Posts Tagged ‘John F Murray’

The Crucial Role of Imagery in Golf Psychology

Special Report by Dr. John F. Murray – May 12, 2013 – I’m often asked what the most demanding sport mentally is and my answer is always “golf.”  The types of demands placed upon a golfer define the fact that managing thoughts, feelings, and sensations are essential while the potential distractions are immense. The brain must figure out how to do this consistently all day for anywhere from 65 to 80 shots.

A top priority in golf psychology includes having a well thought out pre-shot strategy. Note the emphasis on “thought out.” It does not just happen by osmosis. It must be envisioned and envisioned clearly and properly to work. The golfer must choose the proper club for the task at hand. He or she must also learn how to bounce back from bad shots while staying extremely calm and centered. It goes against nature when the mind and body just want to explode in anger following an errant shot.  But without proper stress management and steady mood states, you might as well take up another sport.

Analogies between golf and cerebral board games like chess and checkers have long been made. I personally think hitting a ball and walking in a gorgeous part of the world is a lot more fun and better physically than sitting in a stuffy room, but the mental demands can be similar. Proper mental skills are needed not only for match day competition, but also in training and developing physical tools for the game (e.g., building a solid swing, getting to the gym).  Without solid fundamentals gained in lessons it’s very hard to move forward in this challenging sport. It’s not like you can just run faster, jump higher or hit harder to get that little ball to fall into the cup. It’s far more refined than that. Athletic ability of course is important in any hand/eye sport, but the mental demands call for more advanced brain development and training that is acquired through proper imagery.

One of the most important aspects of golf psychology is imagery, or “making movies in the mind”. This is a mental technique that programs us to respond as planned, using all the senses to recreate or create an experience. Whenever we imagine ourselves performing an action in the absence of physical practice, we are said to be using imagery.  Golfers use it to rehearse new skills, practice and refine existing skills, and prepare for particular situations such as the first tee shot. Research in the area of imagery shows that it is very useful in in a number of ways such as reducing the time it takes to warm-up, decreasing tension and fear, and boosting hope and confidence.

Imagery, like many physical skills, needs to be practiced frequently to become effective. It doesn’t just happen overnight. Golfers are notorious for the time that they spend eagerly refining their swings while neglecting the importance of golf psychology.  But the greats were well aware of the benefits of imagery even before the scientists were talking about it.  Jack Nicklaus was a firm believer in imagery.

Be careful not to sabotage your game. If your understanding of strategy and/or technique is deficient, or if you are total beginner, you’ll likely just reinforce bad habits if you try to use imagery. Before getting started, make sure your knowledge and basic skills are solid. If you are a professional or advanced golfer, this should pose few difficulties. Beginners and intermediates should take lessons and watch plenty of video before getting started.

Imagery can be done while sitting in a comfortable position or lying down in a quiet room, fully relaxed, with eyes closed.  A longer version of imagery can last anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes and is often used prior to a match. Here, the player rehearses a perfect performance, often visualizing a complete round shot by shot. A much briefer form of imagery, lasting only a few seconds, can be used during match play. For example, prior to teeing off, the golfer visualizes an ideal shot to the perfect location. Imagery can also help familiarize a golfer to high percentage shot sequences.

Some golfers are better at making images than others. Here are some tips for those with difficulty forming images or seeing vivid details:

(1)  Begin thinking in pictures instead of words.

(2)  Review photos or videos of proper technique before using imagery.

(3)  Remain in a peaceful state to avoid losing focus.

Here are some good ideals to practice imagery in golf:

(1) Make sure that the imagery is perceived as realistically as possible by including all senses, in full color and detail, within a similar emotional context.

(2) Like any skill, practice is needed, so practice imagery frequently as it may take months before seeing great improvement.

(3) Half of the battle is just having the confidence that imagery will help. Your attitudes and expectations enhance the effect more than you might realize.

(4) Stay relaxed, calm, focused and centered while using imagery.

(5) Sometimes see yourself hitting the shot (from your mind’s eye), rather than viewing yourself from the outside looking in as you would see in a movie or picture. At other times, the outside picture view (called the external imagery perspective) is just fine. Mix it up.

(6) There is little point in visualizing mistakes. Imagine great shots. This boosts self- confidence and helps you develop great habits.

There is no doubt that imagery works. It is a very potent mental technique that will raise the level of your game by helping you build positive habits. Habits then rule our behavior and the beauty is that we don’t even have to think about it. You don’t want to be thinking too much. Isn’t it amazing that to become mentally strong in the most demanding sport mentally, you kind of want to turn down the computer!

I hope that you enjoyed this golf article on sports psychology.

Football Sports Psychology Tips From 1972 Dolphins QB Earl Morrall

Sarasota, Florida – April 25, 2013 – By Dr. John F. Murray – A new football season is approaching and every year this brings back great memories for me. I was fortunate enough to meet a great NFL player whom I had watched play when I was a young boy. His name is Earl Morrall; and given his place in history and the overtone of this article, I suspect that he will need some kind of an introduction for the readers here.

