Posts Tagged ‘John F Murray’

SMART TENNIS BOOK RECEIVES TOP RATING

Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game – Oct 4, 2005 – John F. Murray – ISBN 0787943800 – Reviewed by David Williams – Have you ever had a form slump on the tennis court? Did you wonder why you had seemingly forgotten how to hit the ball properly – apparently lost all that hard earned skill overnight?

Well, John Murray’s Smart Tennis may provide the answer. It’s likely that your sudden loss of form has more to do with your mind than your body. His book assists in determining your mental strengths and weaknesses and provides practical remedies for ailments like a loss of confidence, poor concentration, anger, nervousness and a general fear of losing. He also provides ways of harnessing appropriate amounts of energy, and improving performance by having well developed breathing techniques.

All sounding a bit hard? A bit too serious? Well, it’s not really. Smart Tennis presents simple descriptions of on-court and off-court problems, and practical tips that are equally relevant for the weekend player as the professional.

In saying that, the book is not a quick and breezy read. Keen tennis players are likely to find themselves constantly drifting off, thinking about the specifics of their tennis game and how the book applies to them. But that’s the idea isn’t it?

If you have spent countless hours trying to hone that backhand volley or a less than consistent second serve, perhaps it’s worthwhile considering that tennis is a game that is thought to be 75% mental. And if you think that your game could be improved by devoting a little more time to the mental aspects, then Smart Tennis is the book for you!

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

Rating: Highest – 4 Stars

TOP 10 OR BUST: BOCA’S SPADEA VOWS TO GO OUT WITH BANG

Miami Herald, San Jose Mercury News – Sep 29, 2005 – Michelle Kaufman – OK, so he’s not Joe Namath, and his bold guarantee is not making national headlines, but Vince Spadea’s public vow to rise from No. 56 to the top 10 is making some ripples in the insular world of tennis.

Spadea, the 31-year-old Boca Raton resident, on Sept. 19 signed a contract with his sports psychologist, John Murray, that ”guarantees” he will reach the top 10 — barring injuries — for the first time in his career. He sent out a press release, complete with photos of his contract.

”I’m sticking my head out there,” Spadea said by phone. “I like to say what I think, and I really believe this is within reason. I know there are skeptics out there who think I’m out of my mind, who think I’m being obnoxious and arrogant, and just using this as a publicity stunt. But I’ve always liked being the underdog and proving people wrong. That’s how I’ve made it this far even though I’m 5-10 ½ with no huge weapons.”

This is, after all, the guy who made one of the greatest comebacks in recent tennis history, soaring to No. 18 from No. 229 early last year and winning the first title of his career at Scottsdale.

”I’m in the last quarter of my career, and I want to go out with a bang,” Spadea said. “I want to make my last effort my greatest effort. I’ve beaten virtually every top 10 player in recent years, and shown small signs of greatness, but I need to commit every cell in my body to this and, hopefully, find another gear that I’ve never found before.”

Spadea said he doesn’t care how long he stays in the top 10. The point, he said, is to get there.

Spadea is 19-21 this year and has been hampered by injuries. He said he will train harder than ever now, and take tennis more seriously.

”This will help inspire me,” Spadea said. “I know it’s in me. I see other guys who have risen to the top 10 who haven’t won majors — [ Nikolay] Davydenko, [ Guillermo] Canas, [ Richard] Gasquet. I know on paper it’s improbable, but it’s not impossible. I’m jumping on this fast and furious. My career window is nearly closed, and I don’t want to end it knowing I didn’t give it everything.”

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

SPADEA’S GUARANTEE IN TENNIS CELEBS

Tennis Celebs – Sept 23, 2005 – Pro Tennis Player Vince Spadea Guarantees Top 10 Ranking with Help from Sport Psychologist – Vince Spadea promises that the best is still to come. This is a promise from a player best known for his determination as a tenacious scrambler on the court. To prove his new commitment, Vince recently began working again with his sport performance psychologist. He now guarantees that mental coaching will help him achieve his highest career ranking ever, top 10 in the world.

Spadea, rarely a stranger to adversity, recovered from the longest losing streak ever (21 straight) before winning his first ATP Tour title in Scottsdale last year. He beat James Blake and Andy Roddick en route to victory. In his comeback, Spadea rose from 229 to a career-best 18 in the world.

