Posts Tagged ‘sports psychologist’

FIGHTING IN HOCKEY IDIOTIC

Bloomberg Wire Service – Oct 5, 2005 – Scott Soshnick – Hockey Missed Chance to End Fighting – National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, whose league hits the ice tonight after a labor dispute wiped out last season, contends that fighting is a necessary part of his sport. Absolutely, positively gotta have it, he says.

The commissioner’s rationale goes something like this: With stick-wielding players skating — and hitting — at 30 mph, beating the bejesus out of each other provides a cathartic release that’s impossible to achieve with a body check. Translation: The Neanderthal players can’t control the impulse to trade haymakers.

“In the heat of the moment things happen,” Bettman says.

Hogwash! Players fight because no one says they can’t.

Fighters receive a five-minute penalty, the sporting equivalent of a time out for a misbehaving kindergartener. The other leagues, by comparison, eject, suspend and fine players for throwing punches.

National Football League officials are so intent on maintaining order that two players were ejected from a recent Atlanta Falcons-Philadelphia Eagles game for their overzealous pushing and shoving before the game even started. According to Bettman, football players rarely fight because the game is played in short spurts, affording them time to regain their composure before the next play.

`Playing With the Dinosaurs’

“Fighting in hockey is idiotic,” says Dr. John F. Murray, a Palm Beach, Florida, sports psychologist who has worked with a host of athletes, including football and tennis players as well as golfers. “Hockey is playing with the dinosaurs if they continue endorsing fistfights and responding with mere slaps on the wrists.”

The NHL’s stance on fighting is so comical that it’s fodder for one-liners. Did you hear the one about the guys who went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out? In the 1977 movie “Slap Shot,” which centers on a minor-league hockey team, the brawl-happy Hanson brothers wrap their knuckles with tin foil in order to inflict more damage. Exaggeration or is it art imitating life? Back then, after all, the Philadelphia Flyers were dubbed the Broad Street Bullies. The only thing enforcer Dave “The Hammer” Schultz lacked more than finesse was teeth.

Steve Moore isn’t laughing.

Moore played for the Colorado Avalanche until he was sucker-punched by Vancouver Canucks All-Star Todd Bertuzzi last year. Moore is recovering from a broken neck. He may never play again.

There’s a Connection

Bertuzzi is at least the eighth NHL player charged by police with assault in an on-ice incident. Who would argue against a correlation between those kinds of attacks and the league’s laissez-faire attitude toward fisticuffs?

“It’s an indictment of how pervasive the attitude is that welcomes this violence,” said Tim Danson, Moore’s attorney and a season-ticket holder with the Toronto Maple Leafs. “I’m convinced that the NHL has used violence to disguise poor hockey.”

There’s an adage in the television business that says, when desperate, achieve higher ratings by showing a living creature being eaten or eating something else. Think Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. That’s fighting in the NHL.

As for the on-ice product, the NHL during the lockout adopted a series of rules changes aimed at making the game more aesthetically pleasing. The alterations are meant to favor skilled players over goons, for example, by allowing a pass from the defensive zone to cross two lines on the rink. If the NHL can change this old rule, why not banish fighting? There was a time when players didn’t have to wear helmets, either. Things change.

No Statistics

Even without legislation, fighting is on the decline, Bettman says. We’ll have to take his word for it because Benny Ercolani, the league’s chief statistician, said he didn’t have the numbers to back up his boss’s assertion.

NHL does have its limits. The league yesterday handed New York Rangers defenseman Dale Purinton a 10-games suspension for gouging an opponent’s eye. The league cited Purinton’s record — he’d been suspended three previous times for deliberate attempts to injure — for the severity of the punishment.

In terms of TV success, the NHL not only lags major sports like football, basketball, baseball and Nascar auto racing, but golf and tennis, too. Hockey’s television ratings are akin to niche sports like the Arena Football League.

The NHL won’t outlaw fighting because a segment of its fans tune in or show up solely to whoop it up over bloody noses and black eyes. Some auto-racing fans like multicar pileups, but Nascar doesn’t allow drivers to intentionally cause wrecks.

