Posts Tagged ‘fear’

No Fear

Nov 21, 2005 – Choking is universal, says Dr. John F.Murray, a clinical and sport performance psychologist in West Palm Beach Florida (http://www.johnfmurray.com). Everyone has experienced it, even the best athletes in the world such as Tiger Woods will choke occasionally, but he does it less frequently.

Typically with choking, a person perceives the event as extremely important, and their focus turns inward, becoming internal rather than appropriately external, he notes.

Their brain starts firing off too much, causing them to lose that smooth and automatic level of physical skill that usually characterizes their performance. They become much less fluid, not only in their performance, but also in their thinking. They become distracted by those internal sensations and thoughts. Its like tunnel vision. Choking is always a self-inflicted problem.

Having counseled U.S. Olympic springboard diver Michelle Davidson, and many other elite athletes, Dr.Murray is keenly aware of what transpires in pressure situations:

During practice youre just kicking balls, but in the Super Bowl with two seconds left and youre in position to make a winning field goal, an inappropriate focus arises, disrupting motor skills, even though youve done it a million times, and can do it in your sleep. Choking is very much a disorder. Athletes choke on too many thoughts, whereas panic is the exact opposite. In panic you lose all your thoughts. Its a non-thinking process. Choking occurs at a very high level of sophistication in which we over think, over analyze and we over worry. Its a different process then panic, but both lead to performance failure.

Chokings complexity is apparent in a groundbreaking Australian study that found a connection between pre-competitive anxiety and depression. Researchers theorize that many athletes equate happiness with success. Among their conclusions, certain individuals are vulnerable to depression because they utilize inappropriate strategies to set and pursue life goals (e.g., winning a sporting contest) If the athlete believes that happiness and wellbeing are conditional upon goal achievement, any thoughts of goal pursuit will be accompanied by a belief that the individual is not yet happy or content. This negative self-focus…is in turn likely to cause an increase in depression levels.
One of the studys authors, Professor Kerry Mummery, director of the Centre for Social Science Research at Central Queensland University in Rockhampton, Australia, explains the significance of their findings: We believe that goal linking is an often overlooked source of pre-competitive anxiety. High-level athletes who link their happiness to their next level of achievement simply fail to stop and smell the roses. They habituate to the recent success very quickly, set new challenging goals and tell themselves that they will only be happy.

Dr. Mummery and his colleagues drew on the views expressed by participants in the 2001 New Zealand Ironman competition.

Typically, athletes who set conditional goals are more likely to experience high levels of anxiety before competition, which can negatively impact their performance.

For the most part any anxiety is a bad thing, notes Dr. Mummery. Arousal and anxiety are subtly different. Athletes need to achieve their optimal level of arousal to ensure top performance, but anxiety is normally associated with a reduction in performance. Worry or anxiety negatively affects the concentration on the task at hand and has associated physiological responses that impair performance. I agree that maladaptive self-talk is often the basic problem that leads to choking. Focusing on the outcome, rather than the process (I need to make this putt, versus this is what I need to do to make this putt), often leads to sub-par performances in situations where the athlete would normally expect to perform well.

According to Dr. Murray, pre-competitive anxiety is not gender biased, but is more readily apparent in those who exhibit obsessive traits. He identifies the best possible mind set for athletic success: The ideal mental state is to have no fear, and a complete excitement for competition. Love that even above winning. Competition is what you have to love, irrespective of outcome. Easy to say, harder to do.

Let the Head Games Begin:

To help his clients stay cool under pressure, Dr. Murray employs these helpful relaxation techniques and imagery:

Imagine yourself mastering very difficult situations before important competitions: Envision an imaginary miners lamp on top of your head. Choking is when you turn the lamp towards yourself; proper performance is when you turn the beam outward. Rather than get caught up in your thoughts, get focused on the environment.
Utilize a process of self-examination: I talk about chronic and acute causes of anxiety Athletes need to know and understand how arousal and anxiety affects them personally then incorporate a positive habitual routine into their pre-competitive preparation This is done over years of development with the assistance of a good coach.

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

SEATTLE TIMES BATS FOR SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY

Seattle Times – Jun 1, 2005 – Steve Kelley – Fear doesn’t strike out as A-Rod steps up to the plate – Every player talks about the transforming magic of the Yankees’ pinstripes. Each gushes about the sanctity of Yankee Stadium.

