Archive for the ‘News & Events’ Category

FIGHTING IN HOCKEY IDIOTIC

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

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

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

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

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

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

`Playing With the Dinosaurs’

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

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

Steve Moore isn’t laughing.

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

There’s a Connection

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

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

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

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

No Statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pleading Guilty

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

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

SMART TENNIS BOOK RECEIVES TOP RATING

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: Highest – 4 Stars

TOP 10 OR BUST: BOCA’S SPADEA VOWS TO GO OUT WITH BANG

Miami Herald, San Jose Mercury News – Sep 29, 2005 – Michelle Kaufman – OK, so he’s not Joe Namath, and his bold guarantee is not making national headlines, but Vince Spadea’s public vow to rise from No. 56 to the top 10 is making some ripples in the insular world of tennis.

Spadea, the 31-year-old Boca Raton resident, on Sept. 19 signed a contract with his sports psychologist, John Murray, that ”guarantees” he will reach the top 10 — barring injuries — for the first time in his career. He sent out a press release, complete with photos of his contract.

”I’m sticking my head out there,” Spadea said by phone. “I like to say what I think, and I really believe this is within reason. I know there are skeptics out there who think I’m out of my mind, who think I’m being obnoxious and arrogant, and just using this as a publicity stunt. But I’ve always liked being the underdog and proving people wrong. That’s how I’ve made it this far even though I’m 5-10 ½ with no huge weapons.”

This is, after all, the guy who made one of the greatest comebacks in recent tennis history, soaring to No. 18 from No. 229 early last year and winning the first title of his career at Scottsdale.

”I’m in the last quarter of my career, and I want to go out with a bang,” Spadea said. “I want to make my last effort my greatest effort. I’ve beaten virtually every top 10 player in recent years, and shown small signs of greatness, but I need to commit every cell in my body to this and, hopefully, find another gear that I’ve never found before.”

Spadea said he doesn’t care how long he stays in the top 10. The point, he said, is to get there.

Spadea is 19-21 this year and has been hampered by injuries. He said he will train harder than ever now, and take tennis more seriously.

”This will help inspire me,” Spadea said. “I know it’s in me. I see other guys who have risen to the top 10 who haven’t won majors — [ Nikolay] Davydenko, [ Guillermo] Canas, [ Richard] Gasquet. I know on paper it’s improbable, but it’s not impossible. I’m jumping on this fast and furious. My career window is nearly closed, and I don’t want to end it knowing I didn’t give it everything.”

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

SPADEA’S GUARANTEE IN TENNIS CELEBS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIVA RECEIVERS FLOURISH IN NFL

Palm Beach Post – Sep 21, 2005 – Hal Habib – Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman entered the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor on Monday night, rekindling memories of glory days for the big, blue star.

Honor and glory aren’t what you would associate with what happened five years ago, when Smith rang up Irvin, his former teammate, seeking moral support, if not to give Irvin an earful about his receiving brethren.

One day earlier, then-San Francisco receiver Terrell Owens had Smith and all of Texas Stadium aghast by dancing all over the Cowboys’ star at midfield. Certainly, we have better perspective now. We expect more ingenuity Sunday when Owens and the Eagles face Randy Moss and the Raiders in Philadelphia. But in 2000, trampling all over a star qualified as hot stuff for wide receivers.

“What about… ?” was as far as Smith got before Irvin cut him off at the pass.

“If you had a problem with what he did, why didn’t you win the game, and it would have fixed all that?” Irvin barked. “Then it would have made him look like a fool. So don’t come calling me because he stepped on your star. You should have stepped on his head after he stepped on your star. It was early in the game. You guys went on and let them beat you anyway.

“Shut up. Goodbye. Get off the phone, man.”

Today, Irvin, the former University of Miami star and current ESPN analyst, slips into a droopy, wistful tone â€â€? if you can imagine thatâ€? as he recounts Smith’s reaction:

“Yeah…. I guess you’re right.”

Didn’t Smith know whom he was calling?

“I am the original,” Irvin says. “Those are my disciples.”

The original what?

“The original diva.”

For sheer entertainment value, you have to give props to today’s wide receivers. They’ll also be happy to supply their own. Sharpies, cellphones and Pepto-Bismol have become essential accessories for the men whose ability to grab footballs is matched only by their ability to grab headlines.

With Diva Bowl I around the corner, Irvin, the former first down-signaling, fur coat-wearing “Playmaker,” figures he deserves credit and blame for what receivers have become.

“I get phone calls from receivers in the league now, the guys who we would call divas: ‘Hey, man, we’re just trying to continue this thing you started,’ ” Irvin says. “I’m saying, ‘Ooooh, don’t take it too far.’ ”

Now what would make Irvin think these wide guys would do that?

