Posts Tagged ‘sports psychologist’

Wanted: Insane Tennis Parents

Slate Magazine – Huan Hus – June 2, 2009 – The only way to end America’s Grand Slam drought – With Andy Roddick’s loss at the French Open on Monday, American men have now failed to take the title in 22 straight Grand Slam tournaments, extending the longest dry spell in U.S. tennis history. This stretch of futility, coupled with a dearth of young talent on the women’s side, prompted the United States Tennis Association to overhaul its player development system last year, introducing a host of initiatives such as regional residential training centers, a new roster of national coaches to scout and train prospects, and an increased budget (upward of $100 million over the next 10 years). The plan is comprehensive and ambitious, intended to produce the next Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and Venus Williams. Unfortunately for the USTA, national organizations with comprehensive mission statements don’t produce tennis champions. Crazy tennis parents do.

Consider the Williams sisters. As the story goes, their father, Richard, upon learning of the lucre that women’s tennis offered, decided to make his next two kids into tennis pros. That his wife, Oracene, didn’t want any more children was a minor obstacle—he simply hid her birth-control pills. He taught himself the game, coaching his protégés on rotten courts where their sessions were sometimes interrupted by gunfire before shipping them to a Florida tennis academy for refinement. While his girls racked up Grand Slams (17 singles titles and counting), he made headlines with his histrionic antics at tournaments, erratic ramblings, and general weirdness—he insisted on meeting his daughters’ first hitting coach at a public carwash because he believed the FBI had bugged his car and house.

Obsessive, overbearing, and downright insane parents are not a new phenomenon in tennis, nor are they uniquely American. Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen was the product of a taskmaster father who withheld jam for her bread if she practiced badly. Under Daddy Lenglen’s tutelage, and occasionally fortified with the cognac-soaked sugar pieces he provided during matches, Lenglen won 31 Grand Slam titles between 1914 and 1926. In 2000, Jelena Dokic’s father and coach, Damir, who has admitted to hitting Jelena (“for her sake”), achieved three legs of an ignominious Grand Slam, getting ejected from the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. Since Jelena cut ties with him, he’s threatened to kidnap her and drop a nuclear bomb on Australia, where his daughter now lives. Maria Sharapova’s father, Yuri Sharapov, is currently so reviled for his cheating (blatant coaching during matches) and belligerence (making a throat-slitting gesture from the stands) that Anastasia Myskina refused to play in the Federation Cup if her countrywoman was named to the Russian team.

In 2001, June Thomas wondered at how women’s tennis has grown ever younger and more popular—but Mike Steinberger argued that there just aren’t enough great female tennis players out there. Anne Applebaum asked where all of Russia’s gorgeous tennis stars come from. Huan Hsu bemoaned the destruction of his promising tennis career at the hands of Chinese-American stereotype Michael Chang.

Why are so many tennis parents unhinged, and why are they so successful at incubating talent? While sociopathy—the utter lack of a conscience—undermines a society, it happens to be really useful on court. Florida-based sports psychologist John F. Murray likens the stress of the game to combat, and the late David Foster Wallace once wrote that tennis “is to artillery and airstrikes what football is to infantry and attrition.” It’s no coincidence that three notorious tennis fathers—Stefano Capriati, Mike Agassi, and Roland Jaeger—were trained as boxers. Great players reduce their opponents to targets that must be eliminated. This was the impulse Gloria Connors (the rare insane tennis mom) was encouraging when she taught her son Jimmy to try to knock the ball down her throat “because … if I had the chance, I would knock it down his”; when Mike Agassi positioned Andre at midcourt and blasted him with close-range shots; when Jim Pierce screamed, “Kill the bitch!” during one of his daughter Mary’s matches.

Arthur Ashe once remarked that if he didn’t play tennis, he’d probably have to see a psychiatrist. After all, you have to be somewhat crazy to submit to the itinerant lifestyle and brutal competitiveness of professional tennis, where only about 10 percent of the ranked players break even. “If you want to win the French Open, which is like desert warfare, you better darn well have a Jim Pierce beating you into the ground … so long as it’s not abusive,” says Murray, the sports psychologist. (For the record, Pierce was abusive. Mary claims he would slap her when she lost matches.) Murray also notes that the pathology of tennis parents often belies a certain genius, such as Charles Lenglen’s decision to eschew the demure playing style of women in his time in favor of training Suzanne against men, and Gloria Connors’ insistence on teaching Jimmy a two-fisted backhand in an era of one-handers.

For a long time, the USTA seemed to recognize that its role in developing American champions was to stand aside and leave the training to parents and Svengali coaches like Nick Bollettieri and Rick Macci. (In 1987, Bollettieri’s finishing school had an astonishing 32 players in the main draw of Wimbledon.) But in 1986, with Connors and John McEnroe aging and no obvious American successors on the scene, a panicked USTA launched its player-development program. (Disclosure: I worked for the USTA for a few years during and after college.) The methods—an infusion of money to support new regional training centers and national coaches—will sound familiar to anyone who followed last year’s renovation. Since that first attempt at resuscitation, the development program has been defined not by its production of Grand Slam champions (zero) but by the continual formulation of new plans: The department was revamped in 1995, 2001, 2003, and 2008.

While the bloated, bureaucratic USTA sputtered, tennis parents continued to spawn champions. Leading the way was Mike Agassi, a self-described “crazy Iranian from Las Vegas who browbeat his kids into mastering tennis.” Mike indoctrinated his son Andre by hanging a tennis ball over his crib and taping a pingpong paddle to his hand. Stefano Capriati boasted that his daughter Jennifer was doing sit-ups as a baby and had a racket in her hand as soon as she could walk. Though Jim Pierce had no tennis background, he pulled daughter Mary out of school to train her full-time, working her up to eight hours a day, sometimes until midnight. He also punched a spectator at the 1993 French Open and was so unruly that he led the women’s tour to add a provision for the banning of abusive players, coaches, and relatives. (In an act of solidarity, Richard Williams later called him “one of the best parents I have ever known.”)

