Posts Tagged ‘Don Shula’

The Miami Dolphins as “Rosebud” in the Movie Citizen Cane

The Miami Dolphins as “Rosebud” in the Movie Citizen Cane – by John F Murray, PhD – 
Palm Beach, Florida – December 18, 2017 – I love my career as a clinical and sports psychologist. I get to do what is natural for me in watching and loving sports with the added benefit of being a part of the game in getting players and teams ready for competition with specific mental training and also psychological counseling.  It was the perfect career for me with a background of playing most sports growing up, and coaching tennis worldwide in my 20s after getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology. When I saw the light, I went back to graduate school at age 30 to become a sports psychologist and the rest is history.

Today I coach people and teams to develop their mental skills for success, but there was an additional extra spice of excitement that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with pure luck. At the age of 9, right when I first became aware of this spectator sport called NFL football, my father took me to my first game when the Dolphins played the Saints at the Orange Bowl. It was the week after Tom Dempsey kicked the longest field goal in history – a 63-yard blast with only half a foot. I was hooked after that game. The Dolphins had a new young genius coach named Don Shula and every year from 1970 to 1974 the team just got better.

It was a dream for a young kid to watch this team improve every year from age 9 to 14, impressionable years that instilled in this young fan the idea that there was a right way to coach and play sports that was the best in the world. It was an idealism backed by reality. Shula’s insight and this team’s hard work would lead to three consecutive Super Bowls, two titles, and a perfect 17-0 season. It wasn’t until that infamous “Sea of Hands” game against the Raiders in late 1974 when Jack Clancy caught the wounded duck thrown by Kenny Stabler in between two Miami defenders that all my hopes and young dreams were dashed in one cruel instant. The impossible happened. My beloved team that had only gotten better and better finally lost.  The last Super Bowl title in 1974 would be their last true glory and that was now 43 years ago.

Can you imagine? In 43 years the Dolphins have never done it again. At age 14, I thought the dream would simply never end and that by today the team would have amassed 20 Super Bowl titles. New England back then was a third-rate group of lousy scrubs. Those were the days! The impact of those early years as a kid growing up in South Florida, however, were profoundly significant. That team was my childhood “rosebud.”  Remember that rosebud was the name of the sled in the academy-winning movie Citizen Cane that represented all that was good and innocent about life before the reality of life sets in for a publishing tycoon.   

My early love of sports was propelled by this amazing experience following the Dolphins’ every move in the early 1970s. In some ways, I am always trying to re-discover those years of success with every client I work with today, even if the success of that team had nothing to do with me except to give me hope. Back then sports psychology did not even exist, but today it is just another vital part of comprehensive training for the smart athlete and team, and hope is a critical component. While I had zero to do with that early fun, the lessons learned over 5 years of rising dominance, watching every play and dissecting every article I could find on Shula or the team, showed me at a young age what a team can and should be, what a coach can and should be, and how winning should look.

After going to college, traveling the world many times with a tennis racket, completing graduate school, and acquiring the tools to take my coaching to a whole different mental dimension, I finally in 1999 got the chance to begin my career and actually help athletes and teams to win. I’ve been at it almost 20 years now and love every minute of this exciting career.

What is really ironic is that early in my career in the early 2000s, I actually got the chance to be a paid consultant to the Miami Dolphins, helping several players with the support of the head coach and other staff. I was brought in to work with individual players including the starting quarterback, and the success was real and tangible. The truth is that mental coaching works and is very much needed, and part of the reason it works so well is that there are so few qualified sports psychologists today. Athletes do not receive this training properly. While I was able to help these Dolphins players early in my practice, and have helped many more since then, my attempts to build an actual sports psychology program for the team from day one of training camp has not seen the light of day. For whatever reason – perhaps stigmas about psychology or perhaps just not finding the right coach – it has not happened. I am confident that in the future all teams will have this service and will do it comprehensively year-round.

But let’s keep our focus on the Miami Dolphins after their 1970s glory days.  While you might be thinking of the Dan Marion era of the 1980s and 90s and the two Super Bowl appearances that were fun, they did not win it all, so in my mind the 1970s were much better. There have been 43 Dolphins teams that have not won the Super Bowl since that magic last win in January of 1974.  While many will argue that Miami has not had the talent of those early teams, I watched it very closely and will assert very confidently that this is not at all the case.

