Posts Tagged ‘sports psychology’

If You Want Your Honey, Fire Your Lawyer

Special to JohnFMurray.com – By John F. Murray, Ph.D. – August, 2010 – Warning: This article is rated R for “relationshipâ€? – Relationships and marriage are always hot topics, but this area has been covered infrequently at JohnFMurray.com and is long overdue. Let’s apply a high performance model to something very important that we all deal with one way or another. In fact, the first time I appeared on the NFL Network and ESPN television from my office it was to discuss issues of love and hate in sports rather than my more traditional topics of mental preparation and performance in athletics, or more general psychological health. They wanted to know about love and hate, and here I go again in this article.

Recent relationship articles I’ve contributed to include one in the New York Post on the New York Yankees A-Rod of baseball and actress Kate Hudson
one on love among sports stars in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and a Times of India story about Tiger Woods’ extramarital relationship revelations. I’ve also been on local television (CBS 12 with Ben Becker) several times recently talking about Tiger Woods and relationships. I’m a strong proponent of social support for success in my articles, and my PhD dissertation at the University of Florida revealed social support as the big winner in helping injured players recover on the 1996 national champion Florida Gators football team. Relationships are a huge issue in life and sports, so come into my office and let’s talk a little about it.

Nothing stirs the emotions like issues of love, passion, and romance, or their counterparts of conflict, arguments and divorce. They say that love makes the world go round and it’s so true. The hottest, steamiest, most controversial, and most intriguing topics in the media and Hollywood usually deal with issues of marriage, love, romance, sex and jealousy. Although divorce rates in America have declined some recently, statistics still show that roughly half of marriages end in divorce. As of 2003, 43.7% of custodial mothers and 56.2% of custodial fathers were either separated or divorced.

How do people fall in love psychologically and why if it is so good would they do anything to disturb that marvelous state of being and destroy relationships just as often as they are created? It makes no sense, so I turned to the scientific literature as we often should when there are serious questions or we would like to understand something better.

Passion and emotion have long been known to be quite different from clear thinking and logic. Neuropsychology has identified areas in the temporal cortex as more responsible for regulating and controlling emotions whereas the frontal lobe is responsible for more rational and logical processing or cold thinking. In working with clients, I will often show them how their behavior is represented in the central and peripheral nervous system and this comes from my years of training and understanding of neuropsychology, but we are always learning new things from science all the time so it’s very important to stay current with findings.

Recent studies (reported thanks to Steve Connor, Science Editor of The London Independent, 2008) have discovered the biological basis for the two most intense emotions of love and hate. Neural circuits in the brain responsible for hate are often the same as those that are used during the feelings of romance, even though love and hate appear to be polar opposites. Looking at the areas of the brain that are active when people look at a photograph of someone they say they hate has found that the “hate circuit” shares something in common with the love circuit. These findings could explain why both hate and romantic love can result in similar acts of extreme behavior – both heroic and evil.

Like love, hate is often seemingly irrational and can lead individuals to both heroic and evil deeds. How can two opposite states of mind lead to similar behavior?” The study involved subjects who professed a deep hatred for one individual. Most chose an ex-lover or a competitor at work. The researchers in the study Professor Zeki and Romaya analysed the activity of the neural circuits in the brain that lit up when the volunteers were viewing photos of the hated person and found that the hate circuit includes parts of the brain called the putamen and the insula, found in the sub-cortex of the organ. The putamen is already known to be involved in the perception of contempt and disgust and may also be part of the motor system involved in movement and action. “Significantly, the putamen and the insula are also both activated by romantic love. This is not surprising. The putamen could also be involved in the preparation of aggressive acts in a romantic context, as in situations when a rival presents a danger,” Professor Zeki said.

A major difference between love and hate appears to be in the fact that large parts of the cerebral cortex – associated with judgment and reasoning – become de-activated during love, whereas only a small area is deactivated in hate. “This may seem surprising since hate can also be an all-consuming passion like love. But whereas in romantic love, the lover is often less critical and judgmental regarding the loved person, it is more likely that in the context of hate the hater may want to exercise judgment in calculating moves to harm, injure or otherwise exact revenge,” Professor Zeki said.

This amazing research is just beginning to offer clues to some of our most complex behavior, but I am not at all surprised about it when you consider the course of a normal romantic relationship. We know that in the early months and years during the infatuation phase, individuals are goo goo and ga ga about their partner, very much “in love,â€? less critical, and more happy overall. They hold hands all the time, use terms of endearment frequently, and see the glass as always half full rather than half empty. In short, they are in the right place mentally and behaviorally to provide to the other person what they need to feel because they are not overly critical and see the goodness in that person, and express it fully.

As the relationship progresses to a more rational state after the infatuation has worn off (anywhere between 6 months and two years usually) I’ve seen in my work that couples who were once non-judgmental and extremely supportive emotionally can soon become their partner’s worst nightmare with constant criticism, judgment, polarized thinking and henpecking. One big key to relationship success then would be to try to get back to doing the things you did for each other when the relationship was new, when love was less rational and when the mere fact of having one another trumped most any obstacle.

Certainly things change, but as they change some basic expressions of love and caring and support I believe need to remain and be constantly replenished in a creative way. Otherwise, one or both partners will soon feel cheated without having access to the same ingredients that made it work for the person before, and left thinking that things got worse and that there must be greener grass elsewhere. It’s as if your favorite restaurant suddenly fired the chef and hired someone who used totally disgusting and less tasty ingredients in preparing the meal. How long would you want to keep going there when you could do better at a Subway or McDonalds?

It would be far better if the couple found a way to increase their expressions of affection over time even if it is hard work, or sometimes seems impossible. In the absence of this success, memories of past bliss take over and the person feels constantly that he or she is no longer receiving what they did before and what they are getting currently compared with those earlier times.

