Posts Tagged ‘sports psychology’

Baseball’s Winning Glue Guys

Wall Street Journal – July 15, 2009 – Darren Everson – Baseball’s Winning Glue Guys: The Gritty, Gutty Players Who Hold Teams Together and Help Them Succeed – There are aces, closers, sluggers and Gold Glovers. And then there are the really important people in a ballclub: the glue guys.

“Glueâ€? guys, in baseball parlance, are the players whose oft-overlooked performance quietly holds winning teams together—and without which, presumably, the team would fall apart. Statisticians don’t buy that they exist, but psychologists do. And players and managers swear by them.

“He’s the scrapper,â€? says Charlie Manuel, manager of the defending World Series-champion Philadelphia Phillies. “The guy who plays every day. Who gets big hits. Hustles. He’s the guy who, in his own way, whether it’s quiet or spoken or whatever, he leads.â€?
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Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies

Jason Bartlett is a glue guy. Before he joined the Rays last season, Tampa Bay had baseball’s worst record in 2007, due greatly to having the majors’ worst defense. Then Mr. Bartlett came over from the Twins and took over the shortstop position. The Rays’ defense became the best in baseball last season and they reached the World Series.

Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox’s knuckleball pitcher, is a glue guy. As Boston’s pitching staff has evolved over the past 15 years—with youngsters coming, veterans going and pricey additions like Daisuke Matsuzaka not always delivering—the dependable constant has been Mr. Wakefield, a first-time All-Star this year at 42 who has made at least 15 starts each season.

As baseball enters the second half of the season Thursday, the top contenders all have a glue guy or two whom they attribute part of their success to. With the Tigers, it’s All-Star third baseman Brandon Inge, who not only has a surprising 21 home runs but is also hitting .348 in close, late-game situations. With the Yankees, as usual, it’s shortstop Derek Jeter, who owns the highest on-base percentage among the American League’s starting shortstops despite being its oldest (35). And the Phillies insist slugger Ryan Howard is a glue guy—despite not fitting the tag’s small, scrappy stereotype—because he quietly never takes a day off.

“They’re the reliable guys,â€? says Braves president John Schuerholz, “who, in the toughest of circumstances, in the biggest of moments, deliver the goods.â€?

The legend of the glue guy is an extension of the age-old question in sports over whether natural “winnersâ€? exist—players who are greater than their statistics indicate, who win in part because of their force of will or ability to perform under pressure. Whether it’s with superstars who make clutch plays or unknowns who have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, fans and observers ascribe special talents to these players—often exaggerating their actual contributions.

Michael Jordan famously said in a 1997 Nike commercial that he’d missed 26 potential game-winning shots. “He’s probably been successful about 50 times,â€? then-Bulls coach Phil Jackson said at the time. But when Mr. Jordan retired from the Bulls in 1999—seven months after making his iconic shot to beat the Jazz for the championship—the total number of game-winning shots he’d hit was 25.

Skeptical about whether winners exist, statistician Scott Berry of Berry Consultants studied the matter in 2005. Taking the statistics of more than 14,000 players who had played in Major League Baseball, he created a formula to find the ultimate winner: the player whose teams exceeded their win-loss expectations the most when he happened to be on them.
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Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox

The winners’ winner? Dennis Cook, a journeyman lefty reliever in the 1990s. Several players whom fans widely regard as winners and glue guys did fare well: Mr. Jeter, the Yankees shortstop, was in the 97th percentile, and David Wells, a noted big-game pitcher in the 1990s and 2000s, was in the 99th. But the presence of the relatively unknown Mr. Cook at the top, Mr. Berry says, proves his point. “Announcers refer to players who just have the will to win,â€? he says. “The fact that he comes out on top pokes fun at that notion.â€?

But Mr. Cook does believe in glue. Although he admits he was lucky to bounce from one winner to the next—including the 1996 division-winning Rangers, the 1997 world-champion Marlins and the 2000 National League-winning Mets—Mr. Cook says his teams won in part because they invested in overlooked roles like middle relievers.

“A long man who eats up 100 innings a year, he saves the rest of your pitching staff,â€? he says. “Those guys don’t get recognized, but they’re every bit as important. Baseball people see that, but number-crunchers don’t.â€?

