Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Analysis of Best 37 NFL Handicappers Reveals the Extreme Difficulty of Picking Against a Spread

Best-Known Experts Fail More Often Than Not as Dr. Murray Launches Website to Pick Games
By John F Murray, Ph.D.

Who is Dr. John F Murray?

People know me as the clinical and sports psychologist in South Florida who helps prepare athletes and business folks for competition with mental training, and general counseling when needed, so that they will win more and have more fulfilling lives. I love helping my clients and working with them to achieve great things. It works much more often than not because mental training and sports psychology is extremely important to success but still vastly under-utilized in our society.

Mental Performance Matters

After opening my practice in 1999, I realized that being a good professional in my rare field was going to demand that I find ways to (1) tell more people first that the field and profession exists, and (2) show them that it really works! It’s the showing that it works part, along with my passion for NFL football, that led me on an exciting journey that culminated in my second book “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History (2011, 2013).” In this book, I explained how vastly important mental performance is to success, but that it had not yet been taken seriously or even measured along with some 40 other more traditional factors used to quantify a football team’s performance. To correct this oversight, I invented a statistic to fill this void and called it the “Mental Performance Index” or MPI. I also showed in extensive research that not only was this factor important to winning the Super Bowl, it was by far the most important factor in winning the big game! I had tested whether this new statistic (which looked at a team’s overall performance including how well they managed mental aspects such as pressure, efficient execution, and reduction of errors) mattered in winning games, and not only did it matter, the MPI hit the ball out of the park. Correlations between this statistic and winning were above .80 whereas the next best statistic, turnover differential, ranged between .50 and .60. Clearly, the mental game in football had not been properly measured and I had discovered something amazing.

Support from NFL Experts

The book on this MPI was very well received by top people in the NFL including the forward written by 4-time Super Bowl champion Tom Flores, the book’s epilogue written by America’s Hall of Fame sports broadcaster Lesley Visser, and cover endorsements and quotes by Don Shula and Steve Sabol of NFL Films among many. In addition, using MPI data I’ve gone public prior to 10 NFL Super Bowls and my record of picking the correct team against the spread is 8-2 (80%) even though I realize that is a terribly small sample size and might be due to chance. I don’t think it is due to chance, but I have to be humble with such a small number of games.

A Shift Toward Predicting Future Games

While my initial purpose in creating the new statistic was to help football teams understand more precisely how they were performing mentally, so that the coach would get great feedback leading up to the next game, I also began to realize that since I was capturing an aspect of football that had been largely ignored, there might be some predictive value in this statistic. In other words, I already had shown that mental performance was absolutely vital in winning the Super Bowl, but could I re-configure this measure to make predictions of future NFL games? This was not about gambling, and I have never been a gambler, but it hit me like a ton of bricks that if I could show that the MPI could predict future NFL games (since I have data that many are not getting) I would be able to more convincingly show the football and sports world how vital the mental game truly was to success, and more people would then understand the immense value of mental training and sports psychology!

Extensive Research

These thoughts led me on a 5-year mission beginning in 2013 to analyze almost 40 years of NFL games with a database of almost 10,000 past games. I adapted the MPI slightly for this purpose to make it easier to rate games based on available published data, rather than having to watch the games, and I rolled up my sleeves and went to work in my free time with what I considered a very fun and challenging pursuit. I involved statisticians at times, and computer experts who helped me create countless programs to properly analyze this massive database with the scientific method driven by hypothesis testing always at the forefront. While it is beyond the scope of this article to go into great detail, the end product was that I came up with an MPI derived system to predict NFL games using the scientific method, and I believe I can now predict NFL games as good or better than anyone on the planet.

FootballShrink.com Was Born

I am about to start publishing select NFL game predictions each week in the 2018 season on a website that I will call FootballShrink.com due to the fact that the Sun Sentinel referred to me as called me the “football shrink” in an early article about the MPI and Super Bowl. The Washington Post had already dubbed me “The Freud of Football” but I liked “football shrink” better for this purpose. While I am hopefully far more than a “football shrink” in my day job as a clinical and sports psychologist, I kind of like the nickname that was given me, so I am going to use it. It’s catchy and bold.

