’s the thing we attach ourselves to, because, for whatever reason, we’re not able to enjoy our jobs or whatever it might be.

“I think we attach success to our team’s success. They are our team. We’re willing to overlook what they do to get that success.

“Most fans probably, deep down in their psyche, would rather have their teams win on steroids than lose without steroids.”

In psychology, it’s called “basking in reflected glory,” the belief that one experiences personal success through their association with successful people or institutions.

It helps explain the reason a Florida Gator fan feels a sense of satisfaction after a victory over Georgia, or, conversely, depression following a loss.

He or she has no material connection to the Gators’ winning or losing. But anyone who has rooted for a team is familiar with the phenomenon.

On Monday, the Miami Hurricanes play at the University of Maryland. The scandal should have embarrassed anyone connected to the school’s program.

Yet they’ll be there, Hurricane fans, wearing their school’s colors, oblivious to anything except what transpires on the 100-yard-by-53-yard plot of ground before them.

“What you’re suggesting,” said Murray, “is that we’re more corrupt than ever and that the fans don’t care.”

Well, they do care. Care deeply. Care passionately.

Over anything else, about one thing.

Just win, baby.

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