The approaches of these tennis tyrants may have been objectionable and the psychological damage they inflicted on their children immense. Nevertheless, these parents had a plan, and they stuck to it. They spent time and money and energy and didn’t have to clear their decisions with a committee, answer to a board of directors (or even their spouses), or worry about overtraining or being fair to other players. And the expectations they put on their children, however misguided or unrealistic, originated from a resolute belief in their ability to become champions. Richard Williams’ biggest achievement is not teaching his daughters how to hit forehands and backhands but inculcating them with, in the words of 1990 Wimbledon finalist Zina Garrison, the “strength, confidence, and arrogance you need to become the top player in the world.”

It’s no surprise that the USTA would try to cultivate star players—the organization doesn’t have much to gain from acknowledging that it has nothing to do with producing Grand Slam winners. The reality, though, is that rational coaches and trainers with sensible development plans can never compete with the designs of an obsessed parent. The success of self-taught tennis players turned coaches such as Williams, Capriati, and Bollettieri—the famed coach didn’t pick up a racket until college—reveals that it doesn’t take long-tenured gurus and well-structured organizations to teach the game. Tennis consists of only a handful of basic strokes and strategies. As such, parents who wouldn’t dare try to teach, say, golf can read a book, watch a few videos, and give capable instruction. What separates the best players from their peers isn’t superior teaching. It’s maniacal devotion.

It’s no accident that three of ESPN’s 10 worst sports relatives (Dokic, Pierce, and Peter Graf) are tennis parents. The ugly truth is that for the United States to produce another Andre Agassi or Venus Williams, some crazed dad is going to have to add his name to that list. In its quest to develop a new generation of champions, the USTA would do well to remember the words of Robert Lansdorp, the former coach of Sampras and Lindsay Davenport. “The basic principle is the same,” he said. “Every person who has made it in this game, Americans or foreign, it has been the parents who were behind it.”

Sports Psychologist Comments: Keeping Local Racing Prodigy Logano On Track

Sports Psychologist Commentary: Hartford Courant – Shawn Courchesne – February 9, 2009 – Joey Logano was 7, racing Quarter Midget cars in Meriden, already saying he was going to be on the NASCAR circuit someday. And that he would challenge his favorite driver, Jeff Gordon, at racing’s highest level.

The kid may have been cocky, but here he is, at 18, ready to make his debut at the Daytona 500 next Sunday for Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano will be the youngest driver in the 51-year history of the race.

The buildup to his arrival in the Sprint Cup Series has been unmatched in NASCAR history. So far, he has excelled at every level. So far, he has not burned out. So far, the only headlines he has made have been for his racing.

In the history of sports, far too many have not been able to handle the pressure of being the child prodigy.

“I think for him, with the racing, he’s going to take his lumps. There’s a learning curve,” said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing and son of the team’s owner and namesake. “I think he’s shown he has a gift, though. … He’s going to get this figured out pretty quick.”

Sometimes the on-track part is the easiest, though.

“The racing, for these guys, they love it, but sometimes the off-track stuff can really be a problem,” Gibbs said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job, though, working with [sponsor] Home Depot and everybody else involved in laying out a calendar way ahead of time that helps to make all this go better and try to keep some level of normalcy.”

Logano won his first national championship in Quarter Midget racing at 7. At 12, he was racing against adults in full-size stock cars. At 15, he was part of a bidding war for his services between some of the most powerful organizations in NASCAR, a battle won by Joe Gibbs Racing.

In 2006, at 16, he won in his debuts in NASCAR’s regional minor league Camping World East and Camping World West Series. Last June, he became the youngest driver to win in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series, one step below the top level Sprint Cup.

Then, last August, Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Logano would replace two-time Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart in its No. 20 car after Stewart decided to leave the team.

Though Logano and his family decline to reveal how much he makes each year, those familiar with the financial workings of the sport estimate that he could earn upward of $3 million in his rookie season.

This success story is unparalleled in racing. The closest comparison in recent years is that of Casey Atwood, called the next Jeff Gordon by some when he entered the Sprint Cup Series full time at 20 in 2001 for car owner Ray Evernham. After the 2002 season, he never again ran a full season in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions.

“I think if you ask Casey, he would tell you that he underestimated the demands and what it really took to go Cup racing, the commitment that was needed,” Evernham said. “Casey could drive the car, but he wasn’t prepared for all the work that went along with being in that position.”

Crossroad

This is a crucial time for Logano.

“I’ve worked with many prodigy tennis players and golfers who have similar backgrounds as [Logano],” said Dr. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist. “An 18-year-old is just out of adolescence, and that’s typically the time that you’re learning important social skills. When you’re suddenly thrust into a profession where the demands are so much more than just participating in the sport, the effects can be tremendous on a young person.

“You’ll see them dealing with a sense of entitlement that comes with having been so successful in everything they’ve done. You’ll also often see them reach a point where they become more independent, and there’s a tension that develops between the lines of authority and their feelings about how they got to where they are and wanting to make their own decisions with themselves and their money, causing strained divides between parents or principal authorities in their career.”

Having sponsorship deals with major corporations like Home Depot and Coca-Cola come with responsibilities that not only include hundreds of appearances away from the track each year but also representing those companies properly in the public eye 24 hours a day.

Tom Logano, Joey’s father, said his son is prepared.

“I think he’s very level-headed, but he’s still a kid behind closed doors,” Tom Logano said. “He’s a goofy kid. You see that in his personality, but I think he’s surrounded by the best of the best, and I think he’s got his head screwed on straight.”

Room To Grow

J.D. Gibbs said they’ve modified some of the normal demands to lighten the load for Logano.

“In doing our planning with the companies we’re working with, we’ve blocked out time for him to be with his family and relax and not be on the go-go-go during his off-the-track time,” J.D. Gibbs said. “I think, for the most part, you’re better off focusing on the racing and not getting too worn out physically or mentally.

“People have to remember, he was with us when he was 15, and he was phenomenal then. He was great when he was 16. He was great when he was 17. People say we’re pushing him now and we’re doing things we shouldn’t be doing. If we hadn’t seen what we needed to see over the past three years, he wouldn’t be where he is now. You’ve got to take the big picture that he’s been getting ready for this for a long time.”

Still, the schedule can be overwhelming. Take Friday, for instance. There were Coca-Cola and Goodyear Tire photo shoots, ARCA RE/MAX qualifying, media interviews and Budweiser Shootout practices.

