Posts Tagged ‘John F Murray’

CBS: Lesley Visser on How Sports Psychology Would Help David Ortiz

CBSSports.com – June 8, 2009 – See NFL Hall of Famer Lesley Visser’s new article about the unbelievable struggle faced by David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. In the article she speaks with sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray about his struggle and likely solution at:
http://www.cbssports.com/cbssports/story/11834418
Many athletes benefit from sports psychology.

Earl Morrall Shares Wisdom with Sports Psychologist

Sarasota, Florida – June 6, 2009 – By Dr. John F Murray – Once upon a time there was an NFL quarterback who played for the Miami Dolphins. Many do not remember his name or his face, which is odd given his enormous accomplishments, but I will never forget. All that quarterback did was lead his team to victory in 71% of the games in the perfect 17-0 season! Imagine … the most influential quarterback on the greatest team in football history is largely forgotten. Well, I met him Earl Morrall today at the Hyatt Sarasota, and I don’t want anyone to forget him.

When Bob Griese broke his ankle in the fifth game against the San Diego Chargers in 1972, I was an 11-year-old fan sitting in the Orange Bowl stands, watching Deacon Jones’ helmet smash into Griese’s leg with my binoculars. I was devastated. My boyhood team lost their leader. How could an aging veteran with a crew cut win? He had backed up Johnny Unitas in Baltimore but how could the team win without Griese, I wondered? Now I think that since that season was so incredibly rare, they probably never would have never made it to 17-0 without the confident guidance of the experienced and calm veteran, Earl Morrall.

People forget his name because the young hotshot Griese took over again in the championship game in Pittsburgh, and then won the Super Bowl as if he had never been out. But don’t forget Earl Morrall, or you ignore history. Like the no name defense that now belongs in the Hall of Fame, Morrall was just an unassuming player who found a way to win.

Over the years I wondered what had become of the aging quarterback who contributed so much to Don Shula‘s perfect masterpiece. I reflected that he must be 90 years old now because he was so old then! Late 30s can seem like 50s to a kid. This kid, now 47 and walking to retrieve his car in the Hyatt parking lot, got a memorable surprise when Earl Morrall suddenly appeared. It was a spirited chat with a childhood sports idol. He is 75 now, but still looks as calm and composed as he did those days handing off to Csonka, throwing a post to Mandich or Warfield, or running for a touchdown that time when it seemed like it took forever! I enjoyed picking Morrall’s brain for tips that I can share with my clients, and especially those who play quarterback.

Morrall is at the Hyatt with a number of other athletes representing Champs during a fund raiser called Celebrity Sports Night. Others here this weekend include Calvin Murphy, Mia Hamm, Dominique Wilkins, Devin Hester, Luke McCown, Andre Berto, Milt May, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Otis Birdsong, Sam Jones, Wade Boggs, Michael Ray Richardson, Artis Gilmore, and Mario Chalmers.

So what words of wisdom did Morrall have to share about success and leadership learned in playing on the greatest team ever? There was a lot, but here are a few quickies: (1) communicate well with everyone around you and make sure you are all on the same page; (2) the difference between “goodâ€? and “greatâ€? is often just to do a little bit more; (3) sacrifice and keep your focus on the team rather than yourself; (4) work hard; and (5) do the right thing. He also talked about how different the game was back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and how there wasn’t nearly the money in sports as today. It wasn’t until the end of his career that he really started making money, he said.

Those who know this sports psychologist know that the 1972 Miami Dolphins helped inspire an 11-year-old kid to want a career in sports some day. It worked and I owe a lot to Earl Morrall even though I only now met him 36 years after he did his job, taking over for a broken captain and driving toward touchdowns and immortality.

The “72â€? team will still be talked about 100 years from now. Miami Dolphins fans everywhere should never forget the quarterback who actually contributed the most to that team. He led the greatest team ever to 71% of their victories. He deserves a high five and he got one from me today, even if 36 years late. Long live the man, the myth, and Earl Morrall’s crew cut!

Weapons of Sports Psychology

Sports Psychology: Using the Weapons of Sport Psychology in Tennis – TennisServer.com – July 1, 1995 – This was the first regular sports psychology column to appear on the internet, and first article in a 6 year series which led then Simon & Schuster subsidiary John Wiley & Sons to offer John F. Murray a contract for his now best-selling book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” while he was still a clinical and sports psychology intern.

Let’s talk optimal performance. Whether you play or coach tennis professionally, or just slug it out on the weekends, there is a wealth of exciting news available for you from the world of sport psychology. Are you keeping up-to-date on the fascinating developments in this field? If not, you are depriving yourself of key tools that would raise your tennis expertise to the next level.

Sport psychology was defined by Singer in 1978 as “the science of psychology applied to sport.” Sport psychologists provide two major types of services: (1) performance enhancement strategies, and (2) counseling for a variety of issues affecting the athlete. Although not all tennis players have access to a qualified sport psychologist, much can be learned from the available research.