The NHL panders to its violence-addicted fans with its new TV advertising campaign, which begins with a quote from “The Art of War” by Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu. The 30-second promo depicts an athlete preparing not for a game but a life-or-death battle.

Martha Burk, the former chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, blasted the league for selling violence in a society already awash with it.

Pleading Guilty

“By no means do we want to be a bad example,” says Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis, the league’s point- scoring leader in 2003-04.

Tell that to Bertuzzi, who pleaded guilty to assault in exchange for staying out of jail. Tell that to Electronic Arts Inc., which allows kids armed with joysticks to simulate NHL fights. Most importantly, tell that to Bettman. If he won’t listen, start a fight. Don’t worry about the punishment. The commissioner knows better than anyone that hockey players can’t control their emotions.
sports, john f murray

SMART TENNIS BOOK RECEIVES TOP RATING

Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game – Oct 4, 2005 – John F. Murray – ISBN 0787943800 – Reviewed by David Williams – Have you ever had a form slump on the tennis court? Did you wonder why you had seemingly forgotten how to hit the ball properly – apparently lost all that hard earned skill overnight?

Well, John Murray’s Smart Tennis may provide the answer. It’s likely that your sudden loss of form has more to do with your mind than your body. His book assists in determining your mental strengths and weaknesses and provides practical remedies for ailments like a loss of confidence, poor concentration, anger, nervousness and a general fear of losing. He also provides ways of harnessing appropriate amounts of energy, and improving performance by having well developed breathing techniques.

All sounding a bit hard? A bit too serious? Well, it’s not really. Smart Tennis presents simple descriptions of on-court and off-court problems, and practical tips that are equally relevant for the weekend player as the professional.

In saying that, the book is not a quick and breezy read. Keen tennis players are likely to find themselves constantly drifting off, thinking about the specifics of their tennis game and how the book applies to them. But that’s the idea isn’t it?

If you have spent countless hours trying to hone that backhand volley or a less than consistent second serve, perhaps it’s worthwhile considering that tennis is a game that is thought to be 75% mental. And if you think that your game could be improved by devoting a little more time to the mental aspects, then Smart Tennis is the book for you!

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

Rating: Highest – 4 Stars

SPADEA’S GUARANTEE IN TENNIS CELEBS

Tennis Celebs – Sept 23, 2005 – Pro Tennis Player Vince Spadea Guarantees Top 10 Ranking with Help from Sport Psychologist – Vince Spadea promises that the best is still to come. This is a promise from a player best known for his determination as a tenacious scrambler on the court. To prove his new commitment, Vince recently began working again with his sport performance psychologist. He now guarantees that mental coaching will help him achieve his highest career ranking ever, top 10 in the world.

Spadea, rarely a stranger to adversity, recovered from the longest losing streak ever (21 straight) before winning his first ATP Tour title in Scottsdale last year. He beat James Blake and Andy Roddick en route to victory. In his comeback, Spadea rose from 229 to a career-best 18 in the world.

Injuries and adversity returned this year as Spadea dropped to 49 this week even after reaching the finals in Newport, RI a couple months ago.

“Rather than get discouraged or depressed, it’s a gift that I’m as high as 50 compared to where I was when I began the previous comeback,” Spadea declared.

“My rise will again be accomplished with help from my sport performance psychologist, John F. Murray, who formerly helped me back from my longest losing streak.”

Spadea got the idea of daring to make a public guarantee after thinking about great accomplishments and history. “Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl victory when no-one believed in him; the 1980 USA Hockey Team truly believed; nobody thought David would slay Goliath. Even my performance psychologist stuck his neck on the line and lost 64 pounds after he made a public guarantee.”

Spadea claims that his public guarantee will help strengthen his resolve and commitment. “Comebacks are never easy, but they are a part of sports, and I’m quite ready and excited about this new challenge. I will achieve Top 10 in the world. I guarantee it!”

Spadea was known as the “giant-killer” a few years back after compiling the best record in the world against top-10 ranked players. He has beaten many legends of the game including Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. His backhand is regarded as one of the best in the game.