Injuries and adversity returned this year as Spadea dropped to 49 this week even after reaching the finals in Newport, RI a couple months ago.

“Rather than get discouraged or depressed, it’s a gift that I’m as high as 50 compared to where I was when I began the previous comeback,” Spadea declared.

“My rise will again be accomplished with help from my sport performance psychologist, John F. Murray, who formerly helped me back from my longest losing streak.”

Spadea got the idea of daring to make a public guarantee after thinking about great accomplishments and history. “Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl victory when no-one believed in him; the 1980 USA Hockey Team truly believed; nobody thought David would slay Goliath. Even my performance psychologist stuck his neck on the line and lost 64 pounds after he made a public guarantee.”

Spadea claims that his public guarantee will help strengthen his resolve and commitment. “Comebacks are never easy, but they are a part of sports, and I’m quite ready and excited about this new challenge. I will achieve Top 10 in the world. I guarantee it!”

Spadea was known as the “giant-killer” a few years back after compiling the best record in the world against top-10 ranked players. He has beaten many legends of the game including Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. His backhand is regarded as one of the best in the game.

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

LET’S HEAR IT FOR OUR LOSS LEADERS

Financial Times of London – Simon Kuper – Sept 17, 2005 – The Kansas City Royals were already the worst team in baseball, but on Tuesday they had their worst moment of the season. When a Chicago White Sox batter hit a fly ball, two Royals outfielders settled beneath it. Both began jogging to the dugout, each assuming the other would catch it. The ball dropped for a double. The Royals lost.

They aren’t even the years worst losers. The Royals recent 19-game losing streak, baseball finest in 17 years, was bettered last Saturday by the English football club Sunderland, who have now lost 20 consecutive Premiership matches, counting the last time they graced the division in 2003.

Losing is sports great neglected topic. All attention goes to the winners, but it’s losers who represent the human condition. The sports annual cycle is hope (this could be our season), disappointment (I cant find my form), renewal (theres always next year), and finally exit prompted by physical decay. The ‘parallels with life are uncanny. Today, when sport means big-market teams thrashing small-market teams, there are more losers than ever.They merit serious study.

This is not to forget the long-dead losers. Who could forget the 1899 Cleveland Spiders baseball team, whose owner shipped all their best players to his other club? Losing 40 of their last 41 games, the Spiders drew only 6,088 spectators all season, whereas Kansas City got 9,535 last Tuesday night alone.

Nobody has forgotten the 1962 New York Mets, who may have been a Marx Brothers tribute team. The Met outfielder Richie Ashburn, tired of always crashing into his Venezuelan shortstop when chasing the same ball, finally learned to shouœI got its in Spanish. When the next popup came, he yelled Yo lo tengo!. The shortstop duly stopped, and Ashburn was instead knocked over by Anglophone leftfielder Frank Thomas. A friend of mine, a Sunderland fan, admits: At a certain point you become so bad that it becomes comic. Almost.
Then there is Luxembourg’s national football team. When their manager, Paul Philipp, was finally released in 2001 after 17 years of losing more matches than any other international football manager ever, I asked him if it hadnt been depressing. I wouldn’t have missed a second of it! Philipp replied. At times we only narrowly lost to the big nations. And there had been the 1-1 draw with Belgium in the 1980s, the 0-0 against Scotland and, well, so on.

The truth is that losing builds character. Winners never quit, says the clich, but its easy not to quit when youre winning. Only when youre losing does getting out of bed require courage and persistence, especially if you are a professional athlete. These people are born winners. They were stars at school. They have mansions and groupies. Then suddenly they feel worthless. Losing, in short, teaches them about life for normal people. When I put this to my friend the Sunderland fan, he muttered: The difference is that in football you lose in very stark fashion: you get no points. Losing in life is a little more nuanced.

That is why losing in sport “ no ambiguities “ is the best practice. I realised this while studying economics. It was bewildering. One day I was trying to figure it out with a friend – a woman who could do everything “ when she broke down crying. She had never failed before. I felt morally superior, because sport had taught me losing. Driving with teammates to a soccer game around that time, a new song came over the radio: im a loser baby (so why dont you kill me?) Within 30 seconds the whole car was singing along. Loser became an anthem. As Beck, the singer, later noted: “The vacuous 80s pop song has a sense of winning and being on top. In fact, its worse: the mass media are a conspiracy to promote the ideology of winning.

