Posts Tagged ‘mental coaching’

Sports Psychology Article: The 10 Biggest Issues Seen in Private Practice

Sports Psychology Article: My name is Dr. John F. Murray, a clinical and sports performance psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida. I have been licensed and in practice since 1999, providing a variety of mental coaching and psychotherapy services to athletes, business people, and people just looking to live a healthier or more successful life. This work can occur in the office, by phone or skype, or at client locations, and I also deliver workshops and speeches worldwide.

While I believe clinical psychology skills and training are vital in providing sports psychology services because people and their range of issues need to be understood and often treated, it is interesting that the vast majority of people who have hired me come in initially seeking performance enhancement for their sports, businesses, or performing arts. The truth is that mental skills are rarely trained in formal education and so there is a huge gap and need. Just as true, people who struggle with clinical disorders find it very difficult to achieve lasting success in any endeavor.

Today, as I look back on 17 years in private practice, I would like to share what I believe to be the top 10 issues that I have dealt with in working with clients. These issues are in no particular order in terms of frequency and severity, and each case in unique, but this should be a pretty representative sample of what I have seen. I’m sure I am missing many issues, but this will account for a huge percentage of them.

(1) PERFORMING WELL IN PRACTICE BUT NOT IN GAMES: Athletes often get in my door with this one. They tell me or their parents tell me that practice is great but actual live games are a total mess. While there may be many reasons for this, competitive pressure comes to mind as a frequent culprit. Sometimes the person is not training properly. Learning to face the pressure in guided imagery, relaxation, goal setting, and cognitive restructuring can work wonders. Here is an article by Larry Stone of the Seattle Times that I contributed to that addresses the issue of pressure in baseball.

(2) ANXIETY: This is an overworked word and one person’s anxiety is never another’s anxiety, but for lack of a better term let’s use it. People in all walks of life think too much, obsess, worry about what other people think (often coaches, parents or teammates), and lose the game or botch the boardroom presentation long before it even begins. Luckily for those who come in, anxiety is one of the problems that resolves best with treatment. I use a variety of techniques depending on the client. Often an approach that combines new learning, classical conditioning, and some form of relaxation with guided imagery is the key to success. It might take a little time to make progress or it might occur rather soon because each case is so different. It is one of my favorite problems to work with because the success rate is so high. Here is an article by John Nelander in the Palm Beach Daily News that I helped with that addresses the problem of anxiety.

(3) LOW SELF-ESTEEM OR LOW CONFIDENCE: While these are different issues, I lump them together here for simplicity. People are rarely born with confidence, and any number of past or current factors can tear away at confidence. The most typical problem is when an athlete is in a slump or bombarded by what is perceived as failure. Just like any solid mental skill, confidence is a tool that needs to be sharpened and continually used in battle in order to gain the edge. I build confidence in a variety of ways through education, self-talk modification, stories, examples, quotes, audios, videos and just good old solid cognitive-behavioral therapy. In fact, all of these approaches may be used in treating the 10 issues in this article. Here is an article I once wrote on the topic of confidence for a regular column I was writing for the Tennis Server website.

(4) POOR FOCUS OR CONCENTRATION: Since human beings are designed to be distracted with what is called the “orienting response” (it had survival value in the wild for our ancient ancestors to be easily distracted by the crocodile when stopping to get water from a lake) we are quite susceptible to distractions of all kinds, both sensory distractions and distractions from inner thoughts and feelings. Add to this the number of clients whom I have seen with attentional disorders such as ADHD, and you soon realize that focus in anything is never guaranteed and rarely natural. Like any mental skill it needs to be properly practiced and refined. Golfers lose focus in a tournament just as much as linebackers do in football, and training is called for. I use a number of techniques to help including pre-performance routines, key words and phrases, guided imagery with relaxation, and goal setting. Since focus might be the most important mental skills for success, it is vitally important to ensure that the person is optimally thrilled in the moment of whatever they are doing. Here is an article I wrote about how to get better focused in football.