Psychologists say there is indeed a spill-over effect with glue guys that helps their teams win, one which goes beyond quantifiable contributions. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist
in Palm Beach, Fla., says that teams are much like fraternities or high schools in that players spend a massive amount of time in close proximity to each other. Because of this, “they’re constantly influencing one another,â€? he says. “One of the keys to confidence is social support and modeling. If you have some outstanding role models who deal with pressure effectively, that glue is going to spill out of the bottle and help everyone.â€?

A huge hole in the reasoning of glue believers is that it’s impossible to know in retrospect how teams would have fared without their glue players. For example, the Rays won 58% of their games (11 of 19) earlier this season when Mr. Bartlett, their slick-fielding shortstop, was out with an injured ankle. They’ve won 54% overall. But the first-place Phillies’ abundance of glue, according to both them and their opponents, appears to be what’s put that franchise over the top—just a few years after it had a reputation for underachieving. “It’s not about just one guy,â€? says All-Star second baseman Chase Utley.

The Phillies’ most-talented players also happen to be their glue guys, including Mr. Utley, who has led the majors the past two years in times hit by pitch, and Mr. Howard, who has played in 362 of Philadelphia’s last 363 games. Unlike many left-handed hitters over the years, he even refused to take a day off against Randy Johnson once last season.

“He’s definitely a leader, just by keeping his mouth shut,â€? Mr. Manuel says. “I call him the Big Piece. As in the big piece of the puzzle.â€?

… just another example of the benefits of sports psychology.

Simple formula fuels UFC’s appeal

Watch Video: Palm Beach to Las Vegas for UFC 100 (many more on the way)

Las Vegas Review Journal – July 9, 2009 – Adam Hill – Fighters’ physical, mental toughness stoke fan interest. Brandon Beals looks like every other Ultimate Fighting Championship fan walking around Mandalay Bay three days before the mixed martial arts outfit’s historic Saturday night card.

Beals and six friends are assembled near the doors where they expect some of the competitors in UFC 100 to exit on their way out of Wednesday’s media workouts, hoping to get a glimpse of some of the sport’s biggest stars.

The 38-year-old Beals said he has been a fan since UFC 1, nearly 16 years ago.

“I think it’s nonstop action. There’s lots of upsets. I think it’s also very fan-friendly,” Beals said. “There’s more action than boxing, and that’s cool.”

Yes, Beals might be like any other UFC fan — except he is the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church in Lynnwood, Wash., outside of Seattle.

He does not think the sport conflicts with the values he preaches at his church.

“If it was still no-holds barred, if it was underground or illegal, then yes,” he said. “But this is legal and sanctioned. It’s got rules. You’re talking about stellar athletes, so I don’t believe it does at all.”

Dr. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla., said the adoption of rules went a long way to helping mixed martial arts gain acceptance among mainstream fans and that the sport will continue to grow.

“As far as the blood-and-guts aspect, some people will be turned off by that, and that’s understandable,” Murray said. “But if you look at it as a pure sport, and the rules are important to that, it’s not that way. If they continue to make it something that won’t turn off a large part of the population, it will just continue to get bigger and bigger.”

Murray has worked with MMA fighters in the past. He said he was not interested in the sport until he started learning about some of the athletes.

“It wasn’t something I would have naturally gotten into,” said Murray, who was a tennis player. “I’ve grown to appreciate how amazingly complex it is and how much the mental skills need to be a part of any training.”

Frank Mir, the interim heavyweight champion who will try to unify the belt against current heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar on Saturday, thinks much of that mental aspect is ingrained in the sport’s competitors.

“I think that we’re kind of genetically wired at birth to be a certain type of individual,” Mir said. “The same kind of guy that will jump out of an airplane or go bungee jumping. The same kind of guy that signs up to go into the military and doesn’t just sign up to go fix cars, but he wants to sign up to be a ranger and be the first guy into battle.”

Mir said a fighter’s mentality differs from that of other athletes.