Some relationships in the infatuation phase of nonjudgmental love begin with marriage and end in divorce when feelings wear off and both fall back to earth and begin dwelling on qualities of the other person they despise. Even qualities once seen as cute or unique are now viewed with disgust or disdain. Making sense? The more rational brain is at it again!

Still other couples survive the initial reduction of infatuation phase, go on to marriage or at least long-term love, and last a lifetime if both partners are able to keep it more positive than negative and find a way to overcome conflict and differences. I would estimate that almost as many of these more mature relationships also end in break-ups or divorce if the parties are unable to communicate effectively or find a way to give the other person what they need emotionally.

Communication is usually cited as the number one reason why couples split or stay together, so its qualities need to be constantly understood, learned and practiced. The easiest way to destroy a relationship is to stop talking or expressing, or to only say what you think the other person wants to hear as if you are a robot. The key, I believe, is for each partner to be allowed to express himself or herself and also be heard authentically by the partner whether that person agrees or not. Why should you both always agree? You are different people, but be careful about anything that might destroy the basic elements of love that you felt in the infatuation phase! One way to do this is to preface your comments of difference with little terms of endearment (e.g., “I love you honey and I don’t think you mean it, but I felt completely unheard and disrespected when you ignored me in front of your family for three hours last nightâ€?).

Another key is that each partner not try to control or micromanage the other’s behavior or activities, but allow them to develop and grow in their own individual and unique way as long as they aren’t stealing candy from children, setting up dog fights, selling drugs on the street corner, or stealing credit cards (other crimes are fine .. just kidding!). I’m sure you can think of some other deal breakers, but if the person is a responsible citizen and developing as they need to develop their individuality should be allowed to shine rather than be snuffed out or repressed because of what the other person thinks you should do, think or feel.

Love should not be made conditional or contingent on doing what the other person wants. In conditional love, what one person wants may not be what the other one wants. Why should it? We are all different. We are all responsible for our own actions and our own feelings and we all have a different developmental path and calling in life, but once we cross the line into telling our partner what they should be doing, feeling or thinking, I believe we have gone too far because we will always create conflict that way, or if not conflict a repressed and unhappy partner and if your partner is not happy nobody will be.

Ideally, the couple needs to find a place where they can be allowed to grow as the individuals they are, and also as a couple without one person trying to control the other. If despite all that the couple can still not resolve their differences, then there is nothing wrong with divorce or breaking up. It may be the best solution by far in many cases. But I feel that many couples trip up on the more basic issues before they even get to this stage, and one of the big ones I have seen over the years is making love conditional.

Love was not conditional when you started and when you entered that infatuation phase. Why should it change? You loved the person for who they were before, or at least you made the person feel that way. Why should you then change and withhold love unless the person changes? It seems absurd and it is. Give love freely or forget it. If you only give love when a person does something for you or what you want them to do, that is not really love anymore but an earned service. Accept your partner for who they are and try very hard to understand why they are who they are even if you do not agree with their behavior. Why would you agree? You are different. But unless you are able to find a place where your partner feels the same love of earlier infatuation, it is simply not going to work.

When conflict does arise, as it always does, what should the couple do? One solution often chosen is to visit a top family law attorney, find out what your rights are, and start talking about divorce because of how your rights have been violated. It’s like introducing your new puppy to the fox den and then asking the foxes for advice about the care and nurturing of your puppy. The foxes will probably ask you to leave your puppy with them overnight. Ok, I know you are laughing and so am I, and I do not hate lawyers, but I had to have fun with that.

Lawyers are certainly needed if your rights have been abused and you want out of the marriage, but keep in mind that lawyers are usually smart paid fighters and modern day warriors, and their job is to help you win as much as you can in an adversarial legal system that is not designed to resolve conflict harmoniously or expediently and it is certainly not designed to save marriages. I had one year of law school in my youth and I hated it so I eventually became a psychologist and sports psychologist. The first day of law school, the professor told us that we were embarking on a profession not unlike the knights of the past. Lawyers are the modern day equivalents of F-14s and ballistic artillery. These tools all work great if you are ready for war and want to win by force. Like all professionals lawyers also earn a living by providing a service at an hourly rate. More hours equals more money for them.

There is nothing wrong with lawyers if you have already reached the point that you want out and you have no interest in trying to save the relationship, but keep in mind that they make much more when you get divorced, not when you stay together. My advice to all those couples out there who are struggling is to first see if you can work it out in counseling. A good clinical psychologist or marriage therapist may also want to work with you for a while in order to have an impact, and they earn good money too. But they earn their living when they develop a reputation for helping people improve relationships, communicate more effectively, and save marriage if possible rather than telling you how to divorce and terminate all those terms of endearment.

The bottom line is that if you want your honey back the way he or she was in the early infatuation phase of your relationship, it all starts by giving out those vibes yourself and by offering positive comments and love rather than the opposite behavior that we now know is housed in the same brain areas and is even more potentially dangerous to the relationship. With the addition of clear rational thinking associated with neurological hate, you are even more informed about the risks of not trying to go back to earlier bliss or at least trying to recreate some reasonable facsimile of it in your current relationship rather than giving in to your more hateful and rational brain! Now do you know why you needed me to write this article and why you also needed to read it?

If you want to save your relationship which started with a bang, then get in your time machines and go back mentally to that bang and replicate almost everything about it in your daily behavior. William James often said that if you behave a certain way you will start to feel that way. If you act loving again, you will soon start to feel love, and if your partner does this too you will feel double love! It is not always easy to do, but what is the alternative?

Be careful about engaging the legal system or legal advice too soon. Especially in this difficult economy there are going to be lawyers out there like those foxes coaching you to leave your precious puppy in the fox den at night. Then imagine your new puppy trying to get some sleep as the foxes sneak up on him for their supper.