Losers should embrace losing. I think it was Darlington soccer fans who chanted, “You thought you had scored, you were right, you were right,and in the 1980s, while the Columbia University football team was losing 44 straight, the band would play the Mickey Mouse Club theme when the players ran out.

When losers win, they know how to appreciate it. They arent instantly off on lantern-jawed quests for the next trophy. Instead they release in the moment. Nick Hornby, in his fan’s memoir Fever Pitch, describes supporting Cambridge United the day they won their first match in six months. “In the last five minutes, with Cambridge thumping the ball as far into the allotments as possible, you would have thought that they were about to win the European Cup. At the final whistle the players (most of whom had never played in a winning team) embraced; and for the first time since October the club DJ was able to play, Ive Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.

However, if you find that losing just isnt for you, you can change. Adequacy is always lurking around the corner, like a mugger. John Syer, a sports psychologist formerly with Tottenham Hotspur football club, told me that in a losing streak players forget what winning is like. But they can learn to visualise winning. “There are few athletes who have not had an experience of winning, says Syer. “The obvious thing is to go back to a past occasion and remember what it was like. Most athletes do visualisation very well because they are in tune with their own bodies.

Some losers become winners. The tennis player Vince Spadea lost 21 straight matches in 1999-2000, but rebounded to hit 18th in the world this February. John Murray, Spadea’s sports psychologist, told me an athlete can acquire confidence even if reality “ lost matches“ tells him otherwise. The trick is to ignore that reality. Murray explains: you have to believe you are the author of your thoughts and feelings. You have control over the mental world you want to create. You are not controlled by the past. He sighs: Animals will catch the ball jumping out of the pool, because they dont have mental baggage. We human beings have mental baggage.

This week Spadea came up with a guaranteed: aged 31, battling injury, ranked 59th and sinking, he pledges to make the top 10 for the first time ever. Its the sort of magnificent disregard of reality that ruins a good loser. Click for Photo of Vince Spadea and John Murray as Vince Makes the Guarantee in Boca Raton September 15

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

NO FEAR – OVERCOMING CHOKING

Input Fitness Magazine (Australia) – September 8, 2005 – Arthur Kelly – Athletic performance is linked to the way you talk to yourself before you compete. Let go of the anxiety, abandon negative self-focus, learn to love the process and choking will become something the other guy does. It’s a moment embedded in the minds of sport fans everywhere â€?American golfer Scott Hoch’s failure to make an 18-inch putt on the final hole of the 1989 Masters a miss that denied him certain victory and made his name synonymous with choking. His is not an isolated case. Choking occurs with depressing regularity at every level of sport.

Whether it’s Canadian speed skater Jeremy Witherspoon falling at the start line of a race, as he did at the 2002 Winter Olympics, or someone missing an easy out at home plate during an industrial league softball game, the same dynamics are at play. “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. It’s 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 you’re just kicking balls, but in the Super Bowl with two seconds left and you’re in position to make a winning field goal, an inappropriate focus arises, disrupting motor skills, even though you’re 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. It’s a non-thinking process. Choking occurs at a very high level of sophistication in which we over think, over analyze and we over worry. It’s a different process then panic, but both lead to performance failure.” Choking’s 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 study’s 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 when”

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 miner’s 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.

C’MON, SMASH SOME RACKETS!

ESPN.com – Sept 2, 2005 – Patrick Hruby, Page 2 Columnist – Wasteful, infantile, wantonly destructive. All of this is true. Yet to hear Bud Collins tell it, there’s an even better reason tennis players are discouraged from smashing their rackets.

“It can be dangerous,” the longtime tennis commentator says.

Collins laughs. He speaks from embarrassing experience. Once, while playing in a South African senior tournament, he flubbed an easy shot. Up went his blood pressure. Down went his wooden racket, right into the court.

“I threw it,” Collins recalls. “I didn’t realize it would have a life of its own. It bounced over the fence. A parking lot was there. A guy was getting out of his car. It hit him.”

Mardy Fish. C’mon Mardy … you know you want to … do it for the people! Wait. Hold up. The racket hit a guy in the parking lot?

Sweet.

With apologies to American Express — which really should be seeking our forgiveness for those annoying Coach K ads — there’s something missing from this year’s U.S. Open. And it ain’t Andy Roddick’s mojo.