Evernham said the support system is there for Logano to avoid the pitfalls that left Atwood’s career crumpled like a car in a Daytona wreck.

“I don’t care what anybody says. At 18, you can’t know what to expect when you get into this,” Evernham said. “Certainly he knows what to expect out of a race car. He’s gotten this far doing that. The life lessons that he’s going to have to learn are about picking and choosing priorities, and that could be tough. He’s going to have 10,000 more things to worry about in his life now than he did last year. But around him are a great family and Joe Gibbs and J.D. Gibbs, who are two of the most well-organized and qualified people in professional sports.”

Tom Logano said he and J.D. Gibbs have talked about hiring a sports psychologist to counsel Logano.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Tom Logano said. “Heck, yeah. So much of sports is in your head.”

Joey Logano said he’s willing to try anything that is supported by his family or the Gibbs team.

“I don’t know what a sports psychologist does or what it would be about,” he said. “But if it was something the people around me thought would help, I would definitely do it.”

His biggest hurdle might simply be dealing with defeat. He’s not used to it.

“This is the top level,” Logano said. “You aren’t going to go out there and run great right off the bat. I know there’s a learning curve. As long as you mentally know that, it is what it is. This is all top dogs. I was a top dog in the other places, but you take the top dog from every level and this is what you get, right here, the Sprint Cup Series. I’m just one of the guys now.”

“When you’re suddenly thrust into a profession where the demands are so much more than just participating in the sport, the effects can be tremendous on a young person.” Dr. John F. Murray, sports psychologist

The Mental Side of the 2009 Sony Ericsson Open Tennis Tournament

Florida Tennis Magazine – May, 2009 Issue – By John F Murray, Ph.D. – Smart Tennis Sports Psychology Workshop in London June 19 and 20 – Sponsored by The Bulldog Club (the finest bed and breakfast in hand picked private homes around London) and the Sutton Tennis Academy (the best tennis academy in England), Dr. John F. Murray will conduct his 8th year of sports psychology workshops on the weekend before Wimbledon in London. Tennis players and coaches of all levels are encouraged to attend on one of two days, June 19 or 20, where they will receive a full power-point presentation on mental skills, training and exercises in classroom and on court, a relaxation/imagery session, an individual mental skills evaluation, a personally signed copy of the top selling tennis psychology book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game,â€? and a full year of follow-up mental coaching support with Dr. Murray by email. If you will be anywhere near the UK on the weekend before Wimbledon, you will not want to miss this exciting annual event. Celebrities and touring pros often attend. To book your place, please contact Dr. Murray at 561-596-9898 or send an email to johnfmurray@mindspring.com.

The 2009 Sony Ericsson Open once again lived up to its billing as the 5th best tournament of the year, and there were two surprise champions. Fans feasted on their usual blend of superb entertainment, tropical sunshine, and South Florida style. There is no better place in the world in March!

This month we examine some of the mental highs and lows as we stroll through the draws of the winners. Andy Murray, who’s been training extensively in South Florida, took the men’s title, cruising in from the #4 seed. The thrilling Brit only two weeks before had lost a heartbreaker in the finals of Indian Wells to Rafael Nadal. He won 11 of 12 matches in an unbelievable run! I enjoyed emailing back and forth with Andy’s mother and top British tennis coach, Judy Murray, who endorses my sports psychology workshops in London every year. Andy would rise to the top here with unheard of ball control and rapidly maturing mental skills. Over in the ladies side, 11th seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus surprised the world by shocking #2 seed Serena Williams in the finals after other top seeds Safina, Jankovic, and Dementieva fell by the wayside. I’m going to have to pull out my Russian dictionary to write this article! Now let’s now examine some of the mental skills on display.

Men’s Draw

Andy Murray received a bye in the first round before coming back to knock off Juan Monaco of Argentina 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the second round. He played erratically in the first set, but pulled from solid resilience in hanging in there, improving the quality of his play, and closing it out when he had to. In the third round, Murray bounced back again after starting 0-3 to Massu of Chile. The resilient control artist clawed and clawed back, and was also helped by an extremely rare four double faults in a row served up by the Chilean. In the fourth round, Murray had little trouble dispatching an angry 6’4’ Serbian Viktor Troicki 6-1, 6-0. Troicki cursed repeatedly in his native language and lost total composure, only hastening his annihilation. Next up was the mighty 7th seed Fernando Verdasco of Spain who had beaten Murray at the Australian Open earlier this year. With an eye for an eye on his mind, Murray refused to allow his confidence to dip from past results. He quickly destroyed the Spaniard 6-1, 6-2 whose body language was atrocious throughout the match. This set up a grudge semi-final match between Murray and 5th seed Juan Martin Del Potro, as both players had claimed gamesmanship in past matches. Murray focused much better on the battlefield and survived a 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 thriller. Del Potro later explained it away that he was tired after his match with Nadal. While this may be true, it’s never a good idea to make justifications and excuses after, as this rarely promotes future mental toughness. In the finals, Murray equaled fellow UK national Tim Henman’s 11 titles by rolling over Djokovic 6-2, 7-5. Amazing fitness and finesse were the order of the day as Murray played to start, then refused to be discouraged after down a break in the second. I emailed Judy Murray to send her and her son a big congrats and she replied to me that “we Murray’s need to stick together.â€? While everyone is saying that Andy can be the next Wimbledon champion, I have a warning. I know he can do it, but don’t fall for the hype Andy. You don’t need that kind of pressure. Just keep playing great tennis and your career will take care of itself!