It has now been just over 40 years since the Miami Dolphins completed their legendary “perfect season”. They remain as the only NFL team to win the Super Bowl and finish the season with an undefeated record to this day. You will find very few people in the football sports psychology world that don’t view the Dolphins’ 1972 team as “iconic”. I find it startling that the ’72 team can live on in the history books with such notoriety, but yet the name Earl Morrall remains forgotten by almost everyone except for those who were there to see him play.

I was lucky enough to have been in the stadium that year and I was able to watch Don Shula coach his men to greatness. Some of my greatest memories from that season include Don Shula pacing the sidelines and QB Bob Griese throwing the ball down the field with seemingly un-measurable velocity. Alongside of Don Shula and Bob Griese, I also remember Earl Morrall; the sometimes forgotten Quarterback who led Miami to win 71% of their games that year.

Earl began the 1972 season as a backup QB. During the 5th game of the season Bob Griese suffered a broken ankle and Earl was put into the game as the new QB. Earl proceeded to lead his team through the season with an undefeated record. When the championship game arrived, Bob Griese was put back into the game and he won the Super Bowl just as if he had never missed a play.

Since Earl Morrall began 1972 as a backup and finished 1972 as a backup, his name does not receive the same type of notoriety that a winning quarterback from a championship team would usually receive. Earl Morrall played a crucial role in the Dolphins’ success during the ’72 season and his name certainly deserves a fair amount of recognition.

In 2009 I was lucky enough to meet Earl Morrall outside of a local Hyatt hotel.

A small part of me is now glad that I didn’t meet Earl when I was younger. I likely would have asked him the type of questions that you would expect from an 11 year old boy. It would have been entertaining for me of course, but I probably wouldn’t have picked his brain very much from a sports psychology perspective.

Here are some football sports psychology tips that I was able to siphon from my childhood hero on this occasion.

(1) Communicate well with everyone around you and make sure you are all on the same page.

(2) The difference between good and great is often just to do a little bit more.

(3) Sacrifice and keep your focus on the team rather than yourself.

(4) Work hard.

(5) Do the right thing.

I hope that Miami Dolphins fans will do their best to remember Earl Morrall. He led the team to some great victories and played a crucial role on the Dolphins’ team during the ’72 season. I hope that he will be remembered as a leader, a champion, a man that played a defining roll in the greatest NFL team ever, and a guy who – in his day, had one of the finest crew cuts that the professional sports world has ever seen.

Students Wishing to Become Sports Psychologists Should Read This

Do You Want to Become a Sports Psychologist?

Where does the field and the science of sports psychology stand today in 2013?  In a nutshell, it is still an emerging science and profession that is often cloaked in mystery and ignorance. Part of the problem is that there are so few people who have actually become fully licensed and legitimate psychologists who specialize in sport. Another aspect is that to become a licensed psychologist and sports psychologist who can see clients independently and provide both mental training for sports and more general psychotherapy too, you have to obtain training and experience in two vastly different disciplines: psychology and the sports sciences. Understanding the field and profession of sports psychology can be difficult at best!

Ponder the implications for a second. Psychologists are social scientists who usually come from an orientation of helping others through careful listening, understanding, reflecting and providing a needed therapeutic intervention for mental distress. Of course there are exceptions but I believe I speak for many. Now contrast that with the role of a competitive sports psychologist like myself, coming from a sports and coaching background, whose mission is more likely to help my clients win the Super Bowl, become the heavyweight champion of the world, or find the strike zone better in baseball. Whereas one profession is associated with “therapeutic” and gentle caring, the other is directed toward helping athletes sharpen their fighting skills to destroy their opponent! Imagine the sea of potential differences!

In some ways this contrast in styles is true and in some ways not, as even top prize fighters need therapy at times and even depressed middle aged managers need to perform better in their weekend bowling leagues! Of course, extreme contrasts are more salient in memory than fine nuances or technical differences. The fact is that to help an athlete or team in a profession that is known as sports psychology, you really would be well suited if you could offer a broad range of skills acquired through a total and complete exposure to both sports and the various sports sciences, as well as all that professional psychology has to offer. It is the merger of these two often contradictory and different disciplines – the various sports sciences and psychology – that produces state of the art applied sports psychology today. Mental toughness is rooted in a lot of training and experience!

Training for this profession is never easy or rapid, and only the most persistent and completely focused graduate students and beginning professionals will even stand a chance of gaining specialization in two totally separate academic disciplines that appear so different.  Patience and practical experience in these two areas is needed. Try to find a supervisor to help you gain the hours needed for a state license and it is not easy at all as there are so few psychologist/sports psychologists. Those not licensed by definition cannot supervise. It is a classic catch 22!