Again I am poking fun at attorneys and do not want you to get the wrong impression. Many of my best friends and clients are attorneys and many are great individuals and there are good and bad people in all walks of life, but these attorneys have long told me that their job is to protect you and fight for your rights rather than fight to save your marriage. They are of ten needed to do just that – to fight to end your marriage if you want that.

As long as there is still hope to make it work as a couple, choose counseling first, keep trying to get back to the earlier state of bliss, engage in those earlier more romantic behaviors again (hand holding, terms of endearment, saying “I love youâ€?), and by all means take your precious puppy to a proper dog kennel or friend’s home and avoid the foxes den.

Good luck and I hope you enjoyed this little article from the world of sports psychology!

Granderson Decides to Visit the Swing Doctor

Wall Street Journal – August 13, 2010 – Brian Costa – KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Curtis Granderson was searching for answers.

More than four months into his first season with the Yankees, he arrived in Texas on Tuesday batting just .240 with 10 home runs, hardly resembling the All-Star he was just a year ago.

So when he approached Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long in the batting cage, he was ready to try just about anything.

“What would you suggest?” he said, according to Mr. Long. “I want to do something different.”

Slumping Curtis Granderson is working with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long to re-invent his swing.

That conversation is what sparked a series of hitting sessions over the last few days in which the two worked on what Mr. Long called “a total reformation of the swing.” Essentially, Mr. Granderson is trying to eliminate excess movement in every facet of his swing, from his hands to his hips.

It does not require an advanced degree in the science of hitting to see that something had to change. Mr. Granderson, acquired in a trade with the Detroit Tigers last winter, is having his worst season since he was a rookie in 2004.

Though his average is only slightly down from 2009, when he hit .249, he is on pace to finish well shy of the 30 home runs he hit last year. He entered Thursday with a .722 OPS, down from .780 last year and .858 two years ago.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is his struggle against left-handed pitchers, against whom he entered Thursday hitting just .206.

But making fundamental changes to a player’s swing this late in the season is a radical move. Even Mr. Long called it “a stretch” to change longstanding habits in a matter of days and weeks.

The question, then, is this: How quickly can a swing be overhauled?

Mr. Granderson downplayed the extent of the changes, saying, “It’s just trying to simplify everything.” But what he is working on with Mr. Long is clearly more than the routine adjustments that many hitters make during the course of a season.

Mr. Long compared it to the work he did with right fielder Nick Swisher after he hit just .128 in the playoffs last year. The difference, though, is that Mr. Swisher made the changes to his swing during the offseason. During the season, he likely could not have done what Mr. Granderson is attempting.

“I asked Swish, ‘Would this have worked with you?’ ” Mr. Long said. “He said, ‘I don’t know. It would have been very difficult.’ ”

Mr. Granderson was benched Tuesday and Wednesday, giving him extra time to work on his revamped swing. But mentally, there will likely be a longer adjustment period, according to John Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla.

“What was previously automatic is now having to be re-learned,” Mr. Murray said. “It’s almost like you’re going back to a beginner’s state of mind.”

Mr. Granderson said he has made changes of similar magnitude in midseason twice before, first when he was in the minors in 2004 and again when he was in Detroit in 2006.

Even if it is too late to save Mr. Granderson’s season, Mr. Long said they have little to lose in trying.

“Like he said,” Mr. Long said, “how much worse could it get?”

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into just another aspect of sports psychology.

Ericsson Open Winners Emphasize Mental Game

Florida Tennis Magazine – By John F. Murray, PhD – www.JohnFMurray.com – As a contributing editor to Florida Tennis magazine for over 10 years, you’ve heard from me countless times about the mental game and mental training for top junior tennis players hoping to earn a college scholarship, or perhaps ATP or WTA Tour success. What about players who have already made it? Does the mental game still matter for them? Let’s glance back at the men’s side of the 2010 Ericsson Open – from quarterfinals to Andy Roddick’s impressive win – and listen closely as the pros describe their mental keys to their success. We’ll cover the women exclusively in a future article.

This Key Biscayne Masters series gem continues to rank as the 5th most important tournament on the tour. Mark it official and just call it a grand slam, on par with Wimbledon and Roland Garros. Why not? It’s the biggest and baddest tennis in Florida, the Caribbean and South America, and my prediction is that it will eventually become the second US Open in some future decade as the Latin population of American and South Florida continues to grow beyond expectations. I love it because it is so close and I get to meet with players I am working with and see them play too.

By the quarterfinals of the 2010 event, 8 of the current top 20 ranked players in the world were still standing, so you had the cream of the crop for sure! In parentheses after their names are their current ATP Tour rankings: Rafael Nadal of Spain (1), Robin Sonderling of Sweden (5), Thomas Berdych of Czechoslovakia (8), Andy Roddick of USA (9), Fernando Verdasco of Spain (10), Jo Wilfried Tsonga of France (11), Mikhail Youzny of Russia (14), and Nicolas Almagro (20) of Spain. With Spain just winning the World Cup too, you wonder what they are drinking over there!

Let’s listen to the winner’s post-match comments from the mental perspective, with the key mental principle(s) underlined as a header:

QUARTERFINALS

CONFIDENCE
Berdych d. Verdasco 4-6, 7-6, 6-4: Berdych after the match stated: “I brought many positive things even though I was tired.â€? He explained in the press conference how beating Roger Federer in the previous round gave him confidence. He showed just that in saving 7 of 9 break points. Rather than getting defeated in adversity or reacting to a difficult situation in a negative way, Berdych hung in there, knew that he could do it, and did it.

QUICKNESS
Sonderling d. Youzny 6-1, 6-4: Robin Sonderling explained in the interview how taking the initiative and dictating play with his flat groundstrokes worked like a charm. He also talked about how he won with quickness, and we know from research how important mental processes are in anticipatory quickness. It’s actually equally about physical movement as it is about getting a jump mentally and reading cues properly. Sonderling beat his rival to the punch with better anticipation skills, by taking the ball earlier, and through lightning fast shot-making, and these all begin in the brain.