Nearly a week into the tournament, we’ve seen Serena Williams lose a $40,000 earring, defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova lose in the first round and British hope Andrew Murray lose his lunch on the court. Twice.

Which, admittedly, was pretty cool.

So what’s missing? Try a first-class meltdown — the singular, glorious sight of a ticked-off player rearing back, blowing up and sending his or her oversized boom-stick to graphite Valhalla.

Frankly, tennis fans deserve better.

“I haven’t seen one [smashed racket] yet this year,” says Carl Munnerlyn, a locker room attendant at the National Tennis Center. “Nothing broken. Nothing mangled.”

Munnerlyn knows cracked rackets. In over two decades at the U.S. Open, he has handled more splintered grips and bent frames than he can count, professional athletic instruments violently transformed into masterworks of nonrepresentational modern art.

But the last few years? Not so many.

“You definitely see less of it,” he says. “I think players are under more control. They come in knowing they can get beat at any time. Losing doesn’t bother them as much anymore.”

Don’t worry, be happy. Sigh. First hockey goons, now this. To paraphrase Pete Seeger: Where have all the smashers gone?

Once, colossi such as John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase roamed the tennis terra firma, striking fear into the hearts of equipment manufacturers everywhere. Racket abuse became open-air theater. No one was immune.

Back in the 1950s, Collins recalls, former American No. 1 and noted tennis good guy Barry MacKay chucked a racket clear across a lake in Adelaide, Australia.

“Well, it was more like a very broad river,” Collins says with a chuckle. “Probably 100 yards. Either way, that was an impressive feat.”

Sadly, such feats have become the stuff of tennis legend. Today’s players are more likely to emulate Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras, stoic craftsmen who never found fault in their tools.

Take Roger Federer, the sport’s top talent. A tempestuous racket-mauler in his youth, the defending U.S. Open champ now sports a calm, unflappable demeanor. Asked at Wimbledon when he last smashed a racket, Federer couldn’t remember.

His most recent toss? Try this spring, when the frustrated Swiss let his racket fly during a match against Rafael Nadal in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Tellingly, the racket didn’t break. No way it would have cleared 100 yards.

“It’s more challenging now,” Collins says. “Wood was much easier to smash.”

Maybe so. But how about a little pride?

Don’t get the wrong idea: Tennis still has a few hardy souls willing to put the kibosh on harmless inanimate objects. Injured Aussie Open champ Marat Safin — a man who once totaled 50-plus rackets in a single season and reportedly played with graphite shards embedded in his arm — could be the greatest smasher ever. Frenchman Richard Gasquet was tossed from last year’s U.S. Open qualifiers after nearly beheading a line judge with a heaved racket.

Players ranging from Andre Agassi to Serena Williams have been known to abuse their equipment, if not always in public. Munnerlyn recalls a well-known player’s recent locker room eruption.

“He came in after a match, set his bag down, waited about 10 seconds,” says Munnerlyn, who declined to give a name. “He took out one racket. Bam! Bam! Bam! Smashed it against the floor.”

Out came a second racket. And a third. Munnerlyn shakes his head, eyes wide at the memory.

“Three rackets, trashed,” he says. “I’m thinking, ‘Stop! Stop! Don’t break that!’ Throw a pillow underneath or something.”

More common, however, is the pillowy sportsmanship exhibited by Kevin Kim during his Wednesday afternoon loss to Switzerland’s Michael Lammer.

Marat Safin. Marat Safin’s racket tantrums are legendary.
Tempted to crush his racket, the 27-year-old Californian held back. The reason?

“I didn’t need the extra attention,” said Kim, ranked No. 70 in the world. “And I don’t want to get fined.”

Racket smashing isn’t cheap. Kim once was fined $1,050 for tossing his stick at a minor-league tournament in Tennessee — more than double the $500 Safin was docked for racket abuse at last year’s French Open, and a far cry from the $15 Collins says it took to replace a splintered wooden racket.

Smashing also is against the rules. Five years ago, Goran Ivanisevic was disqualified from a match after he smashed three rackets and had nothing left to play with. More commonly, a cracked racket results in a code violation — and a point penalty, if the offending player immediately switches to a new stick.

As a result, Kim explains, racket-breakers often will play a point with a busted frame.

“Sometimes you might win those points,” he says with a smile. “Sometimes if you crack it, it’s still playable.”