While psychology programs for years have been organized to provide academic and professional training opportunities (after WWII injured soldiers’ needs led to the creation of vast internship opportunities at VA Hospitals), similar programs in sports science departments have not been nearly so well organized and usually do not exist. As a result, a student going through a sports science program is not likely to obtain the hands on training gained by his psychology student counterpart even if he or she is exposed to marvelous research and literature, ideas and dogma. In a similar way, the psychology student does not receive sports science training because the courses do not usually exist in those areas in a psychology department. The key for the student is independent thinking and resourcefulness, and mental toughness too.

As a general rule in life, we become who we are surrounded by. The sober truth is that if you go to a sports science program you will become just that – a sports scientist – because your mentors will be those people.   The same holds true in reverse with those being trained by psychologists. This all further highlights the fact that to gain this training and experience students need to be extremely open-minded, creative, and flexible. In my own pursuits as a graduate student, I started in a sports science program, got a masters degree, and was fortunate to jump ships and gain admittance to a totally different world – a clinical psychology doctoral program. It was like going from a football stadium during homecoming to a university library on Spring Break. The world of contrasts jumped out at you. Students in sports sciences tended to be fitter, more jock-like, and less rigorous academically. This is not to say that the jocks were lacking intelligence or that the egg-heads lacked in physical coordination, but there was a clear distinction between blue and white collars, GPA, GRE scores, educational background, sports experience and more.

The same contrasts held true for practical training opportunities in each program. The psychology part was easy to gain since the system is set up for that. The hardest part for me was to find an internship (the last year of any PhD program in professional psychology) that was both APA accredited as a psychology internship but also with a full year training program in sports psychology. You might be shocked to hear this, but it was the only accredited psychology internship in the country with this dual designation! I had been granted a truly rare internship and this was going to help me become the sports psychologist I had always wanted to become.

The following year this pattern continued with a similar set-up of working with athletes on my post-doctoral fellowship at FIU in Miami where I was hired in the counseling center, but did a lot of outreach to the athletic department and the various teams and coaches. I was able to work with athletes and teams on many issues including performance enhancement with a tennis team that had their best season in history (the same happened the previous year on internship with the tennis team) as well as working with general students through the counseling center.

While you may not have the opportunity or time to gain training in separate graduate school programs like I did, you don’t need to lose hope or give up. You might consider looking into some programs that did not exist when I was in school. You can also gain this experience in the community once you finish your formal studies, and one way is to pay a current practicing sports psychologist for extra supervision until you are qualified (usually 2000 hours after the doctorate of supervised work).

The main message here is that the bare minimum to be able to practice this profession independently, ethically and legally, compels you to obtain training, supervision, and academics in two arenas that may seem worlds apart. You definitely need a state license to practice. There is no getting around that if you want to practice independently.

If you think getting entry into this field is hard, you are right. But don’t lose hope. It is possible to do what you love. I do it. With persistence anything is possible and what is nice about the challenges in getting properly educated and credentialed is that it nicely mirrors what we are asking our athletes and teams to do on a regular basis! Just as they need to achieve and become one of the top 1% of 1% of 1%, those who make it into this profession are often the hardest workers who just refuse to quit or give in, even to monetary pressures!

I am hopeful that more get into this profession so that more know about sports psychology. I often feel like I am fighting an uphill but winning battle in letting others know about it and that is why I am so grateful to the media for helping me spread the good word.

Whether you are a sailor, salesman, stock broker or sports psychology student, never give up on your dreams. Work hard and you will find that your luck increases! Did I really say that? I am supposed to be a scientist! I am just kidding. Let’s get real. And let’s tune into sports psychology! If the most basic need in life is survival, and sports psychology teaches and trains people to survive and even thrive better, then by definition a huge key to life is sports psychology and what it offers!

There are great benefits for athletes, coaches, managers and owners for fully integrating this sports psychology science and profession into their training and programs. If you want to get into the profession, you have to battle and hang in there and battle again, and never lose hope. You really get to use the skills you teach others! With effort you can make it in this exciting science and profession of success. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of sports psychology and I would be happy to help you on your career course by answering any questions.

Concentration is Crucial in Football

Sports Psychology and Concentration in Football

Careless mistakes caused by distractions are all too common in football, and sports psychology may have the best answers to this problem. Two important elements of attentional control, selective attention and concentration, are discussed followed by tips for improving attentional control during games for players at every position. Enjoy this education in mental toughness training.

We are constantly bombarded by an endless array of internal and external stimuli, thoughts, and emotions. Given this abundance of available data, it is amazing that we make sense of anything! In varying degrees of efficiency in top sports, we have developed the ability to focus on what is important while blocking out the rest. This process of directing our awareness to relevant stimuli while ignoring irrelevant stimuli is termed selective attention. Some sport psychologists believe that selective attention is the most important cognitive characteristic of successful athletic performance.

Concentration, on the other hand, is the ability to sustain attention on selected stimuli for an extended period of time. Although this might appear to involve great strain and exertion, the reverse is actually true. Effective concentration has been described as effortless effort, being in the zone, a flow state, and a passive process of being totally absorbed in the present and fascinated by the object of fixation. Working on the mental skills in football may pay bigger dividends than physical training.