Psychology as a scientific discipline began in 1879, making it one of the youngest of all sciences. Sport psychology is younger still, with only 30 years of extensive research. In fact, it wasn’t until 1985 that the Division of Exercise and Sport Psychology was recognized as a subspecialty of the American Psychological Association. Although still in its infancy, this field already has much to offer. Many research findings have still not been communicated to the player and coach in an easily available format. Much knowledge is just waiting to be tapped! It is my opinion that the complete tennis player and coach of the 21st century will require all the benefits sport psychology has to offer to stay on top.

In this introductory article, I have briefly outlined several areas involved and services provided by the sport psychologist. Look for future articles to explore specific techniques to optimize your performance on the tennis court.

Let’s look at a few domains where sport psychology plays an active role:

(1) Touring professionals and coaches
(2) National team programs
(3) Sport organizations
(4) Youth development programs
(5) Student players and coaches
(6) Families of athletes
(7) Players coping with injuries
(8) Recreational programs

Here are some typical services provided by the sport psychologist:

(1) Imagery training
(2) Arousal management/attentional focus
(3) Substance abuse management
(4) Eating disorders/weight management
(5) Relaxation training
(6) Motivational strategies
(7) Competitive pressure management
(8) Programs to cope with retirement from sport

In closing, sport psychology has much to offer tennis players and coaches at all levels. If you are looking for a competitive edge, or trying to help your players achieve at their maximum level, turn to the science of sport psychology! Until next month… when we explore another topic in sports psychology.

Wanted: Insane Tennis Parents

Slate Magazine – Huan Hus – June 2, 2009 – The only way to end America’s Grand Slam drought – With Andy Roddick’s loss at the French Open on Monday, American men have now failed to take the title in 22 straight Grand Slam tournaments, extending the longest dry spell in U.S. tennis history. This stretch of futility, coupled with a dearth of young talent on the women’s side, prompted the United States Tennis Association to overhaul its player development system last year, introducing a host of initiatives such as regional residential training centers, a new roster of national coaches to scout and train prospects, and an increased budget (upward of $100 million over the next 10 years). The plan is comprehensive and ambitious, intended to produce the next Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and Venus Williams. Unfortunately for the USTA, national organizations with comprehensive mission statements don’t produce tennis champions. Crazy tennis parents do.

Consider the Williams sisters. As the story goes, their father, Richard, upon learning of the lucre that women’s tennis offered, decided to make his next two kids into tennis pros. That his wife, Oracene, didn’t want any more children was a minor obstacle—he simply hid her birth-control pills. He taught himself the game, coaching his protégés on rotten courts where their sessions were sometimes interrupted by gunfire before shipping them to a Florida tennis academy for refinement. While his girls racked up Grand Slams (17 singles titles and counting), he made headlines with his histrionic antics at tournaments, erratic ramblings, and general weirdness—he insisted on meeting his daughters’ first hitting coach at a public carwash because he believed the FBI had bugged his car and house.

Obsessive, overbearing, and downright insane parents are not a new phenomenon in tennis, nor are they uniquely American. Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen was the product of a taskmaster father who withheld jam for her bread if she practiced badly. Under Daddy Lenglen’s tutelage, and occasionally fortified with the cognac-soaked sugar pieces he provided during matches, Lenglen won 31 Grand Slam titles between 1914 and 1926. In 2000, Jelena Dokic’s father and coach, Damir, who has admitted to hitting Jelena (“for her sake”), achieved three legs of an ignominious Grand Slam, getting ejected from the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. Since Jelena cut ties with him, he’s threatened to kidnap her and drop a nuclear bomb on Australia, where his daughter now lives. Maria Sharapova’s father, Yuri Sharapov, is currently so reviled for his cheating (blatant coaching during matches) and belligerence (making a throat-slitting gesture from the stands) that Anastasia Myskina refused to play in the Federation Cup if her countrywoman was named to the Russian team.

In 2001, June Thomas wondered at how women’s tennis has grown ever younger and more popular—but Mike Steinberger argued that there just aren’t enough great female tennis players out there. Anne Applebaum asked where all of Russia’s gorgeous tennis stars come from. Huan Hsu bemoaned the destruction of his promising tennis career at the hands of Chinese-American stereotype Michael Chang.

Why are so many tennis parents unhinged, and why are they so successful at incubating talent? While sociopathy—the utter lack of a conscience—undermines a society, it happens to be really useful on court. Florida-based sports psychologist John F. Murray likens the stress of the game to combat, and the late David Foster Wallace once wrote that tennis “is to artillery and airstrikes what football is to infantry and attrition.” It’s no coincidence that three notorious tennis fathers—Stefano Capriati, Mike Agassi, and Roland Jaeger—were trained as boxers. Great players reduce their opponents to targets that must be eliminated. This was the impulse Gloria Connors (the rare insane tennis mom) was encouraging when she taught her son Jimmy to try to knock the ball down her throat “because … if I had the chance, I would knock it down his”; when Mike Agassi positioned Andre at midcourt and blasted him with close-range shots; when Jim Pierce screamed, “Kill the bitch!” during one of his daughter Mary’s matches.

