Posts Tagged ‘John F Murray’

MIND THE BEND: GELLER BENT A WILSON T-2000 RACKET MADE FAMOUS BY JIMMY CONNORS

BBC – Mar 16, 2005 – Geller bent a Wilson T-2000 racket made famous by Jimmy Connors

Celebrity spoon-bender Uri Geller has proved it isn’t just cutlery he can manipulate with his mind.

At a workshop on psychology in tennis, Geller succeeded in bending a Wilson aluminium T-2000 racket (as made famous by Jimmy Connors) using only the power of thought.

He also took on and beat former British player Barry Cowan in a battle of positive thinking.

The workshop, in Raines Park, London, was organised by Dr. John F. Murray – who famously helped Vince Spadea end his record losing run of 21 matches in 2000.

TENNIS-X NEWS, NOTES, QUOTES AND BARBS

Tennis-X.com – Feb 5, 2006 – Vince Spadea’s sport psychologist, Dr. John F. Murray, on his student in Delray Beach: “Vince is striking the ball down here cleaner and earlier than I have ever seen before. It is amazing. This is the result of many months of increased work ethic and seriousness, and in part due to the determination that comes from wanting to make good on a contract he signed with me last year to guarantee to reach Top 10 with sport psychology.

This exemplifies the power of goal setting and commitment — basic tools in psychology 101. I am confident that Vince will indeed make Top 10 if he stays injury free and doesn’t waver in his focus. He might even make Top 5 playing this well.”…

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

SUCCESS IS MUCH MORE THAN TALENT

Cincinnati Enquirer – Jan 29, 2005 – John Eckberg – THE BENGAL SYSTEM Sport psychologist John F. Murray figures that nobody likes discipline less than a player in the National Football League.

And Murray, who has consulted for NFL teams – that he refuses to name – says Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has a bead on performance that should pay off.

Lewis gives players three strikes before they are out. The first strike is a breakdown that leads to a meeting with the head coach. And the meeting itself is the second strike. So if you’ve screwed up one time, you’ve really screwed up twice.

The third strike is when the same thing happens again.

“I like Marvin Lewis’s disciplinary approach,” Murray said. “NFL players respond to that. They want direction. They want to feel like somebody is in charge of the ship. The problem with a lot of coaches is that they try to please everybody.

“There has to be a little fear, consequences that are real. There has to be a bite – otherwise you’re just barking.”

Today’s Super Bowl XXXIX brings local sports fans one final evening of professional football from a 2004-2005 season that was disappointing for avid Cincinnati Bengals fans but fairly entertaining for everybody else.

Performance expert and sport psychologist John F. Murray of West Palm Beach, Fla., believes the Super Bowl is an annual event that gives everybody a chance to look for lessons into achieving peak performance.

This year Murray picks the Philadelphia Eagles.

He arrived at this conclusion by extrapolating from the play-by-play behavior of players and teams’ mental make-up during the intense pressure of post-season playoffs.

He calls his gauge the Mental Performance Index and used it last year to correctly predict that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would upset the Oakland Raiders by at least two touchdowns.

The Bucs won 48-21, a margin of about four touchdowns.

“When you think about it, performance enhancement is far more important in business than in sports,” said the sport psychologist who is known as the “Football Shrink.”

“In business, money is on the line. And like professional football it’s extremely competitive.”

Keys for success

Murray has worked with NFL teams and has testimonials from many sports figures: Dave Wannstedt and Jimmy Johnson, former head coaches for the Miami Dolphins, plenty of college tennis coaches and tennis pro Lindsay Davenport.

Though Murray, 43, can talk for hours on the topic of performance under pressure, he says his strategy has eight broad, mental keys for success:

Discipline and hard work.

Passion and having fun.

Resilience or bounce-back.

Confidence and expectations of success.

Intense focus on the task at hand.

Setting and achieving goals.

Controlling emotion and energy levels.

Visualization and imagery.