Women’s Draw

Nineteen year old Victoria Azarenka is one of the hottest stars on the tour with all 3 of her career titles coming this year (Brisbane, Memphis, and now Key Biscayne). After watching her play, I believe she might dominate tennis soon. She had a temper problem early in her career and is starting to gain greater mastery over her feelings. She sure did this week. Despite her success this year, many would not know who she is in a lineup, but that is changing fast. After a first round bye she eased past the Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-2, showing great poise and patience in some very tough points. She dispatched another Russian, Anna Chakvetadze 6-1, 6-4 in the third round, and again kept her cool in tight spots. The waltz continued in the fourth and fifth rounds as she mopped up Hungary’s Agnes Szavay 6-2, 6-4, and Australia’s Samantha Stosur, 6-1, 6-0. Her powerful two handed backhand combined with a positive energy and aggressive play often gave her first strike advantage over her foes. Onto the semi-finals where she would face the higher ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova. It would be “the biggest win of my career’ said the teenager after her victory. The match lingered 2 hours and 40 minutes in the sweltering heat, but Azareka controlled her nerves and emotions to win the big points and force a final with Serena Williams. Could she win yet another title this year by defeating one of the most successful players in history? Fresh legs would carry the day as Williams was hurting with both a sprained ankle and sore thigh muscle, and the rising champion on the women’s tour prevailed 6-3, 6-1.

Will statistics, psychology bounce Pitt’s way?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Mark Roth – March 20, 2009 – As the Pitt Panthers begin NCAA tournament play, it’s likely their fans have a split personality.

Even if they don’t want to admit it, a sizable proportion may be focused on how soon the team is going to disappoint them. Others are wondering how they can get to Detroit to watch Pitt play in the championship next month.

How realistic is either mindset?

For the answers, we turn to the experts — social psychologists, computer scientists, sports psychologists and behavioral economists.

None of them has played Division I hoops, and one even said, “You couldn’t fathom the depth of my ignorance about college basketball.” But they have something else going for them — a knowledge of statistics and the way humans behave.

Pitt has made it into the tournament for eight straight years, but has never made it past the Sweet Sixteen, or third round.

And while that may be a statistical trend of sorts, it may not be the right one to use this year, says Sheldon Jacobson, a computer scientist at the University of Illinois.

The key this year is that Pitt is a No. 1 seed, meaning the NCAA selection committee made it the top pick in one of four regions. In the past, Pitt was never higher than a second seed, and in most of the eight-year span, it ranged between a third and fifth seed.

The historical difference in outcomes for No. 1 seeds in the first rounds of the tournament is startling.

Since the modern version of the tournament began in 1985, 72 percent of the No. 1 seeds have won in the Sweet Sixteen round. But only 46 percent of the second seeds have won in that round, and only 24 percent of third seeds have.

So, says social psychologist Jonah Berger of the University of Pennsylvania, the question for any glass-half-empty Pitt fans should be: “What is the correct reference point to use here? Is it past performance, or is it the expectation for a No. 1 seed?”

On the other hand, for those who believe Pitt will relentlessly sweep into the championship game, Dr. Jacobson has these words of caution — once the tournament reaches the fourth round, with just the Elite Eight teams remaining, there is absolutely no statistical difference in results between the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds.

But wait, some fans will say, didn’t all four No. 1 seeds make it into the Final Four last year?

Pity them. They haven’t heard of “regression to the mean,” which is a fancy mathematical way of saying the law of averages will eventually win out.

In the 24 years the modern NCAA tournament has existed, No. 1 seeds have made it into the Final Four about a quarter of the time. So this year, Dr. Jacobson said, the odds are that there will be one and maybe two No. 1 seeds that make it that far (the others are Louisville, Connecticut and North Carolina).

As the teams push forward in the tournament, most fans want their favorites to play with a comfortable lead in each game. It’s easier on the nerves and lowers copious consumption of various snack foods.

But being ahead is not always the best thing, the experts say.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Berger just finished a study that showed that when college basketball teams are behind by one point at halftime, they go on to win more than half the time, and win at a rate that is about six percentage points better than would have been expected.

“The key take-home from this,” Dr. Berger said, “is that losing can be motivating, and as a result can lead you to more success.”

In a lab experiment he did as part of the study, Dr. Berger found that when students playing a keyboard game were told halfway through that they were slightly behind their opponents, they worked harder in the second half of the contest. Interestingly, those who were told they were slightly ahead did not slack off — but they also didn’t boost their effort as much.

For some teams, that leveling-off effect can be magnified if their advantage is even bigger.

“I definitely agree if you’re up by 10 points, you can start to be fat and happy and get complacent,” Dr. Berger said.

“When you have a more talented team playing a less talented team,” Dr. Jacobson added, “and they ‘take the air out of the ball’ to protect a lead, what happens is that you equalize the skill levels of the two teams.”

Part of the reason why some teams squander leads is a phenomenon called “loss aversion,” a basic principle in human behavior that says the pain we feel from losing something we have outweighs the pleasure we get from gaining something we don’t have.

That could help explain why some coaches and players stop taking calculated risks when they have a lead, said George Loewenstein, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University.

The other basic human tendency that comes into play in those situations is that players often lose motivation when they get too far ahead, even if they aren’t entirely conscious of it. Having a big lead “is so demotivating that the team that’s behind ends up coming back,” he said.

So, you’re probably thinking, it’s better if my favorite team plays close games all the way through, right?

Maybe, said Dr. Loewenstein, as long as key players don’t fall prey to “regret aversion.”

Regret aversion is the double-whammy cousin of loss aversion. It’s when you not only fear losing something you have (like a lead), but fear that you’ll be blamed for it. When that happens, players can choke, he said.

Dr. Loewenstein, echoing what many coaches say, speculates that the reason some players suddenly become clumsy or inaccurate under pressure is that they start thinking too much about what they are doing.

Most top athletes have trained so long and hard that the majority of their skills are automatic, he said.

“It’s all being orchestrated by unconscious learned mechanisms that tend to be toward the back of your brain,” he said, “and what happens is that when something is really, really important to you there’s a tendency to use the front part of your brain, even though the reality is you would perform much better if you used the back part of the brain.”

John Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla., said that fits with the philosophy he espouses in coaching professional athletes.

“I try to get people to strive toward success,” he said, “and not think about the outcome. Focusing on a positive action or skill leads to a successful outcome, but thinking about the outcome distracts your focus on the things you need to do, which is all that you have control over, anyway.”

So doesn’t it make sense that fans of elite teams would adopt the same attitude?

Unfortunately, that isn’t necessarily part of fan DNA, Dr. Loewenstein said.

“If it’s a close football game, and someone can win it with a 40-yard field goal,” he said, “if you ask a typical group of fans whether their team will make that field goal, they’ll say no. If you ask whether the other team will make it, they’ll say yes.”