The player who once asked teammates to cut him slack in practice because he just had his nipple pierced? That would be David Boston, now of the Dolphins but then with Arizona. A receiver.

The player who quit football the night before a game, immediately was cut, but still figured he could show up for work the following Monday? Eddie Kennison. Denver. Receiver.

The player who dropped a touchdown pass, then reportedly pouted when his quarterback threw a TD pass on the next play to someone else? Moss.

At the height of Owens’ contract squabble with the Eagles this off-season, Moss, of all people, was asked if T.O. (Owens) needed a T.O. (timeout).

“Who am I to tell him anything?” Moss said. “I’m Mr. Distraction myself.”

Sheesh. A distraction, and a diva.

“Man, that’s a damn women’s term,” says former Dolphins receiver Mark Clayton.” I don’t know who came up with bull like that.”

Clayton has a point. Webster’s defines a diva as, a leading woman singer, esp. in grand opera.” How about “flamboyant”?

“They’re all competitors,” Clayton says. “Them complaining about not getting enough balls or wanting to catch ballsâ€? that makes them divas?”

Them writing books about iâ€? Keyshawn Johnson’s Just Give Me the Damn Ball!â€? that doesn’t make them divas?

“I don’t know anything about the diva thing,” Dolphins receiver Marty Booker says. “To play receiver in this league, sometimes you have to be demanding and selfish.”

Across the room, Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers is asked about all those times he wanted to pull a Sharpie out of his sock to autograph a touchdown ball, like Owens.

“Never,” Chambers says. “Never, never, never, never. I wouldn’t even think to do anything like that. I wouldn’t even want that much attention. It’s unnecessary and sometimes it can backfire on you. I just feel like being a professional.”

Chris Chambers: good receiver, lousy diva. Right?

“You know what’s so crazy about it?” Chambers says. “In high school, I played basketball and I was a trash-talker. Basketball is such a one-on-one sport and if I know I’ve got the ability to beat the guy, I can talk trash.”

Chambers says he doesn’t lack confidence in football, just opportunities like Owens and the Bengals’ Chad Johnson, who see enough passes to stack up 1,000-yard seasons.

“I think once I’m at that level, I don’t know how I’ll be acting,” Chambers says.

Johnson also is the guy who sent cornerbacks Pepto-Bismol to cure the nausea he planned to inflict on them.

“My mom loves Chad Johnson,” Chambers says.

Chris Chambers: diva-in-training?

“I haven’t heard that term, but it’s definitely the position to be,” Chambers says of receiving, not diva-ing. “You go back to when you’re growing up, man. Everybody wanted to be a receiver. Everybody wanted to score touchdowns.”

John Murray, a Palm Beach sports psychologist, says Chambers has latched onto something.

“He’s the big playmaker,” Murray says of a star receiver. “He’s the guy who has to make it happen, and he’s got to get the attention of the quarterback. He’s got to be fearless because people are trying to take his head off going over the middle. They have to be agile yet durable and certainly expressive in a very showmanlike way.”

Irvin, whose 12-year career was shortened by a neck injury, knows about risks and rewards. If a lineman misses a block, Irvin says, it could go unnoticed.

“If you drop that ball out there, everybody knows: ‘Man, Michael blew the game,’ ” Irvin says. “Jackie Smith. Tight end. Dropped the ball. That’s the only thing I know of him, because he had it right here in his hands. Now, you make the play… The Catch. Everybody remembers it.”

It’s what separates Cowboys tight end Jackie Smith, who dropped a touchdown pass in a loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIII but otherwise had a Hall of Fame career, and 49ers receiver Dwight Clark, whose last-minute TD beat Dallas in the 1982 NFC championship game.

Clayton caught 79 touchdown passes from Dan Marino, yet says he never felt more pressure than when Marino threw one encore ball to him to end his Hall of Fame induction speech last month. Still, Clayton celebrated that catch with a few simple high-fives.

“These cats now, these are a different breed of receiver than we were,” Clayton says. “They’re way more flamboyant … I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”

Jets coach Herm Edwards, a former defensive back, wonders if perception has changed more than receivers.

“You go back to the days I played in the late ’70s and early ’80s, you had guys like that, but the TV coverage wasn’t so immense,” Edwards says.

Perception plays a role. Joe Horn’s image was as the showboat who pulled a hidden cellphone from a goalpost, but that might be changing as he poignantly speaks of the Saints trying to give fans “some kind of hope” after Hurricane Katrina.

Even Owens has a flip side. He’s auctioning his NFC championship ring from last season on eBay to raise money for Katrina victims.

Isn’t this what divas do, keep you guessing? Maybe it just takes a diva to know a diva.