(5) ANGER OR FRUSTRATION: Competition can bring out the best and worst in us, and one nasty little enemy is the anger that often builds up without relief, and then explodes at the wrong time to wreak devastation on the competitor in whatever they do. Communication fails when couples try to resolve their issues with anger, MMA fighters lose poise and get submitted more quickly, and tennis players blow the next four points and ultimately the entire match as their emotions sandbag them. Like anxiety, a cousin of anger, treatment for anger has very high success rates. The sources of anger and anxiety begin in the deep temporal regions of the amygdala, that little part brain shared by almost any walking organism on the planet. It was a great alarm mechanism in caveman days as it sends important signals of danger and allows quick fight or flight reactions automatically. Unfortunately, it rarely helps the quarterback thread the needle on a critical 4th down pass. Many techniques are successful here including helping a client learn new ways to break the pattern, and these behaviors like any new learning need to be rehearsed many times in imagery and practice before they become habits that sustain future success. Success here might also require a total change in how a person perceives reality. Here is an article in Men’s Fitness magazine that I contributed to about ways to control and manage anger better.

(6) RELATIONSHIPS: People are social creatures, and I learned in doing my doctoral dissertation on the 1996 national champion Florida Gator football team, and in other studies, how incredibly important social support and feeling the right things from others can be in achieving success and coping with stress. The problem is that people are so very different. It’s hard to get along, and stress of competition can often spell disaster for relationships. On teams, the coaches have important decisions to make and players who are snubbed or overlooked often feel slighted. Favoritism happens a lot in junior athletics, when the baseball manager starts his son or best friend’s son over another player just as good or better. Feelings are easily hurt and sometimes hard to repair. Football players may worry about what coaches think about them, and corporate executives might have serious philosophical differences with the way the CEO wants things done. Treating these problems requires experience and savvy. Helping people see things a bit differently or helping them to communicate more effectively often works. Being relaxed and less stressed can also do wonders. Changing expectations and learning to be more assertive without being too aggressive is useful too. Here is an article in the Sun Sentinel that I helped with right after the tragedy of 911 that was focused on the value of relationships with others.

(7) PERFECTIONISM: Think about who might be the first person to seek out a sports psychologist for mental coaching. It is of course the perfectionist, seeking another avenue for success in their relentless pursuit of the ideal. The problem is that true perfectionism is actually like a mental disorder. The perfectionist is never really satisfied, and despite extraordinary attempts to be the best at all costs, the person usually sabotages performance rather than enhancing it. I like to get my clients to see the pitfalls of perfectionism and encourage them to strive for excellence which is a far healthier recipe for advancement. This takes a little time and savvy, but it works well. Here is a column article I wrote entitled “Eliminate Perfectionism for Success”

(8) DEPRESSION: This problem, like many other clinical problems, illustrates why it is so helpful if your sports psychologist is also a trained and licensed psychologist. In a lifetime, a huge percentage of people (over 25%) will be depressed in their lifetime, whether they are the cleanup hitter for the New York Yankees, a world champion boxer, or your next door neighbor. Athletes and top executives are people like all of us, so they get depressed and need help too. The problem is that mental disorders like depression are stigmatized, labeling a person weak or telling him or her to just suck it up. As Jon Wertheim so aptly pointed out in his article “Prisoners of Depression” in Sports Illustrated over a decade ago, those with serious clinical depression are more impaired than a person with a broken leg. A broken leg will heal nicely and teammates will cheer on the recovery, but a person with depression is still often seen as a team outcast or virus and their performance usually suffers just as if their leg were broken. Many cases go untreated due to shame. I’m hoping for a day when mental problems are taken just a seriously, or more so, than physical ailments. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young people. To treat depression, I use an eclectic approach, often finding cognitive behavioral psychotherapy to be effective as the client learns to change irrational or illogical thoughts and perceive their world differently. While I am not equipped to prescribe medication, and believe that less intrusive approaches such as talk therapy should be attempted first, I also keep a keen eye to the severity of depression and suicidal ideation. More severe cases might justify my referring the client to a medical doctoral for a medication evaluation to go along with the psychotherapy we are doing. Here is that article ‘Prisoners of Depression” that Jon Wertheim wrote.