To avoid the above indignities, Kim adds, he limits his smashing to practice. Good for his temper. Bad for our amusement.

No matter the cause, the decline in public racket pulverizing is a shame. And probably unhealthy. Frustrated tennis players can’t vent to their teammates. Or scream at their coach. Tackling isn’t allowed, and haranguing the chair umpire only goes so far. So they steam and stew, each one a pressure cooker in wristbands.

Angry player. Highly breakable object. Something has to give. Playing in San Diego, Taylor Dent once lost to someone named Maurice Ruah. Not good.

“I walk off the court, line up all my rackets on a tree,” recalls Dent, pantomiming a baseball swing. “One after another, six in a row, until there was nothing left. I just left them there. See you later. See you tomorrow.”

Did Dent feel better? Absolutely. Always does. During a March tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., he dropped a 6-1 first set to Cyril Saulnier.

Dent blamed his racket. Forcefully. Racket wrecked and spleen vented, he rallied to win the match.

“It can help you play better,” he says. “John McEnroe was the perfect example. He would throw the racket sometimes, throw a tantrum, and it would help him out.”

More help: While most junked rackets end up in the trash, Dent signs his, then donates them to charity. All’s well that ends well.

“That’s why I do it,” he says with a laugh.

In another sense, crumpled frames bring fans and pros together, physical manifestations of our common immaturity. The average club player can’t relate to Roddick’s Teutonic serves, Agassi’s whiplash reflexes, Federer’s otherworldly touch.

But racket smashing? That’s as natural as throwing a golf club. When Borg broke a racket as a boy, his parents kept him off the court for six months. He never cracked one again. His famed temperament? It was learned.

“I play tennis, and I’ve broken some rackets,” Munnerlyn says. “Sometimes, I’m about to and I catch myself. I think, ‘Hey, I don’t get free rackets like [the pros].'”

None of us does. Which is part of what makes their newfangled restraint so infuriating. Psychic Uri Geller bent a racket with his mind.

Nadal can’t crush one with his pumped-up arms?

Thankfully, the U.S. Open junior tournament starts next week. So there’s hope. In the meantime, though, we’re still waiting for a handle-shattering, shard-scattering eruption. Because when the best racket-smashing story from this year’s tournament belongs to Collins — well, it’s enough to make a fan want to break something.

“What I’d like to see is somebody tear one apart with their bare hands,” Collins says. “With wood, you’d have a chance.”

Wait. Hold up. Tear a racket to pieces? By hand?

Now that would be pretty sweet.

PALMEIRO COULD BE TRYING TO BLOCK OUT ‘INNER CHATTER,’ TOO

Baltimore Sun – Sept 1, 2005 – Bill Ordine and Roch Kubatko – Medical: Oriole may be trying to quiet ‘inner chatter,’ too, psychologists say. Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro can wear earplugs, stuff wads of cotton in his ears, even put on headphones and listen to Green Day full blast – and it won’t necessarily block the distractions that might be responsible for his feeble hitting since returning from a 10-day suspension three weeks ago after testing positive for steroids, according to some sports psychologists.

Palmeiro wore earplugs Tuesday night in Toronto to muffle the jeers from Blue Jays fans; he went 0-for-4, and is 2-for-26 with one RBI after the suspension.

“It might be that he has some inner chatter going on, and it’s not just the external distraction from the booing that’s affecting him,” said Patrick J. Cohn, an Orlando, Fla., sports psychologist.

“We often think that professional players can go into their own bubble, their own cocoon, and continue to perform well even with the distractions. In some cases, the internal chatter might include the player putting greater expectations on himself to perform. Then when they think their performance doesn’t match their own expectations, they can crumble.”

Palmeiro played down the earplugs before sitting out last night’s game.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do. I’ve never been in a situation where I’m getting booed so badly, and I really don’t know how to handle it,” he said.

“I don’t mind being booed. I’ve been booed before. I was just trying to concentrate on my at-bat and do the best that I can to help my team. And, at the time, I thought that was the best I could do. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I did what I had to do at the time.”

Sports psychologists said Palmeiro’s recent slump could be due to any number of factors, including some as basic as not being able to regain a hitting rhythm after his layoff. But they didn’t discount that Palmeiro simply isn’t used to the vitriol that followed the disclosure of his failed steroids test.

“If, during most of his career, he has been well-received by fans and well-respected by his teammates and that’s been a big motivating factor in helping him reach milestones and breaking records … then that would be an important factor,” Cohn said.