AUTOMATICITY
Roddick d. Almagro 6-3, 6-3: Roddick, off to one of his fastest career starts, described this match in a way that shows he was in a state of pure focus and automatic play or automaticity. He already had played and won a lot in 2010, and described in this match how “things slowed down and muscle memory took over.â€? This is classic in higher stages of learning where auto-pilot predominates. It defines simplicity and perfect focus. Andy found it in this match and he felt like he could do no wrong.

CROWD SUPPORT AND PASSION
Nadal d. Tsonga 6-3, 6-2: Never neglect the influence of the environment in performance, and social facilitation is a psychological state caused by crowd support. Nadal credited the crowd when he said after the match “I was inspired by the full and passionate crowd.â€? He added, “the crowd is always very emotional here.â€? There is no doubt that despite Nadal’s fatigue, he got a second and third wind from this special social element.

SEMIFINALS

GOALS
Berdych d. Sonderling 6-2, 6-2: Thomas Berdych knew that he was in trouble if he tried to out-steady the Swede. It’s actually a somewhat absurd concept to try to out-steady a Swede ever since Bjorn Borg hit the scene. Berdych used his noggin to set a couple clear goals: (1) play more aggressively, and (2) reduce mistakes. This combination proved lethal to Robin when packed his bags and went back to the ice bar in Stockholm (I went there a couple years ago and can only imagine that is where Swedes go after they lose a match to cool). Humor aside, Berdych used his frontal lobe well in this match by setting goals to perfection. He had 17 winners and only 15 unforced errors compared with Sonderlings 10 winners and 31 unforced errors.

RISK-TAKING MINDSET
Roddick d. Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 6-3: Mindsets are crucial in sports. They reflect how you view a problem and solution. I often help players get ready for matches with particular sentences that capture a needed mindset. In this case, Andy knew he was in trouble against Nadal if he played it safe. Playing consistently against Nadal is like trying to beat a wall. So he changed his mindset to high risk/high reward and it drastically changed the course of the match mid way through the second set. Andy showed high intelligence in making this needed risky change and going on the attack. He went on to win 15 of 25 net approaches, found his flat risky forehand, and Nadal went home wondering what had happened.

FINAL
CRATIVITY AND PRESSURE MANAGEMENT
Roddick d. Berdych 7-5, 6-4: Andy used two important mental skills to take his 2nd career Ericsson title. He won by being creative and stated after the match, “I was smart in chipping and mixing paces which kept him guessing.â€? He also said, “I had a lot of pressure to win this one because I had a pretty good opportunity at Indian Wells.â€? In reflecting on the entire tournament, Roddick said “I haven’t had an off day mentally in this tournament.â€? The end result was the he held serve perfectly and did not even face a break point in this match. By combining smart creative play with urgency on every point (rather than negativity as often happens in pressure) Andy Roddick, the lone American in a draw with 3 fierce Spaniards and all top 20 players by the quarterfinals, showed that he was the mental champion of the week.

I hope you enjoyed this article on sports psychology.

Sports Psychologist Dr. John F Murray Appearing on Tennis Channel Next Two Weeks

DR JOHN IS ON THE TENNIS CHANNEL OVER THE NEXT TWO WEEKS (PREVIOUSLY RECORDED): Dr. John F. Murray to appear on the Tennis Channel in episodes 3 and 4 of “Fit to Hit” with host Danielle Dotzenrod. Episode 3 starts July 26.

FROM THE TENNIS CHANNEL ABOUT DR. JOHN F MURRAY
—>BEFORE EPISODE 3 OF “FIT TO HIT” (begins July 26, 2010) – Sports Psychologist, John F. Murray will show us why setting goals can do wonders for our game.
—>BEFORE EPISODE 4 OF “FIT TO HIT” (begins August 2, 2010) – If you’ve ever found yourself on a losing streak, you’ll want to watch…we will talk to the sports psychologist, John F Murray, that helped Vincent Spadea come back from the longest losing streak in history!

My Pseudo-Trainer and Client Wins Summa Cum Laude

Special to JohnFMurray.com – July 22, 2010 – Many of you follow my daily activities on Twitter, Facebook or this website. In a few of my past posts I alluded to one of my clients who I started counseling while walking in my unique brand of walk therapy written about in the National Post of Canada and the Wall Street Journal. Why be normal when you can be super-normal is my motto!

This client was fun to tweet about because he was somewhat odd in his sessions which started with walking and progressed to intense walking sessions. I soon realized that this client had no interest in wearing running shoes and instead opted to wear flip flops or sandals even when running long distances as many as 30 miles! Our sports psychology sessions would transpire in the car driving to our runs or on the walks before the runs, and we would then run long distances alone and meet up at a later time, at times running the University of Miami campus, the Palm Beach lake and ocean trails, or more lately from the west part of Las Olas Blvd. in Ft. Lauderdale to AIA and then north to Oakland Park or Commercial Blvd. and back.

In short, we combined our sessions with healthy exercise but despite my many warnings to him he insisted in running in sandals. He soon outclassed even the fastest runners on AIA and one day even went 30 plus miles in sandals. He tried a pair of vibram running shoes that look like gloves, but they soon broke and he returned to wearing sandals.

This client was a married student with two children and attending a local university. On campus he dressed in casual clothing and got into his share of trouble with administration. He bucked the trend, spoke his mind, and at times complained to the university administration for unfair policies and restrictions of student freedom. We’ll spare the details, but let’s just say that he was more inclined to tell the truth than play the game and stay out of trouble. He despised red tape, university politics and outdated policies, and unfair treatment of students send him into a frenzy. His controversial nature got him in trouble more than once and the administration even tried to throw him out a couple times in ridiculous hearings that he always defended himself well at, leaving the administration looking confused and disoriented, but he always walked away from these conjured up hearings because there was nothing to them.

