Posts Tagged ‘sports psychology’

GOLD: Coaches go from a scream to a whisper

Los Angeles Daily News – Jon Gold – March 14, 2009 – In a parallel universe, Keith Higgins would beckon Randall Harris to the Reseda bench, put his arm around Harris’s slight shoulders, apologize for disturbing him and politely ask if he could dole out some advice. “Now, Randall,” Higgins would say ever-so-gently, “next time you drive, look for Ryan Watkins crashing down toward the basket, and if you don’t mind – and, now, this is just a suggestion – perhaps you could pass Watkins the ball.” And Harris would say, “Gee, coach, I didn’t see it like that. Thanks for the tip. Gosh, you’re swell.” And they would both smile, go on their merry ways.

But this is not the Brady Bunch, Higgins is not Greg Brady and Harris is not the youngest one in curls.
This is Los Angeles City Section basketball and Higgins is screaming his head off. He tears into Harris with the wrath of a thousand wronged prison wardens. The veins popping out of his forehead have veins popping out of their foreheads. He is trying to prove a point and he is doing so by giving Harris a first hand look at his tonsils.

Another coach might simply calmly explain himself go over XS, reiterate us. Out of ten college pro or college games this weekend, ten different coaches will coach ten different ways. Some will yell. Some will whisper. Harvard Westlake of North Hollywood boys coach Greg Hilliard is a whisperer, living proof that yelling is not the only way.

Just when a game was getting a little close for comfort Thurday, Hilliard was relaxing. If Higgins storms the sidelines like in battle, Hilliard might as well be lounging in a recliner in Brookstown. Don’t confuse calm for disinterest though. Hilliard is just as passionate as Higgins. He just channels it differently. “I have a hard time reaching a boiling point when it comes to a kids game,” said Hilliard, who has led Harvard Westlake to nine CFS championships. I understand how the frustration builds. There are skills you develop to keep some of those things inside.

When I was younger and more frustrated, I’d go out for a three mile run after a game. Higgins doesn’t run. He yells. His style is to scream. And as he let’s Harris have it for not giving the hot handed watkins the ball on the previous play, Harris lets it all soak in. On the next trip down the court, Harris passes off to Watkins who sinks the bucket. Point taken. State bucking the trend. on that play Harris responded. It doesn’t always work so well. In a recent game, Higgins summoned Harris to the sideline and shouted at his point guard to get the defense into a two minus two minus one zone. Harris felt the team should instead shift to the one minus three minus one. Higgins insisted on the two minus two minus one. Harris reiterated his preference for the one minus three minus one. Back and forth they went.

“For me, it’s not hard to stick up for myself,” Harris said. “I go ahead and say it. Sometimes we go back and forth, but never in a negative way. We’ve never argued on something negative. Most of the time when he’s yelling at me it’s something I really need to hear. Harris can handle it. Some kids cannot. But that makes no difference to Higgins. This is his style, his way. He knows no other. With kids, it’s about survival. “They can pick up on vibes,” Higgins said. “They have a sense. They know if you’re real or fake. Their only sense it to figure out when you’re real or faking it. They know that when I’m on the court I’m real. I’m Coach Higgins. I only know one style and that’s my style.”

At Lock High School, he played for Coach Michael Jackson, the exact opposite, a pacifist, not in your face, but gentle. To Higgins it didn’t work. It did, however, lay the foundation for Higgins’ style. “My high school coach was more reserved and when you’re playing at Lock against Westchester and Crenshaw it doesn’t work,” Higgins said. “I wish someone pushed us a little harder. Back in those days, teams scored one hundred points in a game against us because we didn’t get after it, didn’t have the passion, the fire.” Higgins does not have a problem with passion. If anything, he has too much. His own high school coach was quite the opposite.

“We’ve learned to associate success with certain mannerisms,” said John F. Murray, a noted sports psychologist based in Florida. “If (Coach Higgins) associated failure with being mellow, then he’ll react differently. He was a smart kid and he learned to make those adjustments as a coach, and he did.