The Challenge of Prediction

It is very hard to beat the official spread of an NFL game by picking a side. When I first began this quest, I had visions of hitting 70% or even 65% success against the spread, but those early notions proved foolish, and I am now far wiser. 50% represents chance, or the worst performance possible. A newborn baby or a dog with his paw making NFL picks against a spread will get closer and closer to 50% success over time based on pure chance. It’s a coin flip. The spread more or less evens the teams to get equal money for the house on each side. To win money at the betting window when a person lays $110 to make a $100 bet, the person over time would need to averagae 52.38% over many picks just to break even! That 2.38% over chance is what it costs to make the bet, and that fee is called the vigorish or vig for short.

How Do the Best in the World Do?

It occurred to me that I needed to know how the best handicappers in the world were doing, so I tuned into one of the best websites in the world for this which has a panel of 37 NFL experts whose picks are published and archived, some going all the way back to 2003. I have looked at the numbers on this site over several years, and never once saw an error or an inflation in success rates. The handicappers on that site are well known nationally, publish magazines and articles in pre-season guides, and have often been doing it a long time. I recently completed a study of all 37 handicappers on this site, and their picks since 2003, and I would like to share some interesting results when it comes to making picks against a known official line. The take home message is that the overall average is below what it would take to make money!

Results:

All 37 NFL handicappers combined:
15,228 wins, 13,976 losses, 873 pushes = 52.14% against the spread (-323 on average)

Top 10 NFL handicappers based on their total wins:
7,562 wins, 6,914 losses, 412 pushes = 52.24% against the spread (-316 on average)

27 NFL handicappers who have data on at least 300 games:
14,341 wins, 13,143 losses, 804 pushes = 52.18% against the spread

The best handicappers in the world are averaging 52% success against the spread in NFL football. It does not matter if you look at all 37 handicappers, the top 10 handicappers, or the 27 with over 300 games, they all get very close to the same results of 52% and it is below what it would take to even break even at 52.38% if the bets were all -110. If the bets, however, are -105 (in other words, you pay $110 or $105 dollars to win $100) the percentage needed to break even is a little more than 51%, but since the format for many is -110, I am using that for the sake of example.

FootballShrink.com Ready to Launch in 2018

It is now the perfect time to evaluate how my picks compare with the top 37 NFL handicappers in the world. While I am quietly confident that I have built something that will be as good or even much better than what is available with the best handicappers in the world, time must now speak. It is one thing to show strong correlations with winning past games, but quite another to predict the future! Picks will be posted each week of the 17-week NFL season at FootballShrink.com later in each week and before each game, using an established line that is published. Since there are precise requirements for what is considered a good pick, there might be weeks where 5 or 6 picks are made, and other weeks where only 1 pick is made.

Meaning of the Predictions

Creating a tool and then using it to predict games against the spread and comparing results to the best handicappers in the world should prove challenging if nothing else. If over time the success rate is on par with the best handicapper experts in the world, that would be good. If success over time is above 52% it would provide definitive proof that the mental game not only matters, it so vital to performance that knowing something about it in a serious way can actually increase prediction! If 30 to 60 picks are made in the 2018 season, this is still an extremely small sample size. Success in year 1 cannot be used as evidence that the MPI is a viable prediction tool. At the same time, lack of success will not mean that it does not work. Hundreds of games predicted in advance and archived on FootballShrink.com, however, will tell the story over time. Statistics requires a large sample size and there is no way to rush this.

Dr. John F. Murray’s Mental Performance Index Correctly Picked the Eagles, Now 80% Successful in Super Bowls

Mental toughness, as measured on sports psychologists’ patented Mental Performance Index, was decisive once again

Palm Beach, Florida – April 5, 2018

Dr. John F. Murray at https://www.JohnFMurray.com a licensed clinical and sport performance psychologist (aka the “Football Shrink,” the “Freud of Football” by the Washington Post and the author of “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History”) correctly forecast that the Philadelphia Eagles, led by an unproven quarterback and coach would handle pressure better than Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and beat the official spread in Super Bowl 52. As predicted, the Eagles executed better under pressure and defeated New England 41-33.  

The MPI has now defeated the official spread in 8 of 10 attempts (80% success) made publicly before Super Bowl games. The system has also held up in research looking at over 7000 past NFL games. The book Murray wrote on the MPI in 2011 and revised in 2013 showed overwhelming evidence that mental performance is the most important factor in Super Bowl success. “More than ever, it is clear that mental factors need to be considered at the top of the list in analyzing football games and training players,” stated Murray. “Going without mental coaching is no longer an option for anyone serious about success.”