Of course, that only goes to show that we fans are, as one behavioral economist has put it, “predictably irrational.”

We rely on popular conventional wisdom to get us through most situations, Dr. Jacobson said, but in fact, statistics show that real popular conventional wisdom “is rarely popular and almost never conventional, so whatever people expect to happen rarely does.”

After a Forgettable Loss, Terps Need Short Memory

Washington Post – Steve Yanda – January 27, 2009 – The visiting locker room at Cameron Indoor Stadium was open to reporters for roughly 10 minutes Saturday following the fourth-worst loss in Maryland men’s basketball history, more than twice as long as usual after a loss.

After falling to Duke by 41 points, Maryland Coach Gary Williams allowed his players to face questions no 18- to 22-year-old wants to answer. How did this happen? How did it get this bad? Where do you go from here?

Minutes earlier, Williams addressed similar queries. The Terrapins (13-6, 2-3 ACC) had two days to recover before tonight’s matchup at home against Boston College (15-6, 3-3), and the tone with which Williams approached his players in the aftermath of such a stinging defeat will play a crucial role in how his team will recover.

“That’s part of being an athlete and being a coach is getting embarrassed and then being able to come back,” Williams said Saturday. “That makes us 2-3 in the league, I believe, and we have two home games next week and we’ll be ready to play Tuesday night. At this point, that’s the key: getting back and being ready to play on Tuesday night.”

There are some, such as Boston College Coach Al Skinner, who believe — at least publicly — that the happenings in one game, no matter how positive or negative they may be, do not carry over into the next. And in an ideal, competitive environment, that theory would hold true.

But according to John F. Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla., the team aspect of basketball prevents its participants from completely setting aside previous outcomes when preparing for future opponents, even if doing so would serve them best.

“You have to realize that it is just one game and maybe not try to reverse it completely, but try to be more competitive,” Murray said. “That kind of an outcome, you weren’t even competitive. Something went terribly wrong. You can’t put that completely out of your mind, perhaps, but you have to focus on each game individually. I think all players are subject to thinking about the past, even though, ideally, you’re not supposed to. It probably does leave somewhat of a scar until you’re able to turn it around.”

Michigan State fell to then-No. 1 North Carolina by 35 points in Detroit on Dec. 3, a loss that left players and coaches feeling angry, concerned and embarrassed, according to Spartans associate head coach Mark Montgomery. But, Montgomery said, the coaches knew that employing a positive front when dealing with the players was their best chance at getting them to move beyond the defeat.

As soon as Michigan State’s bus returned to East Lansing, the Spartans held a team meeting in the locker room in which each player had to come up with a way in which the team could improve its performance. After an hour, the coaches left, but the players remained to talk among themselves. Montgomery knew then the staff had struck the proper chord.

“That’s the toughest thing as a coach,” Montgomery said. “You’ve got to figure out what tone you want to take with your guys — the hard approach or more of an understanding. I think we took more of an understanding approach, but we were firm that we’ve got to do this better or we didn’t do this.”

Montgomery acknowledged that while players should be unaffected by previous outings, their confidence — “swagger,” as he put it — can be shaken by a poor performance during a previous outing. A swift turnaround, then, is vital. Michigan State, currently ranked No. 9, won 11 straight games following the loss to North Carolina.

But that defeat came during nonconference season. Maryland was not so fortunate. In addition to having less time to correct their flaws, the Terrapins must also prepare for a higher caliber of opponent.

Murray said that “it can often be helpful to have a good whipping every now and then” because it forces coaches and players to be more accountable. But that implies that a lopsided loss carries at least some weight into future endeavors, a notion Skinner rejects.

Skinner said Sunday he would not address the Terrapins’ previous outing with his team in regard to how it might affect their mentality tonight.

“The fact that it’s a league game and we’re going on the road, we’ve just got to make sure we’re prepared,” Skinner said. “The last game has no impact on the next game. That’s my feeling about it. I don’t look at it either way, whether it works for us or works against us. It’s the same.”

Except it’s not, not for Maryland, anyway. Williams said yesterday he was “very positive” in dealing with his players after the Duke loss. He said he reminded them of how well he thought they had played in their two previous road games and implored them not to dwell on one horrific performance.

When asked whether he thought, at least subconsciously, that the Duke loss would carry over to tonight, Williams lowered his eyes and responded briskly.

“It can’t,” he said. “It can’t. That’s not an option.”

Landmark Victory for Psychology and Sports Psychology

Florida Tennis Magazine – December 2008 Issue – by John F. Murray, Ph.D. – I have been talking forever about how mental ailments and difficulties are often ten times worse than a broken leg. Unfortunately we still live in a society where talking about mental problems or admitting that you are going to a sports psychologist to improve your game is something to hide from others or feel embarrassed about.

Well … times have officially – and I mean officially – changed! A new mental health parity law in America dramatically expands coverage of mental health treatment. As a licensed psychologist and sports psychologist in the state of Florida, this means that my services will be even more available to struggling tennis players who might also have a minor or significant psychological ailment like anxiety or depression, and who want to obtain my clinical services and reimbursement from their insurance company.

In a massive triumph for mental health care in America, Congress passed and President George Bush signed in a new law that requires insurance companies to cover mental health services at the same level they do for physical services. The bill is the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, and it passed Oct. 3 of this year as part of a measure that included the $700 billion financial bailout plan. It was approved by a vote of 263 to 171 in the House and 74 to 25 in the Senate. The parity law takes effect Jan. 1, 2010.

This is wonderful news for consumers of all psychological services including legitimate sports psychology. Psychologists have been fighting for mental health parity for almost 20 years and they finally won, and won decisively. The 2008 bill closes several loopholes left by the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act by barring insurance companies from arbitrarily limiting all aspects of mental health coverage, including the number of outpatient treatment sessions, or assigning higher co-payments or deductibles for those who need psychological services. The law also ensures mental health and substance use coverage for both in-network and out-of-network services when a plan provides this for physical health services. I operate as an out-of-network provider, and provide needed information to my clients should they wish to bill their insurance companies in the proper circumstances where I can establish a legitimate diagnosis.