(9) LOW MOTIVATION/WANTING TO QUIT: Parents bring me their junior athletes for any number of reasons, usually just to help them perform better, but this can also be a reason for referral. An athlete or high performer who has done very well for a number of years might suddenly lose the fire and want to quit. This can puzzle those around the person. The reasons can vary from A to Z, but hiring a trained professional to help sort out the issues and provide treatment can often be the difference between that child going on to compete at the college and professional level or quitting at age 14. This problem also presents amongst older athletes or those considering retirement, or just normal people in jobs they’ve lost passion for. As a clinician, it is important that I determine if there is a serious clinical disorder, or if this is a temporary phase including mostly staleness, burnout, or stress. Quitting might be in the best interests of the client. While I never make this decision for the client, I can help sort it all out, and rule out many factors that might have been overlooked. Intrinsic motivation is so important in all that we do and passion and joy is important for any success. Often time off from physical training and competition combined with psychotherapy or mental coaching helps. This is a tough one to treat but that does not mean that it does not need to be addressed. On the contrary, the person’s entire sport or career could be at stake. Self-esteem and huge money could be on the line. Here is an article by Janie McCauley in the Associated Press that I helped with recently about athletes retiring in the prime of their careers.

(10) TRAUMA/SUBSTANCE ABUSE/EATING DISORDERS: I’ve put these three clinical problems together as one just for the purposes of this article because they often go together, but technically they are quite different. Past horrible events and circumstances can often play themselves out later in life and the diagnosis of PTSD is one of the most common amongst those who have been in war or have been sexually or physically abused. Did you even wonder why so many NFL and NBA players who have the world at their fingertips and multi-million dollar contracts suddenly throw it all away as a result of domestic violence, drug use, or other criminal behavior. While some people are just wired wrong and need to be incarcerated to protect society, I would venture to say that this is rare and that the vast majority of these serious problems have their roots in serious problems that have huge historical origins, often of a traumatic nature. The media and public is often quick to condemn people who act out but slow to truly examine why they do it. Society has a long way to go. Again, these types of problems are rarely going to be well treated by a mental coach guru without proper training and credentials as a psychologist too. The truth is that many people, often evident in pro sports but even more prevalent in the general population, struggle with things that happened many years ago. It can sabotage self-esteem and lead to so many inappropriate ways to compensate including murder. Serious psychotherapy is needed and it is needed as soon as possible. This is just one why all 4 major sports should have a licensed clinical and sports psychologist present in the team headquarters throughout the year. This person should be equipped to deal with these more serious problems just as well as being able to provide mental coaching and lectures to the teams and players needing just a mild to modest performance boost for their upcoming game. Here is an article in AFP (Paris) about the effects of trauma for a skier.

I truly hope you have enjoyed this brief exploration into the world of sports psychology!

The Mental Side of the NFL Playoffs and a Little Guarantee

By John F. Murray, PhD

First, What is Happening in the NFL Playoffs!

Hello from clinical and sports performance psychologist Dr. John F. Murray in Palm Beach, Florida. With all the excitement and craziness that is the NFL and the 2016 playoffs, I thought it was time to chime in again.

There is no question that the Cincinnati Bengals just lost a game mentally to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only did they lose it, they lost it big and they lost it because they had obviously not been properly prepared to deal with emotions in the heat of battle. Joey Porter taunted them and they bit. This kind of behavior is unacceptable and they are sadly at home watching the rest of the playoffs because their mental performance stunk. It is a hard lesson to learn, but one that teams seems to keep forgetting about time and time again.

With proper advanced imagery and resilience training, those kinds of mistakes would never happen. Players would have been so inundated with mental distractions and frustrations in visualization sessions where they were forced to keep their cool that the likelihood of a meltdown would have been close to zero. We have seen this thousands of times in sports and we will continue to see it most often in teams and athletes not training their mental skills regularly.

Over in another wildcard playoff game, Blair Walsh missed a chip shot field goal that was closer than an extra point to lose a game when the team had all but sealed the victory against the Seahawks. On the one hand I must feel really bad for Walsh and we are all human and this can happen. On the other hand, the success rate of a 27 yard field goal is above 98%, so the skill itself is virtually automatic. This same skill under the extreme pressure of winning or losing is not so easy. This demonstrates that what you see is not what you get when it comes to pressure, and it only argues further that players need to train regularly their minds for such occasions.
In my work, I see these things all the time because mental performance comes out in the ordinary moments of sports just as it does in the critical moments. There are countless careless lapses in the first quarters of games, just as there are horrible chokes in the fourth quarters. The reality is that mental performance is always around us, and the team or athlete that manages their mental skills better (areas such as confidence, focus, goals, resilience, emotional control, imagery etc.) gain an often decisive advantage over those who do not. In fact, in my book “The Mental Performance Index” I discovered that this newly created measure that included mental performance accounted for success better in the Super Bowl games than any other factor and it was upwards of 80% correlated with success. Ignore mental skills only to your peril was the take home message of my study and book.