When Higgins took over at Receda three years ago he was confrontational from the get go. A new coach might take a different approach, might try to make nice with parents and players and faculty. He immediately made his personality known for better or worse. You go to English class, Math class it’s straightforward. On the court it’s emotions, Higgins said. At times you have to be that father figure. But there’s that fine line, father figure and coach, and the best coaches know how to juggle
that.

Not the only way, like Higgins, Hilliard was affected by his own coaches who came from an earlier generation than Higgins. Back then coaches were drill seargents and drill seargents begat softer coaches just as the next generation of softer coaches begat the Higgins of the world. “Our experiences make us who we are,” Hilliard said. “Without ado, the experiences I had as a kid made me who I am. I felt there was an absense of coaches who do it the way I do. You have the John Wooden model, my personal model, who thinks of himself as a teacher first. You have the drill seargent approach and they get great results in the heat of battle. Overall, for the success of the team, which is reaching fifteen players at a time, I’ve never wished I had a different style. Like Higgins, he knew from his start as well. “I realized very early that wasn’t going to be my style,” Hilliard said. “I started
as a head coach 35 years ago by myself, no assistants. Now, I don’t believe in going after a kid or going off but I always have a coach who can step in and be that for a kid.”

So it seems, Hilliard might not be the one to yell, but he knows the kids sometimes need to be yelled at, setting a tone. It is the second quarter against Liberty and Receda has started to showboat. Four of the first drives have resulted in lone layups. A would be game changing dunk carems off the back of the rim. Higgins is livid. He calls a timeout. His face is contorted in a way that would scard Lucifer. His eyebrows are furled in a way that displays pure, absolute disgust. His head shakes slowly, yet he says nothing, almost as if he is ready to unleash fiery hell, but is just now forming the words. His lip snarls. His eyes burn. This is not a happy Higgins. “You guys are playing the crowd. Stop looking East/West. Look North/South. He will later said he had to lay into them. Another coach might have drawn a diagram or simply called the offending player over for a quick lesson. Higgins ignores the clipboard and screams at all. It is not without consideration.

“This sounds crazy, but I try to really coach them for life,” said Higgins, whose own playing career was derailed by a car accident in 2000. “When I talk to a kid I always think about how it will affect their lives. I know this will help them be men or help them be stronger. I know these kids look at me as the coach, some as a father. I won’t have regrets because I know it will help them, and Murray says it will. Murray has worked with athletes in all sports from preps to pros. His clientel listings include some of the world’s top performers. “While every athlete reacts differently to a coaches words they all seem to respond to yelling by at least paying attention. There’s no quicker way to get attention, to have immediate behavior shift with a young person than with a slight form of punishment, Murray said, and yelling is a slight form of punishment. At the younger levels it can leave scars, psychopathology, boyish behavior, but in a structured setting it may be a good facilitator to get people to act. It might mirror the quickness with which a coach needs to respond in a basketball game. There’s no better way to wake somebody up.”

Randall Harris played basketball for years under the same coach, his father, who coached in a similar manner to Higgins. When Harris transfered to Receda from TAP and began playing for his Higgins for his last season he immediately reacted to the rants and raves of a fiery coach. “I’m pretty used to it,” Harris said. “I know where he’s coming from. I don’t take it as he’s screaming at me. He’s giving me instruction. I listen to what he’s saying, not the tone of how he’s saying it. But really, that’s exactly what he’s listening to.

“When you’re in somebody’s face and giving immediate feedback that’s often what kids are looking for,” Murray said. But there’s a lot more that goes into it than yelling. Yelling itself is not what gains respect. Being real. Higgins will approach you with his hand extended from a mile away, a smile swept across his face. Off the court after the game has ended he’s a prince. His handshakes last for minutes, his other hand draped across the shoulder as if to say “you’re my brother.”