For an entire week leading up to the big game, Murray tweeted and posted on Facebook about how the Eagles and Patriots were very close and that the line favoring the Patriots decisively was way off and that the Eagles would cover the spread even if New England were to win the game. Murray had predicted Super Bowl games 8 years in a row in previous years in building a case for his book, and went 6-2 against the official spread, and then got the pick correct last year in picking the Patriots to cover.  “The MPI data is crucial to understanding total team performance, including mental performance, so I believe that I have an advantage since most still do not measure this critical mental factor,” stated Murray.  

The inventor of the Mental Performance Index(TM) (MPI(TM)), Dr. John F. Murray, works with NFL players and uses the index to quantify the degree to which a team performs to perfection. See https://www.JohnFMurray.com. He also used it for 4 years in a row in quantifying the performance of Miami Hurricane football games in a weekly column published in Cane Sport Magazine. The 56-year-old Ph.D. licensed sport/performance psychologist in Palm Beach assigns points on each play throughout selected regular season games and the playoffs for “focused execution,” “pressure management,” and “reduction of mental errors,” and game totals range from .000 to 1.000 (perfection). “Scoring at .600 is excellent,” said Murray. Many coaches have said that “on every play somebody screws up” and good football coaches encourage their teams to place their focus on one play at a time.

The MPI measures how well a team does overall including on mental performance. Its power comes from the number of plays in a game (approximately 150) and the inclusion of mental factors in the scoring. While the MPI scores achieved in game ratings almost always predicts to game outcome, the numbers also indicate which teams are performing better, in precisely which specific areas, and regardless of which team won in the past. This gives coaches great insight before their upcoming games as they are able to more clearly see not only how their own team is performing, but to anticipate the fine differences, strengths and weaknesses of their opponents in a scoring system that standardizes performance like a baseball batting average.  In the past few years, Murray has expanded this football analysis to the area of prediction with extensive statistical historical analysis.

The MPI was invented in 2002 and first accurately forecasted the blowout upset Super Bowl win by Tampa Bay over Oakland (Arizona Republic, Bloomberg Radio). Murray went on national radio and television and conducted hundreds of newspaper and magazine interviews before each Super Bowl for 8 consecutive years. The MPI has been featured by ESPN The Magazine and Murray’s appearances in media are too numerous to mention. Murray provides lectures, mental coaching, and sport psychology services to athletes and teams in many sports. Prior to “The Mental Performance Index” Murray authored “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game,” endorsed by Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport.

Dr. Murray is available for interviews and his website is at https://www.JohnFMurray.com.

The Miami Dolphins as “Rosebud” in the Movie Citizen Cane

The Miami Dolphins as “Rosebud” in the Movie Citizen Cane – by John F Murray, PhD – 
Palm Beach, Florida – December 18, 2017 – I love my career as a clinical and sports psychologist. I get to do what is natural for me in watching and loving sports with the added benefit of being a part of the game in getting players and teams ready for competition with specific mental training and also psychological counseling.  It was the perfect career for me with a background of playing most sports growing up, and coaching tennis worldwide in my 20s after getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology. When I saw the light, I went back to graduate school at age 30 to become a sports psychologist and the rest is history.

Today I coach people and teams to develop their mental skills for success, but there was an additional extra spice of excitement that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with pure luck. At the age of 9, right when I first became aware of this spectator sport called NFL football, my father took me to my first game when the Dolphins played the Saints at the Orange Bowl. It was the week after Tom Dempsey kicked the longest field goal in history – a 63-yard blast with only half a foot. I was hooked after that game. The Dolphins had a new young genius coach named Don Shula and every year from 1970 to 1974 the team just got better.

It was a dream for a young kid to watch this team improve every year from age 9 to 14, impressionable years that instilled in this young fan the idea that there was a right way to coach and play sports that was the best in the world. It was an idealism backed by reality. Shula’s insight and this team’s hard work would lead to three consecutive Super Bowls, two titles, and a perfect 17-0 season. It wasn’t until that infamous “Sea of Hands” game against the Raiders in late 1974 when Jack Clancy caught the wounded duck thrown by Kenny Stabler in between two Miami defenders that all my hopes and young dreams were dashed in one cruel instant. The impossible happened. My beloved team that had only gotten better and better finally lost.  The last Super Bowl title in 1974 would be their last true glory and that was now 43 years ago.

