Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – September 28, 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 loss to KSU really had to hurt. We all envisioned a little boost of momentum going into the extremely tough part of the schedule starting with Virginia Tech on October 8. Miami had just overcome that huge obstacle in destroying Ohio State, and maybe, just maybe, there was a little too much post-OSU euphoria, or that it lasted a little too long for the team to be completely ready for KSU.
I don’t think Al Golden is to blame. He has been a student of Bill Snyder’s coaching, respects his abilities greatly, and made the strong point that KSU could not be overlooked. Still, one wonders if all the players really bought in to this 100%. Even the fans seemed just a little too comfortable going into the cross hairs of a Snyder attack. Maybe we should have focused a little more on just this one game, called it a huge impending battle, and stopped worrying so much about individual traits such as Jacory Harris’ maturity level or game managing capabilities.
Before the game, I received emails from KSU faithful saying that Miami was in for a huge challenge and probably a long day. I tried my small part by posting a warning in a Canesport forum. “Bill Snyder is genius,” these Kansas people asserted, yet the team wasn’t even in Kansas anymore as they strolled along South Beach and into a hostile Miami stadium with history on its side. It didn’t matter. Naive Kansas lads who didn’t even know the meaning of the word “fear” hid behind wheat fields, unleashed a surprise Snyder attack, and made candy canes of this bunch.
Now that the damage is done, I’m sure we all wish we had yelled louder about the threat of Snyder-trained Wildcats. That KSU team deserved their success, yet UM still had a chance to win at the end. Hats off to KSU. Congratulations to Bill Snyder for another fine football clinic. Lose with dignity when you lose, but please never forget how painful this one was. The “U” will take it and come back stronger in the future because of it. The lesson is as old as time. Always respect your opponent. You are never as good as you think you are, and your opponent is never as bad as you think they are. Painful, hard, and agonizing? Yes. Required reading? Absolutely!
Now that tears are dry and gaping holes in sports bar bathroom walls are repaired, let’s move on. I’ve always loved the phrase: “while mopping up your past you wipe out your future,” and it applies here. No more dwelling on defeat. We have a chance to get to .500 against Bethune Cookman this Saturday, and we will. Nobody will come close to making Bethune Cookman a favorite, but Miami still needs to go out and make it happen in a big way. They need to unleash a major attack with all three units and get a big win against somebody — anybody. They need this game for confidence. Lose this, and I’ll suggest that the U transfer to a flag football conference. Win big and get ready for war on October 8. Then beat Virginia Tech and the whole season has new meaning. Never say never!
Knowledge is power and you learn more when you lose, so let’s take a quick look at what actually happened against KSU. In a game played at a quality level slightly below average, KSU very barely outperformed Miami on the MPI-T by a score of .496 to .494.
If you look at the above chart, however, you will realize that while Miami started slow, by the end of the third quarter they were dominating the game on this overall performance rating .512 to .480! Give KSU credit for their 4th quarter touchdown drive and for keeping Miami out of the end zone on multiple pressure plays at the end. They really rose to the occasion and put a whipping on UM in the fourth quarter. Overall performance only slightly favored KSU and they also won the game 28-24.
Where KSU really excelled and Miami faltered was in pressure moments. KSU destroyed Miami in all three categories of pressure play by approximately 30%! Their total pressure score (MPI-TP=.643) was at 64.3 percent (95th percentile)! Simply stated, KSU came up big when they had to and Miami folded when the chips were on the line (MPI-TP=.336, 5th percentile).
Part of this I credit to a good coaching scheme by Snyder, and part of this falls on the players. KSU executed in the clutch and Miami did not. It was best exemplified when Miami could not get into the end zone after having a first and goal on the two.
Both offenses had their way in the game compared with the defenses. Whereas Miami’s offense dominated the KSU defense by 6.4%, KSU overwhelmed the Miami defense by 9.9%, and this latter statistic is at the 89th percentile for domination.
It was notable that Miami only performed at .439 on defense overall, far below average, whereas KSU performed better at .469. For the third week in a row, Miami’s special teams unit was the best one on the field even though their .550 performance was less than in the first two weeks.
In my last column, I laid out 5 goals going into the KSU game. Let’s see how Miami did on the goals established:
Goal 1: No more than 1 turnover and a T + P < 8
Results: Goals achieved! The Miami Hurricanes had one turnover and 4 penalties (T + P = 5). This is great progress. Jacory Harris does need to perform more effectively, but this is not the game to talk about turnovers and penalties!
Goal 2: Better balance with 240 yards rushing, 250 yards passing, 0 interceptions, and an MPI-T > .565
Results: Only 1 of 4 sub-goals achieved. On the positive side, Jacory and the Hurricanes threw for 272 yards. Rushing, however, was reduced to 139 yards despite Lamar Miller’s good performance. There was one interception, and the MPI-T score was nowhere near the .565 target set (MPI-T=.494).
Goal 3: Continued great special teams play with MPI-ST > .630
Results: Not achieved. However, the special teams unit has been the best on the field for Miami. Their score in this game of .550 is well above average even if it did not hit the .630 mark targeted.
Goal 4: Offensive dominance of at least 12%
Results: Not achieved. The Hurricanes offense did dominate the Wildcat’s defense, but by a more modest 6.4% (MPI-O Hurricanes = .533, MPI-D Wildcats = .469).
Goal 5: Dominate in pressure situations by 25%
Results: Are you kidding? Not even close! Not only did Miami fail to achieve this goal, but KSU actually dominated the Hurricanes in pressure situations by 30.7%! Great performance in pressure moments of the game belonged to KSU and this is the single greatest factor in a KSU victory. Overall pressure play for KSU, as stated, was at the 95th percentile.
I hope you enjoy the new graphic this week (you need to read the article at canesport.com to see the graph) in which I showed the cumulative MPI scores for each team every quarter. I will not do that every week, but wanted you to see how the game progressed, and how KSU really turned it up at the end whereas Miami faltered, and especially in the red zone at the end.
Let’s keep this painful loss as a lesson. Never underestimate your opponent, and realize that without smart play and execution in pressure moments, a win that seems easily in reach with first and goal at the 2 yard line can easily become a loss.
But how do you train the mental skills and get players to perform better in pressure situations? Aha, you had to ask a sports psychologist. This is what I do. We specialize in training athletes to prepare for the most difficult pressure moments imaginable so that when game time comes it should be a breeze. It works most of the time and I love what I do.
Let’s take a break for a week on setting goals. The talent levels between Miami and Bethune-Cookman are so different that I will not waste my time. If Miami loses, I will help them vigorously in their new flag football league. Sorry Canes world! I have to find a way to use humor to cope in a difficult time. I love this team and will continue doing whatever I can to help in this column. It all begins with brutal honesty in what the MPI numbers and percentiles reveal.
Win this game big, and we’ll get set for a tremendous week of excitement as we prepare to beat Virginia Tech! Don’t give up hope. This program is growing and will continue to get better even after such a painful lesson as the Snyder attack from behind the Kansas wheat fields last Saturday in Miami.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.