He didn’t talk much about his grades, so I assumed he was a B student or maybe B+ since he had a family to take care of, engaged in these marathon runs, and just didn’t fit the image of a pencil case carrying geek with academic perfectionism. I was wrong. He didn’t look like a geek, but he apparently is. My pseudo-trainer recently attended his graduation ceremonies and learned after completing his degree not in 4, but in 1.5 years, and was named the overall best student in the school with a GPA over 3.9 that earned him the top honors of Summa Cum Laude. To add insult to injury for the mean spirited adminsitration, last week he also get accepted into medical school program that awards a combined MD and PhD.

After medical school and residency, this pseudo-trainer wants to do nothing less than cure cancer, and he says he already knows exactly which part of the human genome he is going after once he sets up his lab and begins his practice. Is a Nobel Prize in the future for him. Probably not. It is probably not a big enough challenge for him.

I’ll keep pseudo-trainer annonnymous because he is still a client, and he also has a lot of schooling left and probably not the convenience of a sports psychologist bragging about him. Knowing his blunt and somewhat controversial nature he’ll probably rub someone wrong somewhere in the future and I would prefer that nobody with ill intent gain the benefit of reading this. Like art for art’s purpose alone, this article is an applause for the human spirit exemplified in pseudo-trainer. It is a celebration of our need to remain unique and think big throughts. All is within grasp with the proper mental attitude. I teach that daily to my clients and the flip flop running pseudo trainer has been a great student indeed. He has also been a great running coach for me and I am still learning. Let’s clap now for running dude in sandals who beat a corrupt university administration at their own game by being the school’s overall best student, for getting into a very fine MD/PhD program, and for his future Nobel Prize 🙂 Everyone can take a lesson from him to stand up for what is right rather than go along with corruption and politics, and to shine both academically and in sports.

I hope you all enjoyed this little glimpse into the world of sports psychology and the kind of clients that come my way. Go get em in med school now! This was an article about the human spirit and the benefits of sports psychology.

Psychology of sport: how a red dot swung it for Open champion

London Independent – Steve Connor – July 20, 2010 – The strategy employed by golfer Louis Oosthuizen demonstrates the growing importance of mental techniques in the field of competitive sport

A small red spot on the glove of golfer Louis Oosthuizen is credited with playing a critical role in his winning of The Open Championship at St Andrews last Sunday. The coloured spot was a visible manifestation of the growing influence of psychology in sport – it was designed to help the 27-year-old South African concentrate on his swing in the crucial moments leading up to a shot.

Sporting professionals are increasingly turning to similar mind-training tricks to improve their performance on the field. It may involve mental imagery that allows them to rehearse a game in their heads, or psychological blocking techniques that stop them from dwelling on past mistakes. In the case of Oosthuizen, an outsider who was widely expected to collapse under the pressure on the final day, it was a simple dot on his glove to make him focus on his swing.

The idea came from a sports psychologist who was asked to help Oosthuizen improve his concentration before starting his swing after a string of disappointing results in previous golfing events.

The idea came from Karl Morris, a Manchester sports psychologist who was asked to help Oosthuizen improve his concentration before starting his swing after a string of disappointing results in previous golfing events.

“His pre-shot routine was all over the place. I suggested he changed his whole game plan after he told me that when he played in the US Open last month he was making split decisions instead of thinking about what he should have been doing. One of the tips I gave him was to put a red spot on his glove and to focus on it during his swing.”

The ability to focus on the task in hand is one of they key techniques that sports psychologists try to refine when dealing with professional sports people. “There is a lot of evidence that the best sportsmen and women have a lot of psychological skills that allow them to concentrate and to control anxiety,” said Tim Rees, a qualified psychologist who specialises in sport at Exeter University.

Psychological skills may be more important in some sports than others. Endurance sports such as rowing, for instance, require a very different psychological approach from less physical sports like golf where the actual playing of shots constitutes a tiny fraction of the time it takes to complete the course. Rowing and other endurance sports involve intense activity for prolonged periods, whereas there is so much more time for psychology in sports like golf. There is a lot of evidence to show that once someone gets to a certain level of skill, it is the differences in their psychological approach that differentiates people at the very top,” Dr Rees said.

The red spot on Oosthuizen’s glove was one way of focussing his mind on the process of playing a shot, rather than thinking of the consequences. It is a classic example of what it known as “process goals” in sports psychology, when the athlete is asked to focus on something, however minor, to stop them thinking of what happens if the shot goes wrong – it brings them back to the here and now before the shot is actually played, Dr Rees explained.

Other mental tricks may focus on “thought stopping”. Instead of dwelling on a missed shot, whether it is a failed penalty or disastrous return on the tennis court, the athlete is trained to put such negative thoughts into a mental “black box” that can be dealt with after the match.

A simple trick is to get the athlete to think of a stop sign immediately after they make a mistake. “It allows them to park the problem so they can deal with it later. It takes a lot of practice to get it to work but it allows them to focus on what they have to do next rather than what they have just done,” Dr Rees said.

Almost all sports involve what psychologists call imagery. Athletes often describe how the day or night before a crucial game they mentally rehearse what they intend to do – even to the point of walking up to the winner’s podium. (According to Rees this is why so many first-time winners often look relatively relaxed and at home on a podium because they have rehearsed the moment so many times in their heads).

David Beckham, for instance, is said to have stored and replayed mental “video clips” of how the ball will bend when he takes a free kick at goal. Skiers at the top of a run often close their eyes briefly and sway from side to side just before they take off down a slope, as if they are rehearsing the difficult movements they are about to make.

“Imagery is most effective when it is used in conjunction with actual practice,” Dr Rees said.