Can you imagine? In 43 years the Dolphins have never done it again. At age 14, I thought the dream would simply never end and that by today the team would have amassed 20 Super Bowl titles. New England back then was a third-rate group of lousy scrubs. Those were the days! The impact of those early years as a kid growing up in South Florida, however, were profoundly significant. That team was my childhood “rosebud.”  Remember that rosebud was the name of the sled in the academy-winning movie Citizen Cane that represented all that was good and innocent about life before the reality of life sets in for a publishing tycoon.   

My early love of sports was propelled by this amazing experience following the Dolphins’ every move in the early 1970s. In some ways, I am always trying to re-discover those years of success with every client I work with today, even if the success of that team had nothing to do with me except to give me hope. Back then sports psychology did not even exist, but today it is just another vital part of comprehensive training for the smart athlete and team, and hope is a critical component. While I had zero to do with that early fun, the lessons learned over 5 years of rising dominance, watching every play and dissecting every article I could find on Shula or the team, showed me at a young age what a team can and should be, what a coach can and should be, and how winning should look.

After going to college, traveling the world many times with a tennis racket, completing graduate school, and acquiring the tools to take my coaching to a whole different mental dimension, I finally in 1999 got the chance to begin my career and actually help athletes and teams to win. I’ve been at it almost 20 years now and love every minute of this exciting career.

What is really ironic is that early in my career in the early 2000s, I actually got the chance to be a paid consultant to the Miami Dolphins, helping several players with the support of the head coach and other staff. I was brought in to work with individual players including the starting quarterback, and the success was real and tangible. The truth is that mental coaching works and is very much needed, and part of the reason it works so well is that there are so few qualified sports psychologists today. Athletes do not receive this training properly. While I was able to help these Dolphins players early in my practice, and have helped many more since then, my attempts to build an actual sports psychology program for the team from day one of training camp has not seen the light of day. For whatever reason – perhaps stigmas about psychology or perhaps just not finding the right coach – it has not happened. I am confident that in the future all teams will have this service and will do it comprehensively year-round.

But let’s keep our focus on the Miami Dolphins after their 1970s glory days.  While you might be thinking of the Dan Marion era of the 1980s and 90s and the two Super Bowl appearances that were fun, they did not win it all, so in my mind the 1970s were much better. There have been 43 Dolphins teams that have not won the Super Bowl since that magic last win in January of 1974.  While many will argue that Miami has not had the talent of those early teams, I watched it very closely and will assert very confidently that this is not at all the case.

Back in the early 70s, the Dolphins were a ragtag bunch brought together by Shula as no-names literally, and nobody really expected them to win. I vividly remember a column written by LA Times reporter Jim Murray (no relation) with the heading “Who are the Dolphins?” prior to a Miami vs. LA Rams game. To sum it up, Miami did not have extraordinary talent in those days, but they had the best coaching in the world, they made few mistakes, and they worked very hard for it. Shula might not have had a sports psychologist, but I have talked with several players who played for him and it seems that he was doing many of the same things good sports psychologists do. It is not surprising that he is still the winningest coach of all time!

In today’s age of specialized training, media, huge salaries, agents, and frequent coach turnover, there are more distractions than ever, so good coaching takes on even more importance.  The teams that win are the teams who manage distractions best. The Patriots epitomize this approach and I am confident that they are taking the mental game very seriously. After Tom Brady won the Super Bowl last year, he attributed very much of his success in post-game discussions to sports psychology! What more evidence do you need?

Whether my services will soon be used by the Dolphins in the future or not, I cannot control this or worry about it. I would love to help the team, but the people in charge need to understand the value, and to make consultant hiring decisions more based on meritocratic thinking than hiring their friends from high school or thinking that big named celebrity speakers are the same as sports psychology. Sports psychology is a profession and a science and the same scrutiny used in finding top players in the draft should be used in finding the best professionals out there to help in any other area including the mental department. I cannot speak for internal politics of poor decision making by coaches or administrators, but I clearly see the product on the field in terms of performance.