“I mean, in a football game, you go and hit somebody. Everybody’s wearing helmets and pads. It’s not that personal level of seeing the guy in front of you and causing him discomfort,” he said. “Whereas in the competitive arts, such as boxing, wrestling and MMA, there is that closeness of combat. And so first and foremost, you have to have that mindset that you’re willing to overcome those fears and just, you know, a less PC term, you’re just kind of crazy, I guess, to begin with.”

Stephan Bonnar, who will fight Saturday against Mark Coleman, says the mental aspect is still a struggle, particularly during grueling training camps.

“It definitely takes a different kind of person. It’s not for everyone,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s still hard. Every day, you get pushed to your breaking point. It’s a constant struggle just trying to stay in the best shape possible. It’s not like baseball, where you can get your swing down and you’re just hitting dingers. It takes tons of work every day.”

As for what keeps drawing fans to the sport, Murray says the formula is pretty simple.

“It’s one person against another person, and they can bring whatever skills they have to the table, within reason,” he said. “It’s raw.”

That has helped the sport grow quickly with fans across all demographics.

In fact, while Beals attends his fourth live event Saturday, the pay-per-view broadcast of the card will be shown back home at his church.

Dr. Murray is in Las Vegas this weekend for UFC 100 and sports psychology.

That was Best Match in Tennis History

Special to JohnFMurray.com – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – The match is not even over, and Dr. John F. Murray, a Palm Beach sports psychologist has already declared that Roddick/Federer in the Wimbledon Final of 2009 is the best match in tennis history. “It is not even close,” said Murray. This was a battle for the ages, and both players went beyond human in this epic struggle to see who would crack first.

Murray posted frequent tweets on the website at Twitter.com and at one point declared that if the match went another 30 minutes it would be the best ever. Well it did … and the declaration came well before 1 PM New York time … this was the best.

“This will be a match we will watch forever, said Murray, and the pressure play will be studied carefully and help help raise the mental performance of competitors in all sports.”

There is not doubt that this match was a case of the player who had performed best in the area of sports psychology!

Video on Mental Benefits of Stretching

Sports Psychology Tip #3 – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – Stretching before any athletic competition is very smart. The physical benefits are obvious, but what you might not realize is that this helps remarkably to relax the athlete and get them ready mentally too.

While on a coaching trip with my client Vince Spadea who was playing a tournament in Chicago in July, 2009, I spoke with him about how stretching helps him with his performance.

Enjoy this video at:

The Power of Goal Setting with Spadea

Sports Psychology Tip #2 – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – Setting goals is incredibly important in any achievement situation. I use goal setting with all my clients, but the goals and strategies differ markedly depending on the athlete, the sport and the circumstance. Still you need to be away of some principles. I refer you to an article on goal setting that I wrote as a two page centerfold for Tennis Magazine in 2007.

Below is a video of my client, Vince Spadea, talking about how goals have helped him in his career:

Dr. John and Vince Spadea on Social Facilitation

Sports Psychology Tip #1 – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – If you are a serious athlete it is extremely important to get the crowd behind you. The benefit from an audience is called the “audience effect” or “social facilitation.” It works best with advanced performers in many fields. The opposite effect, social obstruction, can reduce performance with a large crowd when the skills are not well refined. See the article on social obstruction with mention of social facilitation here

In the video below, Dr. John F. Murray and his client Vince Spadea, whom he was coaching in Chicago in 2009, talk about how Vince has benefited from a supportive crowd in Key Biscayne and Delray Beach in his career. He is from South Florida, so he talks about how well he has done in these tournaments and attributes it to sports psychology and social facilitation.

Indians’ Snell deals with depression

Sports Psychology Commentary in the Indianapolis Star – July 2, 2009 – Phillip B. Wilson – He feared he would hurt himself while struggling with Pirates.

Ian Snell’s return to Indianapolis couldn’t have been more unusual. It’s not often a major league pitcher asks to be demoted.

Then he comes down to Triple-A and strikes out nearly everybody. His fastball clocked consistently between 94-96 mph, Snell struck out 17, including 13 in a row, Sunday at Victory Field. This was the same pitcher who threw the stadium’s only no-hitter on May 15, 2005.

But after his outing Sunday, Snell told WTHR-13 he has been battling depression and considered drastic measures about a month ago due to the growing negativity surrounding his struggles in Pittsburgh. He was 2-8 with a 5.36 ERA in 15 starts with the Pirates this year.