Arthur Ashe once remarked that if he didn’t play tennis, he’d probably have to see a psychiatrist. After all, you have to be somewhat crazy to submit to the itinerant lifestyle and brutal competitiveness of professional tennis, where only about 10 percent of the ranked players break even. “If you want to win the French Open, which is like desert warfare, you better darn well have a Jim Pierce beating you into the ground … so long as it’s not abusive,” says Murray, the sports psychologist. (For the record, Pierce was abusive. Mary claims he would slap her when she lost matches.) Murray also notes that the pathology of tennis parents often belies a certain genius, such as Charles Lenglen’s decision to eschew the demure playing style of women in his time in favor of training Suzanne against men, and Gloria Connors’ insistence on teaching Jimmy a two-fisted backhand in an era of one-handers.

For a long time, the USTA seemed to recognize that its role in developing American champions was to stand aside and leave the training to parents and Svengali coaches like Nick Bollettieri and Rick Macci. (In 1987, Bollettieri’s finishing school had an astonishing 32 players in the main draw of Wimbledon.) But in 1986, with Connors and John McEnroe aging and no obvious American successors on the scene, a panicked USTA launched its player-development program. (Disclosure: I worked for the USTA for a few years during and after college.) The methods—an infusion of money to support new regional training centers and national coaches—will sound familiar to anyone who followed last year’s renovation. Since that first attempt at resuscitation, the development program has been defined not by its production of Grand Slam champions (zero) but by the continual formulation of new plans: The department was revamped in 1995, 2001, 2003, and 2008.

While the bloated, bureaucratic USTA sputtered, tennis parents continued to spawn champions. Leading the way was Mike Agassi, a self-described “crazy Iranian from Las Vegas who browbeat his kids into mastering tennis.” Mike indoctrinated his son Andre by hanging a tennis ball over his crib and taping a pingpong paddle to his hand. Stefano Capriati boasted that his daughter Jennifer was doing sit-ups as a baby and had a racket in her hand as soon as she could walk. Though Jim Pierce had no tennis background, he pulled daughter Mary out of school to train her full-time, working her up to eight hours a day, sometimes until midnight. He also punched a spectator at the 1993 French Open and was so unruly that he led the women’s tour to add a provision for the banning of abusive players, coaches, and relatives. (In an act of solidarity, Richard Williams later called him “one of the best parents I have ever known.”)

The approaches of these tennis tyrants may have been objectionable and the psychological damage they inflicted on their children immense. Nevertheless, these parents had a plan, and they stuck to it. They spent time and money and energy and didn’t have to clear their decisions with a committee, answer to a board of directors (or even their spouses), or worry about overtraining or being fair to other players. And the expectations they put on their children, however misguided or unrealistic, originated from a resolute belief in their ability to become champions. Richard Williams’ biggest achievement is not teaching his daughters how to hit forehands and backhands but inculcating them with, in the words of 1990 Wimbledon finalist Zina Garrison, the “strength, confidence, and arrogance you need to become the top player in the world.”

It’s no surprise that the USTA would try to cultivate star players—the organization doesn’t have much to gain from acknowledging that it has nothing to do with producing Grand Slam winners. The reality, though, is that rational coaches and trainers with sensible development plans can never compete with the designs of an obsessed parent. The success of self-taught tennis players turned coaches such as Williams, Capriati, and Bollettieri—the famed coach didn’t pick up a racket until college—reveals that it doesn’t take long-tenured gurus and well-structured organizations to teach the game. Tennis consists of only a handful of basic strokes and strategies. As such, parents who wouldn’t dare try to teach, say, golf can read a book, watch a few videos, and give capable instruction. What separates the best players from their peers isn’t superior teaching. It’s maniacal devotion.

It’s no accident that three of ESPN’s 10 worst sports relatives (Dokic, Pierce, and Peter Graf) are tennis parents. The ugly truth is that for the United States to produce another Andre Agassi or Venus Williams, some crazed dad is going to have to add his name to that list. In its quest to develop a new generation of champions, the USTA would do well to remember the words of Robert Lansdorp, the former coach of Sampras and Lindsay Davenport. “The basic principle is the same,” he said. “Every person who has made it in this game, Americans or foreign, it has been the parents who were behind it.”

Sports Psychologist Comments: Keeping Local Racing Prodigy Logano On Track

Sports Psychologist Commentary: Hartford Courant – Shawn Courchesne – February 9, 2009 – Joey Logano was 7, racing Quarter Midget cars in Meriden, already saying he was going to be on the NASCAR circuit someday. And that he would challenge his favorite driver, Jeff Gordon, at racing’s highest level.

The kid may have been cocky, but here he is, at 18, ready to make his debut at the Daytona 500 next Sunday for Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano will be the youngest driver in the 51-year history of the race.

The buildup to his arrival in the Sprint Cup Series has been unmatched in NASCAR history. So far, he has excelled at every level. So far, he has not burned out. So far, the only headlines he has made have been for his racing.