Back in the early 70s, the Dolphins were a ragtag bunch brought together by Shula as no-names literally, and nobody really expected them to win. I vividly remember a column written by LA Times reporter Jim Murray (no relation) with the heading “Who are the Dolphins?” prior to a Miami vs. LA Rams game. To sum it up, Miami did not have extraordinary talent in those days, but they had the best coaching in the world, they made few mistakes, and they worked very hard for it. Shula might not have had a sports psychologist, but I have talked with several players who played for him and it seems that he was doing many of the same things good sports psychologists do. It is not surprising that he is still the winningest coach of all time!

In today’s age of specialized training, media, huge salaries, agents, and frequent coach turnover, there are more distractions than ever, so good coaching takes on even more importance.  The teams that win are the teams who manage distractions best. The Patriots epitomize this approach and I am confident that they are taking the mental game very seriously. After Tom Brady won the Super Bowl last year, he attributed very much of his success in post-game discussions to sports psychology! What more evidence do you need?

Whether my services will soon be used by the Dolphins in the future or not, I cannot control this or worry about it. I would love to help the team, but the people in charge need to understand the value, and to make consultant hiring decisions more based on meritocratic thinking than hiring their friends from high school or thinking that big named celebrity speakers are the same as sports psychology. Sports psychology is a profession and a science and the same scrutiny used in finding top players in the draft should be used in finding the best professionals out there to help in any other area including the mental department. I cannot speak for internal politics of poor decision making by coaches or administrators, but I clearly see the product on the field in terms of performance.

When a team has nearly the most penalties in the league in 2017 and constantly shoots itself in the foot with careless turnovers, personal fouls, and poor focus, I can confidently assert that they are either not getting the right thing in terms of sports psychology, or that they are not doing it long enough or on a consistent basis. What I witnessed this year in terms of shoddiness and poor consistency was hard to watch at times. I do believe that Adam Gase is a brilliant young mind, and a superior tactician. He has a proven track record in particular with quarterbacks, and maybe he got the best he could get out of Jay Cutler this season, but no matter how good Adam Gase is, he is not a sports psychologist.  He is a coach and teams need great coaches like him.  But Mr. Gase did not get two masters degrees and a PhD after 7 years of serious study in sports psychology, and he never wanted to. He is an elite head coach, but without a first-class team sports psychology program in place, his team will never reach their potential.

Let me give you a vision. A great sports psychology program would be year-round. It would be overseen and directed by a professional with a license to practice psychology as well as extensive academic training and experience in all aspects of sports psychology. It would involve regular office hours to work with players individually. It would also involve comprehensive mental coaching evaluations on every player long before the season so that the sports psychologist as well as the coaches would know how to treat each player best to get the most out of them.  The sports psychologist would be an accepted and integral staff member, like the head of any department in a company, and would sit in on meetings and provide input as needed. Each player would have a specific and clear profile of mental needs and there would be a concerted effort by each and every coach to enhance each player’s mental skills every week in the areas identified as needing most help.  

I am not trolling for a job the way I might have in 1997 as a graduate student. I have a great practice in Palm Beach and work with a variety of athletes in all sports out of the office, by phone or at client locations. But I do know that even in the year 2017, the majority of the NFL teams, and I might dare add the Miami Dolphins, are not taking sports psychology nearly as seriously as they should. Talent is vastly over-rated. In addition to talent, great trained technique, strength programs, and solid nutrition, every player also needs to be on the top of the world in their mental training.

From the looks of this 2017 Miami Dolphins team, there is no way this is happening. The mistakes have been rampant, horrible, and costly.  The lost opportunities have been numerous and devastating.  The dreams of thousands of South Florida fans have just been dashed again after the loss to Buffalo. The phrase “no playoffs” has a very nasty ring to it but its back again.  We cannot simply blame it on the loss of Ryan Tannehill. Winning organizations find a way to prevail. This 6-8 team has grossly underperformed. The win over the Patriots was exciting, but it was a shallow and insignificant night of success that means nothing in the long-run. It might help Jay Cutler in the broadcast booth to say he beat Tom Brady one night, but what does that do for South Florida or the team?

I am now 56-years old, but since I love my profession so much I still feel like I am in my 30s. I still have that sparkle in my eye and glimmer of innocent hope that maybe someday this Dolphins team will return to the glory days that became a permanent place in my psyche from 1970 to 1974.  Of course, that was the 12-year old Dr. John F Murray, but it that same childlike hope and insane optimism that all athletes in all sports need and that I need to be able to instill in my clients. What used to be the excitement of a young fan is now a very serious confidence based on my understanding of the mental game and my realization that the vast majority of athletes and teams are still not coming close to their potential mentally.