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

TENNIS PLAYERS STRUGGLE

Sarasota Herald Tribune – Sep 17, 2005 – John Simpson – Your palms sweat and your mind races. Your body aches, and your stomach’s tied in knots, just when you need to play your best.

The only solace is that your opponent feels the same way.

The tie-breaker in tennis heightens a player’s every move, stroke and strategy. Athleticism and shot-making get the glory in such pressure situations, but the difference between winning and losing is more often mental and emotional.

This is true for both club players and future pros.

Jesse Levine, a top-ranked junior at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, traveled to Michigan in August for the United States Tennis Association National Championships. In one day, he lost two matches on third-set tie-breakers.

It’s not the way he wanted to leave Kalamazoo.

“You have to forget about it,” said Levine, 17. “Obviously, it’s in your head, but once that’s done, there’s nothing you can do about it.

“You have to have a strategy going into the match, but in a tie-break, you’ve just got to bear down even more. You can’t have any mental lapses.”

Paula Gallant, 58, plays recreational tennis at the Punta Gorda Club. She’s learned to ignore the gamesmanship that goes along with tie-breakers.

“A lot of times I’ve found my opponent will try to play head games with me,” Gallant said. “I’ve gotten sucked into that so many times, and I just won’t allow it any longer because I get upset or I doubt myself.”

Art Ehlers, 72, plays senior tennis at the Plantation Golf & Country Club in Venice. Years of competitive experience in basketball and baseball, too, help him remain calm during the tennis version of extra innings.

“I’ve been in a lot of pressure situations,” Ehlers says. “Many of the guys I play with really, really get tense and tight. I may not win, but it’s not because I feel the pressure.”

The psychology of sport

For John Murray, a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, the mental side of tennis isn’t a question. It’s a given.

“Players will admit if you talk to them that the mental game is anywhere from 70 percent to 95 percent or 99 percent in a close match,” he said, “and most matches are close because most players are pretty much the same physically.”

The mental difference between players shows up in the pressure of a tie-breaker.

Momentum is never so important. Perception is never so erratic. The lines of the court are cold observers of any errors or weaknesses.

With tension strung as tight as a racket, what can you do?

Ehlers has a favorite piece of advice for both softball teammates and tennis partners.

“I tell them to play like you don’t care,” he said. “There’s an old baseball pitcher who’s now an executive with the Baltimore Orioles, Mike Flanagan, who pitched for the Orioles for years and years. He tells his pitchers, ‘Guys, I want you to try easier.’

“So you want to keep up your level of intensity, but somehow or another, you want to play like you don’t care.”

Hitting that fine line.

It’s the ultimate challenge in any sport, when the game is on the line. Where is the fine line between raising your game and trying so hard that you choke?

“Athletes have been trying for generations to figure out how to beat that one,” Ehlers said.

But Murray finds that there is help for those who seek it.

“We look at several sources of information,” he said, “when we come up with these ideas of what’s the best mental state to have when you’re performing at something.”

Take a single point in a tie-breaker. It can be reduced to where it’s simpler than it looks.

“Only 15 percent of tennis is actually being in the middle of the rally,” Murray said. “The rest of the time, the 85 percent, is getting ready for the point. Everything is management of thoughts, feelings, actions and sensations.

“It’s all those things, calming yourself down, psyching yourself up. You’d be amazed how much these players get into the management of that.”

Superstition and savvy

Ehlers used to be superstitious in all sports.

In tennis, he would always bounce a ball twice before serving. In softball, he swung two bats in the on-deck circle, and always put his glove in the same spot in the dugout.

“What I’ve found, over a period of time, those things become distractions,” he said. “In the last five years, I’ve gotten over that, and I don’t give superstition a thought. I would do it and lose a point, and I’d start thinking, ‘Gee, did I bounce the ball twice?’

“Sometimes it would help me. Sometimes it would hurt me. Obviously it didn’t help or hurt me, but it did distract me.”

Ehlers, like so many veteran athletes, wishes he knew then what he knows now.

