Posts Tagged ‘mental coaching’

Dimension IX: Inspiration to Become a Sports Psychologist

When I wrote “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” I wanted to make it much more than a “self-help” or “how to” book for football coaches and teams. It can serve that purpose, but it is far more than that too, and the first 100 pages or so are very much like an auto-biography in which I tell my own story.

I write about my upbringing in South Florida in the 60s and 70s, and about my exposure to greatness as a fan through the excitement of the Miami Dolphins Perfect Season in 1972 and then later as a coach and sports psychologist. Good things just kept happening all around me and I became extremely interested in learning more about what makes a team a champion.

As a tennis coach traveling all around the world from Hawaii to Florida, Germany to the Middle East, Austria to Texas, I became fascinated by how critically important the mental game was in sports, yet how few resources existed to help others in this area. It was not surprising that the book Inner Game of Tennis was a worldwide hit in 1974 … we were starving internally and have only in recent years begun to really adopt an inner approach to training and preparation for high level competition.

You will enjoy the many anecdotes in this book “The Mental Performance Index,” such as the time I coached the current King of Saudi Arabia tennis lessons in Riyadh, relied on the advice of a legless and dying man to help an NFL quarterback bounce back from his struggles, and studied the loneliness of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria during a trip to Neuschwanstein Castle to crystalize my understanding of some NFL coaches and leaders in major corporations.

I hope you enjoyed this little trip down the avenue of sports psychology.

Is Sports Psychology a Real Science?

Sports Psychologist Special to JohnFMurray.com – By Dr. John F Murray – September 21, 2010 – As the field of sports psychology evolves and more and more qualified and licensed practitioners hang out a shingle (something that is still moving enormously slow by the way), the media, potential clients and even current clients ask about the scientific validity and reliability of this science and profession. Well, they don’t really use the terms “reliability” and “validity” unless they’ve had some statistics or quantitative analysis classes, or just couldn’t turn off the PBS channel as a child, but these are the questions they are essentially asking: (1) Is sports psychology really a science; (2) Are sports psychologists basing their work on scientific findings, and (3) If sports psychology is a good science then why aren’t there more people using this in sports in the year 2010?

The answer to the first two questions is a resounding YES! Whether you are looking for coach speeches for your football team, to prepare for an upcoming triathlon, or to build your golf game over the coming year after finding out about sports psychology after taking a free psychological evaluation, there is no doubt that the research questions, hypotheses, data collection, and peer reviewed process in the field is every bit as scientific as studies in chemistry or biophysics. Good sports psychologists trained in the scientist practitioner tradition will also base their work on the findings emerging from these journals. It is definitely miles ahead of common sense advise even if many of the principles appear to be quite logical.

People tune into johnfmurray.com to read about many of the discussions in the popular media channels such as the Bloomberg wire, New York Times newspaper, or ESPN television. As a sport psychologist, I am contacted frequently by these outlets to give my opinion on a matter of current news interest. Maybe there was a player suicide or a team on a massive losing streak, and they all want my expert opinion. I gladly give it as any one of several legitimate sports psychologists would because it helps to educate the public and hopefully gives the field a little boost each time a story appears.

There are those who will claim that sports psychology lacks scientific merit because you cannot always predict team and individual behavior and success. The problem, however, has nothing to do with the science. The science, like the traditional field of psychology, has been around and doing well since the 1800s, and the predictability is sometimes hard there too, but the real issue is the subject of study – human beings! We humanoids tend to be very hard to pin down and control. Our behavior and thoughts are extremely variable, and we would want it that way. Add a contest between two highly intelligent tennis players, or even more complex between two teams of 11 of the best athletes in the world, and you are going to have a nightmare of potential variables bouncing around. Even the most famous sports psychologists are going to tell you that it is not possible to control outcome 100%. The best we can hope for is to get that team or that athlete prepared to be their best on game day. Whether they win or not depends on whether the opponent cooperates, and if they are competitive you can be sure they will not. So you can have the best game in your entire history and lose, or perform like the Bad News Bears and win. It’s really about performance and not outcome, even though we all want to win.