Hilliard, whose Wolverines play Oceanview at noon, is like a kind uncle, the successful uncle who passes out words of wisdom and whose words of wisdom are to never be questioned because, why would you question them. The common link between the two besides success (both are section champions this season) is that they are both completely honest in the delivery of their respective styles. Higgins is a yeller and a screamer and he gets close enough in his kid’s faces that they could taste the same piece of gum. Hilliard is the quiet one who will sit in his chair on the sidelines and save his words for when it matters most, barely rising above a peep. “I got started in coaching because I wanted to be the kind of coach I didn’t play for growing up,” Hilliard said. That’s a coach who sets an example and became a mentor. “I don’t judge what another coach does in any way. I imagine that some of my kids would benefit by that kick in the butt. Hopefully you reach people by your style. Some of my good friends in the coaching business are wild men on the sidelines. You have to be who you are as a coach.

Hilliard is a whisperer. Higgins is a yeller. Both are winners.

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.”

A change would do Federer good if he wants to shed Nadal curse

CBS Sports – Lesley Visser – March 30, 2009 – KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Nick Bollettieri, who has coached 10 No. 1 players in the world — from Becker to Agassi to Seles to Sharapova –- didn’t mince words when reflecting on what Roger Federer has to do to regain the form that made him dominant for most of the decade.

“I think he has to change his game completely,” Bollettieri said. “He’s got to serve and volley, he’s got to take chances to come in and he’s got to do something about his confidence.”

Federer is often voted fan favorite and cited for his sportsmanship, but his game has lost its gentlemanly swagger. It’s well documented that he lost his No. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal, who has now won 13 of the 19 matches they’ve played, including epic battles at Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

For the first time in five years, Federer isn’t seeded first here at the Sony Ericsson Open, and it has been two years since he won a Masters Series event, the tournaments listed just below the Grand Slams. Federer, always dangerous but lately less damaging, could face Andy Roddick in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal, where Roddick stunned the Swiss legend. Moving on, he would likely face Andy Murray or Nadal, both of whom have his number.

“Roger’s such a laid-back kid,” said Bollettieri, who, at 77, looks at someone 27 as still in his boyhood. “He has problems with Murray (who is 6-2 against Federer), but his major hurdle is Nadal. Roger has got to improve his backhand when Nadal hits that heavy topspin crosscourt. Roger should aim for the middle of the court.”

Nadal is hungry now, playing with breathtaking speed and power. The world No. 1, the French and Australian Open champion, the Wimbledon champion, the man who saved five match points just weeks ago against David Nalbandian  in the fourth round at Indian Wells, which he won, has nothing missing in his game.

“He’s got everything,” said legend Bud Collins. “He can play offense or defense, he can serve, he has strength, he can control the game from the baseline and he has the best inside-out forehand since Jim Courier.”

Nadal has already won six Grand Slams, an Olympic gold medal and a Davis Cup championship. He also has Toni Nadal, his uncle and coach, a position Federer has not filled since severing his relationship with Tony Roche two years ago.

“I think Roger needs a coach,” said Collins. “He told me once years ago, ‘I want to hear my own voice,’ but Nadal has crawled into his head, like a worm.”

Federer spoiled us with his gorgeous, unstoppable tennis, but he has now lost five straight matches to the Spaniard Nadal. Federer has been the overachieving perfectionist, effortless on the court. But now he needs a mental tune-up.

“Nadal is in his head,” said Collins, “the way Bjorn Borg couldn’t beat John McEnroe at the U.S. Open. This is an incredible rivalry, but Roger has lost his confidence.”

Is Federer’s run over? Will he ever win another Grand Slam? Or does he just need Dr. Phil?

“Well maybe not Dr. Phil,” said longtime sports psychologist Dr. John Murray who traveled with Vince Spadea to the Australian Open. “There is no doubt that mental coaching can have an enormous effect on confidence, and, for Roger, the clock is ticking. He should be talking regularly — 30- to 60-minute sessions, to someone who’s done a full assessment of him and his game, someone who’s actively getting him ready for matches, not just a sit down with a therapist.”