My Guarantee

Now I’d like to share with you a little guarantee that I made to the entire sports world and it’s a slight variation of a previous article that I published.

Sports are constantly in flux and evolving. New techniques and plays are always being developed and there is an almost linear progression that seems to take place from year to year as more money, research and accumulated experience contribute to a better mousetrap. NFL passes thrown as they were in 1946 would be easily picked off by most high school safeties today. Tennis forehands in 1930 at Wimbledon would not come close to winning in the first round of any boy’s 16 year old championship today, and major league baseball pitchers from the 1920s would probably be knocked out in the first inning of every division I college game today. Darwin was right … evolution is relentless!

One of the still rarely discussed, but no less important aspects of peak performance improvement takes place in the training of the mind or “mental coaching” as it is often called. While athletes may only be able to jump so high and sprint so fast, there is an equally important aspect of achievement that is much more flexible and amenable to change. It has unlimited potential unlike the physical ceilings of jump height or strength. It resides between the ears in that most marvelous computer of all – the brain – and it flexes its own form of elbow grease in areas such as hope, confidence, focus, resilience and smarter decision making.

Sports psychology is the science and practice most responsible for this training of the brain for high performance, and many casual observers just assume that all great athletes have a sports psychologist or mental coach, but I have found that not to be true at all. My estimation having worked 17 years as an independent practicing clinical and sports psychologist is that less than 10% of college, professional and Olympic athletes are doing mental training regularly and properly. While this may seem very odd, since gaining a performance advantage is crucial and the most pressing need for these great competitors, consider the reality. When I completed my specialized internship in sports psychology from 1997 to 1998, it was the only sports psychology internship in the United States that was also approved and accredited by the American Psychological Association’s internship consortium! I’m not sure the situation is much better today, 18 years later. Training opportunities are rare and hard to find.

The truth is that the profession that trains practitioners to do mental coaching and sports psychology work is still in its infancy. Let’s consider the analogy of the development of the field and practice of psychology itself. While the science of psychology began in a Leipzig, Germany lab in the 1880s, it was not until the 1960s and 70s that it was commonplace to see a psychologist in private practice. I like to call this beginning recognition of the field as the “Bob Newhart” era, after the popular sitcom of the 70s depicting the Chicago-based psychologist we all know and love.

Dr. Phil is an extension of Bob Newhart in the media today, but even he is not a sports psychologist. So when you consider that it took about 90 years for the science of psychology to become a viable widespread clinical practice, there should be no surprise that qualified and experienced sports psychologists are few and far between since this science only began in the 1960s and 70s, or just 40 years ago. By psychology standards, the field and practice of sports psychology is like psychology was in 1925! It was all over the world in academic and research settings, but only a handful of rare individuals practiced psychology back then. It was not until after WW2 with the training opportunities of the VA hospital system brought about by head injuries sustained on the battlefront, that psychology really had an opportunity to become a profession. The Boulder Conference, as it was called, created hundreds of internships for future practicing psychologists overnight in the VA system. There are many thousands of psychologists today but still only a handful of properly trained and qualified sports psychologists.

I knew I was taking a little bit of a risk in getting into such a new field when I went back to graduate school in 1991. I had been a tennis coach worldwide, and mostly in Europe, and over there the idea of mental coaching had taken much firmer hold philosophically, but the graduate school education was still far better in the United States. So I came back to the University of Florida, got a couple masters degrees, a PhD, the aforementioned specialized internship, and finally a specialized postdoctoral fellowship. By 1999, I was on my way with a new practice in a very rare field.

I was in a field that was so new that I realized I had to publish to get the word out. I wrote hundreds of articles and I wrote the book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” and got the top tennis player at the time, Lindsay Davenport, to endorse it. It is now in three languages with almost 20 printings. I later wrote a second book that expressed my passion for all that is football and titled it “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.” This book was also very well endorsed. The reviews from NFL Films and Tom Flores were excellent. Even Don Shula gave me a quote. However, even these powerful recommendations will take time to hit the mainstream. I had to do more.

In writing this second book, I realized that I had stumbled upon a major finding, and I grow ever more excited whenever I ponder this. Since the beginning of mankind, mental skills and smart play were always important for survival. In the cave era, if you wanted to feed your village, you had to remain calm, poised and focused to be able to properly throw that spear into the wooly mammoth. While there were certainly no sports psychologists back then, and still few today, the truth then and today remains that mental performance is and always was critical to success. Spear throwers had to figure it out alone back then.

