Posts Tagged ‘mental performance index’

Mind Games: Making Sense of the Maryland Game

Sports Psychology Mind Games Column at Canesport.com – John F Murray – September 8, 2011 – 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.

September 5, 2011 – Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium – College Park, Maryland

Maryland Terrapins 32 (.508) Miami Hurricanes 24 (.475)

Hello Miami fans, football lovers, and perhaps some football haters after this first disappointing loss to Maryland to start the Golden era. I am disappointed, you are upset, and the rest of the football world is wildly celebrating UM’s stumble out of the gate feeling that Miami got just what it deserved after the NCAA violations.

Let’s not try to sugar coat this loss. It hurts a lot. But this is what sports is all about, taking the bad with the good and making it better. True winners never sulk. After a loss, they first try to deeply understand what happened, and then they suck it up, spit it out, and make positive changes and corrections based on their mistakes.

There is always another game, and with a talented group of starters returning for the Ohio State game in two weeks, there is huge opportunity for growth. Maybe even a big upset is on the horizon.

This column will help keep us focused on what is important and what we control, and that is simply the “process” and the “performance” on every single play rather than the “outcome,” whether the team won or lost, or whether Nevin Shapiro is smiling in his jail cell or some reporter is taking another shot at the Canes.

In my work with teams and athletes, I’ve found that the greatest progress often occurs right after a loss or a disappointing low period. Nothing gets an athlete’s or team’s attention more than losing. The good news is that you are never really as bad as you think you are … or as good as you think you are too, so the trick in sports is to be able to continually bring the passion and fire week in, week out to the present moment, and somehow learn to forget about results while practicing and competing. Pushing the envelope to get better in the most challenging of times pays off later in the season and also in upcoming years, too.

In this, my first post-game review using the Mental Performance Index on the Hurricanes’ team, you are introduced to a whole new way to analyze a football game with a new tool that is very effective in summarizing the truth of what actually happened – play-by-play in the physical and mental trenches of a football game.

I developed the Mental Performance Index (MPI for short) over eight years and it has proven incredibly powerful in teasing out the keys to victory or defeat in a football game.

The Index consists of 14 new statistics summarizing relative football performance for each team that played in a game against one another. The numbers always range from .000 to 1.000, so it is like a baseball batting average, but for a football team where .500 is a roughly average performance of a team.

In some ways the MPI scores are like an index of perfection, as a perfect team would score 1.000 theoretically (100% of perfection) and a team that did nothing at all good in a game would score .000. As Herman Edwards once said, “on every play somebody screws up” and it is has proven to be the case with MPI ratings. The range of the MPI total score in a game is almost always between .400 and .600. That means that as a whole most teams perform between 40% and 60% of perfection in a game, supporting Edwards’ claim.

There are about 150 plays in a football game multiplied times 11 players per team, or 1,650 chances per game for each team to mess up.

In my new book, the best performing Super Bowl team on Super Sunday scored at.591 as a team overall, so only at 59.1 percent of perfection. This sounds horrible, but playing a game at 60% of perfection is amazing and almost guarantees victory. The .591 mark would be well over the 95th percentile in terms of team performance.

On Monday night, for example, Miami scored a .475 while Maryland came in at .508 and won the game.

With a live view of the game supplemented often by a video of the game afterwards, and a written play-by-play account of every single play to check my work, I sit with my computer and meticulously rate the performance of each team on every play of the game. It usually takes about three hours. My computer automatically converts my ratings into a .000 to 1.000 metric. When I rate a play, I do so in a way that is extremely simple, football smart, statistically balanced, and consistent over the years. It is simple for me to capture the essence of how the teams did on the play, and I adjust for many factors such as pressure situations, clear mental mistakes, or clearly superior smart play.

It is a rating of how the teams did in the moment by moment analysis of every play. By rating every meaningful play in a game, I have obtained more data than any traditional statistic, and this provides me another advantage. The huge number of observations increases my statistical power and sensitivity to discover subtle differences.

In rating the games, I essentially reinforce precisely what I teach my athletes and teams as a sports psychologist, namely to stay focused and execute in every moment. They are encouraged to focus on process and performance in every instance, and not on outcome, and I score execution and performance in every instance, and not outcome or points.