“Everybody’s got a little bit of diva deep down inside,” diva Kristen Bentley says. “We all want to be that star.”

Bentley is president of Chrome Divas Inc., a 1,000-member group of motorcycle-riding women (although by day she’s a 32-year-old court reporter in Tallahassee).

Bentley says Owens chalks up diva points for the Sharpie, but what clinches his position as leader of the pack is the “Chocolate Room,” his chocolate-colored VIP lounge that requires an electronic pass code for entry.

The Chocolate Room is in his house in Atlanta. Owens is single.

“I wonder what kind of chocolate he has in there,” Bentley says. “If he has Godiva chocolate, now, he’s a diva.”

If it’s Russell Stover?

“You don’t need an entry code for that,” Bentley says.

Former All-Pro receiver Cris Collinsworth welcomes women into this equation. Collinsworth cringes at the soap opera between Owens and his quarterback, Donovan McNabb.

“Probably more than anything else, he needs a wife, honestly,” Collinsworth said last week on HBO’s Costas Now. “If he had a wife, the minute he takes after Donovan McNabb, his wife would have said, ‘What are you doing? Pick up the telephone and call him and apologize. You’re so out of line.’ ”

To which fellow panelist Tim Russert said, “Of course, if he had a wife he would say, ‘Honey, you’re lucky to have me.’ ”

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

SPADEA ISSUES TOP 10 GUARANTEE

Tennis Week – Sep 20, 2005 – Vince Spadea has a message for Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Marat Safin and other members of the top 10 â€? make room for me. The 49th-ranked Spadea has guaranteed he will attain his highest career ranking ever ” top 10 in the world. Click for Photo of Vince Spadea and John Murray as Vince Makes the Guarantee in Boca Raton September 15

The 31-year-old Spadea, who has registered a 19-21 record on the season, recently began working again with his sport performance psychologist. He now guarantees that mental coaching will help him achieve his highest career ranking ever, top 10 in the world.

“Comebacks are never easy, but they are a part of sports, and Im quite ready and excited about this new challenge,” said Spadea, who owns career wins over Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. “I will return to my highest ranking ever. I guarantee it!”

Spadea, rarely a stranger to adversity, recovered from the longest losing streak in ATP Tour history, suffering 21 straight losses before resurrecting his career. Spadea claimed his first ATP Tour title in Scottsdale last year. He beat James Blake and Andy Roddick en route to victory. In his comeback, Spadea rose from No. 229 to a career-best No. 18 in the world.

Injuries and adversity returned this year as Spadea dropped to 49 this week even after reaching the final in Newport in July.

“Rather than get discouraged or depressed, its a gift that Im as high as 50 compared to where I was when I began the previous comeback,” Spadea declared. “My rise will again be accomplished with help from my sport performance psychologist, John F. Murray, who formerly helped me back from my longest losing streak.”

Spadea got the idea of daring to make a public guarantee after thinking about great accomplishments and history.

“Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl victory when no-one believed in him; the 1980 USA Hockey Team truly believed; nobody thought David would slay Goliath,” Spadea said. “Even my performance psychologist stuck his neck on the line and lost 64 pounds after he made a public guarantee.”

Spadea claims that his public guarantee will help strengthen his resolve and commitment.

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

SPADEA’S RENEWED DESIRE AND FOCUS

Orlando Sentinel – Sep 18, 2005 – Short Takes – We received this “breaking-news” e-mail this week, headlined: “Vince Spadea Makes a Public Guarantee to Achieve a Top 10 Ranking with Renewed Desire and Focus.” Our first thought was, “Vince Spadea is still playing tennis?” Our second thought was, “OK, how’s he going to get back into the top 10?” According to the e-mail, “To prove his new commitment, Vince recently began working again with his sport-performance psychologist [John F. Murray]. He now guarantees that mental coaching will help him achieve his highest career ranking ever, top 10 in the world.” According to the e-mail, Spadea is 49th in the world rankings.

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

LET’S HEAR IT FOR OUR LOSS LEADERS

Financial Times of London – Simon Kuper – Sept 17, 2005 – The Kansas City Royals were already the worst team in baseball, but on Tuesday they had their worst moment of the season. When a Chicago White Sox batter hit a fly ball, two Royals outfielders settled beneath it. Both began jogging to the dugout, each assuming the other would catch it. The ball dropped for a double. The Royals lost.

They aren’t even the years worst losers. The Royals recent 19-game losing streak, baseball finest in 17 years, was bettered last Saturday by the English football club Sunderland, who have now lost 20 consecutive Premiership matches, counting the last time they graced the division in 2003.