“Sometimes people do stupid stuff and I had to fight it, not to do something stupid and take my life for myself and from my family and my parents,” Snell told the station.

The demons, Snell called them, can be common in the high-pressure, big business world of professional sports. But they have earned more publicity recently in baseball. In the past two weeks, major leaguers Khalil Greene, Dontrelle Willis and Joey Votto have been on or off the disabled list with what have been described as anxiety-related issues.

One of the game’s best pitchers, Kansas City’s Zack Greinke, left the team for a while three years ago with a social anxiety disorder. Now he’s 10-3 with a 1.95 ERA.

Snell, 27, decided he needed to get out of Pittsburgh to get his mind right. He lashed out then at the media and fans.

“I just made a decision for myself, for my career and better for my life, so why not do it now than wait for later, until everything really blows up?” Snell said last week after a game in Pittsburgh.

The Indians said Snell is finished discussing the issue. Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark wrote in an e-mail the team does not want to do interviews on a private matter, but added “(we) have taken the appropriate steps to get the appropriate people involved. We are here to support Ian.”

That Snell seeks help is most important, said John Murray, a prominent sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla.

“They’ll say they have a dislocated throwing shoulder, but they won’t say they have a social phobia,” Murray said of the most common problem with clinical depression and anxiety disorders. “Many people are suffering in society because they don’t seek help.

“The more we avoid problems, the more they have a hold on us.”

Snell had an impressive Triple-A season with the Indians in 2005. He went 11-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 18 starts, including that no-hitter. He overpowered Triple-A hitters with 104 strikeouts in 112 innings and had just 23 walks.

He stuck with the Pirates coming out of spring training in 2006 and went 14-11 with a 4.74 ERA, then went 9-12 with a 3.76 ERA the next year.

Last year’s ERA ballooned to 5.42, when he went 7-12. He walked a career-high 89 batters in 1641/3 innings.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington acknowledged in a recent interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Snell has struggled with the backlash from bad outings.

“Sometimes, a player can be his own worst enemy,” Huntington said. “In this case, we have to find the right buttons to push to help Ian reach his potential.

“The most successful players block it out. The ones that aren’t able to, it wears on them. In Ian’s case, for the better part of a year and a half now, he hasn’t felt like he’s been supported by the fans because he has struggled, and he has not been able to block that out. I think it will be a big step for Ian to make that jump.”

Snell’s next scheduled start is Saturday. The July 4 fireworks crowd at Victory Field is again expected to be a sellout, in excess of 15,000 fans.

“Seek God and positive people around you and look for your true friends, and they’ll come out and support you,” Snell told the station. “A lot of people support me right now. I’m just grateful, because if I didn’t have them, I probably wouldn’t be standing here right now.”

Hope you enjoyed the commentary on sports psychology

Sports Psychology Workshop Videos and Spadea

Wimbledon, England – Special to JohnFMurray.com – It was a long time since Vince Spadea had won at Wimbledon, not to mention that he had not won anywhere in a while. “It was good to see the scrappy veteran prove that when the going gets tough, the rapper gets going in a decisive 3 set victory over Paul Capdeville 6-0, 6-4, 7-5,” said sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray. “It was especially rewarding for me that his success came right on the heels of the 2009 Smart Tennis Sports Psychology Workshops held two days prior, and not too far from the All England Lawn Tennis Club.” Videos of this workshop in several parts are now available on YouTube.

“The British tennis fan and serious amateur competitive tennis player love Vince Spadea,” said Murray. “They tell me that they enjoy his personality and outspoken nature the way they loved John McEnroe, even if their reviews of his musical abilities are mixed.” “He’s eccentric, and the British people are too conservative, so he helps keep us balanced,” said one tennis player who recently attended Murray’s sports psychology workshop.

Murray has been working with and supporting Spadea since his record losing streak and subsequent comeback, and officially coached Spadea to a win over his next Wimbledon opponent, Igor Andreev, at the 2007 Australian Open. “I’ve not traveled with him this year as a fill-in coach. I stick to sports psychology most of the time from my office and usually meet with him when he is in town. Australia was a fun trip in ’07 and I got several coaching wins with him on the Aussie Open tour, but it’s almost unheard of for a sports psychologist to assume the coaching role, even if temporarily, but I had been a tennis coach in the past. What works best for most players, and is really lacking, is solid training in sports psychology”.”