There is no wiggle room for being careless or sloppy. The MPI is an index of perfection, and players’ mental mistakes, carelessness, and great focus will influence the scoring accordingly. There are no excuses for penalties and turnovers on the MPI and that is how it should be.

But many teams and players get distracted by all the fluff in this ADD culture that many athletes find themselves in. There are so many off-field distractions that a no-nonsense, hard-nosed emphasis on process and performance goals actually reduces pressure or fear for players, leading to reduced mistakes and better execution.

Some teams win a game after being outperformed by their opponents, and this can easily lead to overconfidence or lackadaisical preparation for the upcoming game. With MPI data, players would know how they actually played despite the fortunate win, and it would keep them hungrier in their fear of a letdown. Other teams win the battle in the trenches of moment by moment performance, but might lose a heartbreaker due to one or two rare plays or poor referee calls. These teams need to stay the course and be encouraged that they were doing everything right, but that the ball did not bounce their way.

After studying thousands of games, I have found that better performance usually wins the game, and it appears to be the case about nine out of 10 times. In my study of every Super Bowl for my recent book, “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” only four of the 45 winning teams were outperformed on the MPI. So this supports this rough 10% estimate of anomaly.

Since we do control performance, but not outcome, I am measuring only what is controllable and only what I tell my athletes to focus on. Any good sports psychologist will tell you that placing performance over outcome is a huge key to winning.

It is ironic that, by not focusing on winning, we actually win more … but it makes sense. This makes their lives a lot easier and it makes sense to know how you actually did despite the final score which is often inaccurate. The final score is an arbitrary number, not a scientifically verified indicator of how well a team played. Sure you need it to win the game, but you need to focus on doing well in the moment to score points, not focus on scoring points which is a distraction.

The 14 main MPI statistics that I created include:

(1) MPI Total (MPI-T) for overall team performance; (2) MPI Offense (MPI-O) for offensive performance alone; (3) MPI Defense (MPI-D) for defensive performance alone; (4) MPI Special Teams (MPI-ST) for special teams performance alone; (5) MPI Total Pressure (MPI-TP) for team performance in pressure situations; (6) MPI Offense Pressure (MPI-OP) for offensive performance in pressure situations; (7) MPI Defense Pressure (MPI-DP) for defensive performance in pressure situations.

The first 7 MPI statistics are expressed in terms of how a team performed in a game on a scale of .000 to 1.000 with .500 being roughly average performance. In addition to these seven statistics that describe the performance of just one team, as much as possible a relatively pure measure of team performance, I also created MPI difference statistics by calculating the scores on these seven MPI statistics of one team minus the opponent’s corresponding MPI statistic.

For example, the MPI Total Difference score is calculated by taking the MPI Total score of a team and subtracting the opponent’s MPI Total score resulting in a statistic that shows “dominance,” or how much better one team performed that day compared with their opponent.

These additional seven MPI statistics are as follows:

(8) MPI Total Difference (MPI-TD) for dominance of one team over another overall; (9) MPI Offense Difference (MPI-OD) for offensive dominance over an opponent’s defense; (10) MPI Defense Difference (MPI-DD) for defensive dominance over an opponent’s offense; (11) MPI Special Teams Difference (MPI-STD) for special teams dominance; (12) MPI Total Pressure Difference (MPI-TPD) = Total dominance in pressure; (13) MPI Offense Pressure Difference (MPI-OPD) = Offensive dominance in pressure; (14) MPI Defense Pressure Difference (MPI-DPD) for defensive dominance in pressure.

To do a complete analysis of a game, I do not stop with the MPI. I also look at the 14 most traditional statistics (e.g., net yards, turnovers, penalties…) to see if there are any notable results using an extensive set of norms I’ve developed. I can look at any one of the 14 MPI statistics or 14 traditional statistics and see where it fits along the normal distribution known as the normal or bell curve in statistics.

In fact, I will often report the statistic in percentiles as well as in a raw score so that you will understand more clearly what the score means and how extreme it is. For instance, you will see in the upcoming post-game report that Maryland gained 499 yards against Miami. This places them roughly in the 95th percentile on this factor, a quite impressive performance. Just so you understand percentiles, if there were 100 random teams selected for net yards gained, Maryland would have performed better than 95 of these teams when they reach the 95th percentile.