Dealing with pressure

But nothing separates peak performers from the almost-as-good as the crucible of pressure.

“When lights are shining and the moment is there, super performance can emerge more easily,” said Murray, the author of “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” (Jossey-Bass).

Companies that want to encourage peak performance should order up ground-zero evaluations of individuals and then treat people as individuals, not as a group, since the best approaches spurn one-size-fits-all.

When asked to choose one aspect that companies should focus on, he did not hesitate:

“Taking care of the customer is No.1,” Murray said. “Do you give them what they need? Do you find out what they need and provide quality service that is focused and passionate?”

Forget about talent, creativity, goals, vision and leadership.

I would not agree to “forget about” those other factors, but assert that customer service is indeed top priority!

“Finding out what a customer needs and then filling that need is by far the most important action that companies can take to achieve peak performance,” he said. “Talent is not everything. It’s the intangibles that are sometimes ignored that are important.” Dr. Murray’s Bio

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED LETTERS

Jan 27, 2005 – Sports Illustrated Letters – “Alex in Wonderland” – A-Rod demonstrates that seeking counseling is a sign of strength, not weakness. Eventually, getting sports-psychology services will be just as accepted as seeking help for a twisted ankle. John F. Murray, West Palm Beach, Fla. (in Palm Beach, Florida since 2006)

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

NFL PLAYOFFS – PSYCHED OUT

Baltimore Sun – Jan 25, 2005 – Ken Murray – NFL teams trying to get over the hump in big games carry psychological baggage only Freud could appreciate.

At the height of his frustration in the mid-1990s, then-Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf let out a howl of exasperation that could be heard all the way to Dallas.

“They could put seven helmets and four players out there and we’d find a way to fall over a helmet,” Wolf said of the Cowboys.

Wolf was worn down by an eight-game losing streak in a lopsided series. Three of the losses came in the postseason, the worst being the NFC championship game in January 1995. It wasn’t until the season after the Packers won the January 1997 Super Bowl that they finally exorcised their Dallas demon and ended the streak.

Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Pro Bowl quarterback, knows how Wolf felt. McNabb has lived through the agony of losing three consecutive NFC championship games, two of them at home.

He can only hope the Atlanta Falcons roll out their black helmets and play four-man defense today at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, where he will try one more time to reach the Super Bowl.

By going 0-for-3 in the championship game, McNabb also has stepped into elite, if somewhat infamous, company in the NFL. Quarterback Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills lost four Super Bowls and Fran Tarkenton of the Minnesota Vikings was winless in three. The Cleveland Browns’ Bernie Kosar lost three times in the AFC championship game.

And John Elway of the Denver Broncos didn’t win his first Super Bowl, either, until he had lost three of them.

This is no place for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach. It is where history is made, reputations are forged and dreams are smashed.

Unlike the Packers of the 1990s, the Eagles have no single nemesis to confront. They lost to the St. Louis Rams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers the past three years at the threshold of the Super Bowl.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to us the last three years, but it’s just a different feeling this year,” McNabb said during a news conference last week. “We’ve had a special season; things have really been moving in a positive direction.”

Getting teams or individual players over the big-game hump is a job that often falls under the purview of sports psychologists.

Harry Edwards, a sports sociologist, retired Cal-Berkeley professor and longtime consultant for the San Francisco 49ers, watched as coach Bill Walsh crafted a dynasty after one of the most traumatic defeats in team history.

The defeat came in the 1987 playoffs, when the 49ers, with a 13-2 regular-season record, were upset at home by the Vikings in a conference semifinal, 36-24. San Francisco already had won two Super Bowls under Walsh, but the Minnesota loss was particularly devastating.

The 49ers came back the next year to beat the Chicago Bears in the NFC championship game and the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl, the last of Walsh’s three NFL titles.

“The key to it was how the leadership of the organization handled that crushing disappointment,” Edwards said. “I remember before the Super Bowl against the Bengals, Bill said there were going to be ebbs and flows in the game. That took out the idea that if something bad happens [as in 1987], ‘Here we go again.’