Broadcasters, sports writers, and authors all lend credence to the vast importance of peak mental performance that still exists today. Athletes known as overachievers constantly outperform those with more raw speed or strength because they make better decisions. The stay focused rather than getting rattled in the heat of battle. They remain confident and resilient no matter what the situation is, and we all recognize that their performance has nothing to do with their limbs and muscles and everything to do with their brain! It was this realization that mental performance matters that led me on the passionate journey of creating a “Mental Performance Index” and writing a book with the same name in order to share my passion.

I realized that mental performance was critical, but I was astounded that nobody was taking the time to measure it. There were no statistics to capture how well a team performed mentally, so I decided to create one, and the abbreviation is MPI. The most amazing part of this is what happened when I analyzed the data for my book. I had studied every play in Super Bowl history and rated each play with the MPI, essentially measuring football a different way by looking at each moment and including an adjustment for the mental performance. When I did this with the help of several statisticians, I discovered something phenomenal. It was this MPI, or measurement of the moment, that correlated best with winning when compared with almost 40 other statistics. This emphasis on performance in the moment and mental skills, in other words, had best captured what it takes to win a football game. In my mind, what had always been known, but never formerly measured until the MPI, was not only important to success …. it is probably the most important factor in success!

Since my book and passion are very much centered on the sport of football, why are there still so few sports psychologists in the NFL? How about the other major sports of hockey, baseball and basketball? While I’ve worked with professional franchises and their top stars, both privately and paid by the teams, it has usually been to put out fires or help a single player rather than as a program to prepare entire teams for success.

The bottom line is that coaches and executives in the major professional sports have still not really discovered sports psychology. Given that today is still analogous to only the year 1925 in psychology terms, this should not be too surprising. But given the amount of money spent on top players, and the turnover rate in coaching and high management, one would think that mental coaching would have been long ago discovered as essential for every team from day one of training camp. What else could be going on you might ask?
I think there is still a fear of the unknown. It is a fear that coaches and managers have about mental coaching and peak performance sports psychology. Could this be a fear that hiring a top employee or consultant will somehow steal the thunder of the head coach, or put the team at risk in some way? Coaches cannot be that controlling, can they?

While I cannot speak for other sports psychologists, I always start with the assumption that the coach is the captain of the ship and I am there to provide a needed service just the same way any professional would, all the way from the team physician to the dentist, trainer, assistant coach, and massage therapist. I am not the coach and have no desire to be the coach. He brings me in to help with his own philosophy of football. I am there to adapt to his needs to help him and help the team and players achieve worthy goals.

I do know that about 12 years ago, while on the sidelines of an NFL team practice, the head coach said the following to me: “While you might be the best and most well trained sports psychologist in the world, I just cannot stand in front of my team today and tell them they have a psychologist.” That comment still reverberates with me today as the possible reason why there is hesitancy, but I think times are changing. In other words, in the past there was the idea that it was shameful or showed weakness in some way to seek mental coaching. When you consider the history of mental health care, which began in treating those who were mentally ill, it makes sense. That coach somehow thought that telling his team that they had a success coach was the same as telling them they were all mentally ill. How ludicrous, but how probably true! I get it. He was afraid!

It is my hope that today more coaches and managers will realize that just as doctors and lawyers and coaches study for years and practice for years to accumulate knowledge and practical wisdom in their chosen area of study, smart sports psychologists are no different. I did not get into the field to treat mental illness. I did not spend years in graduate school to have someone be ashamed of my profession. I had been a worldwide coach, and I wanted to open my expertise to the new and exciting findings about training the mind rather than just the body.

I love what I do today as a sports psychologist. But I still get the majority of my clients from pro and amateur athletes calling on their own, or the parents or private coaches calling. I want that to change, and it is partly why I wrote “The Mental Performance Index.” If you read this, you will learn about this coach/sports psychologist relationship and how to ensure that everything goes smoothly to best help the team, how problems are prevented before they occur, and much more about the best teams mentally and physically in Super Bowl History.”

My guarantee is that your team and players will prosper with mental coaching. You will discover that there is no shame associated with trying to make yourself or your team better through proper mental coaching. A player can only run so fast and hit so hard, but by helping players tweak their mental performance just a little, the whole team will benefit. I guarantee it! Imagine what would happen if each player got 15% more confident, more focused, and more resilient. Do you think the team would also benefit. You can bank on it because I guarantee it. The days of fear are over. The biggest fear might be not investing in mental coaching for our teams and players.