In the history of sports, far too many have not been able to handle the pressure of being the child prodigy.

“I think for him, with the racing, he’s going to take his lumps. There’s a learning curve,” said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing and son of the team’s owner and namesake. “I think he’s shown he has a gift, though. … He’s going to get this figured out pretty quick.”

Sometimes the on-track part is the easiest, though.

“The racing, for these guys, they love it, but sometimes the off-track stuff can really be a problem,” Gibbs said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job, though, working with [sponsor] Home Depot and everybody else involved in laying out a calendar way ahead of time that helps to make all this go better and try to keep some level of normalcy.”

Logano won his first national championship in Quarter Midget racing at 7. At 12, he was racing against adults in full-size stock cars. At 15, he was part of a bidding war for his services between some of the most powerful organizations in NASCAR, a battle won by Joe Gibbs Racing.

In 2006, at 16, he won in his debuts in NASCAR’s regional minor league Camping World East and Camping World West Series. Last June, he became the youngest driver to win in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series, one step below the top level Sprint Cup.

Then, last August, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Logano would replace two-time Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart in its No. 20 car after Stewart decided to leave the team.

Though Logano and his family decline to reveal how much he makes each year, those familiar with the financial workings of the sport estimate that he could earn upward of $3 million in his rookie season.

This success story is unparalleled in racing. The closest comparison in recent years is that of Casey Atwood, called the next Jeff Gordon by some when he entered the Sprint Cup Series full time at 20 in 2001 for car owner Ray Evernham. After the 2002 season, he never again ran a full season in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions.

“I think if you ask Casey, he would tell you that he underestimated the demands and what it really took to go Cup racing, the commitment that was needed,” Evernham said. “Casey could drive the car, but he wasn’t prepared for all the work that went along with being in that position.”

Crossroad

This is a crucial time for Logano.

“I’ve worked with many prodigy tennis players and golfers who have similar backgrounds as [Logano],” said Dr. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist. “An 18-year-old is just out of adolescence, and that’s typically the time that you’re learning important social skills. When you’re suddenly thrust into a profession where the demands are so much more than just participating in the sport, the effects can be tremendous on a young person.

“You’ll see them dealing with a sense of entitlement that comes with having been so successful in everything they’ve done. You’ll also often see them reach a point where they become more independent, and there’s a tension that develops between the lines of authority and their feelings about how they got to where they are and wanting to make their own decisions with themselves and their money, causing strained divides between parents or principal authorities in their career.”

Having sponsorship deals with major corporations like Home Depot and Coca-Cola come with responsibilities that not only include hundreds of appearances away from the track each year but also representing those companies properly in the public eye 24 hours a day.

Tom Logano, Joey’s father, said his son is prepared.

“I think he’s very level-headed, but he’s still a kid behind closed doors,” Tom Logano said. “He’s a goofy kid. You see that in his personality, but I think he’s surrounded by the best of the best, and I think he’s got his head screwed on straight.”

Room To Grow

J.D. Gibbs said they’ve modified some of the normal demands to lighten the load for Logano.

“In doing our planning with the companies we’re working with, we’ve blocked out time for him to be with his family and relax and not be on the go-go-go during his off-the-track time,” J.D. Gibbs said. “I think, for the most part, you’re better off focusing on the racing and not getting too worn out physically or mentally.

“People have to remember, he was with us when he was 15, and he was phenomenal then. He was great when he was 16. He was great when he was 17. People say we’re pushing him now and we’re doing things we shouldn’t be doing. If we hadn’t seen what we needed to see over the past three years, he wouldn’t be where he is now. You’ve got to take the big picture that he’s been getting ready for this for a long time.”

Still, the schedule can be overwhelming. Take Friday, for instance. There were Coca-Cola and Goodyear Tire photo shoots, ARCA RE/MAX qualifying, media interviews and Budweiser Shootout practices.

Evernham said the support system is there for Logano to avoid the pitfalls that left Atwood’s career crumpled like a car in a Daytona wreck.

“I don’t care what anybody says. At 18, you can’t know what to expect when you get into this,” Evernham said. “Certainly he knows what to expect out of a race car. He’s gotten this far doing that. The life lessons that he’s going to have to learn are about picking and choosing priorities, and that could be tough. He’s going to have 10,000 more things to worry about in his life now than he did last year. But around him are a great family and Joe Gibbs and J.D. Gibbs, who are two of the most well-organized and qualified people in professional sports.”

Tom Logano said he and J.D. Gibbs have talked about hiring a sports psychologist to counsel Logano.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Tom Logano said. “Heck, yeah. So much of sports is in your head.”

Joey Logano said he’s willing to try anything that is supported by his family or the Gibbs team.

“I don’t know what a sports psychologist does or what it would be about,” he said. “But if it was something the people around me thought would help, I would definitely do it.”

His biggest hurdle might simply be dealing with defeat. He’s not used to it.