Physical perfection, skill and technique are obviously critical to athletic performance, but the whole point about sports psychology is that the mind can so often be employed to overrule matter. This is never more true when it comes to the sort of psychological support that can decide whether a player wins or loses.

Several studies have shown that the emotional support given to an athlete from family, friends and even professional managers can make a significant difference to sporting performance. Olympic gold medallists Dame Kelly Holmes and Sir Chris Hoy, for instance, have both cited the support of their loved ones as a major factor in their success, and this is supported by empirical research.

In one study of 197 male amateur golfers, for example, Dr Rees found that the social support they received before a game affected how well they did. “While training, tactics and luck all play a part, the encouraging words or kind gestures of a partner or friend can make the difference between a footballer scoring that winning goal, or a sprinter achieving a record time,” he said.

Even the emotional support of a relative stranger can boost performance, according to another study by Exeter colleague Paul Freeman. Just listening to an athlete’s problems and offering simple advice and encouragement can make a significant difference to an athlete’s success, Dr Freeman said.

“It is significant that the support I offered, as a relative stranger, had such a marked influence on their results. The findings suggest that amateur and professional athletes would benefit from seeking social support, whether this is from a friend or family member or even from a professional,” he said.

This is why even a manager can make a psychological impact that makes the difference between winning and losing. Tell that to Fabio Capello.

Mind games

Howard Webb

Only 19 men have refereed a World Cup final and with each one the pressure has grown greater and greater as the global audience has expanded . Howard Webb cut a remarkably calm figure in Johannesburg despite issuing a record number of 14 yellow cards as the time he spent ahead of the game with a sports psychologist paid off. “We understand the stakes and how important it is to everyone involved but we also try to put it into some perspective,” said Webb.

Chelsea’s “mind room”

It’s top secret, but somewhere hidden in Chelsea’s Cobham training ground in Surrey is the Mind Room – it exists, but exactly what’s in it and what it does is jealously guarded. It was set up by Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea’s manager, who had used something similar during his time in charge of Milan in Serie A. It is overseen by his assistant Bruno Demichelis, who is also a sports psychologist. The Italian version was designed to relax players and then encourage them to stay calm as they watched their performances, good or bad. “It allows players to improve their resilience through mental training,” said Demichelis.

Lindsey Vonn

The American skier was earmarked as the pin-up girl of the 2010 Winter Olympics before a ski had even touched the slopes. The pressure as she took the lift to the top of Whistler was immense and not helped by injury problems that had dogged her build-up. She used a technique taught to her by Sean McCann, the senior sports psychologist with the US team, visualising how she felt the race would pan out. It worked for Vonn; she swept downhill to a gold.

Victoria Pendleton

Britain’s Olympic cyclists are regarded as one of the best prepared teams in any sport and have a record of spectacular success at the last three Games. They won seven of the 10 events in Beijing, and it is Steve Peters, the team’s psychologist, who is credited with a key role in putting the riders on the mental road to gold. Dave Brailsford, the performance director, describes him as a “genius”. Pendleton was a particular triumph. She has been overwhelmed by the Olympic experience in Athens and spent some intensive time with Peters in the build up to the 2008 Games. “I was a mess, I was really down,” said Pendleton of Athens. “It took me about a year of working with Peter to get my head working in the right direction.” That direction was straight to the top of the podium.

And when it doesn’t work…

“Own the podium” was the decree issued to Canada’s Olympians ahead of this year’s Winter Games. The team was equipped with 14 “mental performance consultants”. Kristi Richards, already a world champion freestyle skier, was told to write all her negative thoughts on a piece of toilet paper and flush them away. She qualified fourth for the finals, but on the big night ended up in a heap after her second jump. She finished 20th, and last.

Hope you enjoyed this article about sports psychology.

Career of Dr. John F. Murray

Scroll to the bottom of this page to see my professional activities


John F Murray, Ph.D.

This outline identifies highlights of my career that have shaped me as a provider of consulting services.

Career Overview

I am a clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida working out of my office and by phone. I’ve held university teaching positions in psychology and statistics. I traveled the world as a tennis professional in my 20s before going back to graduate school at the University of Florida, gaining masters degrees in both sports psychology and clinical psychology, and a PhD in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology. I completed a rare psychology and sports psychology internship at Washington State University and a similar postdoctoral fellowship at Florida International University in Miami before opening my private practice in 1999. My career has been extremely challenging and fascinating. I’ve produced and hosted my own radio show and have worked hard to increase public awareness about the benefits of sports psychology. I’ve appeared on national television and radio many times to discuss the field or current issues as an expert. Career highlights include writing a top selling sports psychology book cover endorsed by a Wimbledon Champion, developing a new football rating system that includes mental performance and standardizes scoring across decades (unveiled in a 2001 book that was revised in 2013), helping NFL players and athletes in all sports to compete better, helping engineer a comeback from the longest career losing streak in pro tennis history, coaching on the ATP Tour and getting an official win at the 2007 Australian Open, traveling with a #1 USA judo fighter to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China, traveling to UFC 100 in Las Vegas where I worked with an MMA title contender, and I will soon attend the 2014 winter Olympic Games in Russia, working with Finnish hockey star Olli Jokinen. I have been dubbed the Roger Federer of sports psychologists by Tennis Week, one of the major psychologists in sports by Fox News, the Freud of Football by the Washington Post, and the most quoted psychologist in America. I have enjoyed contributing to thousands of articles and have written hundreds of columns including regular columns at Tennis Magazine and Florida Tennis. I recently launched a podcast on mental training to help athletes prepare for competition using a variety of mental strategies and I’ve written a football column for University of Miami football in CaneSport Magazine for 3 consecutive seasons.