Proponents of the law say that ending insurance discrimination for mental health and substance use disorders will encourage more patients to seek psychological care. In the APA Monitor it was reported,”We are ushering in a new era of health care for those with mental illnesses, said one of the bill’s main sponsors in the Senate, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). No longer will we allow mental health to be treated as a stepchild in the health-care system.”

Research has long established that physical health is directly connected to mental and emotional health. So if you are a person that is struggling with mental health issues, you do not even have to be in extreme distress to get help and bill insurance. Many people struggle with adjustment disorders, anxiety or depression and do not even know it. In the new world we live in, you will be able to afford a legitimate and licensed psychologist who also happens to practice sports psychology. So you can improve your mental health at a lower cost to you, and come on top with a better serve and volley too.

Afterall, you go to the dentist twice a year. What is more important to you, your teeth, or your whole entire well being?

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

Miami Dolphins Lift Spirits

Miami Herald – November 11, 2008 – Greg Cote -Have you found yourself awakening Mondays with a bit less dread for the work week? Have you rediscovered the lost bounce in your step or noticed that people seem to be smiling more easily lately?It isn’t just Democrats; it’s Dolphins fans. It isn’t just Dolfans; it’s local sports fans in general. And because that includes so many of us across a complete cross-section, it is South Florida at large feeling its mood and self-esteem lifted.

Sports can do that. Success is a powerful drug.

So many of us suffer and dream vicariously through the teams we love that the line between franchises and fans can get blurred.

The Dolphins are winning? It feels like we are, too.

”It’s absolutely human nature, a very real phenomena,” Palm Beach-based sports psychologist John F. Murray told us Monday.

‘There’s a certain pride of ownership that a fan feels over his or her favorite team. When things are going well, in social psychology it’s called `basking in reflected glory.’ When our team does well, we feel empowered that maybe things could go better in our lives, too. It’s like having ownership in a company when the stock is going up and up and up.”

HIGHS AND LOWS

The feeling is magnified in Dolphins fans because of the extremes that have been experienced.

This is the franchise of back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs, of the 1972 Perfect Season, of Don Shula and Dan Marino. But then it became the franchise of six consecutive years out of the playoffs and last year’s depressing, embarrassing nadir.

Nobody knows what 1-15 feels like more keenly than someone who has celebrated 17-0. Unprecedented high became humiliating low.

Community self-esteem reflected in a championship parade — such as we last experienced with the Heat in the summer of 2006 — sees its opposite in the collective gloom we feel if our teams are doing poorly — or, worse, being embarrassingly bad.

Now it’s as if our deep, dark cloud is dissipating by degrees and beams of sunlight are poking through, spreading warmth. Optimism: What an elixir!

Our flagship Dolphins have their first winning record in three years and a real chance to end that six-year playoff drought — an immediate and potentially historic turnaround from last season’s embarrassment.

But it isn’t just one team, albeit our biggest.

The Heat, with Dwyane Wade back healthy and the excitement of rookie Michael Beasley, shows early signs of similarly being a playoff team after a franchise-worst 15-67 mark last season.

The Marlins far exceeded expectations and were playoff challengers until late into the season, and they have a new ballpark and bigger payrolls on the way.

The young, ascending Miami Hurricanes have won four football games in a row to become bowl eligible, and in men’s basketball UM is ranked 16th nationally, best ever, in the preseason polls.

STILL SOME PITFALLS

Don’t forget FIU football, with its new stadium and enough improvement to not yet be out of the picture for a small bowl game.

In hockey, the Panthers haven’t quite kept pace yet, but otherwise all of our biggest sports teams, pro and college, are enjoying a decided rebound from a collective recent downturn.

(The overall feel-good vibe might even include recent indications that Major League Soccer is poised to expand back into town).

Of course, the Dolphins are King Sport down here, with the biggest following and the most emotional grip, so it is this club’s seismic, sudden resurgence that buoys our collective mood most of all.

I asked Dolphins coach Tony Sparano on Monday how winning and losing affects his mood away from the job. He joked that the question would be better for his wife but admitted his mood is affected to a degree that, “I’m probably not as good a guy after we lose.”

Sparano’s livelihood depends on winning and losing. Ours doesn’t — and yet, in some ways, our quality of life does.

”Our purpose-driven nature is engaged,” Murray said. “When our teams win, it makes us feel like Miami’s on the map again. It’s a feeling of collective pride, like if your governor becomes the president. We all want to bask in success.”

In Alabama this week, a Crimson Tide fan, Michael Williams, is charged with killing two LSU fans ensuing from an argument related to those teams’ Saturday game. That obviously is the most extreme example possible of how seriously we take our sports, but anybody who has painted his face, cried with joy over a win or been cursing mad over a loss knows the power games can have over everyday lives.

A 2006 study in the journal of the Association of Psychological Science found that many fans feel similarly about their favorite teams as they do about their nationality or ethnicity — and that fans “can become so passionate about their team that it becomes a part of their identity and affects their well-being.”

It is why, all across South Florida, people are rediscovering that aqua goes with just about everything. T-shirts and jerseys kept hidden in drawers the past couple of years, perhaps subconsciously, are being pulled out again — and not so much worn as flown like flags.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

Whether You Like McCain or Obama, Get Out and Vote Tuesday

Special to JohnFMurray.com – November 3, 2008 – Since opening my clinical and sports psychology practice in 1999 I’ve purposely avoided talking politics. Not that I don’t have a view or perspective. It just doesn’t feel right to pick sides publicly. My work involves trying to help people of all shapes and sizes, and of all political, ethnic, and other backgrounds. In other words, while I might not agree with the views of all my clients, I at least want to present a neutral face to them to allow them to feel comfortable and share. I’m asking them to be open and to reveal highly confidential information to me, so it makes no sense to create immediate barriers or sudden alliances which might jeopardize the clinical process.