“When I was younger and obviously a better athlete than I am today, when I was trying to work my way up to the major leagues in baseball, I wish I had the courage and understanding of games and situations and the mind-set that I do today,” he said. “If I had that body of knowledge, which you only build up by aging and playing over the years, I would have been a better player.”

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

NO FEAR – OVERCOMING CHOKING

Input Fitness Magazine (Australia) – September 8, 2005 – Arthur Kelly – Athletic performance is linked to the way you talk to yourself before you compete. Let go of the anxiety, abandon negative self-focus, learn to love the process and choking will become something the other guy does. It’s a moment embedded in the minds of sport fans everywhere â€?American golfer Scott Hoch’s failure to make an 18-inch putt on the final hole of the 1989 Masters a miss that denied him certain victory and made his name synonymous with choking. His is not an isolated case. Choking occurs with depressing regularity at every level of sport.

Whether it’s Canadian speed skater Jeremy Witherspoon falling at the start line of a race, as he did at the 2002 Winter Olympics, or someone missing an easy out at home plate during an industrial league softball game, the same dynamics are at play. “Choking is universal,” says Dr. John F.Murray, a clinical and sport performance psychologist in West Palm Beach Florida (http://www.johnfmurray.com).

“Everyone has experienced it, even the best athletes in the world such as Tiger Woods will choke occasionally, but he does it less frequently.” Typically with choking, a person perceives the event as extremely important, and their focus turns inward, becoming internal rather than appropriately external, he notes. “Their brain starts firing off too much, causing them to lose that smooth and automatic level of physical skill that usually characterizes their performance. They become much less fluid, not only in their performance, but also in their thinking. They become distracted by those internal sensations and thoughts. It’s like tunnel vision. Choking is always a self-inflicted problem.” Having counseled U.S. Olympic springboard diver Michelle Davidson, and many other elite athletes,

Dr.Murray is keenly aware of what transpires in pressure situations: “During practice you’re just kicking balls, but in the Super Bowl with two seconds left and you’re in position to make a winning field goal, an inappropriate focus arises, disrupting motor skills, even though you’re done it a million times, and can do it in your sleep. Choking is very much a disorder. Athletes choke on too many thoughts, whereas panic is the exact opposite. In panic you lose all your thoughts. It’s a non-thinking process. Choking occurs at a very high level of sophistication in which we over think, over analyze and we over worry. It’s a different process then panic, but both lead to performance failure.” Choking’s complexity is apparent in a groundbreaking Australian study that found a connection between pre-competitive anxiety and depression. Researchers theorize that many athletes equate happiness with success.

Among their conclusions, certain individuals are vulnerable to depression because they utilize inappropriate strategies to set and pursue life goals (e.g., winning a sporting contest). If the athlete believes that happiness and wellbeing are conditional upon goal achievement, any thoughts of goal pursuit will be accompanied by a belief that the individual is not yet happy or content. This negative self-focus…is in turn likely to cause an increase in depression levels.” One of the study’s authors, Professor Kerry Mummery, director of the Centre for Social Science Research at Central Queensland University in Rockhampton, Australia, explains the significance of their findings: “We believe that goal linking is an often overlooked source of pre-competitive anxiety. High-level athletes who link their happiness to their next level of achievement simply fail to stop and smell the roses. They habituate to the recent success very quickly, set new challenging goals and tell themselves that they will only be happy when”

Dr. Mummery and his colleagues drew on the views expressed by participants in the 2001 New Zealand Ironman competition. Typically, athletes who set conditional goals are more likely to experience high levels of anxiety before competition, which can negatively impact their performance. “For the most part any anxiety is a bad thing,” notes Dr. Mummery. “Arousal and anxiety are subtly different. Athletes need to achieve their optimal level of arousal to ensure top performance, but anxiety is normally associated with a reduction in performance. Worry or anxiety negatively affects the concentration on the task at hand and has associated physiological responses that impair performance. I agree that maladaptive self-talk is often the basic problem that leads to choking. Focusing on the outcome, rather than the process (I need to make this putt, versus this is what I need to do to make this putt), often leads to sub-par performances in situations where the athlete would normally expect to perform well.”