I hope you enjoyed this initial walk down the avenue of sports psychology.

Culture Change Speeches and Consultation for Corporations and Sports Teams

Sports Psychology Special Feature – Culture Change Speeches and Consultation for Corporations & Sports Teams – Mental Performance Inc – October 8,2015 – Invite Dr. John F. Murray to speak at your next company or team meeting. He will inspire your group and demonstrate the factors he has used for years to help top athletes and teams to develop mental skills to the highest level possible for excellence and success.

Dr. Murray’s expertise over the past 18 years since getting the PhD has been to help teams in sports and business change culture to become more competitive and successful. Clients include the world’s largest global real estate firm, countless businesses and CEOs, the prestigious Saddlebrook Golf Academy where he now consults twice monthly, the Evert Tennis Academy, Olympic athletes, high school and college athletes, and pro athletes and teams in all sports including the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA.

While speeches, seminars and dinner discussions are very helpful and inspiring, Dr. Murray also believes that the best successes come from working with one individual at a time, and in small or large groups as necessary, but the one-on-one mental coaching and clinical psychology intervention has produced best results.

Dr. Murray conducts individual mental skills evaluations and one-on-one consultation to develop leadership skills and help people become the absolute best mentally that is possible. The best way to gain the most competitive and mentally strong leaders, whether in sports or business, is to do this work consistently with a top professional over a long period of time. Dr. Murray has a history of under-promising, but greatly over-delivering, and his career speaks for itself.

Thank you for your considering this culture change proposal for your team or organization. Dr. Murray will be happy to discuss rates and scheduling for speeches or consultation with you further. Call 561-596-9898.

I hope you have enjoyed this special offer from the world of sports psychology.

The Importance of Confidence in Sports, Business, and Life

Sport Psychologist, Dr. John F. Murray on Confidence.
PALM BEACH, Fla., Dec. 8 PRNewswire — When sport performance psychologist John F. Murray decided to auction the idea of “Confidence” on eBay he had no idea how much interest this auction would draw. Top athletes and film stars use mental coaches, but he didn’t know whether the general public would pay for what might be called nothing more than an idea.

Bidding opened at $10 and after fifteen bids this idea sold for $250, representing perhaps the first time an “idea” has been sold in an auction. The winner is a recreational tennis player in New York. She will receive one hour of mental coaching by Dr. Murray.

“I had a hunch this would draw some attention since so many are beginning to recognize the value of confidence and mental training. The auction testified to broad-based interest,” said Dr. Murray, who has coached some of the top athletes in the world. “The public response justified my hunch.”

The auction was started to demonstrate public and professional interest in training the brain. “We’ve gone almost as far as we can go physically, but mental training is a territory with unlimited potential for improvement in business, sports, or life,” said Murray, who has spoken on this topic on numerous talk shows.

Many pro athletes, teams, businesses, and organizations receive the benefits of mental coaching, but most people are still often surprised to know that these services even exist as there are few legitimate performance psychologists or other professionals to provide these services.

Confidence is described as an umbrella term reflecting all the thoughts, feelings, actions and sensations reflecting self-belief and expectations of success. Top tennis professional Vincent Spadea spoke on national television about the benefits of mental coaching to reverse the longest losing streak in tennis history and return to top 20 in the world.

For more information about “mental training” and Dr. Murray go to

John F. Murray, PhD
TEL: 561-596-9898
FAX: 561-805-8662

Dr. John. F. Murray is a Sport and Clinical Psychologist in Palm Beach, FL and helps athletes, and business people build their confidence.

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.

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




Mind Games: Miami Must Get Better on Defense

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – October 4, 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.

While many Miami faithful squirmed and complained early during the recent victory over Bethune-Cookman, and rightly so, all’s well that ends well in this convincing 45-14 victory.

It was a win more than needed for this team and community and new head coach. The devastating loss to Kansas State by inches after having a first and goal on the two stung for a long time, but the win over “boys who wanted to play for Miami but got snubbed” sort of righted the ship. “Sort of” implies that we are far from out of the woods with the daunting task of V-Tech in Blacksburg looking like a very rough assignment.