That being said, I am standing tall on my soapbox today strongly advising everyone to vote (but only once!) on Tuesday. We’ve hopefully evolved as a strong nation built on a solid constitution and laws. Our continued survival as a nation depends on our active involvement in the political process rather than apathy. We actually elect our leaders in this country, even if there is also corruption, shady advertising, or heaps of money clouding objectivity. Whoever said it was a perfect system? Life is never so simple, but I would like to think that it is an advanced means of change better than in other countries where violence, intimidation, or far greater corruption is the norm. We as the people who are the government need our vote to count in transferring power to one person. Each and every one of our votes is critical to making the process survive another 200+ years.

So I ask everyone to vote, but to vote with information and your own thoughts, rather than tuning to groupthink or drinking either party’s fruit punch. Study the issues thoroughly, and be careful about what you hear in the media. Depending on what channel you turn on you will be slammed hard in one direction or another. While the process is not perfect, the people still greatly influence the electoral tally which in turn decides the outcome. Abdicating your responsibility by not voting, not matter how lukewarm you may feel about the candidates, is a vote itself. It is a vote for giving up your rights, and since you are part of this nation, the country gains fewer rights as a result.

Many people died on far away shores in many conflicts over the years for our right to vote. We won the Cold War and we defeated the Nazis. The last thing we want to do is to defeat ourselves through negligence. More than ever before we are facing threats both economically and in the ever present fear of more terrorism on our shores. We desperately need leaders who are smart and wise, and who help make us better. We need to exercise our right to vote, and to act as precisely as a surgeon uses a scalpel.

After all the votes are counted and our leader is chosen, we need to exercise even more vigilance in holding that leader to his campaign promises. He is not our dictator and he needs to be accountable to us and held responsible for his actions. Study the issues closely before voting. You will be in a better position to rate how well your new president is doing in the future. If this person violates our trust, a trust that we bestowed upon him, then we need to act decisively to find someone new in four years with another vote.

One thing good about crisis is that it makes us all think. This is a difficult period for America, but we can overcome these problems as we have many others in our past. But it is all based on one word VOTE!

Let’s vote Tuesday in greater numbers than ever before in history. Good luck new president. We’ve chosen you and your legacy and the fate of our nation will be very much in your hands. Do your job well and we’ll keep it in your hands for 4 more years.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

THE BALCO SCANDAL – CLOUD OF UNCERTAINTY

Sacramento Bee – Dec 4, 2004 – Nick Peters – There are more questions than answers
Recent revelations regarding sluggers Barry Bonds’ and Jason Giambi’s use of steroids squarely placed the responsibility on Major League Baseball to adopt a tougher drug-testing policy, doctors and ethicists said Friday.

Giambi told a grand jury that he used steroids provided by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. Bonds said he used substances from BALCO but did not know they contained steroids.

Despite his insistence he used steroids unknowingly, Bonds’ reputation has been tainted as he chases Hank Aaron’s all-time home-run record. And Giambi is facing the possibility of having all or part of the remainder of his $120 million contract with the Yankees voided.

The revelations come at a bad time for baseball, which saw record attendance last season and was riding the wave of positive reaction to the Boston Red Sox winning their first World Series title since 1918.

The escalating BALCO scandal is creating a cloud of uncertainty over the integrity of the game.

“As I have repeatedly stated, I am fully committed to the goal of immediately ridding our great game of illegal performance-enhancing substances,” Commissioner Bud Selig said in a prepared statement Friday.

“The use of these substances continues to raise issues regarding the game’s integrity and raises serious concerns about the health and well-being of our players. … I urge the players and their association to … join me in adopting a new, stronger drug-testing policy modeled after our minor-league program that will once and for all rid the game of the scourge of illegal drugs.”

Giants players and management would not comment on Bonds’ alleged involvement with steroids. A club spokesman said, “We can’t comment. It’s a legal matter, and we’ve been asked to direct questions to the Commissioner’s office.”

BALCO founder Victor Conte went on ABC’s “20/20” Friday night and declared that more than 50 percent of the athletes are taking some form of anabolic steroids.

He also said he saw track star Marion Jones inject herself with steroids that he provided.

Asked specifically about baseball’s dealing with drugs, Conte replied: “I think they still believe there’s a Santa Claus. … They’re not in contact with reality. … The program they have put together is a joke.”

Selig told reporters Thursday in Washington that he hoped to have the minor-league program instituted at the major-league level by spring training. Minor-leaguers are tested in and out of season four times for illegal substances and face increased punishment for each positive test. A fifth positive test brings a lifetime ban.

Under an agreement between MLB and the players’ union, there was increased testing in the majors last season, but it was infrequent.

Here’s how the current system works:

* The first positive test results in treatment and continued testing.

* Any subsequent positive testing means a fine and suspension, beginning with 15 days and up to $10,000. By the fifth violation, the penalty is a one-year suspension and up to $100,000 fine.

* The suspensions would be without pay, and the reason for the player’s absence would be disclosed.

Why would athletes take the risk of using illegal substances?

“It’s a combination of extremism and perfectionism, and a lack of education (on the dangers),” said sports performance psychologist Dr. John F. Murray, who works with the Miami Dolphins and golfers in Florida.

“I don’t buy the argument athletes don’t know what’s in their bodies. They’re aware of what they’re doing. In some ways, it’s good this is coming out. How many more are doing it? It’s just the tip of the iceberg. … We need to be more strict and have better measures in place.”

Dr. William O. Roberts, a team physician in St. Paul, Minn., and president of the American College of Sports Medicine, commented in an e-mail Friday on the unresolved issue of steroid use by professional athletes and the need of reform.

“Too much of the focus this week has been on competition and performance issues such as records and cheating,” Roberts wrote. “Not enough attention is being paid to the messages being sent to impressionable young athletes.

“… Without an appropriate level of focus on the negative health implications of steroid use, young athletes may be led to believe that steroids can help them achieve greatness on the playing field, and that the only danger is getting caught.”

He pointed his finger squarely at baseball.

“No other entity in American culture is in a better position to address this than Major League Baseball,” he wrote. “Baseball and its players union simply cannot shun their ethical responsibility to society by failing to eradicate steroid use by its players.”

Baseball’s relatively soft stance on drug testing at the major-league level has been under scrutiny for some time. While Selig gets much of the blame, the biggest culprit could be the strength of the Players Association.