According to Dr. Murray, pre-competitive anxiety is not gender biased, but is more readily apparent in those who exhibit obsessive traits. He identifies the best possible mind set for athletic success: “The ideal mental state is to have no fear, and a complete excitement for competition. Love that even above winning. Competition is what you have to love, irrespective of outcome. Easy to say, harder to do.” Let the Head Games Begin: To help his clients stay cool under pressure, Dr. Murray employs these helpful relaxation techniques and imagery: * Imagine yourself mastering very difficult situations before important competitions: “Envision an imaginary miner’s lamp on top of your head. Choking is when you turn the lamp towards yourself; proper performance is when you turn the beam outward. Rather than get caught up in your thoughts, get focused on the environment.” * Utilize a process of self-examination: “I talk about chronic and acute causes of anxiety. Athletes need to know and understand how arousal and anxiety affects them personally, then incorporate a positive habitual routine into their pre-competitive preparation. This is done over years of development with the assistance of a good coach.” Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

C’MON, SMASH SOME RACKETS!

ESPN.com – Sept 2, 2005 – Patrick Hruby, Page 2 Columnist – Wasteful, infantile, wantonly destructive. All of this is true. Yet to hear Bud Collins tell it, there’s an even better reason tennis players are discouraged from smashing their rackets.

“It can be dangerous,” the longtime tennis commentator says.

Collins laughs. He speaks from embarrassing experience. Once, while playing in a South African senior tournament, he flubbed an easy shot. Up went his blood pressure. Down went his wooden racket, right into the court.

“I threw it,” Collins recalls. “I didn’t realize it would have a life of its own. It bounced over the fence. A parking lot was there. A guy was getting out of his car. It hit him.”

Mardy Fish. C’mon Mardy … you know you want to … do it for the people! Wait. Hold up. The racket hit a guy in the parking lot?

Sweet.

With apologies to American Express — which really should be seeking our forgiveness for those annoying Coach K ads — there’s something missing from this year’s U.S. Open. And it ain’t Andy Roddick’s mojo.

Nearly a week into the tournament, we’ve seen Serena Williams lose a $40,000 earring, defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova lose in the first round and British hope Andrew Murray lose his lunch on the court. Twice.

Which, admittedly, was pretty cool.

So what’s missing? Try a first-class meltdown — the singular, glorious sight of a ticked-off player rearing back, blowing up and sending his or her oversized boom-stick to graphite Valhalla.

Frankly, tennis fans deserve better.

“I haven’t seen one [smashed racket] yet this year,” says Carl Munnerlyn, a locker room attendant at the National Tennis Center. “Nothing broken. Nothing mangled.”

Munnerlyn knows cracked rackets. In over two decades at the U.S. Open, he has handled more splintered grips and bent frames than he can count, professional athletic instruments violently transformed into masterworks of nonrepresentational modern art.

But the last few years? Not so many.

“You definitely see less of it,” he says. “I think players are under more control. They come in knowing they can get beat at any time. Losing doesn’t bother them as much anymore.”

Don’t worry, be happy. Sigh. First hockey goons, now this. To paraphrase Pete Seeger: Where have all the smashers gone?

Once, colossi such as John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase roamed the tennis terra firma, striking fear into the hearts of equipment manufacturers everywhere. Racket abuse became open-air theater. No one was immune.

Back in the 1950s, Collins recalls, former American No. 1 and noted tennis good guy Barry MacKay chucked a racket clear across a lake in Adelaide, Australia.

“Well, it was more like a very broad river,” Collins says with a chuckle. “Probably 100 yards. Either way, that was an impressive feat.”

Sadly, such feats have become the stuff of tennis legend. Today’s players are more likely to emulate Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras, stoic craftsmen who never found fault in their tools.

Take Roger Federer, the sport’s top talent. A tempestuous racket-mauler in his youth, the defending U.S. Open champ now sports a calm, unflappable demeanor. Asked at Wimbledon when he last smashed a racket, Federer couldn’t remember.