The fun and inspiring sports psychology quotes on JohnFMurray.com and the mental tests are ways to get people’s attention and to realize that this great service exists in the first place, because many still do not know about it. Famous coach speeches might grab the headlines and we’ve all heard about one more for the gipper or about winning one for the teammate who died suddenly, but why the hype? What about the day to day training by a legitimate and qualified/licensed psychologist/sports psychologist who just rolls up his or her sleeves every day along with the athletes and coaches and does his or her best job to both teach and inspire, to inform about the science and deliver the tools needs to raise performance.

Like all battles, sports psychology competition is won in the trenches over lunch meetings, late night phone calls, office visits, crisis intervention, and even babysitting of famous athletes at times. Earl Morrall, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a year ago in Sarasota, quarterbacked the most successful NFL team in history to 71% of the team’s plays (1972 Miami Dolphins). Many today do not even know his name because he is such an outstanding and confident gentleman who sought little publicity and just did his job. Earl told me that the difference between going 17-0 and having an average season was not huge, but “doing a little bit more each day.” I have also found this in calculating my Mental Performance Index (MPI) scores. The team that scores at 54% percent of perfection almost always destroys a team riding along at 52% of perfection. Small edges are actually huge! Get the point? Sound like the trenches again?

Given that we are in the trenches and seeking any kind of advantage possible to slightly elevate our performance, doesn’t it make sense to turn to science and years of training and experience found in qualified sports psychologists, rather than wearing the latest energy bracelet, or listening to some wide toothed motivational speaker? How about going to the town psychic? Get real folks. I did in going to graduate school from 1992 to 1998, getting a couple masters degrees and a PhD at the University of Florida, then going to the only sports psychology internship in the country that was also an approved APA psychology internship, and then doing a postdoctoral fellowship the following year. This process took until 2000 before I was able to open my office. I did it the right way and took forever and it cost a lot of money, but at least I knew I was gaining the training needed to do it properly to help my clients. Some of the successes I’ve had together with my clients over the past 10 years were not accidents at all, just solid trench warfare informed by science and inspired by passion.

Great coach speeches are necessary if you are a coach, but think of the value of bringing in a legitimate and licensed sports psychologist who can work at both the individual and team level to help get a team get ready like never before. Even before I opened my practice in 2000 I saw the value of this kind of work on a consistent basis. In working with two tennis teams at two different colleges in back to back years, and seeing each team’s players once a week for 45-50 weeks, each one of those teams had their best season in their entire history. It was no accident. It was just hard work on the mental game. Anyone can do it. But they need to first get out of the 14th century, realize that the science and profession of sports psychology is alive in the right places, and maybe they too can realize the biggest comeback in the history of their sport, win a Super Bowl, or grab a Stanley Cup. Resist the gleaming white teeth, the reputation of the ex-player speaker, the allure of the psychic friend’s network, and slow talking Southern drawl speaker who relates well but offers little insight beyond common sense, the ridiculousness of the energy bracelet … get real and get with the times! Get back in the trench where you belong and where you can raise your game a few percentage points and win a championship!

If you enjoyed this little adventure as we strolled down the avenue of legitimate and licensed sports psychology, call me now to help you or your team at 561-596-9898.

Helping a child who doesn’t make the team

Chicago Tribune – Julia Edwards – September 1, 2010 – Every fall, the hopeful warriors of tryout season stampede gyms and fields across the country. Whether they’re upperclassmen hoping to make the leap to varsity or seventh-graders facing the selection process for the first time, each student faces the possibility of rejection.

“My coaches say that’s the hardest thing they do, having to cut kids,” said Terry Cooper, athletic director of Mountain Brook Schools in Birmingham, Ala.

Unlike grades that can be raised over the year, team cuts are quick, blunt and final. In today’s parenting climate of positive reinforcement, not making the team may be the first time a child is told he is not good enough. What to say, then, to the sullen, sweaty child who slumps into the car outside the gym?

“Allow the kid to talk and find out where they’re at emotionally,” said John Murray, a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla. “If it’s a serious problem, find out from the coaches what to do next time.”

Murray cautions parents against lashing out at coaches too quickly. He likens trying out for sports to a job hunt. Rather than retaliate, ask what you would need to do to be considered next time.

Students might also want to consider the reasons they want to join the team.

“Sometimes I find it’s to be with friends, to please parents or to beat out others,” Murray said. “Parents should do their homework (because kids) may not be as exuberant about the sport as they think.”