“This is the top level,” Logano said. “You aren’t going to go out there and run great right off the bat. I know there’s a learning curve. As long as you mentally know that, it is what it is. This is all top dogs. I was a top dog in the other places, but you take the top dog from every level and this is what you get, right here, the Sprint Cup Series. I’m just one of the guys now.”

“When you’re suddenly thrust into a profession where the demands are so much more than just participating in the sport, the effects can be tremendous on a young person.” Dr. John F. Murray, sports psychologist

Dr. John F Murray Talks Sports Psychology on NY Baseball Digest

Sports Psychology Interview with Dr. John F. Murray

Click here to hear Dr. John F. Murray in a 20 minute interview with Mike Silva of New York Baseball Digest

This interview was conducted on May 28, 2009

What is Real Sports Psychology?

The public needs to know that there are many people practicing within the field of “Sports Psychology” who lack the proper credentials and/or a good working knowledge of the profession. These may try to tackle issues without proper training or licensure. It can harm the public when a proper referral is not made or proper treatment is not conducted.
 
Did you know that there are generally two types of individuals who may be perceived as Sport Psychologists by the public? Were you aware that a clear distinction needs to be made between them?
 
The first type (coming primarily from sport science programs) may have taken courses in sport psychology and may be excellent scientists, researchers, or teachers, but they are 99% of time neither trained nor licensed (the minimum standard of care required by a state) to provide psychological services. They may not hold themselves out to the public as Sport Psychologists in private practice in the vast majority of states. If clinical issues are suspected (e.g., anxiety, depression, anger), they must refer the athlete to a licensed professional (such as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist) to allow for proper care.

The second group, the practicing Sport Psychologists, are licensed psychologists who are additionally trained in the sport sciences with supervised training in providing both counseling/psychotherapy and performance enhancement services to athletes. These Sport Psychologists offer the benefits of training athletes in performance enhancement while conducting assessments and counseling as needed rather than having to refer the client to another professional.

It is extremely important to ask if individuals who call themselves Sport Psychologists are licensed in their states as psychologists, and then inquire about the extent of their supervised training and experience in working with athletes and teams.
 
Practicing Sport Psychologists combine two separate academic and experiential backgrounds – psychology and the sport sciences. Proper credentials and training in BOTH disciplines are essential to hold oneself out to the public as a Sport Psychologist. Unless the professional has been trained and experienced in BOTH disciplines, and licensed in psychology, the person is not a true Sport Psychologist and is not permitted to advertise as a Sport Psychologist.
 
But … just as highly trained sport scientists without proper training and licensure in psychology cannot use the title “Sport Psychologist,â€? the same holds true for authentic licensed psychologists who have not undergone rigorous and proper training and supervision in the various sport sciences, or who have not received the proper supervision by another legitimate Sport Psychologist.
 
State laws, you see, prohibit any permutation of the title “psychologistâ€? unless the professional is state licensed. State laws protect the use of the title “psychologistâ€? and only allow licensed psychologists to legally use the title in order to protect the public by establishing a minimum standard of care.
 
I know why this is wise. I learned almost nothing about how to counsel, assess, or diagnose an athlete with a general problem when I was studying and receiving a Masters degree in one of the best sport science programs in the country. Similarly, while studying in a clinical psychology program, I learned almost nothing about how to improve an athlete’s performance through mental skills training, or how to structure practice conditions. The thousands of hours of supervised training or “on the job” work with hundreds of clients, however, was the critical piece that would have never in 20 years been possible to acquire in a strictly sport science program. While performance principles are key, knowing about people, how to diagnose and treat problems and how to counsel is infinitely more important! Psychology programs are set up to provide that kind of training. Sport science programs are not.
 
When I am working with an athlete, I find that much of our time is spent discussing and resolving general issues – perhaps even 70% of the work! This goes way beyond mental skills training or performance enhancement. Reducing and resolving problems off the court or field can help an athlete perform better just as much or more than specific mental skills training! I believe that holistic care requires an understanding of both the “person” and the “performer.”

It is important to at least communicate this message to athletes, trainers, players and executives.
According to many reports, pro sports teams are not always giving their athletes the proper care because they do not have the properly trained professionals on board!
 
In sum, becoming a licensed “Sport Psychologist” is necessary for the individual who wants to handle serious personal or clinical issues, enhance performance through mental skills training, and use the title “Sport Psychologist.” While gaining this extra training takes more time and effort, these professionals are more versatile than either “non-psychologist sport scientists” or “non-sport scientist psychologists.” Licensure also carries its weight in gold in terms of client well being and public safety.
 
Is this news? Not according to Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated and Selena Roberts of the New York Times. Both have addressed the seriousness of real Sport Psychology in their articles on the subject. They know how important this is.

 

Head Games on the Diamond

Charleston Mercury – May 7, 2009 – Spencer Broom – Three seconds on the clock. Your team is down by two against your hated rival, and Joe the Kicker is lined up 42 yards away on the right hash, wind barely brushing against the flags in the distance, the crowd tantalizingly silent.