“If the Eagles go out on the field thinking, ‘Here we go again,’ they’ll lose.”

John F. Murray, a sports psychologist in West Palm Beach, Fla., believes the Eagles should embrace the potential for losing to relieve the pressure of winning.

“I would let them go to the possibility they might lose again,” he said. “That’s outcome. In sports psychology, you focus on performance, not outcome. Outcome can never be controlled, just as you can never control when a tsunami hits your house.

“We choke if we blow up the magnitude of the situation. It comes down to what’s going on inside each person’s head.”

Losing big games regularly plays havoc with the head, Gil Brandt said.

“I don’t think there’s any question that it gets into your mind,” said Brandt, the Cowboys’ personnel chief through their formative years into the Super Bowl era.

Brandt watched the phenomenon weave its damage in the 1960s, when the Cowboys were Next Year’s Champions, the title of a book that chronicled their early failures in big games. The Cowboys lost consecutive NFL championship games to the Packers at the dawn of the Super Bowl era in 1966 and 1967, then lost to the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs the next two seasons.

Dallas didn’t get to the Super Bowl until the 1970 season, and didn’t win the Super Bowl until the 1971 season. How did the Cowboys get over the hump?

By trading for tight end Mike Ditka, flanker Lance Alworth and cornerback Herb Adderley, who brought mental toughness to the team.

“Those three veteran players had a dramatic influence on our team,” Brandt said. “You can add a descending veteran player and it gives the team the thought, ‘They’re trying to help us win.’ The Eagles went out and got [Jevon] Kearse and [Terrell] Owens, and the players said the team tried to do everything it could to win.”

Three decades later, the Packers endured their six-year losing streak against the Cowboys. They lost to Dallas in the divisional round of the playoffs after the 1993 and 1994 seasons, and the NFC championship game the next year. All but one of the eight losses came in Dallas.

“We couldn’t get them [to play] in Green Bay,” Wolf said. “It was like a nightmare. It got to the point they played a [quarterback] named Jason Garrett and beat us. Obviously, it’s a psychological thing when you put out a guy like that and win.

“It’s like seeing Indianapolis and New England now. Indianapolis can’t go to New England and win the game.”

The Packers won the Super Bowl in the 1996 season after losing a regular-season game in Dallas, but didn’t have to face the Cowboys in the postseason. In 1997, they finally got the Cowboys in Green Bay and punished them, 45-17. End of streak.

Some teams never make it over the hump, though. The Browns of Kosar and tight end Ozzie Newsome endured three championship losses in four years, all against the Broncos, and never reached the Super Bowl.

The first loss in the 1986 season was highlighted by Elway’s 98-yard touchdown drive to force overtime, where the Broncos won, 23-20. The second, a year later, was punctuated by Earnest Byner’s fumble inside the 5-yard line as he was about to score the tying touchdown. The Browns lost, 38-33.

Two years later, they were blown out by the Broncos, 37-21.

Even though Newsome, as a front office executive, helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl four years ago, it didn’t take away the sting of those three defeats.

“In that I had the opportunity to win a Super Bowl, it has been softened,” the Ravens’ general manager said. “Not being able to go and play in it, it is some of the emptiness that I have.”

There was some satisfaction in going to the championship game three times, he said.

“It was a great accomplishment, but not as big as the Bills going to four straight Super Bowls. That was a lot tougher to do, and a lot tougher to deal with,” Newsome said.

Even while the Bills were losing four straight Super Bowls from 1991 through 1994, coach Marv Levy was never concerned about a psychological minefield.

“No, I really wasn’t,” Levy said, “because I made up mind, it wasn’t going to prey on me. I knew I couldn’t change the previous outcomes.”

Levy, of course, can feel empathy for the Eagles’ plight today.