At 2-2 of the fifth and final set at Wimbledon, during the second rain delay, Nadal talked to his coach, Toni, and his trainer, Rafael Maymo, in the locker room. After two successive losses to Federer on the lawn at SW19, Nadal told his team he knew he was going to win this one. In January, Nadal brought Federer to exhausted, emotional tears after winning the Australian Open 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 6-2 and accepting the trophy from Rod Laver. The Sony Ericsson is scheduled to be their next encounter.

“I know this is a big week for me,” said Federer after his second-round win over Kevin Kim. “Last season was very, very tough. I’ve been struggling against Rafa, and Murray, too. I have to get wins against them to turn it around.”

Nadal is 22 and will try to prevent Federer from capturing a record-tying 14th Grand Slam. But the mighty lefty, Nadal, and the gossamer righty, Federer, have given us magnificent memories.

“Tennis has not had a period like this, with two such gentlemen at the top, since Don Budge and Gottfried Von Cramm,” said Collins of the two rivals known for their courtesy in the 1930s. “They’re both so unselfish — we’re in a golden period.”

2009 Smart Tennis Sport Psychology Workshop

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Palm Beach, Florida and London, England – March 26, 2009 – Sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray will be conducting the 8th Annual Smart Tennis Sport Psychology Workshop in London, England on the weekend before Wimbledon. Attendees can choose one of two days, Friday June 19 or Saturday June 20, for the full day events held at the prestigious sponsor site, the Sutton Tennis Academy in Surrey. This event is also being sponsored by The Bulldog Club, a company providing the finest bed and breakfast in hand-picked private homes around London.

Dr. Murray will be joined again by London tennis coach Paul Barton of London Tennis and celebrity guests occasionally attend as well. Past attendees include spoon bender Uri Geller, top squash player in the history of India Ritwik Bhattacharya, English tennis pro Barry Cowan and American tennis pro Eric Taino.

Players receive a professional mental skills evaluation, feedback including a complete mental skills profile, one year of mental skills training follow-up, a personally signed copy of Dr. Murray’s book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” (cover endorsed by Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport), entry into a mini-tournament at the end of the day, a group imagery session and much more.

While working with a sports psychologist for a year alone can cost over 10,000 Sterling, the total cost is about 5 Sterling per week for those who attend. In sum, the cost for the full program is 275 Sterling. London Tennis members receive a 25 Sterling discount and tennis pros who bring at least three students are allowed to attend for free. Cost to attend just for the workshop is 99 Sterling (without individual evaluation or one-year of follow-up mental coaching).

For more information or to sign up for one of these exclusive and limited places, please contact Dr. John F. Murray or Paul Barton at:

John F. Murray, Ph.D.
Tel in USA: 561-596-9898
Email: johnfmurray@mindspring.com
Web: www.JohnFMurray.com

Paul Barton
London Tennis Ltd
Tel in UK: 0202 8789 0482
Mobile: 07961 170675
Email – paul@londontennis.co.uk
Web: www.londontennis.co.uk

Race for No. 1: It’s all in the mind

The Times of India – Times News Network – Partha Bhaduri -As India and SA resume battle to replace Australia as the world’s best cricket team, psychologists believe mental skills will hold the key

Baseball legend ‘Yogi’ Berra once ambiguously remarked how ‘‘sport is 90% mental, the other half is physical’’, but how much of a game is actually won or lost in the mind? Interestingly, some leading sports psychologists across the globe say the answer to who will usurp Australia’s crown and become cricket’s next No. 1 team might lie in the minds of the players themselves. They believe the churning in the game’s order of dominance has been brought about by India and South Africa’s clarity of vision, even as the declining Aussies continue to lose cohesion due to frequent changes in personnel. Dhoni and Graeme Smith’s squads, say psychologists, are on a ‘confidence-performance spiral’: a rare occurrence in team sport in which the uncluttered minds of in-form individuals creates a ‘modelling effect’ on the rest, boosting performance and making the team well-placed to win the key moments. It’s here that skill sets are put to the test: this ‘spiral’ is what motivates a team member to play above himself in a tight situation.