The whistle blows, bodies begin clashing. The snap, the hold, the kick is up….

Fundamentally, only two results can occur in this scenario. Either ol’ Joe misses it, sending you and your buddies to the car in a foul mood and cursing the relationship you have with your team. Or Joe becomes your new hero and is carried off the field as the toast of the town, not to be forgotten in the near future.

Yet, despite those two reasonably simple and contrasting outcomes, the variables that are put into play as foot meets ball can go much deeper than plain leg strength.

Just ask Dr. John F. Murray, one of the premier sports psychologists in the world.

“There is an art and a science to understanding how each player ticks and also how to be able to bring out the best in that person,â€? Murray said via phone from Palm Beach, Florida, where he runs his practice. “You have your talent, your physical skills, and then you have your mental skills. Those all go together with effort to determine performance, and how well you perform determines whether you win or lose.â€?

Murray, dubbed “The Roger Federer of Sports Psychologistsâ€? by Tennis Week and “The Freud of Footballâ€? by the Washington Post, has been providing sports psychology along with clinical psychology services to help individuals, organizations and teams succeed for over 14 years, not to mention writing a best-selling book, Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game.

While it seems fans and media types alike would prefer our athletes to be cut from the mold of Terminator – robot seeking to destroy the opposition without so much as a glitch – it is a vision that is confounded by real human deficiencies.

Athletes struggle with common problems like everyone else, problems such as anxiety, low confidence or improper management that unavoidably effect performance, Murray says. He estimates about 80 percent of the people he sees are seeking to perform better in their individual sports.

Murray has worked with individual athletes from tennis players – he has played and coached tennis including an ATP professional at the Australian Open — to quarterbacks, as well as entire teams, and says one of the most common issues he encounters is athletes that perform well in practice but can’t reach the same level of performance in live game situations.

Yogi Berra once stated, “Baseball is 90 percent mental — the other half is physical.â€? And though Yogi’s math was a bit rusty, the basic principle holds true in all sports.

“If you ask any group, ‘How important do you consider mental skills?’ depending on the sport you will get inevitably people raising their hands and saying 70,80,90 percent,â€? Murray explains. “Then if you ask, if its 70-90 percent, how often do you train your mental skills, how much time do you spend on that in your training time, they will always say 5 percent to nothing.â€?

The lack of training represents the challenge for a sports psychologist. Nearly everyone recognizes the magnitude of the mind in athletics, yet it is hardly practiced enough, like, say, offensive or defensive drills.

“That’s the gap that you are filling,â€? Murray says of the function of a sports psychologist. “You’re a high performance advantage to somebody with the science of success that’s derived from many years of solid research, in both psychology and the sports sciences.â€?

A bit of the research that Murray mentions includes his own Mental Performance Index (MPI), which is a measure of an overall football team’s performance in a game by looking at every meaningful play and including mental aspects of performance. He calls it the percentage of perfection.

Progress is obviously being made within the field, though Murrays says it is difficult to gauge the overall awareness.

However, one needs to look no further than the recent NFL draft to see the influence of sports psychology. Amidst 400 pound bench presses and 4.4 40-yard dashes, more and more professional organizations, specifically the NFL, are taking the time to administer psychological assessments, especially among skill position players (namely quarterbacks) in the scouting stage of amateur players.

With money on the line, teams are attempting to slim the chances of wasting a big payday on a player who shows signs of psychological immaturity or imbalance that weren’t correctly taken into account. In sports, the mind is gaining ground on the legs and arms in terms of usefulness on the field of play.

But Murray still sees plenty of room for growth.

“[Professional leagues] are not doing it preventively or proactively,â€? Murray says. He is currently working on a book based on football and psychology. “Usually what they do, they have people they pull from when they need them, when there is a problem they can’t solve. In my opinion, that is putting a bandage on it after it’s too late. “

Murray would prefer consistent contact with athletes in order to understand their needs fully, their strengths and weaknesses, thereby developing an ongoing plan to move forward with accordingly.

He rehashes on a time he approached former (2000- 2004) Miami Dolphins and current Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Dave Wannstedt about bringing in a sports psychologist for regular office hours to work with the players as needed. His idea was rebuffed. And a “we’ll call you when we need youâ€? attitude was given in return.

“For a league that is so invested in success and professionalism, that’s really the thinking,â€? Murray says. He cites a Good Old Boy system that is prevalent within coaching ranks that would rather utilize more of their own former teammates and coaches to come in and speak with their players than a sports psychologist.

Small steps seem to be the most prudent approach at this point in time for sports psychologists in professional sports. Know that we’re here and we can help you; just let us show you is the mantra right now.

Murray, who says that there are fewer than a handful who make their living exclusively practicing sports psychology, which might a potential roadblock to growth, wants to assist others the way he did professional tennis player Vince Spadea. Spadea suffered from the longest losing streak in ATP history; after working with Murray, he rose from 300 in the world to the top 10.

A broken psyche, a wounded confidence or a misguided culture within a team or program is truly where Murray’s field begins.