Academic and Professional Background

I have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Loyola University New Orleans, and three graduate degrees from the University of Florida: two masters degrees in both Exercise and Sports Sciences and Clinical Psychology, and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. I specialized in clinical, health, and sports psychology throughout my graduate and post-graduate studies. To meet the requirements for the doctorate at the University of Florida I also completed the only APA approved professional psychology internship in the nation that also had a full-time rotation in sports psychology, at Washington State University in 1997. I defended my dissertation in 1998 on stress, coping, and emotional adjustment to injury will all injured players on 1996 national champion Florida Gators football team and a matched sample of injured recreational athletes. I then completed a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at Florida International University and passed the Florida state licensing examination to become a psychologist in 1999 when I began my private practice in South Florida. In addition to the private practice, I have given numerous speeches and conducted many workshops worldwide, served as President of the local Florida Psychological Association chapter, served as an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Argosy University in Sarasota, Florida, and South University in West Palm Beach, Florida, and served as the subject matter expert developing new graduate sports psychology courses for Educational Management Corporation (EDMC).

Sports and Sports Psychology Background

I coached tennis on five continents before going back to graduate school at age 30 to become a licensed clinical and sports performance psychologist. I authored the best-selling book Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game (Jossey-Bass, 1999) cover-endorsed by Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport and available in English (Jossey-Bass), Spanish (Paidotribo) and Japanese (Prentice Hall Japan). Former #18 world ranked tennis player Vince Spadea talked on the Tennis Channel about how I helped him overcome the longest recorded losing streak in tennis history as his sports psychologist. I’ve also filled in as Vince’s official traveling coach at eight tournaments including the 2007 Australian Open where I have an official coaching win over Russian star Igor Andreev. I have written hundreds of articles on sports psychology in some of the best sports magazines in the world. I have been a contributing editor at Florida Tennis for over ten years. I have been ranked in the top 10 in men’s singles in Florida as an Open division player, and held an end of year ranking as the #16 ranked Open player in Florida in 1996. In 2002, I developed a unique system to rate the performance of a football team with a precise rating system that for the first time incorporates key mental factors into the performance rating, while also standardizing performance so that teams can be compared from week to week, year to year and across decades on the same metric. This culminated in 2009 with a contract when I signed with World Audience publishers to write “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.” Pro Football Hall of Fame and NFL broadcasting pioneer Lesley Visser will write the epilogue. I have been the sports psychologist for hundreds of amateur, junior, college, Olympic and professional athletes, and I have conducted sports psychology workshops all over the world including eight annual events on the weekend before the start of the Wimbledon championships in London.

Background in Media

In 2002 and 2003 I produced and hosted my own radio show on WAXY 790 in Miami, Florida called Mental Equipment, a call-in talk show that offered mental tips and strategies to help people with the tools of sports psychology to live more productive and successful lives. I also appeared on hundreds of local and network radio shows including NPR’s All Things Considered, on CNN, ABC, Bloomberg, BBC and ESPN to name just a few to discuss many more issues involving sports and psychology. I have also appeared at least seven times on national or international television including ABC Good Morning America during the 2006 Winter Olympics to discuss Sasha Cohen and Bode Miller’s chokes, on MSNBC with Allison Stewart to discuss anger following the infamous basket-braw involving the Indiana Pacers Ron Artest and his attack on a fan, on John Gibson’s he Big Story on the Fox network to discuss a youth hockey violence incident involving a parent, on Neil Cavuto’s Your World to discuss Yankees manager Joe Torre and owner George Steinbrenner, on the Pan American Sports Network from my office to talk about the psychology of a champion with tennis legend and former #3 ranked player Jose Luis Clerc, and on the Sunshine Network from the Key Biscayne tennis championships. I have appeared on many more local television broadcasts to discuss a wide variety of issues. Finally, I have contributed to over 1600 stories in the general media earning the nicknames The Freud of Football by the Washington Post, one of the major psychologists in sports by Fox, the Roger Federer of sports psychology by Tennis Week, and the most famous sports psychologist in the world by the Topeka Capital Journal. I am the most quoted psychologist and sports psychologist in America over the past five years because I am passionate about getting the word out about our exciting profession.

Professional Activities

For Athletes, Coaches & Teams
Individual Evaluations, Counseling, Mental Skills Training, Life Skills Training
Team Presentations, Workshops & Pre-Game Speeches

For Individuals, Couples & Families
Individual Evaluations & Counseling
Family & Couples Counseling

For Corporations & Organizations
Individual Evaluations, Counseling, Executive Coaching, Life Skills Training
Speeches & Workshops
Team-building

Sports psychologist: Anxiety often root of performance problems

Sports psychology feature on Dr. John F Murray below:

Palm Beach Daily News – April 10, 2010 – John Nelander – When their tennis skills are tumbling, or their slice is careening out of control on the golf course, most people think of three solutions: practice, practice and more practice.

But there’s a mental aspect to all sports, whether you’re a professional athlete or just a weekend duffer. Some people who are serious about improving their performance are looking to sports psychologists for help.

A sports psychologist won’t turn you from a 100-shot, 18-hole hack into a par golfer. But a fresh mental approach to your sport can help maximize whatever talent you do have.

The root cause of most athletic performance problems is anxiety, says John Murray, a sports psychologist who lives and works in Palm Beach. You can boil it down to fear.

“People tend to think about results, and that causes fear, because they’re afraid of losing, or looking bad,â€? says Murray, who has an office in the Paramount Building. “They’re afraid of letting themselves down or their team down.â€?

The enemy is the old fight-or-flight response. As Murray notes: “It’s the same response that would occur if a snake was about to attack you.

“It’s an inappropriate response in this day and age, but our bodies haven’t caught up with that. To break that response, you have to get in and do some serious techniques, like classical conditioning and relaxation work.â€?

The key is not to fight the anxiety response — it’s to make sure it doesn’t get turned on in the first place. A coach isn’t doing an athlete any favors if he stands on the sidelines screaming: “Focus! Focus!â€?

