Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – October 26, 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.
The Georgia Tech game was a thorough performance as well as a great win for the Hurricanes. No need for comments this week about escaping a bullet, blowing it on defense, or failing to make the big play at the end. But did the presence of these factors help in some small way to keep this team from getting overconfident going into the Georgia Tech game? It’s possible.
This UM team did well and won in convincing fashion against a Top 20 ranked opponent. Coach Al Golden and crew should be very proud and excited, and I am too. But as I do each and every week, I will not rest in my efforts to understand this game at a much deeper level than the final score. For some this is still somewhat hard to grasp, but realize that while the final score is what wins the game in the end, getting points on the board and defending against points by the opponent has little to do with the score.
Points are just the end result of performance by the team in each moment on the field. The act of building up to points on a long drive or perfectly executed pass and catch, or a great defensive takeaway all refer to performance in the moment and proper execution, NOT POINTS. Points come after all that had work and smarts that I measure on the MPI.
The rule makers of football have defined how a game is won, and that is indeed by scoring more points than the opponent. The point differential is obviously a pretty good sign of which team was better on the field that day, but there are other factors that are much richer in showing which team was better.
You might walk away screaming, “I don’t care about those other factors, all I care about is points and whether we won or lost the game,” and I would agree with you that getting in the win column is always better than a loss, but I would also tell you that you have no idea what you are talking about.
I studied this for eight years, so don’t be a typical beer drinking fan and mutter, “all I care about is that we won.” The University of Miami is a much smarter institution of higher learning than that kind of ignorance, and I will not stand for it.
Examined more closely, as I discovered in reviewing all 45 Super Bowl games and hundreds of other games, you soon realize that the final score is only another statistic to qhow well a team performed, and it often does a very lousy job. And telling players or teams to put stock in this by scoring points to win is just absurd. However, coaching players to win the battle in the moment, or to perform well on each play, is very smart advice leading then to points and success.
Performance in the moment as a studied factor is also a better predictor of which team will win the game, as statistical analyses have shown. Even points scored or given up as statistics are not as good as performance in the moment measured on the MPI scores.
Translation: if you really want to win a game, focus on getting a great MPI score on each play, not on getting points! Make the block, catch the pass, make the correct read, throw the pass to the correct target, make proper cuts, avoid turnovers, avoid penalties, use your head for more than a hat rack! These and many more things are performance-related factors that have meaning, not points. And this is the same as saying `focus on performing well in each and every moment and not just on the big plays or touchdown plays.’
In this particular game, UM outperformed Georgia Tech overall by roughly 5% of performance, which is a solid dominance, but not a blowout. Miami’s MPI-T score was .535 (79th percentile) compared with Georgia Tech’s MPI-T score of .480. Miami was also better on 12 of 14 MPI scores and 8 of 9 traditional statistics examined, so this was clearly an impressive performance that justifies the victory, compared with last week when the Canes were outperformed and won anyway.
Let’s see how the Hurricanes did it.
Let’s give a loud round of applause to the Miami defense. Finally! The defense of the Canes had their best performance of the year (MPI-D=.569, 91st percentile). Miami’s defense was 11.6 percent better than Georgia Tech’s offense, whereas Georgia Tech’s defense was 10.4 percent better than the Miami offense. So while both defenses outperformed the opposing offenses, Miami’s defensive margin of dominance was better.
Even more impressive statistically was the Miami special teams (MPI-ST=.732, >99th percentile). It could be argued that this unit won the game for Miami, but there are fewer plays on special teams and I would give first honors to the Miami defense as far as total impact on the game. Still, Miami’s special teams dominated Georgia Tech’s special teams (MPI-ST=.271) by over 46 percent, an almost unheard of demolition, and above the 99th percentile.
Both offenses performed below average (slight MPI-O edge to Georgia Tech .453 to .452) and at about the 20th percentile. However, Miami’s offense in pure pressure situations was superior (MPI-OP=78th percentile for Miami, MPI-OP=48th percentile for Georgia Tech). This means that while we might put down the Miami offense for an off day, the truth is that they were able to get it done well in critical 3rd and 4th downs and in other pressure situations. You don’t always have to be great if you can make it happen in the clutch, and the Miami offense did so just enough.
The final and incredibly decisive factor was penalties and turnovers. Miami is starting to get the hang of this as it had only one penalty for 5 yards, one turnover, and a +2 takeaway minus giveaway number. This is a big credit to the coaching staff of Miami for conditioning their players to reduce needless mental errors that often lead to penalties and turnovers.
Lamar Miller (27 rushes for 93 yards) and Tommy Streeter (3 catches for 96 yards) were the individual stars of this game. Time of possession slightly favored the Canes.
Any way you slice this, the Miami Hurricanes grew up a little more in this seventh game of the season. They reduced penalties and turnovers, they were unbelievably good on special teams, they were impressive on defense. In sum, they totally destroyed a former top 20 team.
Where does this team go from here? If the defense can keep playing this well, the special teams continues to dominate, and the offense can play this well or better, the Hurricanes are capable of great things now and even greater things later. Is this the beginning of a return to national dominance we’ve all waited for? It may be.
This UM team needs to keep getting high MPI scores, which is another way of saying to keep performing well mentally and physically every single moment of the game. If this happens enough, bet your bottom dollar that the Miami Hurricanes will also score points, keep their opponents off the scoreboard, and win too.
But let’s make sure we don’t put the cart before the horse. It is performance first that leads to points and then to winning. And knowing the precise nature of performance is what this column is all about, so that the Hurricanes can win even more.
I appreciate you coming along with me on this new and insightful way of looking at football performance and success. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.