“It’s just being able to help that person in a professional way to perform at his or her highest level, to do it in a systematic, ongoing training way,â€? says Murray. “There are so many possibilities that could be affecting that person because we are all so complex.â€?

One athlete’s problems can be complex enough, but when you begin to imagine a full squad of players there is an innumerable amount of psychological variables that can have a profound impact on a team’s success, or lack thereof.

The easiest and most common expression thrown on a sports entity that has struggled over a number of years is curse. Murray scoffs at the word, calling it ridiculous. And what sports psychologist wouldn’t? Because for every Chicago Cub’s Curse of the Billy Goat that is still ongoing, there is a Boston Red Sox Curse of the Bambino that has been seemingly broken. Does anyone even remember the Red Sox “curseâ€? anymore?

Changing a losing culture, Murray says, can only take a small dose of success, breaking through the wall of low confidence. Though he does believe the past influences the present and the future, Murray points to a famous Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.â€?

Finding the happy medium of personalities to productively lead a team along with correct psyche is essential.

Take a team like Murray’s own Miami Dolphins. For the past decade, a once proud organization had been reduced to nothing more than a laughingstock, barely sniffing anything remotely close to a winning record. Then enters the rough and tough disciplinarian Bill Parcells, a man who will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame with two Super Bowl rings. As the new vice president of football operations prior to last season, he begins to transform the mentality within the team through personnel and coaching moves and — boom! — they are AFC East champions in 2008.

“What he does, being tough on his players, making sure things are done the right way, is very similar to what a sports psychologist does,â€? Murray says. “What we are doing as sports psychologists is taking it to another level, being available to the players and understanding much deeper so we can help the Bill Parcells of the world have their players perform even better.â€?

All in all, psychology and its use in sports is still in the infancy stages, and Murray says he will know they have progressed past that when his phone is ringing off the hook from the likes of the Yankees and the Dolphins, though the foundation that has already been laid creates optimism for the future of the field.

So next time Joe the Kicker lines up for the game winner, perhaps he will have the security in knowing that when the ball is in the air he has been prepared to perform at the peak of his ability, physically and mentally.

By the way, the kick was good. Now everyone can go home happy.

Yankees will have hands full with latest A-Rod controversy

amNewYork – Jason Fink – The Yankees’ season is about to get a lot more interesting.

With injured star Alex Rodriguez set to return within a week, experts say the Bombers will have their hands full, as the controversial slugger and his teammates cope with the onslaught of negative publicity over the explosive tell-all bio published Monday.

Besides alleging more extensive steroid use than A-Rod has admitted to, the book portrays him as insecure superstar whose jealousy of teammate Derek Jeter borders on obsession.

“It’s a gossip cauldron and it could turn into a fire pit if not properly managed,â€? said John Murray, a sports psychologist. “Everybody will say it doesn’t matter and talk is cheap but this is the biggest stage in the world and these players know what’s being said about them.â€?

In one telling scene from “A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez,â€? author Selena Roberts describes how on the night of the 2008 All-Star game at Yankee Stadium both players hosted parties with celebrity guest lists.

“Not even Madonna stopped by (A-Rod’s party), and most of Alex’s teammates skipped the bash in favor of the All-Star celebration hosted by Derek Jeter,â€? Roberts writes. “Alex was last seen sitting in a back booth at the 40/40 Club with his mother.â€?

A-Rod, 34, was constantly comparing himself to the team captain, Roberts writes, revealing something of an inferiority complex.

When out at nightclubs, according to the book, A-Rod would ask women: “’Who’s hotter, me or Derek Jeter?’â€?

“’The Jeter thing ate Alex alive,’â€? a friend of Rodriguez told Roberts. “’It was always about Jeter.’â€?

In what could prove a continuing distraction, Roberts writes that the rift between the two stars split the team.

“The tension between Jeter and Rodriguez escalated to the point where the clubhouse – and management – began to take sides,â€? the book says. “In the middle was a team that, (outfielder Gary) Sheffield says, ‘didn’t know what to think about the soap opera.’â€?

All of this has left fans wondering whether the team, which has battled tabloid stories about A-Rod before, can ignore the sideshow.

“It’s never good to have rivalry within the team,â€? said Mike Cioli, 36, of Manhattan. “I think they will be distracted but I don’t see how it will affect the performance.â€?

Sports psychologist Robert Udewitz, who practices in Manhattan, said the hype surrounding A-Rod’s off-field peccadilloes – which include a highly publicized divorce and alleged affair with Madonna, as well as the steroids admission – may well hurt the team.

“These little stressors become bigger and bigger,â€? he said. “You don’t see too many teams who thrive on adversity.â€?