Losing is sports great neglected topic. All attention goes to the winners, but it’s losers who represent the human condition. The sports annual cycle is hope (this could be our season), disappointment (I cant find my form), renewal (theres always next year), and finally exit prompted by physical decay. The ‘parallels with life are uncanny. Today, when sport means big-market teams thrashing small-market teams, there are more losers than ever.They merit serious study.

This is not to forget the long-dead losers. Who could forget the 1899 Cleveland Spiders baseball team, whose owner shipped all their best players to his other club? Losing 40 of their last 41 games, the Spiders drew only 6,088 spectators all season, whereas Kansas City got 9,535 last Tuesday night alone.

Nobody has forgotten the 1962 New York Mets, who may have been a Marx Brothers tribute team. The Met outfielder Richie Ashburn, tired of always crashing into his Venezuelan shortstop when chasing the same ball, finally learned to shouœI got its in Spanish. When the next popup came, he yelled Yo lo tengo!. The shortstop duly stopped, and Ashburn was instead knocked over by Anglophone leftfielder Frank Thomas. A friend of mine, a Sunderland fan, admits: At a certain point you become so bad that it becomes comic. Almost.
Then there is Luxembourg’s national football team. When their manager, Paul Philipp, was finally released in 2001 after 17 years of losing more matches than any other international football manager ever, I asked him if it hadnt been depressing. I wouldn’t have missed a second of it! Philipp replied. At times we only narrowly lost to the big nations. And there had been the 1-1 draw with Belgium in the 1980s, the 0-0 against Scotland and, well, so on.

The truth is that losing builds character. Winners never quit, says the clich, but its easy not to quit when youre winning. Only when youre losing does getting out of bed require courage and persistence, especially if you are a professional athlete. These people are born winners. They were stars at school. They have mansions and groupies. Then suddenly they feel worthless. Losing, in short, teaches them about life for normal people. When I put this to my friend the Sunderland fan, he muttered: The difference is that in football you lose in very stark fashion: you get no points. Losing in life is a little more nuanced.

That is why losing in sport “ no ambiguities “ is the best practice. I realised this while studying economics. It was bewildering. One day I was trying to figure it out with a friend – a woman who could do everything “ when she broke down crying. She had never failed before. I felt morally superior, because sport had taught me losing. Driving with teammates to a soccer game around that time, a new song came over the radio: im a loser baby (so why dont you kill me?) Within 30 seconds the whole car was singing along. Loser became an anthem. As Beck, the singer, later noted: “The vacuous 80s pop song has a sense of winning and being on top. In fact, its worse: the mass media are a conspiracy to promote the ideology of winning.

Losers should embrace losing. I think it was Darlington soccer fans who chanted, “You thought you had scored, you were right, you were right,and in the 1980s, while the Columbia University football team was losing 44 straight, the band would play the Mickey Mouse Club theme when the players ran out.

When losers win, they know how to appreciate it. They arent instantly off on lantern-jawed quests for the next trophy. Instead they release in the moment. Nick Hornby, in his fan’s memoir Fever Pitch, describes supporting Cambridge United the day they won their first match in six months. “In the last five minutes, with Cambridge thumping the ball as far into the allotments as possible, you would have thought that they were about to win the European Cup. At the final whistle the players (most of whom had never played in a winning team) embraced; and for the first time since October the club DJ was able to play, Ive Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.

However, if you find that losing just isnt for you, you can change. Adequacy is always lurking around the corner, like a mugger. John Syer, a sports psychologist formerly with Tottenham Hotspur football club, told me that in a losing streak players forget what winning is like. But they can learn to visualise winning. “There are few athletes who have not had an experience of winning, says Syer. “The obvious thing is to go back to a past occasion and remember what it was like. Most athletes do visualisation very well because they are in tune with their own bodies.

Some losers become winners. The tennis player Vince Spadea lost 21 straight matches in 1999-2000, but rebounded to hit 18th in the world this February. John Murray, Spadea’s sports psychologist, told me an athlete can acquire confidence even if reality “ lost matches“ tells him otherwise. The trick is to ignore that reality. Murray explains: you have to believe you are the author of your thoughts and feelings. You have control over the mental world you want to create. You are not controlled by the past. He sighs: Animals will catch the ball jumping out of the pool, because they dont have mental baggage. We human beings have mental baggage.

This week Spadea came up with a guaranteed: aged 31, battling injury, ranked 59th and sinking, he pledges to make the top 10 for the first time ever. Its the sort of magnificent disregard of reality that ruins a good loser. Click for Photo of Vince Spadea and John Murray as Vince Makes the Guarantee in Boca Raton September 15

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

TENNIS PLAYERS STRUGGLE

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

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

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

This is true for both club players and future pros.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The psychology of sport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hitting that fine line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superstition and savvy

Ehlers used to be superstitious in all sports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO FEAR – OVERCOMING CHOKING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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