Pressure Offense and Defense on the MPI means those offensive plays and defensive plays that I define as pressure situations in a game. While there are exceptions based on play meaningfulness, it typically refers to plays that have a greater amount weighing on them … good examples are third and fourth down plays that are meaningful. In these instances, it has to happen for the teams on that one play. The offense needs a first down or they are forced to give up the ball. The defense has to stop the offense or they risk giving up more field position and possibly a score. So these “pressure” situations, as I define them and as I think anyone smart in football would define them, raise the stakes considerably.

It is analogous to a poker game where a double bet is made. More is riding on the play. Psychologically that means that the teams need to be able to cope with the potential pressure by playing well in these clutch situations. And doing so is evidence of high mental performance. So I have a way to reward teams a little more when they do well in pressure, and punish them a little more on the MPI when they do poorly in these critical moments where it “has to happen or else.” I isolate out just those pressure offense plays and pressure defense plays and the scores for pressure offense and pressure defense will show just that … how the offense did in just those pressure situations and how the defense did in just those pressure situations, and I also have a total pressure score which is how the entire team did in pressure.

It will not be a simple average of offense and defense because there are usually an uneven number of plays a team might run on offense and defense. The bottom line is that part of my madness (and it is quite simple) is to make sure that I measure those pressure situations too … because the greatest teams mentally seem to find a way to do better in critical moments. Make sense?

Sometimes my analysis will match exactly what the mainstream reporters are saying, but often I’ll add a slight twist or new insight that was not revealed. I only observe what happened on the field of play, and back it up by written play by play summaries, but I have a huge advantage in having taught statistics at the college and graduate school levels, in knowing mental performance and how to incorporate that in the scoring, and in knowing football too.

How shall we analyze this Maryland vs. Miami game? You might wonder if the game was played at a high quality level or not. To start, this was a game of overall below average quality performance as the combined MPI-T scores for each team (.475 + .508 = .983) fell below the 1.0 mark (an indicator of overall average performance).

Taking a broad look at the data, Maryland outperformed Miami on 5 of the 7 main MPI scores, and they did better in all the traditional statistics except for net yards rushing in which Miami was slightly better (172 to 151). No wonder they won the game too.

We next look at total performance of the teams (Total MPI Score) and it is clear that Maryland decisively outperformed the Hurricanes by a margin of .508 to .475. While Maryland’s overall performance was only slightly above average, the .475 posted by Miami is definitely below average. It is fair to say that this was a winnable game for Miami, or stated another way, Miami also beat themselves.

How did this happen? The most extreme statistics that jump out (residing on an extreme end of the bell curve distribution in statistics) are the combined negative impact of turnovers (4) and penalties (10) for Miami. This T + P = 14, a combined value that is horrendous, falls below the 5th percentile. I use T + P as one of the factors in my book on the Super Bowl and in my MPI game ratings because it is a great indication of sloppy, careless errors. But like others I also look at turnovers and penalties separately.

So if you had to isolate one factor as most responsible for this loss, it would have to be the mistakes Miami made in turnovers and penalties. Seeing this statistically and numerically at the 5th percentile or worse gives Coach Golden some real firepower in actual performance data and normative standards to encourage an improvement in protecting the ball and avoiding careless penalties before the Ohio State game.

Two turnovers for Miami resulted in Maryland scores, and these two straws broke the camel’s back, but there were a lot of other influences too as we shall see.

As previously stated, Maryland gained 499 yards in this game, and the Maryland offensive MPI score (.544) combined with Miami’s defensive MPI score (.424) illustrates this mismatch. Credit Danny O’Brien’s quarterback play and the 348 yards passing which was at the 90th percentile, but it had to hurt Miami to have so many starters on defense out of this game.

While Miami’s offense performed better than Maryland’s defense in this game (.479 to .467), it was a much smaller influence than Maryland’s offensive dominance over Miami’s defense. The mistakes on offense eliminate any need to celebrate, and since those scores were both below .500, we applaud even less. However, it does give Miami hope for the future once it learns to greatly reduce mistakes.

Interestingly, Miami’s special teams were the best unit on the field this day, and they destroyed Maryland’s special teams on the MPI .717 to .488. If this had not been the case, Maryland would have likely won this game in a much easier manner with better field position.