Concentration is a difficult skill to master because our minds tend to shift focus when presented with novel stimuli. Known as the orienting response, this bias toward new sights and sounds alerted our ancestors to dangers in the wild, but often makes us the prey to meaningless distractions on the football field.  A split second loss of concentration during a critical play can spell the difference between winning and losing.

Careful planning and practice are required to gain supremacy over our attentional faculties. Fortunately, selective attention and concentration are skills that can be learned, refined, and perfected just like razor sharp passes or perfect blocks. Since few players invest quality time on attentional skills, there is an immediate and tangible reward for those who do! I believe the struggle with oneself over attentional control and mental toughness is even more fundamental than the clash with the opponent, for only after preparing ourselves for battle are we ready to take it to the enemy.

Here are 10 specific ways of improving attentional control in football:

1. Avoid negative thoughts and feelings, as these are needless distractions which rob us of limited attentional resources. Stay positive and realize your objectives.

2. Remain focused on the present, attending to what is immediately important and blocking out past and future concerns. Following a mistake, briefly note any changes necessary then move decisively to the next play.

3. Recite key words or phrases to yourself prior to the play to remind yourself to concentrate (e.g.,focus, attack, hit the hole).

4. Be task rather than outcome oriented. Thinking about the score or how you look are common distractions. The outcome only improves when you ignore it and attend to the immediate needs and circumstances.

5. Slightly relax in between plays while avoiding external distractions. Some players achieve this by staring at a specific area (e.g. , opposing runner’s mid section) and visualizing terrific execution.

6. Recharge your batteries in between plays. Replenish your energy and calmly gear yourself up for another great play.

7. Add a ritual, or consistent routine, to your performances. This might be the way you adjust your feet, tap the ball, or set your mind, and it all helps to fight off needless distractions and keep your mind from wandering.

8. Be particularly vigilant when fatigued. Players often lose their focus when tired and you can also exploit this fatigue in your opponent if you see it.

9. Attention and arousal are closely related. Avoid becoming overly excited while remaining focused on executing and implementing your strategy to football perfection. Brief breathing and/or relaxation can help prepare the way for great focus on the play.

10. Football coaches should make practices interesting by frequently varying the drills and routines in a realistic manner. This variety usually increases motivation which also leads to improved focus. Yelling rarely helps focus, but doing things to naturally improve focus like this help a lot.

Good luck and I hope to hear from you as your game continues to get better and as you continue to invest in sports psychology techniques.

Tough Guys Talk Initiative

Below is an excerpt from my most recent book “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” from pages 54-55 of the book by John F Murray (World Audience, 2013)

Stephan and I had often discussed the misconception about talking to a psychologist or counselor that seemed to exist in our society, and especially in some of the more powerful quarters. It needed to change. The supposedly tough types that we often saw in business and pro sports, like the CEOs, NBA stars, or head NFL coaches had somehow learned to associate “toughness” with grueling schedules, physical pain tolerance and the hesitancy to open up about problems or seek counseling. But once they did open up it was clear that this repression had exacted a toll and they were filled with more needs than most. Examined closer, it just jumps out at you that what is really going on when an athletic or business culture fails to encourage help seeking, or when anyone avoids dealing with a serious issue, it is anything but “tough” and more accurately quite “weak!” Not meeting issues head on is actually rooted in deep fear and insecurity.

One example that was recently brought to my attention was when NFL hall of fame quarterback Warren Moon wrote a book in which he admitted that he was seeing a therapist for many years and sneaking in the back door of his therapist’s office at night so that nobody would notice he was seeking help. Pro football hall of famer, Lesley Visser, who writes a beautiful epilogue in this book, called to tell me the news of Warren Moon’s admission. I thanked her and told her that I would make sure to convey the message in this book that the toughest among us are those who when faced with problems and are not afraid to seek help, and I called it “tough guys talk.” Warren Moon should be proud that he faced his issues, but societal pressure made it harder for him to share the benefits he was receiving with others until now.

I have a solution, and it starts with every top executive in major sports as a campaign to encourage star athletes to face problems head-on and talk with a counselor or sports psychologist when needed. Every senior executive and coach or manager in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL should institute a program and call it: “Tough Guys Talk” with a poster and just these words on top in bright bold lettering. It should be posted in every locker room listing some of the great players who won national championships while talking with a sports psychologist or counselor. The list would be most impressive because some great athletes do seek help but then don’t talk about it because of the stigma that they will appear weak. Hogwash! These leaders would in one fell swoop begin to eradicate idiocy and allow more players to access care and be tough by talking rather than running like little children in fear of being ostracized.

The program I propose would start with just one team’s GM. And since I am related to one of the greatest ever and feel that he can have an enormous impact like none other, I personally and cheerfully challenge Cousin Bill Polian to institute a “Tough Guys Talk” program with the Colts. When Mr. Polian or another top executive in sports does this he will establish himself even more as a visionary who cared enough for his people to allow them to develop and improve.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from sports psychology.