CBS: Lesley Visser on How Sports Psychology Would Help David Ortiz

CBSSports.com – June 8, 2009 – See NFL Hall of Famer Lesley Visser’s new article about the unbelievable struggle faced by David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. In the article she speaks with sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray about his struggle and likely solution at:
http://www.cbssports.com/cbssports/story/11834418
Many athletes benefit from sports psychology.

Earl Morrall Shares Wisdom with Sports Psychologist

Sarasota, Florida – June 6, 2009 – By Dr. John F Murray – Once upon a time there was an NFL quarterback who played for the Miami Dolphins. Many do not remember his name or his face, which is odd given his enormous accomplishments, but I will never forget. All that quarterback did was lead his team to victory in 71% of the games in the perfect 17-0 season! Imagine … the most influential quarterback on the greatest team in football history is largely forgotten. Well, I met him Earl Morrall today at the Hyatt Sarasota, and I don’t want anyone to forget him.

When Bob Griese broke his ankle in the fifth game against the San Diego Chargers in 1972, I was an 11-year-old fan sitting in the Orange Bowl stands, watching Deacon Jones’ helmet smash into Griese’s leg with my binoculars. I was devastated. My boyhood team lost their leader. How could an aging veteran with a crew cut win? He had backed up Johnny Unitas in Baltimore but how could the team win without Griese, I wondered? Now I think that since that season was so incredibly rare, they probably never would have never made it to 17-0 without the confident guidance of the experienced and calm veteran, Earl Morrall.

People forget his name because the young hotshot Griese took over again in the championship game in Pittsburgh, and then won the Super Bowl as if he had never been out. But don’t forget Earl Morrall, or you ignore history. Like the no name defense that now belongs in the Hall of Fame, Morrall was just an unassuming player who found a way to win.

Over the years I wondered what had become of the aging quarterback who contributed so much to Don Shula‘s perfect masterpiece. I reflected that he must be 90 years old now because he was so old then! Late 30s can seem like 50s to a kid. This kid, now 47 and walking to retrieve his car in the Hyatt parking lot, got a memorable surprise when Earl Morrall suddenly appeared. It was a spirited chat with a childhood sports idol. He is 75 now, but still looks as calm and composed as he did those days handing off to Csonka, throwing a post to Mandich or Warfield, or running for a touchdown that time when it seemed like it took forever! I enjoyed picking Morrall’s brain for tips that I can share with my clients, and especially those who play quarterback.

Morrall is at the Hyatt with a number of other athletes representing Champs during a fund raiser called Celebrity Sports Night. Others here this weekend include Calvin Murphy, Mia Hamm, Dominique Wilkins, Devin Hester, Luke McCown, Andre Berto, Milt May, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Otis Birdsong, Sam Jones, Wade Boggs, Michael Ray Richardson, Artis Gilmore, and Mario Chalmers.

So what words of wisdom did Morrall have to share about success and leadership learned in playing on the greatest team ever? There was a lot, but here are a few quickies: (1) communicate well with everyone around you and make sure you are all on the same page; (2) the difference between “goodâ€? and “greatâ€? is often just to do a little bit more; (3) sacrifice and keep your focus on the team rather than yourself; (4) work hard; and (5) do the right thing. He also talked about how different the game was back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and how there wasn’t nearly the money in sports as today. It wasn’t until the end of his career that he really started making money, he said.

Those who know this sports psychologist know that the 1972 Miami Dolphins helped inspire an 11-year-old kid to want a career in sports some day. It worked and I owe a lot to Earl Morrall even though I only now met him 36 years after he did his job, taking over for a broken captain and driving toward touchdowns and immortality.

The “72â€? team will still be talked about 100 years from now. Miami Dolphins fans everywhere should never forget the quarterback who actually contributed the most to that team. He led the greatest team ever to 71% of their victories. He deserves a high five and he got one from me today, even if 36 years late. Long live the man, the myth, and Earl Morrall’s crew cut!