His most recent toss? Try this spring, when the frustrated Swiss let his racket fly during a match against Rafael Nadal in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Tellingly, the racket didn’t break. No way it would have cleared 100 yards.

“It’s more challenging now,” Collins says. “Wood was much easier to smash.”

Maybe so. But how about a little pride?

Don’t get the wrong idea: Tennis still has a few hardy souls willing to put the kibosh on harmless inanimate objects. Injured Aussie Open champ Marat Safin — a man who once totaled 50-plus rackets in a single season and reportedly played with graphite shards embedded in his arm — could be the greatest smasher ever. Frenchman Richard Gasquet was tossed from last year’s U.S. Open qualifiers after nearly beheading a line judge with a heaved racket.

Players ranging from Andre Agassi to Serena Williams have been known to abuse their equipment, if not always in public. Munnerlyn recalls a well-known player’s recent locker room eruption.

“He came in after a match, set his bag down, waited about 10 seconds,” says Munnerlyn, who declined to give a name. “He took out one racket. Bam! Bam! Bam! Smashed it against the floor.”

Out came a second racket. And a third. Munnerlyn shakes his head, eyes wide at the memory.

“Three rackets, trashed,” he says. “I’m thinking, ‘Stop! Stop! Don’t break that!’ Throw a pillow underneath or something.”

More common, however, is the pillowy sportsmanship exhibited by Kevin Kim during his Wednesday afternoon loss to Switzerland’s Michael Lammer.

Marat Safin. Marat Safin’s racket tantrums are legendary.
Tempted to crush his racket, the 27-year-old Californian held back. The reason?

“I didn’t need the extra attention,” said Kim, ranked No. 70 in the world. “And I don’t want to get fined.”

Racket smashing isn’t cheap. Kim once was fined $1,050 for tossing his stick at a minor-league tournament in Tennessee — more than double the $500 Safin was docked for racket abuse at last year’s French Open, and a far cry from the $15 Collins says it took to replace a splintered wooden racket.

Smashing also is against the rules. Five years ago, Goran Ivanisevic was disqualified from a match after he smashed three rackets and had nothing left to play with. More commonly, a cracked racket results in a code violation — and a point penalty, if the offending player immediately switches to a new stick.

As a result, Kim explains, racket-breakers often will play a point with a busted frame.

“Sometimes you might win those points,” he says with a smile. “Sometimes if you crack it, it’s still playable.”

To avoid the above indignities, Kim adds, he limits his smashing to practice. Good for his temper. Bad for our amusement.

No matter the cause, the decline in public racket pulverizing is a shame. And probably unhealthy. Frustrated tennis players can’t vent to their teammates. Or scream at their coach. Tackling isn’t allowed, and haranguing the chair umpire only goes so far. So they steam and stew, each one a pressure cooker in wristbands.

Angry player. Highly breakable object. Something has to give. Playing in San Diego, Taylor Dent once lost to someone named Maurice Ruah. Not good.

“I walk off the court, line up all my rackets on a tree,” recalls Dent, pantomiming a baseball swing. “One after another, six in a row, until there was nothing left. I just left them there. See you later. See you tomorrow.”

Did Dent feel better? Absolutely. Always does. During a March tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., he dropped a 6-1 first set to Cyril Saulnier.

Dent blamed his racket. Forcefully. Racket wrecked and spleen vented, he rallied to win the match.

“It can help you play better,” he says. “John McEnroe was the perfect example. He would throw the racket sometimes, throw a tantrum, and it would help him out.”

More help: While most junked rackets end up in the trash, Dent signs his, then donates them to charity. All’s well that ends well.

“That’s why I do it,” he says with a laugh.

In another sense, crumpled frames bring fans and pros together, physical manifestations of our common immaturity. The average club player can’t relate to Roddick’s Teutonic serves, Agassi’s whiplash reflexes, Federer’s otherworldly touch.