“If he really cares about teammates’ and fan approval,” Cohn added, “that could cause some issues.”

Palmeiro said he used the earplugs to help his concentration.

“I’ve been booed before. Obviously, not this heavily,” the 40-year-old first baseman said. “It’s part of the game. But when I’m up at bat, I’m trying to focus on what I have to do, and it’s just hard to really focus when the whole stadium is booing and yelling. I thought that would maybe be a way to block out some of the booing.”

Two negative things can happen when distractions overtake an athlete, said West Palm Beach, Fla., sports psychologist John Murray.

“One, you might not process information as effectively as you normally do … you might not be as visually aware, for instance,” Murray said. “And second, the information may not be communicated as well from brain to body. You might have the ability for great motor skills, but the message from your brain is blocked in getting to your arms and hands.”

Again, that could be because of external distractions – booing – or an internal distraction, “a little bit of guilt, a tinge of a depressed mood or sadness,” Murray said.

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo could have done without Palmeiro’s earplugs.

“I probably would rather have not seen it.” Perlozzo said. “I’m sure that it helped a little bit, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet it drew attention to it and could possibly make it worse. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention by any stretch.”

If distractions – either external or internal – are contributing to Palmeiro’s problems at the plate, the remedies can be elusive. It could be the player needs to get back to a regular routine of sleeping, eating and interacting with his teammates and coaches as he did before the problems surfaced, Murray said. Or the fix might not come until there is a catharsis involving the murky circumstances of Palmeiro’s steroids difficulties.

“Without addressing Palmeiro specifically, if a player took steroids and is battling those demons, he’s not going to get rid of the distractions until he comes clean,” Murray said. “On the other hand, if he felt totally blameless, then he might be playing better because it’s him against the world.”

Cohn wasn’t as sure clearing the air would help lift a transgressive player’s batting average, though.

“If the allegations are true and he has been using steroids on and off, there’s probably no need for a catharsis,” Cohn said. “He has benefited from cheating the system. Why would he have a need to come clean now?”

Palmeiro said he wasn’t sure whether he would try the earplugs again.

“It’s been hard. It hasn’t been easy,” he said. “I’ve never looked at it in a way where I expected it to be good or bad. I’m just dealing with it on a daily basis.”

EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE LIKED

Chicago Tribune – Sep 1, 2005 – Bill Ordine and Roch Kubatko – Experts say earplugs not necessarily answer for Palmeiro – Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro can wear earplugs. He can stuff wads of cotton in his ears. He can put on headphones and listen to Green Day full blast. He can do all that and it won’t necessarily block the distractions that might be responsible for his recent feeble hitting. Palmeiro wore earplugs Tuesday night in Toronto to muffle the jeers from fans; he went 0-for-4. Since his return from a 10-day suspension for testing positive for steroids, he’s 2-for-26 with one RBI. He did not play Wednesday.

“It might be that he has some inner chatter going on, and it’s not just the external distraction from the booing that’s affecting him,” said Patrick J. Cohn, an Orlando sports psychologist.

Palmeiro said he used the earplugs to help his concentration.

“I’ve been booed before. Obviously, not this heavily,” the 40-year-old first baseman said. “It’s part of the game. But when I’m up at bat, I’m trying to focus on what I have to do, and it’s just hard to really focus when the whole stadium is booing and yelling.”

Two negative things can happen when distractions overtake an athlete, said West Palm Beach, Fla., sports psychologist John Murray.

“One, you might not process information as effectively as you normally do … you might not be as visually aware, for instance,” Murray said. “And second, the information may not be communicated as well from brain to body. You might have the ability for great motor skills, but the message from your brain is blocked in getting to your arms and hands.”

If distractions–either external or internal–are contributing to Palmeiro’s problems at the plate, the remedies can be elusive. It could be the player needs to get back to a regular routine, as he did before the problems surfaced, Murray said.

Or the fix might not come until there is a catharsis involving the murky circumstances of Palmeiro’s steroids difficulties.

Palmeiro said he wasn’t sure whether he would try the earplugs again.

“It hasn’t been easy,” he said.