“It is stronger than what the other sports have in place, and they hide under the guise of privacy issues,” said a former player who spoke on condition of anonymity. “(Union head) Donald Fehr and (legal counsel) Gene Orza are unwilling to compromise.”

The union’s stance also explains why players are reluctant to condemn teammates who cheat. There was an uproar two years ago when former MVPs Jose Canseco and the late Ken Caminiti admitted to steroid use. Canseco estimated 85 percent of major-leaguers took the illegal substances; Caminiti put the figure at around 50 percent.

Sacramento’s Pat Gomez, a former major-league pitcher and now an assistant coach at Del Campo High School, recalled baseball’s lax attitude toward drugs when he pitched for the Padres and the Giants from 1993 to 1995.

“Basically, if they said they suspected you (of drug use), that was it, and you didn’t have to do anything,” he said. “You had to darn well be caught with a needle in your arm.

“The temptation is very real and the money is very large when you move into that category of player.”

Gomez said baseball needs a strict policy for the players’ health and the integrity of the game.

“If a guy who spends $18 on a ticket realizes if he loaded himself up, too, he could be out there, that’s not good for the game,” Gomez said.

Despite Selig’s recent get-tough stance, he came to the defense of Mark McGwire last spring when reminded that the former A’s and Cardinals slugger used a since-banned supplement while hitting a record 70 home runs in 1998. Selig said he’d never put an asterisk by McGwire’s records.

By comparison, the NFL and the NBA have their share of off-field problems, yet steroid use is not one of them. The NFL’s drug policy is regarded as the most stringent of all major sports.

It was established through a collective-bargaining agreement between the league and the Players Association in 1993. It has been updated to address concerns about whether the NFL is doing all it can to eliminate its biggest concern: steroid use as a means of a competitive advantage.

Each year, the league routinely tests all players for recreational drugs. They are given a specified date and advanced warning, usually at the start of training camp. If a player fails a test for recreational drugs, it is kept confidential.

The league considers recreational-drug use a medical issue and wants to treat instead of punish the player.

It is not until he fails a second test that he receives a four-game suspension. A third positive test can be a year’s suspension.

Steroid use, which can be detected through weekly random testing of six players per team, is a more serious matter. The first positive test means a four-game suspension. A second is six games, and a third will result in at least a one-year suspension.

In addition, the league also tests for masking agents.

If a player tries to pass a test by using a masking agent, that also means a suspension, even if a steroid isn’t detected.

In the NBA, where drug issues have been a familiar dark headline for decades, there has never been a perception problem with steroids that comes close with marijuana, alcohol or even cocaine.

Steroids were added to the list of banned substances in March 2000, and without fanfare. Officials don’t recall anything close to heated negotiations between the NBA and the Players Association after the union conceded key points to end the 1999 lockout.

Eight types of steroids later became an addendum to that deal, most notably Androstenedione, which within years would become known as Andro and a focus on the debate regarding steroids in sports when McGwire went on his home-run spree.

A player testing positive the first time would be suspended for five games and be required to enter a program under the supervision of professionals jointly selected by the league and the union.

A second positive test would result in 10 games and re-entry into the program, and any subsequent violation would mean 25 games and another re-entry Also, a player would be banned from the NBA if he is convicted or pleads guilty or no contest to a crime involving the use or possession of steroids.

Selig was questioned after the San Francisco Chronicle published grand-jury testimony in which Giambi admitted that he had used steroids.

His testimony was given a year ago to a federal grand jury investigating BALCO. An investigation into the leak was ordered by a U.S. District judge Friday.

Selig said he has instructed Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, to continue working with the Players Association to implement a tougher testing program in baseball.

“I instituted a very tough program on steroids in the minor leagues in 2001,” Selig said. “We need to have that same program at the major-league level.

“I’m going to leave no stone unturned until we have that policy in place by spring training. We need a tough policy, and I’m going to be very aggressive in the implementation of that policy.”

TEAMS NEED TO TAKE MORE PROTECTIVE MEASURES

Stuart News Oct 21, 2008, 2004 – Kevin Van Brimmer – In the days since Friday’s fight between NBA players and fans in Detroit, commentators, writers, coaches, players and fans have been expressing their outrage, disgust and shock that such a thing could happen in American professional sports. But the question is: Should we be shocked?

“I think this issue has been brewing and accelerating for a long period of time,” says Jupiter-based (correction – Palm Beach based) sports performance psychologist John Murray. American culture is more and more becoming one of violence. It sells in the news and it sells in entertainment, from professional wrestling to blockbuster movies. So was it any surprise it has spilled over professional sports like a tidal wave? Friday night’s fracas isn’t the first case of athletes and fans tussling in American sports. But the tsunami crested and broke in the 15-minute melee in Detroit on Friday when Indiana’s Ron Artest charged into the stands to mix it up with a fan who threw a drink on him and was followed by his teammates. Artest received a season-long ban from NBA Commissioner David Stern for his actions and eight other players on both sides received suspensions of various lengths. But will Stern’s actions quell any future player-fan confrontations? Murray says no, not by themselves.

He says there needs to be proactive measures taken by teams to ensure its players don’t get so close to the breaking point again. “I do believe in discipline, suspensions and fines,” Murray says. “I think it’s a great move by Stern. I think (Artest) being out the whole season is the way to do it; tighten up the grip a little more. You have to stand up and have some bite behind the bark. Otherwise, it’s just talk. There needs to be a policy of no-tolerance. “My pitch is, each franchise needs to have a genuine sports psychologist that can work with these athletes and give them perspective. A sports psychologist may also help athletes express themselves in positive ways instead of exploding.”

But it’s not just the moral compass of the professional athlete that has been progressively skewed in recent years. The other part of the equation Friday was the behavior of the fans, Murray said. “I think the opportunity for people to become part of the limelight has changed,” Murray says. “Especially with reality television. Everybody wants to become part of the action.” Murray also believes the media perpetuates the growing culture of violence and aggressiveness in America. The best example is the fact that footage of Friday’s fight has been playing continuously on sports and news channels since the incident. “We’re intoxicated as a culture, so we need a detox program,” Murray says. “We need to think smart as a culture. “The most important thing is our kids see this and think it’s acceptable. It’s not. We need to wake up.”
Edition: All Dailies
Section: Sports