 

For Students Interested in Sports Psychology

Sports Psychology Special at JohnFMurray.com – Dr. John F Murray – January 7, 2013 – Are you a student of sports psychology or someone who may consider the profession for your future? If so, you definitely want to keep reading this article. In fact, I would not be surprised if this one article that you are reading ends up being one of the most influential in your early career. I write this because this kind of information that I am about to share with you simply did not exist 22 years ago when I went back to graduate school to pursue a career in sports psychology. So read on!

It’s been fun for me to interact with so many students who call or email for advice, and it has been equally fascinating to see that some of the most popular articles on my website pertain to educational issues and the training required to enter this great but often mysterious profession. It is only mysterious because so few are doing it as a profession. I consider myself very fortunate to be one of the few.

So consider this my gift to you, this resource, and enjoy the links I am about to share. Some of what you will read may not be what you want to hear or might seem a little intimidating at first, but I would rather that you got the full picture the best I can paint it than a half story or promise that someone cannot deliver on.

I am going to present my writings on the field in chronological order. You may see some progression in my thinking as these go along, and I hope there is not too much discrepancy from one to the other. Ok, here goes:

Back in 2009 I wrote an article entitled: What is Real Sports Psychology.

Later that year I wrote: Students Wishing to Become Sports Psychologists Should Read This

In 2010 I wrote: Is Sports Psychology a Real Science?

And finally in 2011 I wrote: What it Took to Become a Sports Psychologist.

I will personally guarantee you that if you read and dissect these 4 simple articles, you will be miles ahead of 99% of those other students who do not read these.

It would also be great to get your comments on this page or on any of the other 4 pages where the articles are being posted. Good luck in your career and I hope you enjoyed this stroll down the avenue of sports psychology.

For Coaches Giving Speeches

Sports Psychology Special at JohnFMurray.com – Dr. John F Murray – January 7, 2013 – If you are one of the thousands of coaches out there and you are constantly seeking a better way to motivate your troops, then look no further than here. As a sports psychologist engaged daily in helping to keep athletes and others motivated and excited about their pursuits, I’ve found that quotes are often my best friend.

It’s interesting too that in reviewing my web site traffic recently, the articles and sections pertaining to famous coaching and sports psychology quotes receive the most visits. It is this truth that quotes are needed and cherished that compels me to once again make it easier for you to find the gold nuggets of wisdom uttered by the many wise men and women before us.

Let’s begin with an article on coach speeches that appeared in the Tampa Tribune a few years ago. It is a really good one.

After reading that article, it will be fun for you to peruse one of the most popular areas of my website by far and review the many great sayings and quotes in sports. If you cannot find what you are looking for here, you are simply not looking.

Keep up the good work motivating your teams and don’t forget to call on your professional ally, the sports psychologist, from time to time. I’ve given many speeches to teams, as well as more serious workshops with many different aims. I’ve also enjoyed working one on one with many coaches to help them navigate the often treacherous waters of media scrutiny and the natural truth that you’re only as good as your last game.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse into the world of sports psychology.

Evert Tennis Academy Partners with Dr. John F Murray!

Press Release from Evert Tennis Academy – Evert Tennis Academy Partners with Dr. John F Murray! – December 29th, 2012 – Boca Raton, FL – Evert Tennis Academy has joined forces with Dr. John F. Murray, world renowned sport psychologist from Palm Beach, Florida, to enhance the Mental Toughness component of their high performance program.

Dr. Murray has worked with a wide variety of Olympic, professional, amateur, junior athletes, as well as business executives and corporate groups, to enhance personal performance and well-being.  Dr. Murray earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Loyola University New Orleans, after which he coached tennis worldwide throughout much of the 1980s with USPTA and PTR certification.  He returned to graduate school in the United States in 1991 and obtained two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida, specializing in both clinical and sport psychology.

Murray has published several books, including The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History and Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game, in addition he has written hundreds of articles and contributed to thousands of stories in the popular media including Tennis Magazine, Tennis Week, and Florida Tennis. His work has been featured in ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated.

“Chrissie and I are both very excited about the partnership and believe it will benefit the development of ETA students as well as enhance our full-time program,” said John Evert.

For more information about Dr. John F. Murray, please visit his website at http://www.JohnFMurray.com

 

 

 

The Autum of the Patriarch

Sports Psychology Commentary from The Times of India – By Partha Bhaduri – December 22, 2012 – Sachin Tendulkar Clings On To An Image Of Himself From a Long Time Ago. Is It Time He Saw The Real Picture?

Remember Dorian Gray in that seminal Oscar Wilde novel? “If it were I who was to be always young and the picture that was to grow old…I would give my soul for it, ” says Dorian, as Wilde attempts to connect the dots between the protagonist’s inner fragility and enduring public persona. The exercise itself is fraught with vanity, for in each of us resides a Dorian Gray, a yearning for everlasting spring. It can’t be wished away and it can’t be attained. Yet there it lurks, a festering wound, a constant reminder of withering beauty and fading prowess.