From those conversations, create a backup plan. Whether it’s playing the sport on a team outside of school or finding a new sport, it’s important to stay in shape and not lose the athletic drive.

Cooper encourages those cut from selective teams to play “non-cut” sports such as cross-country. Mountain Brook Junior High can have as many as 200 students on cross-country, many of whom have been cut from other sports, but use running to train for next year’s team.

And remember, part of playing sports is learning how to lose, Murray says: “When you don’t succeed in reaching your objective, you learn more.”

ADVICE FOR PARENTS

Sports psychologist John Murray offers these tips for parents of students who may or may not make the team:

Be realistic: Before tryouts begin, make sure your child is going into it with a healthy perception of his or her skills and the possibility of not making the team.

Be a parent: Sports may teach toughness, but a child should still feel accepted at home. “Kids want to be loved for who they are, not what they do,” he said. Don’t add to the feeling of failure at home.

Keep a cool head: Before you call the coach, wait a few days and ask for objective feedback.

Keep it up: Encourage your child to use the season to build strength and skills with other teams or sports.

A backup plan: Talk about alternatives for physical activity outside school. I hope you enjoyed this article about sports psychology.

Granderson Decides to Visit the Swing Doctor

Wall Street Journal – August 13, 2010 – Brian Costa – KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Curtis Granderson was searching for answers.

More than four months into his first season with the Yankees, he arrived in Texas on Tuesday batting just .240 with 10 home runs, hardly resembling the All-Star he was just a year ago.

So when he approached Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long in the batting cage, he was ready to try just about anything.

“What would you suggest?” he said, according to Mr. Long. “I want to do something different.”

Slumping Curtis Granderson is working with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long to re-invent his swing.

That conversation is what sparked a series of hitting sessions over the last few days in which the two worked on what Mr. Long called “a total reformation of the swing.” Essentially, Mr. Granderson is trying to eliminate excess movement in every facet of his swing, from his hands to his hips.

It does not require an advanced degree in the science of hitting to see that something had to change. Mr. Granderson, acquired in a trade with the Detroit Tigers last winter, is having his worst season since he was a rookie in 2004.

Though his average is only slightly down from 2009, when he hit .249, he is on pace to finish well shy of the 30 home runs he hit last year. He entered Thursday with a .722 OPS, down from .780 last year and .858 two years ago.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is his struggle against left-handed pitchers, against whom he entered Thursday hitting just .206.

But making fundamental changes to a player’s swing this late in the season is a radical move. Even Mr. Long called it “a stretch” to change longstanding habits in a matter of days and weeks.

The question, then, is this: How quickly can a swing be overhauled?

Mr. Granderson downplayed the extent of the changes, saying, “It’s just trying to simplify everything.” But what he is working on with Mr. Long is clearly more than the routine adjustments that many hitters make during the course of a season.

Mr. Long compared it to the work he did with right fielder Nick Swisher after he hit just .128 in the playoffs last year. The difference, though, is that Mr. Swisher made the changes to his swing during the offseason. During the season, he likely could not have done what Mr. Granderson is attempting.

“I asked Swish, ‘Would this have worked with you?’ ” Mr. Long said. “He said, ‘I don’t know. It would have been very difficult.’ ”

Mr. Granderson was benched Tuesday and Wednesday, giving him extra time to work on his revamped swing. But mentally, there will likely be a longer adjustment period, according to John Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla.

“What was previously automatic is now having to be re-learned,” Mr. Murray said. “It’s almost like you’re going back to a beginner’s state of mind.”

Mr. Granderson said he has made changes of similar magnitude in midseason twice before, first when he was in the minors in 2004 and again when he was in Detroit in 2006.

Even if it is too late to save Mr. Granderson’s season, Mr. Long said they have little to lose in trying.

“Like he said,” Mr. Long said, “how much worse could it get?”

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into just another aspect of sports psychology.

See the Sports Psychology Archive of Dr. John F. Murray

Sports psychology benefits many. Enjoy this archive page of past newsletters and updates from the world of sports psychology from Dr. John F. Murray.

In this one link you will see the major recent activities including articles, updates, videos, radio and tv interviews and more … all dedicated to the pursuit of well being and high performance sports psychology.