But racket smashing? That’s as natural as throwing a golf club. When Borg broke a racket as a boy, his parents kept him off the court for six months. He never cracked one again. His famed temperament? It was learned.

“I play tennis, and I’ve broken some rackets,” Munnerlyn says. “Sometimes, I’m about to and I catch myself. I think, ‘Hey, I don’t get free rackets like [the pros].'”

None of us does. Which is part of what makes their newfangled restraint so infuriating. Psychic Uri Geller bent a racket with his mind.

Nadal can’t crush one with his pumped-up arms?

Thankfully, the U.S. Open junior tournament starts next week. So there’s hope. In the meantime, though, we’re still waiting for a handle-shattering, shard-scattering eruption. Because when the best racket-smashing story from this year’s tournament belongs to Collins — well, it’s enough to make a fan want to break something.

“What I’d like to see is somebody tear one apart with their bare hands,” Collins says. “With wood, you’d have a chance.”

Wait. Hold up. Tear a racket to pieces? By hand?

Now that would be pretty sweet.

PALMEIRO COULD BE TRYING TO BLOCK OUT ‘INNER CHATTER,’ TOO

Baltimore Sun – Sept 1, 2005 – Bill Ordine and Roch Kubatko – Medical: Oriole may be trying to quiet ‘inner chatter,’ too, psychologists say. Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro can wear earplugs, stuff wads of cotton in his ears, even put on headphones and listen to Green Day full blast – and it won’t necessarily block the distractions that might be responsible for his feeble hitting since returning from a 10-day suspension three weeks ago after testing positive for steroids, according to some sports psychologists.

Palmeiro wore earplugs Tuesday night in Toronto to muffle the jeers from Blue Jays fans; he went 0-for-4, and is 2-for-26 with one RBI after the suspension.

“It might be that he has some inner chatter going on, and it’s not just the external distraction from the booing that’s affecting him,” said Patrick J. Cohn, an Orlando, Fla., sports psychologist.

“We often think that professional players can go into their own bubble, their own cocoon, and continue to perform well even with the distractions. In some cases, the internal chatter might include the player putting greater expectations on himself to perform. Then when they think their performance doesn’t match their own expectations, they can crumble.”

Palmeiro played down the earplugs before sitting out last night’s game.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do. I’ve never been in a situation where I’m getting booed so badly, and I really don’t know how to handle it,” he said.

“I don’t mind being booed. I’ve been booed before. I was just trying to concentrate on my at-bat and do the best that I can to help my team. And, at the time, I thought that was the best I could do. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I did what I had to do at the time.”

Sports psychologists said Palmeiro’s recent slump could be due to any number of factors, including some as basic as not being able to regain a hitting rhythm after his layoff. But they didn’t discount that Palmeiro simply isn’t used to the vitriol that followed the disclosure of his failed steroids test.

“If, during most of his career, he has been well-received by fans and well-respected by his teammates and that’s been a big motivating factor in helping him reach milestones and breaking records … then that would be an important factor,” Cohn said.

“If he really cares about teammates’ and fan approval,” Cohn added, “that could cause some issues.”

Palmeiro said he used the earplugs to help his concentration.

“I’ve been booed before. Obviously, not this heavily,” the 40-year-old first baseman said. “It’s part of the game. But when I’m up at bat, I’m trying to focus on what I have to do, and it’s just hard to really focus when the whole stadium is booing and yelling. I thought that would maybe be a way to block out some of the booing.”

Two negative things can happen when distractions overtake an athlete, said West Palm Beach, Fla., sports psychologist John Murray.

“One, you might not process information as effectively as you normally do … you might not be as visually aware, for instance,” Murray said. “And second, the information may not be communicated as well from brain to body. You might have the ability for great motor skills, but the message from your brain is blocked in getting to your arms and hands.”

Again, that could be because of external distractions – booing – or an internal distraction, “a little bit of guilt, a tinge of a depressed mood or sadness,” Murray said.

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo could have done without Palmeiro’s earplugs.

“I probably would rather have not seen it.” Perlozzo said. “I’m sure that it helped a little bit, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet it drew attention to it and could possibly make it worse. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention by any stretch.”