Those who live their lives in the public glare are more vulnerable, of course. Sometimes we come across a senile politician, an exhausted writer, a fixated actor or an oddball singer who prompts us to look in the mirror and count the blessings of our anonymous existence. Yet nowhere is the celebration of youth as the peak of physical, mental and creative faculty more pronounced than in sport.

Peter Pans abound in sport as a necessity. It’s an arena where the end of youth signals professional death, and yet the conquest of new challenge is rewarded. It’s a ‘contradiction trap’ which sooner or later ensnares all sportspersons. The ones who have been the best, who were taught never to give up, are the most susceptible. They are those who, as a necessity, start believing in the invulnerability of their own myth.

This is what is happening to Sachin Tendulkar. It’s not over yet but the runs are not coming. Age is catching up. It’s a painful but inevitable occurrence in the life of every accomplished athlete.

“Tendulkar’s desire to play on is an overestimation of his abilities at his age. That’s natural for a sportsman who has almost transcended his sport, ” says social theorist Ashis Nandy. “It’s a dilemma which can be understood at many levels. It’s very difficult to accept that one’s abilities may have declined. He needs to confront his own self but can the world’s biggest cricketer do that? He has grown up with public adulation and cricket as the only constants. He is, after all, larger than life. He believes it. ”

It’s interesting how a nation which built up ‘Brand Tendulkar’ or ‘Icon Tendulkar’ is now scrambling to tear down the edifice. These days, a confused Tendulkar looks at the picture – at his public image – and sees ugliness. This is a man whose sole task was to bring us joy with a bat in hand. What should he do now?

This is the rare child prodigy who lived in a bubble but did not fade away when he grew up. Anybody who has seen Tendulkar at nets will know him as a cricketer whose devotion to batting borders on the religious. He has not been afraid to chase the extreme in his quest for perfection. This is the man-child who has been a part of our collective consciousness for almost a quarter century. He had a ‘legend’ status in the pocket and riches in the bank, yet just a few years ago pushed his body and mind to the limit and bounced back from injury and poor form. It would have been easy to just give up and walk away.

But Tendulkar fought, for he was brought up to fight. Now, he is fighting the fickle masses. He is fighting self-doubt. He is fighting bad form. He is fighting age. How can there not be another star turn lurking, another glory day, another challenge to cherish? Of course he will retire. But right now? When the body is creaking, the runs aren’t coming and the clamour for his head grows with every passing day? When India’s Test fortunes have hit rock bottom? Isn’t giving up now fundamentally at odds with Tendulkar’s competitive nature?

Unless, of course, he is forced to quit. And give up on what has been his life.

It’s not for nothing that Vivian Richards, another supreme exponent of batting whose powers had declined to the extent that he became a strutting self-parody before quitting, talked about ‘death’ when asked about Tendulkar’s retirement recently. “When you’re retired, you’re retired for a very, very long time. It’s like being dead to some degree. So while you’re alive and still enjoying it, that’s what it’s all about. ”

This is how serious ‘retirement’ is for those wealthy sportspersons who’ve known nothing else but their sport. Yet there are those who know when to take the call. Steffi Graf. Sunil Gavaskar. Annika Sorenstam. Even Bjorn Borg, though that didn’t turn out so well. There are those who adjust well to a life outside their own routines. Freddie Flintoff has controversially taken up boxing to keep busy. Shane Warne preens and plays poker or the odd T20 game. David Seaman catches fish.

Will Tendulkar, now 39, know exactly when he ceases to be a part of the solution and becomes a part of the problem? Or has he already crossed the line? Psychologist Dr. John F Murray, often called the ‘Roger Federer of sports psychology‘, has worked with some of the biggest sports stars on the planet and believes Tendulkar must now expand his concept of self.

“This fits within what we term ‘athletic identity’, to the extent that an athlete’s identity is wrapped up in the athlete’s role, ” says Murray. “It is said that athletes are the only people on this planet we ask to die twice. The bigger they are, the more horribly traumatic it is to consider retirement. Tendulkar cannot fathom it stopping. He might know he has lost something physically, but he figures that mentally he can still make it up because he has done this his whole life, and done it the best. He will have a higher athletic identity, and there is more to lose since more of his self is invested in this athlete role.

“If I were working with this fine superstar, I would try to get him to expand his self-concept. His life may seem over to him, but it’s only just beginning. He has to return to earth for perhaps the first time in his life. Maintaining a positive self identity gets difficult for superstar sportsmen who are nearing the end of their careers. ”

Tendulkar is not alone in this predicament. There is boxer Manny Pacquiao, an icon in Filipino society whose influence stretches to politics, religion, even showbiz. After his recent loss to Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez, even his mother took to national television and urged him to quit. Yet at 34, Pacquiao keeps delaying the inevitable. “We will still fight, ” he said.

The opinionated former Indian captain Bishan Singh Bedi, who calls himself an “unadultered Tendulkar fan”, retired at around 33. “There’s only one death and retirement is not it, ” he says vehemently. “I retired because I wasn’t enjoying it. Simple. The human body, or mind, is tenacious but even tenacity has its limits.