But isn’t this what we live for in sports? Challenge is what it is all about. So bring on the mighty Virginia Tech program. Bring them all on. This is the “U,” and while this U might not be as successful as the great teams of the past, there is no shortcut to greatness. We might as well shut up, face as many great teams as possible, and get used to it.

But before we jump into the line of fire too quickly, remember that all great athletic (like military) accomplishments must be led by intelligence and wisdom. By understanding our recent clashes, we are in a better position to battle hard in the upcoming skirmish. And the MPI combined with traditional statistics and percentiles gives us an edge over all those other fans, coaches, players and teams who do not use the MPI. It helps us to see more precisely what really happened so we can prepare for V-Tech by knowing how our team is doing in a precise way that also includes mental performance.

While Bethune Cookman was having its way with Miami early in this game, several angry fans posted all sorts of crazy messages on the message board at I enjoy rating these games in my favorite sports bar with wi-fi, so I got in on the action and encouraged fans to relax and look at the MPI stats. Once Miami scored, I predicted a 42-14 blow-out win, and I was not far off from the 45-14 final score.

The point is not to brag, but to demonstrate again that the numbers I get show what is likely to happen in a game. In all of Super Bowl history, for example, teams that perform better on the MPI-T (total performance) win about 90 percent of the time (see this all in my new book “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History“).

Performance does not lie. It is not always aligned with winning, but it seems to be about 9 out of 10 times. Performance (including mental performance) is the best we have at rating a team and I had noticed that despite Bethune’s success the trend was changing quickly in Miami’s favor. As Bethune started playing worse, Miami performed better and I sensed a blow-out win even with the score tied at seven. This was less hunch, and simply performance related statistics!

Keep in mind that Bethune-Cookman has a lot of talented players. While they are no match for a team like Virginia Tech, they were hardly a teenage girl’s touch football program either. They were damn good, and many were transfers from big division one schools! Miami should be proud of the win and the way they won, and that is what we are going to now analyze

The first thing that jumps out at me is that Miami’s special teams, which started slowly, ended up dominating this game in a manner that is seen in fewer than 1 in 1000 games! Miami (MPI-ST=.661) has been playing great on special teams all year, and combined with Bethune’s horrific showing (MPI-ST=.266), this unit dominance of almost 40% represents the 99.9th percentile for the Hurricanes. It is almost unheard of in football. The significance of this, however, is probably not appreciated by the vast majority. But you are Canes fans!

The second most influential factor was the number of penalties committed by Bethune (12) along with two turnovers and -1 takeaway minus giveaway statistic. This is a very sloppy performance and this team was not going to get away with it against a more talented team like Miami. Their penalty total alone places them at the 99.6th percentile in number of penalties (higher percentile being bad in this case).

As you can tell from the first two most important factors, Bethune shot themselves in the foot more than Miami cleaned them up. In fact, time of possession was a huge advantage for Bethune (at the 96th percentile) but it did not matter because they made so many mistakes and could not cash in with their skill players the way Miami did.

The third decisive factor was Miami’s offensive unit (MPI-O=.585) which achieved in this game at the 88th percentile combined with Bethune’s overall lousy play on offense, defense and special teams (MPI-T = .437), at the 8th percentile only for total performance.

Neither defensive unit performed well (Miami’s MPI-D = .493, Bethune’s MPI-D = .411) but Bethune was much worse, and made worse too by Miami’s skilled passing attack and Lamar Miller’s exceptional running (over 100 yards again).

In summary, Miami won this game on special teams, on mistakes by Bethune Cookman, and on offensive firepower. And this scares me a little as the Hurricanes prepare to face Virginia Tech.

Had Bethune-Cookman played only average on special teams and reduced their penalties greatly, the game could have been much closer. Thank goodness that Jacory Harris and his receivers are beginning to sync up, but there is an obvious talent difference between Miami’s explosive passing attack and Bethune’s woeful secondary.

To Miami’s credit, it reduced penalties to six, only committed one turnover, and had a plus 1 takeaway-giveaway statistic. The more talented team prevailed because it made many fewer mistakes, killed the opponent on special teams, and got the offense rolling against an inferior opponent. I am concerned about the defense entering Blacksburg.

Let’s take a comparison look at a Miami’s MPI scores on offense and defense in its first 4 games. The defense is performing 6.8% worse than the offense.

In game one, the Miami offense scored .479 compared to .424 for the defense.