“I admire their resilience,” he said. “They’re going to battle back. They didn’t fall apart because they suffered a tremendous disappointment.

“I don’t know if their story is going to parallel ours, but if they win, I will feel good for them.”

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

VIOLENCE IN SPORTS SURVEY RESULTS

JohnFMurray.com – Dec 17, 2004 – Feature – As Discussed on BBC Radio by Host Anita Anand & Dr. John F. Murray.

Thank you very much to all who participated in the Violence in Sports Survey. You have spoken and your comments have been tabulated in this report which aims to help improve sports by first understanding the situation better. I asked you to comment about what you felt was the main CAUSE and SOLUTION to the sports violence that erupted three weeks ago during the Indiana Pacers/Detroit Pistons game now known as The Basketbrawl.

I received an outstanding response to this survey as 376 of you emailed back. Many were very long and thoughtful letters offering multiple causes and solutions. The makeup of the population included one NBA coach and player, three NCAA basketball coaches, one NFL coach and two NFL players, seven NCAA Division I athletic directors, 21 professional athletes from a variety of other sports, and a couple hundred junior and recreational athletes and fans.

From your responses, it soon became clear that you felt this was an extremely complex issue with multiple causes and multiple solutions. As such, I carefully recorded each and every listed cause and solution and arrived at the Top 10 Causes and Top 8 Solutions to the problem as well as an otherâ category for less popular responses. I calculated the percentages to show you how frequent specific responses were, and have them listed below in order of most frequent to least frequent.

CAUSES

(1) POOR EDUCATION (24%): Athletes Today Receive Poor Education in the Areas of Character, Discipline, and Sportsmanship

(2) MONEY IN PRO SPORTS (20%): Excessive Money, Privilege, and Adoration of Pro Athletes Leads to Greater Self-Absorption and Less Responsible Behavior

(3) VIOLENT AND STRESSED SOCIETY (17%): Society Becoming More and More Violent, at War, and Collective Stress of 911

(4) FAN PROVOCATION AND RESTLESSNESS (16%): Fans Provocation of Players, and Fans Desire for More Stimulation

(5) SECURITY (5%) Poor Security in the Arena

(6) MEDIA (5%): Media Attention for Fans and the Reality TV Era

(7) AGGRESSIVENESS OF SPORT (5%): Player Frustration, Testosterone, and the inherent Aggressive Nature of Sports

(8) VIDEO GAMES (1%): Video Games Teach Violence

(9) FAN FRUSTRATION (1%): Frustration and Jealousy Among Fans

(10)Â RON ARTEST (1%): Ron Artest is a Unique Case

(11) OTHER (5%)

SOLUTIONS

(1) MORE CHARACTER EDUCATION (29%): Sportsmanship and Character Education Needs to be Better Developed and Implemented

(2) EXTREME DISCIPLINE ON PLAYERS (24%): Fines, suspension without pay, and much tougher standards on all players

(3) EXTREME DISCIPLINE ON FANS (21%): A range of suggested measures

4) MORE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY INVOLVEMENT (14%): Sport Psychologists Need to be More Involved with Athletes and Teams to Better Anticipate and Resolve Problems

(5) MEDIA (3%): Need to Return to Promoting and Worshiping Real Heroes who are True Role Models

(6) DISCIPLINE ON TEAM MANAGEMENT (2%): Fines on Team Owners and Franchises Whose Players Act out as Incentive for Change

(7)SECURITY (1%): Better Security in the Arenas

(8) ALCOHOL (1%) Eliminate Alcohol at Games

(8) FUND PROGRAMS FROM FINES (1%): Use the Money Collected in Fines to Directly Fund Programs of Education for Athletes, Teams and Leagues

Here are my thoughts based on the quality and proportion of your responses:

1. This is a very popular, complex and multifaceted issue.

2. You perceive lack of education as the biggest contributor to the violence and more education as the biggest potential solution.

3. You call for far tougher standards and more severe penalties for all the parties involved including players, fans, and team management.