Imagine this calming routine on the tennis court: You’re at the service line. You bounce the ball once, take a deep breath, and then exhale. “Imagine a perfect serve, and then let it rip,â€? says Murray. “I don’t want people to think more, I want them to think less. I want them to be on auto-pilot.â€?

Action versus anxiety

The potential for anxiety to affect an athlete varies with the sport. In general, the more time you spend actively engaged in competitive activity, the less anxiety will be a factor.

Golfers are particularly vulnerable, because only about 1 percent of the time on the course actually involves swinging the club. That leaves 99 percent of your time to worry about what your next shot is going to look like.

For every hour on the tennis court, 15-20 percent of your time is spent engaged in a point. That still leaves plenty of time to lose your focus.

“Contrast that with a soccer match,â€? Murray adds. “There, you might be engaged in the sport 80 percent of the time. In NFL football it’s 33 percent, which is why I say American football is a more mentally demanding sport.â€?

New discipline

Sports psychology is a relatively recent discipline. The American Psychological Association’s Division of Exercise and Sport Psychology will mark its 25th anniversary next year. There are about 800 members nationwide, says Jennifer Carter, president-elect of the organization.

In its very early days, sports psychologists worked mostly with pros or serious amateurs. Now, she says, more weekend athletes are taking the extra step. “It’s usually about self-talk — how the athlete is coaching himself,â€? says Carter, who works for a group practice in Worthington, Ohio, called The Center for Balanced Living.

“People have this inner dialogue going. We say about 200 words per minute to ourselves. If you’re involved in sports, it doesn’t help if you’re consistently critical of your own performance.â€?

Like Murray, most psychologists use imagery to help people picture success on the field, she adds.

Murray has a general psychology practice as well, but 90 percent of his clientele has sports or performance issues — and there can be performance issues in business, too. He sees a lot of high school athletes brought in by their parents who are hoping to see their kids score an athletic scholarship.

He also works with some NFL teams, including the Miami Dolphins. He’s worked with major league baseball players and NCAA basketball stars.

“I’m still waiting for the phone to ring off the hook from the NFL,â€? he says. “Why isn’t it? Because NFL coaches are sort of control freaks, and they want to do it all in-house. But my passion is to help an NFL team win a Super Bowl one year.â€?

Hope you’ve enjoyed this feature from the world of sports psychology

The Super Bowl Sets New Standards

Enjoy this article from SportsPro Magazine, sport’s money magazine, showing the continuing dominance of NFL football as this most recent Super Bowl was the most watched program in USA television history! Also, stay tuned for my new book titled “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History” to be released this year by World Audience. Enjoy! John F Murray, Sports Psychologist, Palm Beach, Florida

The Psychology of Missed Field Goals: Was Nate Kaeding’s Performance Part of a Choking Outbreak?

Newsweek – Ian Yarett – January 22, 2010 – San Diego Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding’s shocking performance in Sunday’s 17-14 loss to the New York Jets caught football fans everywhere—even Jets fans—by surprise. After making 32 out of 35 field-goal attempts throughout the entire season, Kaeding proceeded to miss all three chances in Sunday’s game. That makes Kaeding, who has the highest regular-season percentage in league history (87.2), the first kicker to miss three out of three field-goal attempts in a playoff game since 1995.

Kaeding’s failure topped off an already growing number of unforgettable missed kicks during the playoffs in the preceding week, including two by Cincinnati’s Shayne Graham against the Jets and another by Arizona’s Neil Rackers against the Packers.

All of this raises the question: could the preceding outbreak of failed field-goal attempts have precipitated Kaeding’s spectacular meltdown? Did Kaeding fall prey to a shanking epidemic?

According to Dr. John F. Murray, a Palm Beach-based sports psychologist, it’s a plausible theory, although impossible to prove. “It’s certainly safe to say that [Kaeding] made a mental mistake,â€? Murray says. “Exposure to other people’s failures could have gotten inside his head.â€?

For experienced and consistent players like Kaeding, a good kick is an automatic move that requires little thought. So little, in fact, that extra thinking can be the very thing that does in a player under high pressure. If a memory of another player missing a kick popped into Kaeding’s mind as he prepared to take his shot, that neural signal could have interfered with Kaeding’s mental preparation.

“When you’re kicking a field goal, you’re mostly using your motor cortex—that’s what controls kicking. So when you send a neural impulse from your brain down the spinal cord to the legs to make the kick, you don’t want to have a lot of interference from the frontal lobe or temporal lobe having a memory of some guy who missed a kick last week or any other distraction,â€? Murray says.

Still, if exposure to the failures of other kickers is what did in Kaeding, one would expect field-goal misses to come and go in groups. But, historically, this is not the case, says Steve Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau. Even though these playoffs have been a particularly bad time for field-goal kickers, Hirdt says that missed field goals do not always cluster in this way—at least not enough to identify a trend given the limited data available.

Indeed, there are many other possible psychological explanations for Kaeding’s aberrant misses. He could have gotten caught up in the pressure of the moment, which could feel like “having a gun to your head and being told to ‘make that field goal or I’m going to pull the trigger’,â€? Murray says. Alternatively, Kaeding could have missed one shot due to a technical flaw or a fluke, and then missed the next two because he was dwelling on the past. Or he could have just had a fight with his wife earlier in the day or gotten a speeding ticket on the way to the field, disrupting his concentration.

Patrick Cohn, another sports-psychology expert and owner of Peak Performance Sports, favors these kinds of explanations over the possibility that other failed kickers psyched out Kaeding. “When kickers miss uncharacteristically, it comes down to the pressure they’re feeling,â€? he says. “They don’t pay attention to what other kickers are doing, but a bad miss early in the game could lead to more misses later on.â€?

We’ll probably never know for certain the exact cause of Kaeding’s choke—even Kaeding himself may not know what happened, Murray says. But it surely comes down to mental preparation, which Kaeding will have to work on before he kicks again.

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