Agree or not, it’s an interesting debate which stretches across the full spectrum of sport — Roger Federer’s travails against Rafael Nadal are a case in point — but instant-reaction team games like cricket are as dependent on individual ‘situational’ factors as, say, tennis is. Batsmen out of form push at the ball harder because their mind is confused and muscles tense, denying the team crucial momentum. Conversely, like in Dhoni and Gary Kirsten’s case, smart captaincy or coaching can induce confidence and team harmony, leading to a winning run.

For example, within 18 months of Roger Bannister’s breakthrough sub-four-minute mile run in 1954, 16 other athletes followed suit. Did they suddenly get faster and train harder? No. Bannister had simply breached the psychological barrier and runners were no longer limited by their minds. By shredding Australia’s long-perceived aura of invincibility, India and SA might have created a similar ripple effect in cricket.

Renowned sport performance expert John F. Murray, the ‘Roger Federer of sports psychology’ who first introduced the concept of the MPI or ‘Mental Performance Index’ in sport and helped Vincent Spadea recover from one of the longest losing streaks in tennis history — 21 games — and climb from No. 229 to No. 18 in the rankings, spies some interesting mental battles currently underway in cricket.

He says Australia, hampered by the retirement of a clutch of once-in-a-generation players, are ‘‘trying too hard and becoming overly aware of their struggles, leading to lower confidence, changes in strategy and an attempt to force things’’. He suggests such teams need to look at “specific, individual mental ratings and performance-related factorsâ€? to boost team results. India, on the other hand, are on the cusp of building a ‘collective aura’ in New Zealand — much like SA are at home — with Dhoni’s clarity of thought and flexible strategies, along with a clutch of ‘champion mentality’ players, creating a bold and aggressive approach.

‘‘Winning habits are initiated in the brain. The difference between individual and team sport is actually less than it appears on the surface,’’ Murray told TOI, ‘‘Players with the champion mentality can rise above external distractions. This is not to suggest team harmony or smart coaching is not effective. Coaches can turn teams around mentally and conversely, a coaching change can also be disastrous for a well-oiled outfit. But individuals foster team habits. Players who don’t perform well negatively influence others.’’ Winning teams, suggests Murray, develop “resilienceâ€? and “consistent visualization routines,â€? helping them to turn a game around from impossible situations.

Dr Bob Grove of the School of Sport Science at the University of Western Australia believes Australia are suffering from ‘‘paralysis-by-analysis’’ because they are a team in transition. ‘‘Australia had a high benchmark. Sports performers in general tend to be concrete thinkers who believe the harder you try, the better you do. But paying attention to every little detail can be counterproductive. Also, with so many new players coming in, you can’t really expect the same degree of personal comfort and group-level confidence in Australia anymore.’’ Mental attitude, in essence, is more important than mental capacity, explaining why India’s natural strokeplayers like Sehwag and Yuvraj can play with such arrogant freedom. This is where Grove believes India and SA are getting the mental basics right: ‘‘In a fastpaced, reactive sport like cricket, it isn’t possible to focus on more than two key elements of a skilled physical performance. ‘Uncluttered’ doesn’t mean ‘blank’, it means focusing on one or two aspects of the skill. In time, this permeates through a group.’’

This is the ‘confidence-performance spiral,’ but it’s not just pure instinct. In New Zealand, where conditions are unfamiliar to more than half the squad, the collective mindset could play a crucial role. India’s move to induct five pacers has found favour from psychologists as it suggests a bold, confident approach. Murray, however, warns: ‘‘No team can remain static or it will fall by the wayside.’’