4. You support the greater involvement of sport psychologists as a viable contribution toward helping install preventive measures and develop solutions too.

5. You call for a return to family values and sportsmanship.

Feel free to send me any more of your thoughts.

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

EIGHT KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL MENTAL PERFORMANCE

Palm Beach Post – Oct 21, 2004 – David Fox- Youth Sports Extra: Coach’s Corner –

John F. Murray, clinical and sports performance psychologist: This week’s tip: Eight keys to successful mental performance

Quote: “Treat these mental skills the same as physical skills. They cannot be ignored.”

“After games, ask your self how you did in the following areas:

“1. How confident were you? Did you believe in your abilities? Did you have expectations of high performance and success?

“2. How focused were you in your performance? Were you distracted by a past play or fear of not winning or not looking good?

“3. Did you have a purpose or goal? Did you know what you trying to accomplish? How close did you come to that goal? Was the goal specific?

“4. Did you keep your energy level in check? Did you feel nice about the challenge? Or did you let anger or other emotions get the best of you?

“5. Were you resilient? Did you bounce back from adversity? Did you hang in there? How did you bounce back when things got tough?

“6. Passion. How much fun did you have?

“7. How hard did you work today? Were you disciplined? Have you practiced hard all week?

“8. Imagery. Did you imagine what you were going to accomplish before you did it? Did you imagine yourself playing well that day?

“If you rate yourself on these skills and find out where you’re lacking, focus on those skills next game.”

KICK TO THE PSYCHE

Palm Beach Post – Sept 8, 2004 – Tom D’Angelo – TALLAHASSEE â€? Fate cannot be that cruel. It can’t happen again. Five failures in 13 seasons. Three times since the turn of the century.

If Florida State’s hopes of beating Miami on Friday in the Orange Bowl come down to a field goal, Xavier Beitia will be reminded of the Seminoles’ inglorious past â€? by his own memories as well as the roar and taunts of the Hurricanes’ fans.

And if Beitia is asked to end Florida State’s five-game losing streak against UM with his foot, one professional hopes the senior kicker has done something in private that he has not done publicly in the past eight months.

Talk about his failures.

“I feel sorry for him if he didn’t get significant help,” said John F. Murray, a licensed sport performance psychologist from West Palm Beach. “When a person does this twice they have a traumatic memory, a stimulus response. When he gets in that situation again, he’s going to have that same response.”

Beitia is a member of Florida State’s infamous “Wide Right Club,” one that includes three other kickers, all of whom have missed a potential game-winning or game-tying field goal wide right (Beitia also is the charter and sole member of the “Wide Left Club) against Miami.

The most recent was the 2004 Orange Bowl Classic, in which Beitia pushed right a 39-yard attempt with 5:30 remaining that would have given Florida State a one-point lead. Miami hung on for a 16-14 victory.

Two seasons ago, Beitia missed a 43-yard attempt wide left as time expired, preserving Miami’s 28-27 victory.

“I’d hate for my son to go through that,” Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. “To walk off that field, man, it’s tough. But it happens all the time. It’s the nature of the job. And it happens in pro ball for millions and millions of dollars. If the kid ain’t tough, he can’t make it. Thank goodness, Xavier has got a little toughness about him.”

Is a “little toughness” all it will take? Most psychologists say no. Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Art of Failure, believes that once an athlete “chokes,” the odds of a repeat improve the next time the situation presents itself.

His example is Jana Novotna in the deciding set of the 1993 Wimbledon final against Steffi Graf. Leading 4-1 and serving at 40-30, Novotna lost five consecutive games. Two years later, in the third round of the French Open, Novotna lost to Chanda Rubin after leading 5-0 in the third set.

“It seems little doubt that part of the reason for her collapse against Rubin was her collapse against Graf â€â€? that the second failure built on the first, making it possible for her to be up 5-0 in the third set and yet entertain the thought ‘I can still lose,’ ” Gladwell wrote.