“You have to detach yourself from your public persona to keep delivering the gifts you are famous for, whether in sport or music or literature. My left arm, with which I bowled, was a gift. Tendulkar’s abilities are a gift, and gifts can be taken away. It’s when you start believing you are larger than your gifts that you become cagey about failure or retirement. It’s self-created hyper anxiety. ”

The Tendulkar issue has also attracted the attention of California-born Dave Bernard, an expert on retirement issues and the author of Navigating the Retirement Jungle and Are You Just Existing And Calling It A Life. He usually advises people to focus on finding their passion after retirement, but sports stars pose a different challenge.

“It’s an interesting dilemma, ” says Bernard, “Sports figures know that because of the physical demands, they will retire very early. My concern with these super athletes is what they plan to do after retirement. Their life is dominated by practice, games and basking in the glow or bouncing back. Even beyond the challenge of coping with a fall from fame, what will they do?

“What is left to buy? What is left to chase? They have two of everything. The threat of boredom, unfulfilled days and a feeling of wasting your life are likely byproducts, magnified even more for those whose life has been a glorious one in the spotlight. How can their natural competitiveness be redirected? I do not envy these famous super athletes. It’s a long and painful exit from their accustomed world. ”

The signs of Tendulkar’s decline have been there for a while now, screaming large in our faces. The eye is weaker. That immaculate judgment of length is missing. The feet seem rooted the spot. He plays against the spin as a reflex action and perishes. Sometimes he gets out to good deliveries he would have kept out earlier. Sometimes ordinary bowlers growl in his face as he hangs his head and departs. He has now gone 31 innings without a ton, the longest such break between centuries in his career.

Tendulkar had a similar slump from December 2005 to January 2007, going 17 innings without a century, but rose like the phoenix, defying age and critics to average 78. 10 in 2010 from 14 Tests and scoring the first double ton in ODIs. But is it endgame this time? Year by year, his performance dips. Against England he averaged only 18. 66, and 2010 seems an eternity away. It hasn’t helped that Team India keeps losing.

For India’s biggest football icon, Baichung Bhutia, being involved with the game after retirement has been a blessing. “Retirement can be very, very tough on us. In Indian football, I’ve seen poverty, depression, even suicide after retirement. Of course, for a well-known super-rich athlete like Tendulkar, money is not the issue. His desire to play the game is the problem. I know the feeling. He should know when to call time on his career, ” says Bhutia.

“For me, I’m blessed to be involved with my club in Sikkim. I can still go the ground and play. I can involve myself with the financial aspects. It’s a way to keep busy with new challenges. But I still feel I can play for India and score a goal. That confidence is still there. But suppose I do score a goal in my comeback match, what then? I can have an ordinary next 15 games. It’s false confidence, ” he adds. “Tendulkar, I’m sure, feels he can play on and score a century or two or three. It’s his call. But for him too, it’s always good to have concrete plans in place for the future. ”

What if there is to be no grand farewell for Tendulkar? Or what if grand farewells are overrated, and leave no lasting impact on one’s legacy? Tendulkar won’t be the first or last athlete to confront these doubts. “The bigger the sportsman, the harder it is for him to retire, ” says former India stumper and selector Kiran More, who retired at only 31. “I opened an academy. I had a business. I took to golf. Let me tell you this. You never get over it. It still hurts. The sooner one accepts that, the better. ”

Of course, Indian cricket has no real replacement for Tendulkar. He will soon be in action again. The squad lacks depth. Australia arrive in two months time for another round of Tests. Maybe after that, or even before, Tendulkar will be forced to confront his fallibility. He must glance up at the picture again. Will he see what everyone else sees?

I hope you enjoyed this article from the world of sports psychology.

Mind Games: All 3 Phases Destroyed Georgia Tech

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – October 26, 2011 – John F Murray – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.





The Georgia Tech game was a thorough performance as well as a great win for the Hurricanes. No need for comments this week about escaping a bullet, blowing it on defense, or failing to make the big play at the end. But did the presence of these factors help in some small way to keep this team from getting overconfident going into the Georgia Tech game? It’s possible.

This UM team did well and won in convincing fashion against a Top 20 ranked opponent. Coach Al Golden and crew should be very proud and excited, and I am too. But as I do each and every week, I will not rest in my efforts to understand this game at a much deeper level than the final score. For some this is still somewhat hard to grasp, but realize that while the final score is what wins the game in the end, getting points on the board and defending against points by the opponent has little to do with the score.

Points are just the end result of performance by the team in each moment on the field. The act of building up to points on a long drive or perfectly executed pass and catch, or a great defensive takeaway all refer to performance in the moment and proper execution, NOT POINTS. Points come after all that had work and smarts that I measure on the MPI.

The rule makers of football have defined how a game is won, and that is indeed by scoring more points than the opponent. The point differential is obviously a pretty good sign of which team was better on the field that day, but there are other factors that are much richer in showing which team was better.