Most NFL teams and players are starving mentally. I know it. And it goes beyond football to all others sports too. Like Martin Luther King, I also have a dream. I have a dream that some day all teams and athletes will realize what they have been missing and will be focused on training their mental games just as intensively as they train physically. The teams that figure it out first will have an advantage that might be hard to quantify, but trust me, I have seen it hundreds and hundreds of times in my private practice. When something that is significant is missing, and then it is added properly, performance and success soars.

The Miami Dolphins, like that iconic sled rosebud in the movie Citizen Cane, will probably always be that safe, exciting and innocent place that knows no limitations in my mind. But if the real Miami Dolphins never wake up from their long deep slumber, I am just as happy to keep the impact of those early magical years as inspiration to help other future NFL, NHL, NBA, or MLB teams, and the clients that I work with one on one, to win championships with sports psychology done right.

Hope you have enjoyed this article from the world of sports psychology.

Mind Games: Canes Failed in Pressure Situations

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – September 28, 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 loss to KSU really had to hurt. We all envisioned a little boost of momentum going into the extremely tough part of the schedule starting with Virginia Tech on October 8. Miami had just overcome that huge obstacle in destroying Ohio State, and maybe, just maybe, there was a little too much post-OSU euphoria, or that it lasted a little too long for the team to be completely ready for KSU.

I don’t think Al Golden is to blame. He has been a student of Bill Snyder’s coaching, respects his abilities greatly, and made the strong point that KSU could not be overlooked. Still, one wonders if all the players really bought in to this 100%. Even the fans seemed just a little too comfortable going into the cross hairs of a Snyder attack. Maybe we should have focused a little more on just this one game, called it a huge impending battle, and stopped worrying so much about individual traits such as Jacory Harris’ maturity level or game managing capabilities.

Before the game, I received emails from KSU faithful saying that Miami was in for a huge challenge and probably a long day. I tried my small part by posting a warning in a Canesport forum. “Bill Snyder is genius,” these Kansas people asserted, yet the team wasn’t even in Kansas anymore as they strolled along South Beach and into a hostile Miami stadium with history on its side. It didn’t matter. Naive Kansas lads who didn’t even know the meaning of the word “fear” hid behind wheat fields, unleashed a surprise Snyder attack, and made candy canes of this bunch.

Now that the damage is done, I’m sure we all wish we had yelled louder about the threat of Snyder-trained Wildcats. That KSU team deserved their success, yet UM still had a chance to win at the end. Hats off to KSU. Congratulations to Bill Snyder for another fine football clinic. Lose with dignity when you lose, but please never forget how painful this one was. The “U” will take it and come back stronger in the future because of it. The lesson is as old as time. Always respect your opponent. You are never as good as you think you are, and your opponent is never as bad as you think they are. Painful, hard, and agonizing? Yes. Required reading? Absolutely!

Now that tears are dry and gaping holes in sports bar bathroom walls are repaired, let’s move on. I’ve always loved the phrase: “while mopping up your past you wipe out your future,” and it applies here. No more dwelling on defeat. We have a chance to get to .500 against Bethune Cookman this Saturday, and we will. Nobody will come close to making Bethune Cookman a favorite, but Miami still needs to go out and make it happen in a big way. They need to unleash a major attack with all three units and get a big win against somebody — anybody. They need this game for confidence. Lose this, and I’ll suggest that the U transfer to a flag football conference. Win big and get ready for war on October 8. Then beat Virginia Tech and the whole season has new meaning. Never say never!

Knowledge is power and you learn more when you lose, so let’s take a quick look at what actually happened against KSU. In a game played at a quality level slightly below average, KSU very barely outperformed Miami on the MPI-T by a score of .496 to .494.

If you look at the above chart, however, you will realize that while Miami started slow, by the end of the third quarter they were dominating the game on this overall performance rating .512 to .480! Give KSU credit for their 4th quarter touchdown drive and for keeping Miami out of the end zone on multiple pressure plays at the end. They really rose to the occasion and put a whipping on UM in the fourth quarter. Overall performance only slightly favored KSU and they also won the game 28-24.

Where KSU really excelled and Miami faltered was in pressure moments. KSU destroyed Miami in all three categories of pressure play by approximately 30%! Their total pressure score (MPI-TP=.643) was at 64.3 percent (95th percentile)! Simply stated, KSU came up big when they had to and Miami folded when the chips were on the line (MPI-TP=.336, 5th percentile).