We should all credit Maryland for performing better in the clutch. The Terps outperformed Miami in total pressure situations .492 to .477, and their performance in offensive pressure situations (.574) shows that they earned a victory even if Miami also beat themselves with carelessness. My best guess is that inexperience was a major factor here.

In summary, Maryland clearly outperformed Miami in this game (and also won) largely due to their passing attack, especially in pressure situations, combined with Miami’s depleted defense. The most extreme and perhaps influential factor of all were the four turnovers and 10 penalties committed by Miami and the +3 Takeaway minus Giveaway statistic for Maryland, which had just one turnover.

I hope you have enjoyed this first game review after a more detailed explanation of the MPI and why it is so needed in football.

When I finished my most recent book, which is all about how I came up with the idea of the MPI, how society stigmatizes mental factors, and about how the Super Bowl teams would fare in a mythical competition pitting every one of the 90 teams against one another, a lot of top people in football stepped forward to help me with my mission.

When I ask you to drink the Kool Aid of the MPI, realize that it is mostly just hard-nosed and objective football with the benefits of science. Mental opportunities are everywhere if you open your eyes.

Eliminate those 14 huge mistakes or just reduce them to five and Miami would have won this game.

Imagine that.

Dr. John’s Maryland vs. Miami Game Lesson: “Don’t Beat Yourself”

The University of Miami had everything against them but still had a chance to win if they had just held onto the ball and reduced penalties. While Maryland earned this win, Miami fumbled the golden goose at the start of the Golden era.

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

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

Mind Games: Coping with NCAA Investigation

Canesport Publisher’s Note: Today we introduce a new feature to CaneSport.com and CaneSport Magazine called “Mind Games.” The column will be written 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 each week as the Hurricanes navigate through a new season. In this introductory column, Murray tells us a little bit about himself and the index and comments on the Hurricanes’ mental rebound from the distractions of the Nevin Shapiro controversy.

I am quite excited to write my first column for CaneSport. Growing up in South Florida I cheered for Hurricanes football in the dreary 60s and 70s right on through the exciting mid-80s. After traveling worldwide for six years in tennis, I returned to the USA to become a clinical and sports psychologist and I’m proud to write a sports psychology column for CaneSport and hope you’ll enjoy it.

This forum will allow me the opportunity to discuss the psychology of the team, and also serve as the launching pad for new insights into the Canes football performance each week. I will be unleashing a powerful and exciting tool that I developed over the past eight years and wrote about in my recently published book “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.”

This Mental Performance Index (or “MPI” for short) captures how well a football team performs with just one standardized statistic on a scale of .000 to 1.000 (like a team batting average), and for the first time including a “mental performance” component.

So the MPI adds enormous precision and comparisons never before possible. I’ll be sharing details of this more in my second column after the Maryland game when I use the MPI to quantify how the team actually performed. For now, just realize how excited I am to be absorbing everything related to Miami Hurricanes football. I hope that offering this unique service to CaneSport readers will make you the most informed fans in the country.

Getting back to the present day, I’d like to discuss in this first column how the Hurricanes football team is coping psychologically with the dark clouds of uncertainty caused by the assault by convicted swindler and traitor Nevin Shapiro.

Shapiro obviously had an axe to grind and showed his true team colors to be hatred and chaos for a program he supposedly loved. The university is reacting appropriately and cooperating fully with the investigation. I applaud UM for this, and for holding all students and coaches accountable for their actions. The U needs to first help the NCAA bring the truth to light.

Well needed integrity and leadership have been shown in comments by President Donna Shalala and coach Al Golden, and these two experienced leaders are a huge asset to UM during this period of pain and uncertainty. While the spotlight and scrutiny on the program could lead to some understandable distractions which reduce team performance, Miami is far from going under as a result of this, and I believe this team will only emerge stronger in the long-term.

This is a new era for Hurricane football, so it is ironic that the investigation comes when it does, but it might as well run its course so that the team can once and for all deal with it and begin with a fresh approach. It appears that some Miami players and coaches may have made some mistakes, but the idea of the death penalty is absurd and feelings of guilt amongst current players over the past are inane.

Booster violations are wrong, but Nevin was a master manipulator and Miami does not hold the monopoly on transgressions despite the impressions. Other programs have flaws too, and college players ought to be paid anyway in my opinion, but the history and tremendous success of UM football and the amazing allure of South Beach makes this a perfect storm for Miami haters.