Since top-level sport is mostly in the mind, why do teams, or individuals, still slip up on the mental aspects? Former cricketerturned-psychologist Jeremy Snape, who helped JP Duminy with ‘visualisation’ skills before the Australia series, told TOI: ‘‘Duminy was thinking he wouldn’t get a game, so we prepared him as if he was playing the first Test. As luck would have it, (Ashwell) Prince broke his thumb and Duminy was ready. I think we have separated the mind and technical aspects for too long. The best coaches of the future will unlock habits and potential more effectively. The players need more coping skills in this increasingly pressurised atmosphere but they seem to be training in the same old ways. Coaching styles play a role in the motivational climate.’’ India and SA have managed distractions well, but whose trained instincts will shine through better? Who will set limits on their thoughts first, and stumble? That will be the key to which team dominates in the long run.
Partha Bhaduri, Times of India

OFFSIDES BEYOND THE GAME – The Pregame Speeches

Tampa Tribune – January 31, 2009 – Brett McMurphy – Knute Rockne pleaded to his Notre Dame Fighting Irish to “win one for the Gipper.”

John “Bluto” Blutarsky used a much different approach, asking his Delta Tau Chi members if it was over “when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.”

Although both were successful, neither motivational speech has been uttered in a Super Bowl locker room, not that we’re aware of, anyway.

So what does a head coach actually say to his team minutes before they play in the biggest game of their lives?

It all depends on who you ask.

SHULA’S SUPER BOWLS: III, VI, VII, VIII, XVII, XIX

No one has been a head coach in more Super Bowls than Don Shula. So what better expert on pregame Super Bowl speeches than the coaching legend who took six teams to pro football’s ultimate game?

“What you try to do is do the things that got you to where you are,” Shula said. “You don’t want to be someone that you’re not. The thing I tried to do is summarize what it took to get there.”

Shula also reminded his team there will be only one winner.

“Once you reach the Super Bowl, both teams are talked about during the week,” Shula said. “But when the game is over, [the media] only go to one locker room. I told them to make sure it was our locker room.”

As a head coach, Shula was in the winning locker room twice and in the losing locker room four times. After losing Super Bowl VI, Shula delivered the same message to his team from the first day of practice until minutes before Super Bowl VII kicked off.

“We lost the year before, so my message from the beginning of training camp was that our goal wasn’t to get to the Super Bowl,” Shula said. “Our goal was to win it.”

His 1972 Miami Dolphins did just that. The Dolphins defeated the Washington Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII. Not only did the Dolphins make good on Shula’s goal, they also capped the only perfect season in NFL history.

SUPER BOWL XXXV: BALTIMORE 34, N.Y. GIANTS 7

After the Baltimore Ravens set the NFL record for fewest points allowed during the 2000 regular season, Coach Brian Billick knew if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. His message before the Ravens ran onto the Raymond James Stadium turf for Super Bowl XXXV was brief.

“He said to approach this like any other game,” said Peter Boulware, a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the 1997 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year from Florida State.

“We took a very businesslike approach. That’s what helped us. We didn’t get tight. We just worked the same way.”

Despite the Ravens’ dominating defense, they still had their doubters. At least, they believed there were doubters as they used the always popular no-respect card.

“No matter how good you are, you always think you’re being disrespected,” Boulware said. “You just have to find one person, one writer, one broadcaster that doesn’t think you can win. And then all of sudden it’s no one is giving us a chance.

“And it’s funny looking back at it, because even if it isn’t true and you do get the respect, it still motivates you to do better.”

SUPER BOWL XXXVII: TAMPA BAY 48, OAKLAND 21

Ryan Nece couldn’t play in the Bucs’ only Super Bowl. He was sidelined for the 2002 season with a left knee injury in late October. But Nece was in San Diego in the locker room before the Bucs’ historic win under Jon Gruden.

“Coach Gruden always was a great pregame [speech] guy. He was always good,” Nece said.

“I remember him saying, ‘This is the time of your life,’ and, ‘Go out and take what’s ours. It’s destiny. Just go out there and take what is ours.’

“We all believed in our mind we would win the game. That’s what he preached all week, telling the guys to really enjoy every moment of it. Take in the national anthem, take it all in. It’s the greatest stage.”