Part of this I credit to a good coaching scheme by Snyder, and part of this falls on the players. KSU executed in the clutch and Miami did not. It was best exemplified when Miami could not get into the end zone after having a first and goal on the two.

Both offenses had their way in the game compared with the defenses. Whereas Miami’s offense dominated the KSU defense by 6.4%, KSU overwhelmed the Miami defense by 9.9%, and this latter statistic is at the 89th percentile for domination.

It was notable that Miami only performed at .439 on defense overall, far below average, whereas KSU performed better at .469. For the third week in a row, Miami’s special teams unit was the best one on the field even though their .550 performance was less than in the first two weeks.

In my last column, I laid out 5 goals going into the KSU game. Let’s see how Miami did on the goals established:

Goal 1: No more than 1 turnover and a T + P < 8 Results: Goals achieved! The Miami Hurricanes had one turnover and 4 penalties (T + P = 5). This is great progress. Jacory Harris does need to perform more effectively, but this is not the game to talk about turnovers and penalties! Goal 2: Better balance with 240 yards rushing, 250 yards passing, 0 interceptions, and an MPI-T > .565

Results: Only 1 of 4 sub-goals achieved. On the positive side, Jacory and the Hurricanes threw for 272 yards. Rushing, however, was reduced to 139 yards despite Lamar Miller’s good performance. There was one interception, and the MPI-T score was nowhere near the .565 target set (MPI-T=.494).

Goal 3: Continued great special teams play with MPI-ST > .630

Results: Not achieved. However, the special teams unit has been the best on the field for Miami. Their score in this game of .550 is well above average even if it did not hit the .630 mark targeted.

Goal 4: Offensive dominance of at least 12%

Results: Not achieved. The Hurricanes offense did dominate the Wildcat’s defense, but by a more modest 6.4% (MPI-O Hurricanes = .533, MPI-D Wildcats = .469).

Goal 5: Dominate in pressure situations by 25%

Results: Are you kidding? Not even close! Not only did Miami fail to achieve this goal, but KSU actually dominated the Hurricanes in pressure situations by 30.7%! Great performance in pressure moments of the game belonged to KSU and this is the single greatest factor in a KSU victory. Overall pressure play for KSU, as stated, was at the 95th percentile.

I hope you enjoy the new graphic this week (you need to read the article at canesport.com to see the graph) in which I showed the cumulative MPI scores for each team every quarter. I will not do that every week, but wanted you to see how the game progressed, and how KSU really turned it up at the end whereas Miami faltered, and especially in the red zone at the end.

Let’s keep this painful loss as a lesson. Never underestimate your opponent, and realize that without smart play and execution in pressure moments, a win that seems easily in reach with first and goal at the 2 yard line can easily become a loss.

But how do you train the mental skills and get players to perform better in pressure situations? Aha, you had to ask a sports psychologist. This is what I do. We specialize in training athletes to prepare for the most difficult pressure moments imaginable so that when game time comes it should be a breeze. It works most of the time and I love what I do.

Let’s take a break for a week on setting goals. The talent levels between Miami and Bethune-Cookman are so different that I will not waste my time. If Miami loses, I will help them vigorously in their new flag football league. Sorry Canes world! I have to find a way to use humor to cope in a difficult time. I love this team and will continue doing whatever I can to help in this column. It all begins with brutal honesty in what the MPI numbers and percentiles reveal.

Win this game big, and we’ll get set for a tremendous week of excitement as we prepare to beat Virginia Tech! Don’t give up hope. This program is growing and will continue to get better even after such a painful lesson as the Snyder attack from behind the Kansas wheat fields last Saturday in Miami.

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.

New Book will Shake up the Sports World

March, 2011 – Palm Beach, Florida – Dr. John F. Murray’s new book is out in paperback, kindle, and nook formats with more to come. It is called “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” with Foreword by Tom Flores, Epilogue by Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee Lesley Visser, and Coaching Contribution by Don Shula (World Audience, 2011). The combined toughest/most versatile player in Miami Dolphins history, Jim “Crash” Jensen, says about this book. “Everyone is gifted, but not everyone opens the package. Open this package and you will understand the secret advantage that helped keep me in the NFL for 12 years.”

To order the book, below is a link to the amazon.com link. The book is much more than numbers. It is about a shocking scientific discovery in sports, the politics working in pro sports, people and ideas inspiring Dr. John F Murray to become a sports psychologist and develop the first scoring system in team sports that includes a mental component, the need for mental skills in all sports, and so much more including the ranking of all teams to ever play in the Super Bowl based on the MPI introduced here for the first time.