What else is new? Everyone knocks a winner. It comes with the territory.

The way in which this team is coping so far is difficult to assess without being in on every team meeting or as a fly on the wall in the locker room, but what I’ve gathered from players and coaches indicates that this team is doing as well as any team possibly could in coping. The Hurricanes have had a huge target on their backs ever since they started winning … and even when they have not been winning in recent years. To many they are an evil empire on par with the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Steelers, Manchester United or Real Madrid.

Regardless of the legacy of the U, this is a totally new start with the Golden era, and the investigation poses a greater threat to reputation of a dynasty than the current reality. Sorry. You cannot rewrite a history of greatness, and possibly paying inappropriately for yacht outings, wild parties, or an abortion offers little advantage on the gridiron. If anything it could lead to laziness and distractions. Football is a sport won in the trenches play by play through the sweat and grit, pain and dedication of warriors devoted to a cause. Say what you want about the transgressions of past players or teams, but the Hurricanes earned their titles and respect the old-fashioned way, not through trickery and mirrors.

Back to the present, I’m quite impressed with the way Al Golden appears to be managing the mess. Golden was a huge success at Temple and he is doing and saying all the right things by setting a great example for this team in encouraging them to focus on details. He is known as having extensive plans for every aspect of the team, and he seems positive and optimistic. He encourages an almost tunnel vision focus and was preaching distraction management months before Nevingate popped up its head out of the slime.

Practices have been cut-throat for the many open positions and there appears to be an intensity and teamwork approach that has only grown as a result of the US versus THEM reality. I agree with Gary Ferman’s assessment that it’s really just about the “us” rather than the “them” and players appear to understand that there is no need for worry about things they cannot control.

Time will tell if Golden is the answer to what this team needs, but the comments out of camp are so far exemplary. The investigation will yield whatever it yields, and there is nothing current players or coaches can do about it. Even more, I believe this investigation will bring the team closer together than it would have been without it!

The psychology of how a team copes with the ongoing stress and scrutiny of an NCAA investigation is an interesting reality. It probably has the potential to distract those players being investigated the most, but minimizing the carnage depends on the leadership of coaches and administrators.

What I keep hearing tells me that this team is far from devastated, and maybe even more inspired. In my work with athletes, the best competitive results rarely occur by making practices and imagery easy. Rather, encouraging an athlete or team to cope with remarkable stress is often the ticket to success.

By promoting a unified message of teamwork and by helping the team bond even more because the whole world is against them, Golden is cleverly building a stronger team. You see this in history in the way new governments often shake off the distractions of the past or overcome old enemies with a new battle cry, and the result is that the group or team comes to a new level of independence and self-reliance.

Al Golden encourages his team to “execute the process” according to an earlier CaneSport article. He is right on track, in my view as a sports psychologist, in helping his players perform at their very best. In fact, I will be assessing how well the team “executes the process” in my next column, because that is precisely what the Mental Performance Index measures.

In early 2000 when I kept telling my athletes to focus on performance and process and not on outcome or winning, I realized that I would need a way to measure how well they were doing that, and the MPI was eventually born. No matter how many players are deemed ineligible, Miami will find 11 players to line up against Maryland on both offense and defense, and I will be there analyzing every play to see how well those players on the field perform. We’ll then know if the players are really buying into Al Golden’s message.

Ideals thrown around by the UM football team include tunnel vision, focus on football, honesty, goals, leadership, discipline, optimism and teamwork. Many of these qualities were absent in recent years on the field, but this is a new season, a new start, and no matter how badly anyone wants to destroy this program, resiliency appears to be prevailing.

There is a new hope despite all the allegations and investigations, and I hope my column and the MPI ratings each week help this team to further focus on doing the right things both on and off the field.

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

For Immediate Release

Miami Hurricanes Publication Adds Sports Psychology Column for 2011 Football Season that will Highlight Team’s Physical and Mental Performance Each Week

Miami, FL – August 9, 2011 – America’s foremost authority on Miami Hurricane Sports, the 20-year-old publication known as “Canesport,” recently brought Palm Beach sports psychologist Dr. John F Murray aboard to write a weekly column on Hurricane football throughout the 2011 season. For the first time in the history of a sports column, the “mental performance” of a team will be carefully evaluated and quantified throughout a season. The column will aim to be friendly, easy to read, and uniquely informative. However, Murray also explains that he wants Canesport readers to be the smartest and most well informed football fans in the country.