Melinda Hsia contributed to this story

The Mental Side of the 2009 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis Tournament

Florida Tennis Magazine – May, 2009 Issue – By John F Murray, Ph.D. – Smart Tennis Sports Psychology Workshop in London June 19 and 20 – Sponsored by The Bulldog Club (the finest bed and breakfast in hand picked private homes around London) and the Sutton Tennis Academy (the best tennis academy in England), Dr. John F. Murray will conduct his 8th year of sports psychology workshops on the weekend before Wimbledon in London. Tennis players and coaches of all levels are encouraged to attend on one of two days, June 19 or 20, where they will receive a full power-point presentation on mental skills, training and exercises in classroom and on court, a relaxation/imagery session, an individual mental skills evaluation, a personally signed copy of the top selling tennis psychology book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game,â€? and a full year of follow-up mental coaching support with Dr. Murray by email. If you will be anywhere near the UK on the weekend before Wimbledon, you will not want to miss this exciting annual event. Celebrities and touring pros often attend. To book your place, please contact Dr. Murray at 561-596-9898 or send an email to johnfmurray@mindspring.com.

The 2009 Sony Ericsson Open once again lived up to its billing as the 5th best tournament of the year, and there were two surprise champions. Fans feasted on their usual blend of superb entertainment, tropical sunshine, and South Florida style. There is no better place in the world in March!

This month we examine some of the mental highs and lows as we stroll through the draws of the winners. Andy Murray, who’s been training extensively in South Florida, took the men’s title, cruising in from the #4 seed. The thrilling Brit only two weeks before had lost a heartbreaker in the finals of Indian Wells to Rafael Nadal. He won 11 of 12 matches in an unbelievable run! I enjoyed emailing back and forth with Andy’s mother and top British tennis coach, Judy Murray, who endorses my sports psychology workshops in London every year. Andy would rise to the top here with unheard of ball control and rapidly maturing mental skills. Over in the ladies side, 11th seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus surprised the world by shocking #2 seed Serena Williams in the finals after other top seeds Safina, Jankovic, and Dementieva fell by the wayside. I’m going to have to pull out my Russian dictionary to write this article! Now let’s now examine some of the mental skills on display.

Men’s Draw

Andy Murray received a bye in the first round before coming back to knock off Juan Monaco of Argentina 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the second round. He played erratically in the first set, but pulled from solid resilience in hanging in there, improving the quality of his play, and closing it out when he had to. In the third round, Murray bounced back again after starting 0-3 to Massu of Chile. The resilient control artist clawed and clawed back, and was also helped by an extremely rare four double faults in a row served up by the Chilean. In the fourth round, Murray had little trouble dispatching an angry 6’4’ Serbian Viktor Troicki 6-1, 6-0. Troicki cursed repeatedly in his native language and lost total composure, only hastening his annihilation. Next up was the mighty 7th seed Fernando Verdasco of Spain who had beaten Murray at the Australian Open earlier this year. With an eye for an eye on his mind, Murray refused to allow his confidence to dip from past results. He quickly destroyed the Spaniard 6-1, 6-2 whose body language was atrocious throughout the match. This set up a grudge semi-final match between Murray and 5th seed Juan Martin Del Potro, as both players had claimed gamesmanship in past matches. Murray focused much better on the battlefield and survived a 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 thriller. Del Potro later explained it away that he was tired after his match with Nadal. While this may be true, it’s never a good idea to make justifications and excuses after, as this rarely promotes future mental toughness. In the finals, Murray equaled fellow UK national Tim Henman’s 11 titles by rolling over Djokovic 6-2, 7-5. Amazing fitness and finesse were the order of the day as Murray played to start, then refused to be discouraged after down a break in the second. I emailed Judy Murray to send her and her son a big congrats and she replied to me that “we Murray’s need to stick together.â€? While everyone is saying that Andy can be the next Wimbledon champion, I have a warning. I know he can do it, but don’t fall for the hype Andy. You don’t need that kind of pressure. Just keep playing great tennis and your career will take care of itself!

Women’s Draw

Nineteen year old Victoria Azarenka is one of the hottest stars on the tour with all 3 of her career titles coming this year (Brisbane, Memphis, and now Key Biscayne). After watching her play, I believe she might dominate tennis soon. She had a temper problem early in her career and is starting to gain greater mastery over her feelings. She sure did this week. Despite her success this year, many would not know who she is in a lineup, but that is changing fast. After a first round bye she eased past the Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-2, showing great poise and patience in some very tough points. She dispatched another Russian, Anna Chakvetadze 6-1, 6-4 in the third round, and again kept her cool in tight spots. The waltz continued in the fourth and fifth rounds as she mopped up Hungary’s Agnes Szavay 6-2, 6-4, and Australia’s Samantha Stosur, 6-1, 6-0. Her powerful two handed backhand combined with a positive energy and aggressive play often gave her first strike advantage over her foes. Onto the semi-finals where she would face the higher ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova. It would be “the biggest win of my career’ said the teenager after her victory. The match lingered 2 hours and 40 minutes in the sweltering heat, but Azareka controlled her nerves and emotions to win the big points and force a final with Serena Williams. Could she win yet another title this year by defeating one of the most successful players in history? Fresh legs would carry the day as Williams was hurting with both a sprained ankle and sore thigh muscle, and the rising champion on the women’s tour prevailed 6-3, 6-1.