Nece said the key for any speech is respect.

“There’s definitely a place [for a motivational speech], but it’s all how much the players respect the coach,” Nece said. “If guys are just out there and don’t respect the coach, they’re not going to ‘win one for the Gipper’ or anything like that.”

SUPER BOWL XX: CHICAGO 46, NEW ENGLAND 10

Coach Mike Ditka didn’t wait until Sunday to provide his Super Bowl pregame speech. He delivered it to the Bears the night before the game.

“I gave the speech on Saturday night,” Ditka said. “Basically I said this was not about me and not about the city of Chicago. I told them this is the one memory you will have of each other for the rest of your lives.”

And what a memory it was: The Bears danced all over the Patriots in what was then the biggest rout in Super Bowl history.

“I told them you won’t remember the money, but you’ll remember the championships,” Ditka said. “Because it was a special group of guys that bonded and made something special happen. That 1985 team was a very unique group of men.”

NOLL’S SUPER BOWLS: IX, X, XIII, XIV

The Steel Curtain. Lambert. Bradshaw. Harris. Swann. Bleier. Stallworth. With that core group there probably wasn’t much Pittsburgh coach Chuck Noll needed to say before each of the Steelers’ four Super Bowl trips in a six-year span in the 1970s.

“It’s a coach-by-coach thing,” former Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann said. “Tony Dungy, who had his team in the Super Bowl, I don’t know what kind of speech Tony gives, but when you look at his demeanor you don’t see a fire-and-brimstone type of guy. You see a guy that’s very focused that can communicate without having to shout and scream. We can all imagine Bill Cowher and what that locker room might have been like before Super Bowl XL or Super Bowl XXX.

“Chuck was a very level, low-key kind of guy, not a fire-and-brimstone type of guy. Very directed in terms of what he wanted to get done. We didn’t get those type of speeches from Chuck Noll.

“But we didn’t lose a Super Bowl, either.”

THE SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST

For the past 25 years, John F. Murray has been involved in the motivational aspect of sports. As a sports-performance psychologist, he has worked with athletes on performance enhancement, mental health, general psychology, fitness, wellness and lifestyle. Murray, who lives in Palm Beach, has been a licensed psychologist in Florida since 1999.

Murray said the pregame pep talk or motivational speech at the NFL level can be very effective – or disastrous.

“I think it’s never going to go away,” Murray said. “Certain coaches have a certain way of saying the right thing at the right time or the wrong thing at the wrong time. You can’t discount the impact of a leader.”

Murray said the pregame speech is “an inexact science.”

“The team that gets too hyped has a disadvantage in the Super Bowl,” Murray said. “One of the more traditional theories is when you get too pumped up, you don’t perform well. I think the lower-key approach at the Super Bowl, a more cerebral, intelligent approach, might be the more effective approach.”

“Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

Photo credit: The Associated Press

Photo: Mike Ditka’s Bears made lasting memories, just as he wanted them to.

Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

Photo: John Belushi had quite a way with words in “Animal House.”

Photo: Knute Rockne

Photo credit: McClatchy/Tribune

Photo: Jon Gruden told his Bucs to “take what’s ours.”

Photo: Brian Billick

Photo: Shula had a lot of practice making Super Bowl speeches. He coached in six and won two.

Photo credit: Miami Herald

Photo: Don Shula got the ride of his life after his undefeated Dolphins beat the Redskins in January 1973.

Photo: Quarterback Terry Bradshaw was one of many great players Chuck Noll had on his Pittsburgh teams of the 1970s.

Fitness Magazine Covers Dr. Murray’s Walk Therapy

Palm Beach – February 16, 2009 – First it was the ancient Greeks who did it all the time, then the Wall Street Journal and National Post of Canada wrote about what Dr. Murray was doing with clients in Palm Beach, and in this month’s March 2009 issue of Fitness Magazine, Holly Corbett talks with Dr. John and espouses the benefits of mental health professionals walking and exercising with their clients!