Murray’s new column will be derived from his own quantitative analysis of every meaningful play in every Hurricanes game, giving readers insight that is not available elsewhere. This is the same approach that Dr. Murray used in reporting on all 45 Super Bowls in his new book, “The Mental Performance Index, Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” (World Audience, Inc., www.JohnFMurray.com). The big finding in the book is that, the new MPI statistic correlates with winning and performance in the Super Bowl more than any other traditional team performance statistic. The message for coaches and teams is to begin measuring team mental performance, and also training players in these areas to stay ahead.

This book is the culmination of eight years of research and introduces a new statistic, the MPI, that captures team performance more accurately than before possible because it includes mental performance as well. “This new column that will appear after every football game in Canesport (www.canesport.com) is both cutting edge and groundbreaking,” said Murray. “It will appeal to the diehard fan who thirsts for more information about the Canes, and it will help inform everyone in football.”

Dr. Murray, once dubbed “the Freud of Football” by the Washington Post, works with elite athletes and teams in his private practice. Tom Flores, two-time Super Bowl winning head coach of the Oakland and LA Raiders, writes in the foreword: “Dr. Murray’s Mental Performance Index can be and will be the next part of sports evolution in the 21st Century.”

Pro football hall of fame sportscaster Lesley Visser also supports the MPI, and Visser writes the epilogue on the genius of Bill Walsh. Don Shula also provided a quote for the book from his coaching days.

For Further Information or interviews:

John F Murray, PhD
Telephone: 561-596-9898
Web: http://www.JohnFMurray.com

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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.

Dimension VIII: Why Bill Walsh was so Great as 49ers Head Coach

When I wrote “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” I knew that Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers were good, but I did not know how good until I crunched all the data and ranked the teams from 1-90. It would turn out that the 49ers teams own 3 of the top 6 spots of all time in terms of performance on Super Sunday. Much of this was the doing of the late great coach Bill Walsh.

I met and befriended Lesley Visser as I was getting ready to go over to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympic games. We shared a common interest in tennis and football, and she was very excited about my upcoming book and offered to write the epilogue. She wanted to write it about Bill Walsh, whom she had known from her many NFL broadcasts, and I was thrilled. She did a terrific job and you can now read about what made this man so enormously successful as a coach.

For example, you will read that while Walsh projected an image as the intellectual professor, and did not like to yell at his players, he was anything but soft. In fact, he was an amateur boxer and he liked to study the intricate moves of Mohammed Ali, and he used the principles he learned from boxing (like coaching his team’s offensive and defensive lines to always explode off the ball faster than the opponent) to make his team better.

Lesley Visser is the only female in the pro football Hall of Fame, and she has a resume as a broadcaster that is too long for this page. I know you will love her epilogue and learn more about the genius and ferocity of Walsh when you read “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.”

I hope you enjoyed learning more about this book focused on sports psychology.

Dimension VII: Daily Lessons Learned from Super Bowls

I am the author of ““The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History”“and you might be surprised to learn that this book is not only about football and sports psychology.

When I wrote this book, I wanted to do something similar to what I did in my first book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game,” and that is to give the reader something to take home and use to better their life.

The NFL Super Bowl is perhaps the most competitive game played every year and it is played on the biggest stage of all with billions of viewers from all over the world. Talk about pressure! I figured that if I could dissect what the keys to success in each one of these games were, I would then be able to provide people all over the world my findings so that they could improve their lives by reading the book and learning from the success principle that was taught on the natural stage of Super Bowl Sunday.

In this new book you will see these 45 lessons for success appear in the text and then again all together in a useful list for the reader at the end of the book. Learn from the biggest competitive arenas the world has known and apply these 45 lessons to your own self improvement.

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

What it Took to Become a Sports Psychologist

Sports Psychology Commentary – John F. Murray – July 31, 2011 – Hello everyone. I get a lot of students contacting me every year about the profession and science of sports psychology, and I try to get back to them all. Often they will ask me what school to go to or what the requirements are to become a sports psychologist, and it is this latter question that I will try to answer as briefly as possible here. I also recently posted this kind of message in an amazon.com discussion forum on the topic as I was promoting my two sports psychology books “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” and “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.”