If distractions – either external or internal – are contributing to Palmeiro’s problems at the plate, the remedies can be elusive. It could be the player needs to get back to a regular routine of sleeping, eating and interacting with his teammates and coaches as he did before the problems surfaced, Murray said. Or the fix might not come until there is a catharsis involving the murky circumstances of Palmeiro’s steroids difficulties.

“Without addressing Palmeiro specifically, if a player took steroids and is battling those demons, he’s not going to get rid of the distractions until he comes clean,” Murray said. “On the other hand, if he felt totally blameless, then he might be playing better because it’s him against the world.”

Cohn wasn’t as sure clearing the air would help lift a transgressive player’s batting average, though.

“If the allegations are true and he has been using steroids on and off, there’s probably no need for a catharsis,” Cohn said. “He has benefited from cheating the system. Why would he have a need to come clean now?”

Palmeiro said he wasn’t sure whether he would try the earplugs again.

“It’s been hard. It hasn’t been easy,” he said. “I’ve never looked at it in a way where I expected it to be good or bad. I’m just dealing with it on a daily basis.”

EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE LIKED

Chicago Tribune – Sep 1, 2005 – Bill Ordine and Roch Kubatko – Experts say earplugs not necessarily answer for Palmeiro – Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro can wear earplugs. He can stuff wads of cotton in his ears. He can put on headphones and listen to Green Day full blast. He can do all that and it won’t necessarily block the distractions that might be responsible for his recent feeble hitting. Palmeiro wore earplugs Tuesday night in Toronto to muffle the jeers from fans; he went 0-for-4. Since his return from a 10-day suspension for testing positive for steroids, he’s 2-for-26 with one RBI. He did not play Wednesday.

“It might be that he has some inner chatter going on, and it’s not just the external distraction from the booing that’s affecting him,” said Patrick J. Cohn, an Orlando sports psychologist.

Palmeiro said he used the earplugs to help his concentration.

“I’ve been booed before. Obviously, not this heavily,” the 40-year-old first baseman said. “It’s part of the game. But when I’m up at bat, I’m trying to focus on what I have to do, and it’s just hard to really focus when the whole stadium is booing and yelling.”

Two negative things can happen when distractions overtake an athlete, said West Palm Beach, Fla., sports psychologist John Murray.

“One, you might not process information as effectively as you normally do … you might not be as visually aware, for instance,” Murray said. “And second, the information may not be communicated as well from brain to body. You might have the ability for great motor skills, but the message from your brain is blocked in getting to your arms and hands.”

If distractions–either external or internal–are contributing to Palmeiro’s problems at the plate, the remedies can be elusive. It could be the player needs to get back to a regular routine, as he did before the problems surfaced, Murray said.

Or the fix might not come until there is a catharsis involving the murky circumstances of Palmeiro’s steroids difficulties.

Palmeiro said he wasn’t sure whether he would try the earplugs again.

“It hasn’t been easy,” he said.

TENNIS-X NEWS, NOTES, QUOTES AND BARBS

Tennis-X.com – Feb 5, 2006 – Vince Spadea’s sport psychologist, Dr. John F. Murray, on his student in Delray Beach: “Vince is striking the ball down here cleaner and earlier than I have ever seen before. It is amazing. This is the result of many months of increased work ethic and seriousness, and in part due to the determination that comes from wanting to make good on a contract he signed with me last year to guarantee to reach Top 10 with sport psychology.

This exemplifies the power of goal setting and commitment — basic tools in psychology 101. I am confident that Vince will indeed make Top 10 if he stays injury free and doesn’t waver in his focus. He might even make Top 5 playing this well.”…

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

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED LETTERS

Jan 27, 2005 – Sports Illustrated Letters – “Alex in Wonderland” – A-Rod demonstrates that seeking counseling is a sign of strength, not weakness. Eventually, getting sports-psychology services will be just as accepted as seeking help for a twisted ankle. John F. Murray, West Palm Beach, Fla. (in Palm Beach, Florida since 2006)

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