Before the Orange Bowl, Beitia said his confidence was high and that the 2002 miss � after which Beitia was inconsolable� was erased.

Former Florida State kicker Bill Capece has mentored Beitia since he arrived from Tampa’s Jesuit High in 2001. Capece, a Leon County sheriff’s deputy and a former NFL kicker, holds several school records. He talked to Beitia last season about forgetting his first miss. This off-season, the talks became more serious.

“He’s talking to somebody who’s been through it, not just with somebody who has 20 college degrees,” Capece said. “He is able to let it go with somebody who can say, ‘I’ve felt the same thing and this is what I heard and this is what I did.’ ”

Capece and Beitia spoke about concentrating from the time he walks on the field for pre-game practice.

“He knows when he comes out of that tunnel in Miami, he’s going to hear it,” Capece said. “I said, ‘If you can stay in the game and just worry about kicking the ball, then that stuff will bounce off you.’ ”

Beitia has the failed-kick triple crown. No only has he missed right and left against Miami, but last season his game-winning attempt against North Carolina was so low that it was blocked. Florida State won the game in overtime.

When asked if Beitia’s failures in the clutch are mental, Capece first said, “I really don’t believe that.” Then, he added. “That’s hard to say because I’m not in his head.”

Murray knows the answer.

“A skill that is automatic in practice, you start blowing the situation out of proportion,” Murray said. “The problem with this guy is he’s going to have the possibility of choking much higher.”

Beitia spent more time in Tallahassee this summer, mainly to work with a new snapper (Myles Hodish) and a new holder (punter Chris Hall). With the signing of Gary Cismesia of Bradenton, he was pushed during practice more than any time since he arrived.

“It has helped in a lot of aspects,” Beitia said of the competition. “The fact I’ve got to be on my game every time I come to practice. The fact that I don’t have to kick 100 balls in practice, because I had other guys to help out and save my legs.”

But has it helped Beitia’s psyche? That is a question that will be answered only if the outcome of Friday’s game rests on his foot.

“Napoleon said the battle is often won in the mind, or the mind is more powerful than the sword,” Murray said. “If it’s not, patterns have tendencies to repeat themselves. You have to figure out a way to break the pattern.”

UBEROI QUALIFIES

Sun Sentinel – Aug 28, 2004 – Charles Bricker – With her father, Mahesh, frequently calling out from behind the sideline fence, “Come on, Tiger,” Shikha Uberoi, 21, of Boca Raton, qualified for her first Grand Slam by defeating Vilmarie Castellvi 6-4, 6-2.

It’s the first time since 1996 that a woman of Indian heritage (Laxmi Poruri) has been in the main draw of the Open and no Indian woman has won a round here since Poruri in 1989.

Shikha and her 18-year-old sister, Neha, both were in qualifying, but Neha lost in the first round.

GO SHIKHA AND CONGRATUALATIONS! You are the best! Dr. John F Murray After she qualified she wrote to Dr. John F MurrayDR. MURRAY!!!

How are you? I believe you are in London now. I wanted to tell you that I won two 10k events back to back. It was great!!! I was in complete control of my mind and completely relaxed. I wanted to thank you for your support and belief in me. Thanks for everything.

Shikha Uberoi – WTA Tour Tennis Professiona

OTHER EARLY RETIREES UNDERSTAND WILLIAMS’ EXIT

Newark Star Ledger – Aug 12, 2004 – Pete Iorizzo – To the fans, teammates, former players (yes, even you, Barry Sanders) and media members who have been haranguing Ricky Williams, Robert Smith has a message:

Back off. Smith, who abruptly walked away from the Minnesota Vikings after the 2000 season, said he understands why Williams quit the Miami Dolphins last week, less than a week before the start of training camp. He said Williams, a running back like Smith, made the right decision — even if Williams was in his playing prime and the peak earning years.