But the players also understand the enormous expectations and the pressures that come with those pinstripes.

Eventually every Yankee, even Derek Jeter, will experience the wrath of a stadium crowd. It’s as inevitable as a delay on the D Train.

In a little more than a year as a Yankee, third baseman Alex Rodriguez already has run the emotional gantlet. He has experienced the exhilaration of a pennant race, followed by the devastation of a history-making playoff loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Who knows what it is like to be A-Rod in New York?

To carry all those heavy expectations every day. To listen to the boos that tumble on him from almost every park in the American League. To feel like he has to play like a Hall of Famer every game to justify the largest contract in big-league history.

This season, he has been exceptional. Rodriguez is leading the American League in home runs, runs scored, RBI and slugging percentage. He is third in on-base percentage and fourth in batting average.

So who knows what combination of stresses and successes led him into therapy? But last week Rodriguez, perhaps the world’s most image-conscious athlete, announced he is seeing a shrink.

“A-Rod making a statement like that, an athlete of his stature saying that, could advance sports psychology by 10 years,” Dr. John Murray, a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla., said by telephone this week. “A-Rod’s efforts will hopefully go a long way toward removing the stigma of getting the help of a sports psychologist, be it for simple mental skills training, or serious counseling.”

Murray, 43, worked with Jim Bauman (now a U.S. Olympic Committee psychologist) at Washington State in 1998, and has worked with the University of Florida and the Miami Dolphins. In his private practice, he has counseled numerous golfers, cyclists and football and tennis players. This week he started a Web site “CongratsARod.com”  he hopes will take the psychological pulse of the athletic community.

“I see it a lot of times, especially in the traditional sports like baseball and football,” Murray said, “where the players might be somewhat reluctant to seek the counsel of a sports psychologist when they’re feeling panicky, or they’re choking, or they’re losing the motivation and wanting to quit. It’s a case where we need to break down barriers.”

Baseball, probably more than any other team sport, is susceptible to psychological problems. The daily seven-month grind, the contemplative pace of the game, the fact that, at its heart, baseball is a one-on-one sport, can make players emotionally vulnerable.

In 1971 Pittsburgh’s Steve Blass pitched two complete-game World Series victories. The next year, he won 19 games. The next year, he walked 84 batters and struck out only 27. And in 1974, his last season, he pitched one game, walked seven and never pitched again.

St. Louis’ Rick Ankiel, who is attempting a comeback as an outfielder at Class AA Springfield, never rediscovered the strike zone after his infamous playoff implosion in 2000.

Reliable-fielding second basemen Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch, all of a sudden, had difficulty making the simple throw to first. Catcher Mackey Sasser often had to double-clutch just to throw the ball back to the pitcher.

“What starts as a slump, like going three games without a base hit because of a slight technical or mental flaw, suddenly takes on a life all its own,” Murray said. “Players can lose confidence. They can lose focus. They have trouble managing their energy problems, which leads to anger, fear, even apathy and boredom.

“What players need to know is that there’s nothing to be ashamed of in seeking counseling. Why should there be a stigma? Hopefully, some day we can get to a place where seeking help is commonplace.”

Murray said athletes have to remember a simple message: “As tough as things can get, the mind is even tougher.” And he offers the case of tennis professional Vince Spadea as proof.

In the midst of a record-breaking slump, Spadea came to Murray . Once ranked as high as 19th in the world in 1999, he lost an ATP-record 21 matches in a row and, by 2001, his ranking had fallen to 229th.

“He was ready to quit tennis. The fire had died,” said Murray. “He spent a year and a half living in a cellar. He needed something to re-ignite the fire that was the reason he became a tennis player in the first place. He needed to believe in himself again.

“When he was winning, I don’t think he really appreciated how great he was. I think success happened so quickly, he didn’t realize how good his life was. He was very reluctant to come to me, but he listened. All he really needed was a pep talk.”

Spadea, 30, won his first ATP tournament last season in Scottsdale, Ariz., beating Andy Roddick in the semifinals. He finished 2004 ranked all the way back to 19th.

Spadea needed to hit rock bottom before he sought help. Who knows what moved A-Rod to seek therapy?

Maybe he too needs a pep talk. Or maybe he needs to talk about a childhood where his father left the family when Rodriguez was 9 years old.

Whatever the reason, it took courage for him to make public this very private part of his life. And for this, all of us who have jeered A-Rod now should cheer him.

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