WORLD TALK RADIO INTERVIEW

Aug 15, 2005 – Dr. Murray was recently a guest on World Talk Radio to discuss Overcoming Anxiety in Sports. Anxiety is a very common theme in sports psychology. To find the interview, please access the archive section at World Talk Radio

CHICAGO WONDERS: CAN CURSE-BUSTING CATCH ON?

Sun Sentinel – Apr 3, 2005 – Mike Berardino – Watching the Boston Red Sox end the Curse of the Bambino last October, Ryne Sandberg couldn’t help but smile.

You know Sandberg as the former Chicago Cubs second baseman, maybe the greatest ever to play the position. You probably remember his disappointments in the National League playoffs of 1984 and 1989, how even the great Sandberg was unable to return the Cubs to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

But you probably didn’t know Sandberg has been a closet Red Sox fan all these years.

“I had great feelings [watching Boston win],” Sandberg says during a break at Cubs spring training in Mesa, Ariz. “In a lot of ways, I’ve been a Red Sox fan for a number of years, just pulling for the underdog. I just wanted to see them win finally, which I can relate to here with the Cubs.”

Although the Red Sox hadn’t won the World Series since 1918, Cubs fans have been suffering even longer. Their last championship came in 1908, when it was Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance around the infield and Teddy Roosevelt in the White House.

Their most recent tease came two years ago, when they were five outs from besting the Marlins for the National League pennant with Mark Prior on the mound. Before you could say “Steve Bartman,” the whole crazy notion of a Cubs championship collapsed beneath the weight of history and a stirring Marlins comeback.

Wasn’t a part of Sandberg saddened the Red Sox got to the mountaintop before his beloved Cubbies? That the Curse of the Bambino was toppled before Chicagoans could lay waste to the Curse of the Billy Goat once and for all?

Apparently not.

“I thought it was great to watch,” Sandberg says. “I had a good feeling about it. To me it kind of brings hope to the Cubs getting to the World Series and winning the World Series. It can happen. If you’ve got the right guys, and you’ve got them all playing like a bunch of wild guys like the Red Sox were doing, it works. That brings optimism for me.”

Extending the thought, perhaps the entire city of Chicago should be more hopeful than ever in light of Boston’s Band of Idiots’ unlikely success. Baseball’s second-longest championship drought belongs to the pride of the South Side, where the White Sox haven’t won since 1917.

There have been five postseason appearances since Pants Rowland managed those Sox to the title, but each — most recently a three-game sweep by Seattle in 2000 — has ended in disappointment. Most painfully, 1919 brought the Black Sox Scandal in which eight players were exiled from the sport for their role in fixing a World Series loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

One city. One sport. Two franchises. Two excruciating waits for a modern-day championship.

Maybe that’s why White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen admits he, too, was uplifted by Boston’s comeback from a 3-0 American League Championship Series hole against the hated New York Yankees and subsequent four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

“My reaction was that it was a great thing for baseball, and the way they did it was great, too,” says Guillen, a White Sox shortstop on their 1993 playoff team. “The Red Sox were down and out. All of a sudden they wake up and win.”

To hear Guillen talk, Boston’s victory stirred him into heightened consciousness as well. You can almost picture him sitting bolt upright on his couch in Miami and realizing his destiny was at hand.

“It made me feel like, `Wow, it’s time for us to turn around and do it,'” Guillen says. “It’s just something that you look up and say, `Wow, now it’s the White Sox’s and Cubs’ opportunity.’ We should look at that as an inspiration.”

Breeding confidence

The theory is calling “modeling,” and it has nothing to do with a handful of Red Sox players showing up this season on Queer Eye For the Straight Guy.

According to the concept, which originated in the 1960s with psychologist Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy, the success of one team or individual can improve the confidence and, in turn, the results of another.

Dr. John F. Murray, a South Florida-based sports psychologist, says he “absolutely” would use the theory if he were hired to assist either Chicago baseball team.

“With modeling we can see somebody else like the Red Sox who have finally broken down that door,” Murray says. “We then say, `Hey, I’m a White Sox person. If the Red Sox can do it, now I can do it.’ Confidence can come from others if you do it right.”

Murray has helped expedite psychological breakthroughs before. He helped tennis pro Vince Spadea overcome a 21-match losing streak and rise to his highest career ranking.

In 1997, Murray and Dr. James Bowman, now working with the U.S. Olympic program, conducted regular sessions at Washington State University. The Cougars tennis team spent three months doing mental imagery in an effort to end a long losing streak against its archrival Washington Huskies.