When a team has nearly the most penalties in the league in 2017 and constantly shoots itself in the foot with careless turnovers, personal fouls, and poor focus, I can confidently assert that they are either not getting the right thing in terms of sports psychology, or that they are not doing it long enough or on a consistent basis. What I witnessed this year in terms of shoddiness and poor consistency was hard to watch at times. I do believe that Adam Gase is a brilliant young mind, and a superior tactician. He has a proven track record in particular with quarterbacks, and maybe he got the best he could get out of Jay Cutler this season, but no matter how good Adam Gase is, he is not a sports psychologist.  He is a coach and teams need great coaches like him.  But Mr. Gase did not get two masters degrees and a PhD after 7 years of serious study in sports psychology, and he never wanted to. He is an elite head coach, but without a first-class team sports psychology program in place, his team will never reach their potential.

Let me give you a vision. A great sports psychology program would be year-round. It would be overseen and directed by a professional with a license to practice psychology as well as extensive academic training and experience in all aspects of sports psychology. It would involve regular office hours to work with players individually. It would also involve comprehensive mental coaching evaluations on every player long before the season so that the sports psychologist as well as the coaches would know how to treat each player best to get the most out of them.  The sports psychologist would be an accepted and integral staff member, like the head of any department in a company, and would sit in on meetings and provide input as needed. Each player would have a specific and clear profile of mental needs and there would be a concerted effort by each and every coach to enhance each player’s mental skills every week in the areas identified as needing most help.  

I am not trolling for a job the way I might have in 1997 as a graduate student. I have a great practice in Palm Beach and work with a variety of athletes in all sports out of the office, by phone or at client locations. But I do know that even in the year 2017, the majority of the NFL teams, and I might dare add the Miami Dolphins, are not taking sports psychology nearly as seriously as they should. Talent is vastly over-rated. In addition to talent, great trained technique, strength programs, and solid nutrition, every player also needs to be on the top of the world in their mental training.

From the looks of this 2017 Miami Dolphins team, there is no way this is happening. The mistakes have been rampant, horrible, and costly.  The lost opportunities have been numerous and devastating.  The dreams of thousands of South Florida fans have just been dashed again after the loss to Buffalo. The phrase “no playoffs” has a very nasty ring to it but its back again.  We cannot simply blame it on the loss of Ryan Tannehill. Winning organizations find a way to prevail. This 6-8 team has grossly underperformed. The win over the Patriots was exciting, but it was a shallow and insignificant night of success that means nothing in the long-run. It might help Jay Cutler in the broadcast booth to say he beat Tom Brady one night, but what does that do for South Florida or the team?

I am now 56-years old, but since I love my profession so much I still feel like I am in my 30s. I still have that sparkle in my eye and glimmer of innocent hope that maybe someday this Dolphins team will return to the glory days that became a permanent place in my psyche from 1970 to 1974.  Of course, that was the 12-year old Dr. John F Murray, but it that same childlike hope and insane optimism that all athletes in all sports need and that I need to be able to instill in my clients. What used to be the excitement of a young fan is now a very serious confidence based on my understanding of the mental game and my realization that the vast majority of athletes and teams are still not coming close to their potential mentally.

Most NFL teams and players are starving mentally. I know it. And it goes beyond football to all others sports too. Like Martin Luther King, I also have a dream. I have a dream that some day all teams and athletes will realize what they have been missing and will be focused on training their mental games just as intensively as they train physically. The teams that figure it out first will have an advantage that might be hard to quantify, but trust me, I have seen it hundreds and hundreds of times in my private practice. When something that is significant is missing, and then it is added properly, performance and success soars.

The Miami Dolphins, like that iconic sled rosebud in the movie Citizen Cane, will probably always be that safe, exciting and innocent place that knows no limitations in my mind. But if the real Miami Dolphins never wake up from their long deep slumber, I am just as happy to keep the impact of those early magical years as inspiration to help other future NFL, NHL, NBA, or MLB teams, and the clients that I work with one on one, to win championships with sports psychology done right.

Hope you have enjoyed this article from the world of sports psychology.

3 Time National Champion Football Player from Alabama Endorses Sports Psychology

Note from Dr. John F. Murray:

I am thrilled to have recently received the following sports psychology endorsement from a fine individual and key member of the University of Alabama offensive line that won 3 national championships:

“Working with Dr. Murray was not only beneficial in my athletic endeavors but my personal life as well. Through his guidance I was able to overachieve and accomplish my childhood dream of playing football at the University of Alabama. I still use some of the methods he taught me in my everyday life. I am forever grateful to Dr. Murray and his ability to take a blue collar kid and develop him into a national champion!!!