This book signals a major paradigm shift in sports and the findings that mental performance is indeed crucial to success can no longer be ignored by those wishing to remain in the game.

Miami Dolphins Lift Spirits

Miami Herald – November 11, 2008 – Greg Cote -Have you found yourself awakening Mondays with a bit less dread for the work week? Have you rediscovered the lost bounce in your step or noticed that people seem to be smiling more easily lately?It isn’t just Democrats; it’s Dolphins fans. It isn’t just Dolfans; it’s local sports fans in general. And because that includes so many of us across a complete cross-section, it is South Florida at large feeling its mood and self-esteem lifted.

Sports can do that. Success is a powerful drug.

So many of us suffer and dream vicariously through the teams we love that the line between franchises and fans can get blurred.

The Dolphins are winning? It feels like we are, too.

”It’s absolutely human nature, a very real phenomena,” Palm Beach-based sports psychologist John F. Murray told us Monday.

‘There’s a certain pride of ownership that a fan feels over his or her favorite team. When things are going well, in social psychology it’s called `basking in reflected glory.’ When our team does well, we feel empowered that maybe things could go better in our lives, too. It’s like having ownership in a company when the stock is going up and up and up.”

HIGHS AND LOWS

The feeling is magnified in Dolphins fans because of the extremes that have been experienced.

This is the franchise of back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs, of the 1972 Perfect Season, of Don Shula and Dan Marino. But then it became the franchise of six consecutive years out of the playoffs and last year’s depressing, embarrassing nadir.

Nobody knows what 1-15 feels like more keenly than someone who has celebrated 17-0. Unprecedented high became humiliating low.

Community self-esteem reflected in a championship parade — such as we last experienced with the Heat in the summer of 2006 — sees its opposite in the collective gloom we feel if our teams are doing poorly — or, worse, being embarrassingly bad.

Now it’s as if our deep, dark cloud is dissipating by degrees and beams of sunlight are poking through, spreading warmth. Optimism: What an elixir!

Our flagship Dolphins have their first winning record in three years and a real chance to end that six-year playoff drought — an immediate and potentially historic turnaround from last season’s embarrassment.

But it isn’t just one team, albeit our biggest.

The Heat, with Dwyane Wade back healthy and the excitement of rookie Michael Beasley, shows early signs of similarly being a playoff team after a franchise-worst 15-67 mark last season.

The Marlins far exceeded expectations and were playoff challengers until late into the season, and they have a new ballpark and bigger payrolls on the way.

The young, ascending Miami Hurricanes have won four football games in a row to become bowl eligible, and in men’s basketball UM is ranked 16th nationally, best ever, in the preseason polls.

STILL SOME PITFALLS

Don’t forget FIU football, with its new stadium and enough improvement to not yet be out of the picture for a small bowl game.

In hockey, the Panthers haven’t quite kept pace yet, but otherwise all of our biggest sports teams, pro and college, are enjoying a decided rebound from a collective recent downturn.

(The overall feel-good vibe might even include recent indications that Major League Soccer is poised to expand back into town).

Of course, the Dolphins are King Sport down here, with the biggest following and the most emotional grip, so it is this club’s seismic, sudden resurgence that buoys our collective mood most of all.

I asked Dolphins coach Tony Sparano on Monday how winning and losing affects his mood away from the job. He joked that the question would be better for his wife but admitted his mood is affected to a degree that, “I’m probably not as good a guy after we lose.”

Sparano’s livelihood depends on winning and losing. Ours doesn’t — and yet, in some ways, our quality of life does.

”Our purpose-driven nature is engaged,” Murray said. “When our teams win, it makes us feel like Miami’s on the map again. It’s a feeling of collective pride, like if your governor becomes the president. We all want to bask in success.”

In Alabama this week, a Crimson Tide fan, Michael Williams, is charged with killing two LSU fans ensuing from an argument related to those teams’ Saturday game. That obviously is the most extreme example possible of how seriously we take our sports, but anybody who has painted his face, cried with joy over a win or been cursing mad over a loss knows the power games can have over everyday lives.

A 2006 study in the journal of the Association of Psychological Science found that many fans feel similarly about their favorite teams as they do about their nationality or ethnicity — and that fans “can become so passionate about their team that it becomes a part of their identity and affects their well-being.”

It is why, all across South Florida, people are rediscovering that aqua goes with just about everything. T-shirts and jerseys kept hidden in drawers the past couple of years, perhaps subconsciously, are being pulled out again — and not so much worn as flown like flags.

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