In game two, it was .551 compared to .518.

In game three against Kansas State, it was .533 on offense and .439 on defense.

Against Bethune-Cookman, it was .585 for the offense compared to .493 for the defense.

The averages come out to .537 for the offense and .469 for the defense.

These numbers really bring to life the truth so far about the 2011 version of the Miami Hurricanes football program. The have an above average offensive performance overall and a below average defensive performance overall and the offense is performing 6.8% better than the defense.

What does this say about this Saturday?

Virginia Tech is ranked 34th in rushing in the country, 15 spots better than Miami’s 49th-ranked rushing attack. Virginia Tech is much better in points against, ranked eighth overall compared with Miam’s No 28 ranking. The offenses are similar in terms of passing the ball and points for. Given the MPI defensive weakness in Miami combined with the Virginia Tech rushing attack, Miami is going to be in for a long long day if it does not get some things fixed on defense in a hurry.

I know that Clemson had its way last Saturday in Blacksburg, but this should do very little to make Canes fans feel comfortable. This will only strengthen the resolve of the home opponent. If I were advising Coach Golden, I would do everything and anything possible this week to improve the defense, especially against the run, keep encouraging the offense to find the big play, and encourage the special teams unit to keep winning games for this team.

Blacksburg will be an epic battle and I am excited to watch it. It is a chance for Miami to grow-up a little bit more and totally erase the bad feelings from the KSU and Maryland losses, and look forward to a much brighter future soon or a wake-up call of continued suffering.

FOCUS ON BETTER DEFENSE is my final message to the team this week.

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 or email

Mind Games: Canes Failed in Pressure Situations

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 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 or email

One thing matters in college sports: winning

Sports psychology commentary in the Sarasota Herald Tribune – Doug Fernandes – September 3, 2011 – Today at the University of Florida, all eyes will be on first-year head coach Will Muschamp.

At Florida State and South Florida, Jimbo Fisher and Skip Holtz begin their sophomore campaigns leading their respective teams.

And at Miami, Al Golden starts his first season at a program rocked by a scandal that could have repercussions for years to come.

For the NCAA, its member schools, coaches, players and administrators, the kickoff to the 2011 college football season could not have arrived at a more favorable time.

Frankly, there has never been an offseason during which the sport’s lower lip was more bloodied. Revelations of free cars, sex parties, nightclub visits, yacht trips and players trading memorabilia for tattoos dominated headlines, blogs and radio airwaves.

It forced the resignation of Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, revealed, yet again, the lengths programs will go to court success, and how those in positions of authority often turn their heads to transgressions happening right before their eyes.

All in the name of winning and securing its ancillary benefits. For quite some time now, fans of all sports have been bludgeoned into semi-consciousness with stories of athletes and institutions engaging in myriad nefarious acts.

Whether it’s cyclists and track athletes who dope, baseball players who take steroids, or student-athletes who choose College A over College B for reasons other than — wink, wink — academics, the American sporting public had grown tired.

Tired and apathetic.

Just give them their games.

Just give them their teams.

Provide that three- or four-hour window when nothing else matters except the school emblazoned on their shirt coming out on top.

“Even more than entertained, they want to win,” said John F Murray, a Palm Beach clinical and sports psychologist. “That’s the thing we attach ourselves to, because, for whatever reason, we’re not able to enjoy our jobs or whatever it might be.

“I think we attach success to our team’s success. They are our team. We’re willing to overlook what they do to get that success.

“Most fans probably, deep down in their psyche, would rather have their teams win on steroids than lose without steroids.”

In psychology, it’s called “basking in reflected glory,” the belief that one experiences personal success through their association with successful people or institutions.

It helps explain the reason a Florida Gator fan feels a sense of satisfaction after a victory over Georgia, or, conversely, depression following a loss.

He or she has no material connection to the Gators’ winning or losing. But anyone who has rooted for a team is familiar with the phenomenon.

On Monday, the Miami Hurricanes play at the University of Maryland. The scandal should have embarrassed anyone connected to the school’s program.

Yet they’ll be there, Hurricane fans, wearing their school’s colors, oblivious to anything except what transpires on the 100-yard-by-53-yard plot of ground before them.

“What you’re suggesting,” said Murray, “is that we’re more corrupt than ever and that the fans don’t care.”

Well, they do care. Care deeply. Care passionately.

Over anything else, about one thing.

Just win, baby.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of sports psychology.