You might walk away screaming, “I don’t care about those other factors, all I care about is points and whether we won or lost the game,” and I would agree with you that getting in the win column is always better than a loss, but I would also tell you that you have no idea what you are talking about.

I studied this for eight years, so don’t be a typical beer drinking fan and mutter, “all I care about is that we won.” The University of Miami is a much smarter institution of higher learning than that kind of ignorance, and I will not stand for it.

Examined more closely, as I discovered in reviewing all 45 Super Bowl games and hundreds of other games, you soon realize that the final score is only another statistic to qhow well a team performed, and it often does a very lousy job. And telling players or teams to put stock in this by scoring points to win is just absurd. However, coaching players to win the battle in the moment, or to perform well on each play, is very smart advice leading then to points and success.

Performance in the moment as a studied factor is also a better predictor of which team will win the game, as statistical analyses have shown. Even points scored or given up as statistics are not as good as performance in the moment measured on the MPI scores.

Translation: if you really want to win a game, focus on getting a great MPI score on each play, not on getting points! Make the block, catch the pass, make the correct read, throw the pass to the correct target, make proper cuts, avoid turnovers, avoid penalties, use your head for more than a hat rack! These and many more things are performance-related factors that have meaning, not points. And this is the same as saying `focus on performing well in each and every moment and not just on the big plays or touchdown plays.’

In this particular game, UM outperformed Georgia Tech overall by roughly 5% of performance, which is a solid dominance, but not a blowout. Miami’s MPI-T score was .535 (79th percentile) compared with Georgia Tech’s MPI-T score of .480. Miami was also better on 12 of 14 MPI scores and 8 of 9 traditional statistics examined, so this was clearly an impressive performance that justifies the victory, compared with last week when the Canes were outperformed and won anyway.

Let’s see how the Hurricanes did it.

Let’s give a loud round of applause to the Miami defense. Finally! The defense of the Canes had their best performance of the year (MPI-D=.569, 91st percentile). Miami’s defense was 11.6 percent better than Georgia Tech’s offense, whereas Georgia Tech’s defense was 10.4 percent better than the Miami offense. So while both defenses outperformed the opposing offenses, Miami’s defensive margin of dominance was better.

Even more impressive statistically was the Miami special teams (MPI-ST=.732, >99th percentile). It could be argued that this unit won the game for Miami, but there are fewer plays on special teams and I would give first honors to the Miami defense as far as total impact on the game. Still, Miami’s special teams dominated Georgia Tech’s special teams (MPI-ST=.271) by over 46 percent, an almost unheard of demolition, and above the 99th percentile.

Both offenses performed below average (slight MPI-O edge to Georgia Tech .453 to .452) and at about the 20th percentile. However, Miami’s offense in pure pressure situations was superior (MPI-OP=78th percentile for Miami, MPI-OP=48th percentile for Georgia Tech). This means that while we might put down the Miami offense for an off day, the truth is that they were able to get it done well in critical 3rd and 4th downs and in other pressure situations. You don’t always have to be great if you can make it happen in the clutch, and the Miami offense did so just enough.

The final and incredibly decisive factor was penalties and turnovers. Miami is starting to get the hang of this as it had only one penalty for 5 yards, one turnover, and a +2 takeaway minus giveaway number. This is a big credit to the coaching staff of Miami for conditioning their players to reduce needless mental errors that often lead to penalties and turnovers.

Lamar Miller (27 rushes for 93 yards) and Tommy Streeter (3 catches for 96 yards) were the individual stars of this game. Time of possession slightly favored the Canes.

Any way you slice this, the Miami Hurricanes grew up a little more in this seventh game of the season. They reduced penalties and turnovers, they were unbelievably good on special teams, they were impressive on defense. In sum, they totally destroyed a former top 20 team.

Where does this team go from here? If the defense can keep playing this well, the special teams continues to dominate, and the offense can play this well or better, the Hurricanes are capable of great things now and even greater things later. Is this the beginning of a return to national dominance we’ve all waited for? It may be.

This UM team needs to keep getting high MPI scores, which is another way of saying to keep performing well mentally and physically every single moment of the game. If this happens enough, bet your bottom dollar that the Miami Hurricanes will also score points, keep their opponents off the scoreboard, and win too.

But let’s make sure we don’t put the cart before the horse. It is performance first that leads to points and then to winning. And knowing the precise nature of performance is what this column is all about, so that the Hurricanes can win even more.

I appreciate you coming along with me on this new and insightful way of looking at football performance and success. Go Canes!

Dr. John F. Murray, described as “The Freud of Football” by the Washington Post, is a South Florida native and licensed clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach. He provides mental coaching and sports psychology services, counseling, speeches and seminars. He recently authored his second book, “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” destroying stigmas about the mental game in sports and showing football teams how to perform better and win more games by enhancing team performance assessments and training. For further information call Dr. Murray at 561-596-9898, visit johnfmurray.com or email johnfmurray@mindspring.com.