When the breakthrough finally came, the Cougars won by the exact score the team had envisioned.

That same year, the Washington State football team, which also worked with Bowman and Murray, reached the Rose Bowl for the first time in 67 years.

“When you talk about losing streaks or breaking down barriers, you’re talking about the whole concept,” Murray says. “It can almost be like a slump, but a historical slump. How do you break that wall?”

The answer comes from within, although Murray cautions every player on a given team could have a unique set of mental challenges.

“You have to believe in yourself,” Murray says. “It’s critically important. It’s not the only thing that’s important. You also need talent. But confidence is a component that’s relevant.”

`It wasn’t us’

Not everyone buys into this psychological connection between the two cities, or at least not into the notion that the Red Sox’s breakthrough somehow makes the quest more attainable for the Cubs or White Sox.

Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux, who returned to the club in 2004 after 11 years in Atlanta, says watching the Red Sox win was “no different than being in Atlanta when the Yankees won. It wasn’t us.”

Says White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko: “I don’t draw anything from it other than the Red Sox are off the hook. They don’t have to worry about people getting on them anymore or calling them whatever. I guess it just moves to the next couple teams that are in line that haven’t won in a long time, which would be us and the Cubs.”

Former Cubs television analyst and White Sox pitcher Steve Stone downplays the connection as well.

“I think the Red Sox winning has absolutely no bearing on what the Cubs will do,” Stone says. “I just don’t really believe in curses and I don’t believe when curses are broken, it helps other people. It certainly helped the Red Sox, but so did having Pedro [Martinez] and [Derek] Lowe come on and adding [Curt] Schilling to that group. They had a very good team who got hot at the right time and refused to quit, but there’s no bearing on the Cubs.”

He smiles and points down the hall toward the Cubs’ clubhouse.

“If Kerry Wood and Mark Prior go down the first week, how do you think it will affect the Cubs?” he says. “A lot more than the Red Sox winning will.”

Personnel key

Indeed, the fragile co-aces of the Cubs pitching staff have spent much of the spring battling arm problems. No amount of Beantown idiocy would likely lift the Cubs past that sort of hardship.

Along those same lines, trading Sammy Sosa and losing Moises Alou via free agency this offseason wouldn’t seem to bring the Lovable Losers any closer to ending their nearly centurylong drought. At best, the Cubs are expected to have a ferocious battle with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros for the top spot in the National League Central.

Moreover, the White Sox must open the season without their best hitter, Frank Thomas, still recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Most preseason forecasts picked the Minnesota Twins to win their fourth straight American League Central title, with some placing the White Sox below the Cleveland Indians and even the improving Detroit Tigers in a relatively weak division.

But that doesn’t mean people in Chicago can’t dream. The Red Sox breakthrough was that significant.

“I guess this is one of those things over the years: Boston and the Cubs haven’t won in so long, people just tie the two together,” says Cubs Hall of Fame outfielder Billy Williams. “They got rid of the Curse of the Bambino, so we should get rid of the Curse of the Goat and all that kind of stuff. I know this: When you’ve got good ballplayers, no curse could stop you.”

But does Boston winning make things any easier for those in the Second City?

“It depends how you look at it,” Sandberg says. “It can bring hope or now maybe it can bring more of a spotlight and more pressure. It all depends how it’s perceived and how it’s taken. But I look at it as a positive, as there is hope. Now it’s the Cubs and the White Sox, both in the same city, that haven’t been to the World Series in a long time.”

Count Cubs superscout Gary Hughes, one of the early Marlins architects, as a proponent of the “modeling” theory. He sees no negatives whatsoever in the Boston victory.

“If there was doubt before, there can be no doubt now,” Hughes says with his trademark chuckle. “The Red Sox have done it. We still haven’t. So it’s our turn. All those people saying, `It’s never going to happen.’ Well, it just happened. Why not again?”

Then there’s Guillen, who admittedly has daydreamed about a championship parade in the Windy City and what it would mean to his life.

“Having played there for so many years, being one of the biggest White Sox fans in the history of baseball, that’s one of my dreams,” Guillen says. “I told my wife and my family, if we win the World Series in Chicago, I’ll quit managing baseball.”

Wouldn’t that be pretty drastic?

“I’ll be running for mayor in Chicago,” Guillen says. “Whoever wins first is going to own the city.”

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