Back in the 1980s I was a tennis pro and was coaching the sport worldwide. In around the mid-1980s we started putting on mental training sessions for our tennis clientele, and sports psychology to me then was what was contained in books such as the Inner Game of Tennis, Flow, and books for specific mental training in particular sports. I was fascinated by the subject, and with a bachelors degree in psychology I decided to go back to graduate school and become a sports psychologist. I left a great career in tennis when I returned to America in 1990 and enrolled at the University of Florida Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences in the Spring of 1991 to become a sports psychologist.

As I got into their great program there, and played tennis almost daily with the department chair Bob Singer, I quickly learned that if I was going to realize my dreams of becoming a practicing sports psychologist, I would need to also first become a licensed psychologist. The exercise science folks were great academically, but there was simply no training model in place to train sports psychologists within academic sports science programs. By contrast, psychology had been doing it for 50 plus years.

So after a masters degree specializing in sports psychology, I enrolled in the Fall of 1992 at the University of Florida’s Department of Clinical and Health Psychology. They were also excellent and they were able to provide me not only the overall background I needed in psychology to understand, assess, and treat problems clinically, but the only way you are going to become any kind of practicing psychologist (I wanted to do it rather than research it) then and today is by getting a state license, and that requires graduation from a psychology doctoral program. Thankfully, they allowed me to continue to pursue my passion for sports psychology, and I conducted my PhD dissertation on the football team that won the national title in 1996.

The following year I went on internship, and was able to secure the only APA approved internship in the country that had a full year rotation in applied sports psychology at Washington State University. I came back after that year, defended my dissertation, and then realized that in order to become a sports psychologist (or any kind of psychologist) there was still a requirement to complete 2000 hours of supervised clinical work after the PhD. So I secured a postdoctoral fellowship at Florida International University and after 14 months had the required hours, sat for the licensing exam and passed it, and became an officially licensed psychologist (and sports psychologist too since my academic and practical training was also in that area).

If you are exhausted having read all that, imagine how I felt in this pursuit from 1991 to 1999! The clear reality is that there is a way to become a legitimate sports psychologist. I have done it. But it takes almost forever. Why should this be surprising? To be able to best understand human beings, it makes sense to study human beings (and not just athletes). To know athletes it also makes sense to study athletes, sports sciences, and all those good things. Elite athletes have worked their entire lives to be able to play a sport, so it makes sense that we sports psychologists have to grind too … at least our athlete clients will respect us better as we know the value of sacrifice and dedication the way they do to get to the top.

While there is room for everyone to help athletes in some way or another, the truth is that becoming a sports psychologist is a daunting proposition that requires years of hard work, financial delays, luck, and creativity. I stayed with it because I was extremely passionate, and I am glad I did. But if you miss either the sports science side of the equation or the psychology side, you are missing too much, and you are not really going to be fully qualified as a sports psychologist.

It is true that the bare minimum to use the title in most every state is a psychology license to practice, and that is the hardest part to acquire because you have to go through a formal psychology program which takes 5 years overall at a minimum and requires a very high score on the GRE to get into the program in the first place. I was low, as I only scored 1300 which was around the 95th percentile then from what I can recall. Some say that doctoral programs in psychology are harder to get into than medical school. But even with the psychology training and license, you cannot open shop independently and hold yourself out to the public as a sports psychologist without the course work and other academics in the sports psychology/sports sciences realm as well as a ton of supervision by another qualified and licensed sports psychologist! To do so otherwise would violate the ethical requirement to practice within your established area of competence and training.

In any event, my book Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game (Smart Sport Series) aims at helping tennis players and all athletes really to play the game better mentally, whereas my book just released this year The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History is a much more comprehensive book that is part auto-biography, part new discovery, part social change agent, part football lover’s guide to the Super Bowl, and part coaches manual for success with a team. I think you will love this latest book and you will also like Smart Tennis if you want to improve performance in a specific sport.

I know that was a long one, and I am sorry if some of you had to go take a bathroom break before finishing 🙂 … but I wanted to share my story – and I go into great depth about all this in The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History … the bottom line is anyone who is ambitious and bright enough can become a sports psychologist, but your really need almost 10 years to do it right. There are very few practicing sports psychologists like myself out there, so it’s hard to gain the supervision … but it is a great profession and I am daily stimulated by a variety of challenges.