“For his mental and physical health, it was best,” Smith said. “Playing football is not something you can do 80 percent mentally. It didn’t make sense to keep going.”

Williams became the latest in a string of athletes who caught their sport, their team, their fans by surprise. They are rebels and nonconformists willing to walk away from adulation and millions of dollars to do something else — or nothing else.

Slugger Ken Harrelson left major league baseball in 1971 to take a shot at the PGA Tour. He failed. Superstar Michael Jordan walked away from the NBA to try to play baseball. He struck out. Safety Pat Tillman shunned a multimillion-dollar contract from the Arizona Cardinals to join the special forces. He died in an Afghanistan firefight. Defensive tackle Mike Reid left the Bengals in 1974 at 26 to play the piano. He has since written 10 No. 1 country music hits and has two Grammy Awards.

Smith quit an NFL career and has been laying low since.

Some share a different world view than most, one that clashes with America’s sports-crazed culture. Others simply burn out. But fans, who live vicariously through their sports heroes, feel betrayed.

Smith said his perspective changed when he was a freshman at Ohio State. Before a game against the University of Michigan, Bill Miles, then the OSU offensive line coach, caught him looking nervous. He pulled him aside and said, “Robert, this game is important. But there are a billion people in China who don’t even know this game is going on.”

Said Smith: “That changed things. If you just turn on your TV and listen, there are lots of important things happening in the world. Don’t always put on SportsCenter.”

As a running back with the Vikings, Smith, on Tuesdays, visited children suffering from cancer. He heard their stories, met with their parents and followed their struggles. Then, on Wednesdays, he would answer questions about the upcoming game’s importance. The contrast disturbed him, he said.

When Smith retired, he faced much of the same criticism as Williams. Although Smith had talked about nobler pursuits throughout his career, few suspected he would quit at age 29 after rushing for 1,521 yards in 2000, his best season.

“For someone like me or Ricky, there are just more important things in life,” Smith said. “Everyone was talking to me like, ‘This is a do-or-die game this week.’ Well, I had just spent the day before with a 6-year-old dying of cancer. It just didn’t jive.”

Williams and Smith spoke in June while working together at a camp. Smith talked to Williams about his upcoming book, “The Rest of the Iceberg,” which will articulate Smith’s position on sports in American society and the life of a professional athlete. During their conversation, Williams — painfully shy and suffering from social anxiety disorder, hinted he was considering retirement.

Smith said Williams had mulled the decision for months. He told the Dolphins a couple of days before camp opened because that’s when he arrived at his decision, Smith said. But with their offense built around Williams, a powerful runner, the Dolphins were left with few options for replacing him.

“There’s no question he could have picked a better time,” Smith said. “But it wasn’t like this was an overnight decision, and he decided a week before training camp just to (hurt) them.”

Williams left reportedly facing a drug suspension, and he told the Miami Herald his desire to continue smoking marijuana contributed to his decision to quit. He also may owe the Dolphins $8 million because of his early exit.

All that aside, Smith said if teammates and fans stop and consider Williams’ decision, they will understand it.

“For the fans, look, he has real issues more important than entertaining you,” Smith said. “He doesn’t live to entertain you and make your ticket worthwhile.”

Williams and Smith are not the only NFL running backs to have bailed in the prime of their careers. In 1965, Jim Brown left the Cleveland Browns to pursue an acting career. And in 1999, with Walter Payton’s rushing record within reach, Sanders walked away from the Detroit Lions. But Sanders said he had trouble making sense of Williams’ decision.

“I’m as surprised as anyone,” Sanders told The Associated Press. “Even for me, it seems very strange.”

John Riggins, a running back who turned a holdout into a short retirement, refused to criticize Williams, too.

“He was satisfied with what he got out of it,” Riggins told the Miami Herald. “He’s walking away from the game, running away from the game, which a lot of us can’t do because we played longer than we were supposed to. I’m not overly religious, but the Bible says, ‘To thine own self be true.'”