You can read this Fitness Magazine article about a very healthy and therapeutic activity at this link

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.”

Team’s ‘perfect’ streak should be dunked

More than 30 years ago, as a short, scrawny, Afro-wearing kid at Gonzaga College High School, I earned a spot on the freshman basketball team. Putting on the purple-and-white uniform was the highlight of the year. Because on the court, it was brutal.

We had 18 games against ninth-graders at other local schools. We lost all 18.

We got blown out. We got close enough that a made free throw or timely steal would have ended the streak. It got to the point that  we sensed defeat about the same time we finished our layup drills. It didn’t help that my school competed in the same league with DeMatha and Mackin, two perennial D.C. powerhouses. In the process, I started feeling “less thanâ€?: not measuring up, not self-confident, not competent.

The Lady Spartans must know what I’m talking about.  They’re stuck in a similar funk of full-court failure. This year’s squad has gone 0-fer: In 20 games, the players have racked up 20 L’s. Only seven games remain in the regular season. Second-year coach Tara Owens didn’t return my call to the sports department requesting comment. However, in a Virginian-Pilot article last month, she acknowledged some of the challenges.

Owens threw four players off the squad last year, and two others quit . This year’s squad has five freshmen and four sophomores, so they’re relatively raw. There’s not a lot of height among the players. And the team journeyed to some “guaranteedâ€? road games — guaranteed to bring in money for NSU’s program, but also likely guaranteed to end in another loss.  At the current pace, the squad would relish a chance to equal its five  wins from the 2007-08 campaign.

Yet, Owens still sounded optimistic in the Jan. 15 article: “As long as I can see individuals improving every day, that’s all I can ask.â€?

That’s the proper attitude, said John F.  Murray, a clinical and sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla., who works with pro and amateur athletes. “I’d want to know how hard they worked,â€? Murray told me in a phone interview, after I explained NSU’s plight. “Are they focused? Are they being resilient, not getting down when the other team goes on a streak?â€?

That sounds fine if you’re a Little League team or some high school squad. I asked  whether that  is sufficient on the collegiate and professional levels, where the stakes are higher, reputations and jobs are on the line, and everything is under the media spotlight.

Sure it is, Murray said. Players and coaches need to improve measurable factors — number of turnovers, crisp passes, rebounds — that can lead to intangible rewards, such as teamwork, comebacks,  leadership. Even just having fun is worth playing.

“You have to let go of the conscious fear of winning or losing, and focus on what you have to do right now,â€? he said.  It’s not life and death, after all, if NSU goes winless this season.

It sure would be nice to win, though. There’s a feeling of accomplishment, success, euphoria when you do. Maybe the Lady Spartans can turn it around this afternoon against Delaware State;  last month, NSU lost a close one to DSU. There’s always next season. I should know: By the time I was a senior in high school, playing on the varsity, my basketball team ended up 16-14.

So here’s my Valentine’s Day wish for NSU: a turnaround, soon, in the team’s fortunes.

The Boss won’t mind that show of affection.

Roger Chesley is associate editor of The Pilot’s editorial page

Steve Raebel Interviews Dr. John F Murray

December 3, 2008 – Dr. John F. Murray was interviewed for two hours by Steve Raebel about the field of sports psychology on Blog Talk Radio and you can hear it all now by clicking the play button above.

John F. Murray, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical & Sport Performance Psychologist
139 North County Road Suite 18C
Palm Beach, Florida 33480
Tel: 561-596-9898
Fax: 561-805-8662
http://www.JohnFMurray.com

Dr. Murray’s “high performance psychology” helps people in a variety of challenging situations in business, sports, academics and life. He is a best-selling author & columnist and frequent speaker and seminar leader, and his commentary appears almost daily in the media. Dr. Murray recently contributed to the Boston Globe, NY Times, LA Daily News, and Newsday, and he appeared as an expert on Fox Television, MSNBC and ABC Good Morning America.