Thanks for listening!

John F Murray, PhD
Clinical & Sports Psychologist &
Author of The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History
Author of Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game (Smart Sport Series)

I hope you enjoyed that little trip into the world of education and sports psychology.

Dimension V: Why Coaches Often Avoid Sports Psychology

I am the author of ““The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History”” which gets into the topic of why coaches and teams often avoid sports psychology to their own detriment.

The truth is that there are deep historical roots behind this stance, so this book makes an effort to understand the biases and remove wrong assumptions so that sports psychology is more accepted and user friendly as simply the science of success.

The book also introduces a paradigm shift in sports by showing how essential mental coaching and mental performance is to winning. Extensive data to back up the assertions is cited, and this data was produced only after carefully analyzing every play in Super Bowl history. In this way, the book is quite useful to the mental health care provider or sports scientist who is trying to help, and also useful to the coach in order to provide another perspective that will help his or her team. The author did his graduate work at University of Florida’s Department of Clinical and Health Psychology as well as their Department of Health and Human Performance, so he offers a rare view that covers both the sports sciences that emerged from academic departments of physical education, and the more traditional psychology with roots way back to the 19th century.

There are many reasons why for centuries the mental part of daily life took a back seat to the physical, but when you examine it more closely from a neuropsychological perspective you come to realize that “mental” is very much physical and real, and in fact more real than the more limited actions or body movements that are an invention of the brain, mind, and mental activity. The practical coach and athlete as well as the deep thinker and academician will appreciate “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” and see the world in a slightly different way after taking the time to invest in the discoveries made.

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

Dimension IV: A New Finding in Sports Science and Football

I am the author of ““The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History”” which discusses a shocking realization and an important scientific discovery in team sports. It is something that should over the years (as this book becomes more and more distributed and understood) really support sports psychology and the mission of sports psychologists, and help coaches and teams win much more too if they adopt the learning! Can you tell that I am excited?

While “The Mental Performance Index” is the title of a book, it is also the name of a new statistic that I invented for football. Before this book, football team mental performance, and in fact all team mental performance, was simply never measured professionally, accurately or at all. By measuring this in all 45 Super Bowls played from 1967 to 2011, I made the incredible discovery that this measure of performance (which includes mental performance in a total measure of performance) is what separates winning teams from losing teams. The factor appears to be even more important than points scored or given up.

The shocking realization is that we had overlooked something so critical to success forever, but when we looked at it professionally it correlated with winning more than any other statistic! It was better than all the other traditional stats for football team performance. That is what I mean by a scientific discovery in team sports. After this book finally gets around, the world should never really be exactly the same in sports or sports psychology.

Dimension III: 4-Time Super Bowl Winning Tom Flores’ Take on the MPI

I am the author of ““The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History”” which is supported by 4-Time Super Bowl winning coach and player Tom Flores, who wrote the forward to the book. He has an interesting view about the MPI and sports psychology and I wanted you to know it.

I chose Tom Flores for my forward (and was thrilled when he accepted) because I wanted to find the most successful people in Super Bowl history to get behind the book and concepts. Tom Flores fit the bill well. Flores has a perfect 4-0 record in Super Bowls, making him unquestionably one of a handful of the most successful persons in NFL history. He is the only one to win a Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach, and two times as a head coach with the Oakland & Los Angeles Raiders.

Flores has been around football for over 50 years, so it should be very interesting to hear his views. In my book “The Mental Performance Index,” Flores writes the following in his forward: “Dr. Murray has developed a system that is part of the evolution of football: The ability to identify, quantify and utilize a grading system that will aid coaches and players. It is a method of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of every aspect of a team and or individual. It is a system that can point out the direction needed for improvement. Sports have come a long way in the past century. The future, compared to the past, is vast. Innovation was frowned upon for years but not any longer. Teams, coaches and players are always looking for an edge and a way to stay ahead of the field. Dr. Murray’s Mental Performance Index can be and will be the next part of sports evolution in the 21st Century.”

For more information about this book and what Tom Flores has to say, please scroll back up and click on the link to the book. And by the way, if Tom Flores is not in the Hall of Fame soon, there is something terribly wrong with that picture. Enjoy the book!

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