Williams’ decision was less surprising to psychologists. Athletes burn out, they say, when they feel like they have lost control. Certain personality types, particularly free spirits like Williams, are more prone.

“Burnout often results from feeling trapped in a position,” said Dr. David Feigley, a sports psychologist at Rutgers University. “Sometimes we think of it as overwork. But if it’s overwork and you still feel in control, you’re less likely to burn out.

“Why do you go to practice? If the answer is, ‘I have to,’ as oppose to, ‘I chose to,’ you’re more prone. Burnout tends to happen when you’re working in area you once enjoyed, but now there are all these external constraints.”

That seems to apply to Williams, who said he felt “free” after announcing his retirement.

“My heart tells me, ‘Don’t be controlled,'” Williams told the Miami Herald. “Everyone wants freedom. Humans aren’t supposed to be controlled and told what to do. They’re supposed to be given direction and a path. Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. Please.”

Dr. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist based in West Palm Beach, Fla., said teams need to be more proactive in tapping into with players’ psyches. Having a full-time sport psychologist as part of the coaching staff would be a good start, he said.

Murray said he worked with two high-profile athletes on the verge of quitting. One, he said, went on to win the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. The other was tennis player Vince Spadea, who wanted to quit after enduring a 21-match ATP losing streak.

“There are many ways to keep people fresh and keep their desire to play sports alive,” Murray said. “We have maxed out on physical training, but we haven’t come close to realizing our potential when it comes to dealing with the mental side.

“It’s time for coaches to wake up and realize you can’t address these issues in old-fashioned, antiquated ways. It’s time to wake up and get real and help these athletes.”

In some cases, psychologists say, a break will help an athlete recover and prod him toward returning, as was the case with Jordan.

Smith admitted to missing football. But he believes there are more important things.

“Just because you can do something,” Smith said, “doesn’t mean you should.”

LEAVING SO SOON?

A look at pro athletes who retired early for reasons other than injury or illness:

Bjorn Borg: He won 11 majors, including five consecutive Wimbledons and four straight French Opens before quitting in 1981 at age 25. His comeback at 34 was short-lived.

Jim Brown: Considered the greatest running back in NFL history, he left the game at 30 to become an action-film star and civil rights leader.

Jennifer Capriati: Burnout and drug issues led her to quit at age 17 in 1993. She returned to win three Grand Slam titles, and she became the top-ranked player in the world for parts of 2001 and ’02. Now 28, she is still a top-10 player.

Dave Cowens: At 28, he quit after his friend Paul Silas was traded after the Celtics’ 1976 championship season. Cowens returned after 30 games, retired again after the 1980 season, returned in 1982, then quit again. He has coached Boston, Charlotte and Golden State.

Ken Harrelson: After hitting 65 home runs in his two previous seasons, Harrelson left the game at 30 to try to make the PGA Tour. He fell short but built a career as a baseball analyst.

Michael Jordan: He retired three times, once to play baseball. He returned to lead the Bulls to their second three-peat from 1996-98. He finished his career with two so-so seasons on the Wizards and is now looking for an NBA franchise to own.

Rocky Marciano: After going 49-0 as a pro, the heavyweight champion retired in 1956 at age 31. Unlike other champs, he never returned, and died at 45 in a plane crash.

John Riggins: He was 31 when he turned a holdout into a one-year retirement. He returned in 1981 and was the Super Bowl XVII MVP before retiring in 1986.

Barry Sanders: The Lions’ running back was within 1,500 yards of breaking Walter Payton’s career rushing record when he suddenly retired before training camp in 1999.

Robert Smith: The former Vikings running back led the NFC with 1,521 yards rushing in 2000 and walked away from a potential $40 million free-agent contract.

Pat Tillman: Driven by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Cardinals safety turned down a $3.6 million contract to retire before the 2002 season and join the Army Rangers at age 25. He was killed in a fire-fight in Afghanistan on April 22.