RTR – KELLEN WILLIAMS (2009-2013), Pat Trammel Award Winner and 3 Time BCS National Champion, Alabama

Thanks so much Kellen!

 

Hot Take: Redskins should use a sports psychologist

USA TODAY – Washington Redskins Wire – By Lake Lewis, Jr. – January 26, 2017 – Over the years, sports psychologists have helped some of the top teams and high profile athletes gain a mental edge over their opponents. And while NFL athletes are some of the most physically gifted individuals, fragile egos can quickly lose confidence if their play and performance are not up to par.

The Washington Redskins, for whatever reason, have a history of epic meltdowns during prime-time games. In fact, some of their worst games were matchups with big consequences.

This past season, the Burgundy and Gold had could have clinched a playoff spot with a win in either of their final two home games, but their performances were lackluster.

Could a sports psychologist have helped determine a different outcome?

Some of the more storied franchises in sports have used sports psychologists, and these teams are known to be mentally tough.

Teams that have won championships, such as the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, have used forms of sports psychology to help them perform better. Other elite pro teams, such as the New York Yankees (MLB) and the San Antonio Spurs (NBA), have employed it as well.

Dr. John F. Murray, a well-known author, speaker, clinical psychologist and sports psychologist has worked with several high-profile athletes and teams over the years.

Murray states that the “athletes known as overachievers constantly outperform those with more raw speed or strength because they make better decisions. They stay focused rather than getting rattled in the heat of battle. They remain confident and resilient no matter what the situation is, and we all recognize that their performance has nothing to do with their limbs and muscles and everything to do with their brain.”

Several current and former players I spoke with revealed they had sports psychologists in college but not with the Redskins. Players can seek out help independently, which many in the league do, if their team doesn’t offer the service.

Washington could use help in the mental approach to the game. Too many times they have underachieved when the lights were the brightest or the stage was unforgiving.

The team could start performing at a higher level winning if they maximized the mental approach to the game, since the talent has improved over the past several seasons.

The Patriots are back in the Super Bowl with a roster that is not the most talented. They were also hit hard by injuries and still didn’t miss a beat. Their mental approach to the game from coach Bill Belichick to quarterback Tom Brady is better than it ever has been. (Tom Brady, it should also be noted, recently stated after the 2017 championship win over the Steelers that the mental toughness was the most important factor in team success)

This is the difference between teams with talent and teams with a mental capacity that can’t be broken.

Hope you have enjoyed this feature from the world of sports psychology.

Sports psychologist on Odell Beckham: Time to learn ’emotional control’

Metro New York – January 25, 2017 – By Kristian Dyer – After a season with plenty of antics and ravings from Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants fans might need some therapy if they are going to endure another emotional year with their star wide receiver. The tantrums that have become associated with Beckham are concerning, but the nation’s most prominent sports psychologist advises that it simply means the diva wide receiver needs to develop not just his physical side but his mental one as well.

From picking a fight with the kicking net one week, to last year’s fight on the field with Josh Norman, there is no denying that Beckham is a lightning rod for criticism. While his production on the field remains strong – he did lead the Giants in receptions and receiving yards this year – his actions continue to be a distraction and they show a penchant for self-destruction. It seemed at times this past season that he simply checked out of games and/or was baited into emotional responses – as a certain piece of drywall at Lambeau Field can attest to.

While a diagnosis is impossible from a distance, Dr. John F. Murray thinks that Beckham might benefit not just from running routes and lifting weights this offseason, but also from some mental training.

“A diagnosis is never appropriate from afar and if I were working with him clinically I would certainly keep it confidential,” Dr. Murray told Metro. “There are many popular and usually erroneous notions about erratic behavior in sports in which that behavior is connected to bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder or some other mental instability. While those things are possible, it is more likely that this athlete with enormous talent is simply underdeveloped in one of the key mental training areas that I would call ‘emotional control’ or ‘energy control.'”

Dr. Murray, author of The Mental Performance Index as well as the highly-acclaimed Smart Tennis, is one of the nation’s foremost sports psychologists. He is often called “the most quoted psychologist in America.”

He cautions not to read too much into some of Beckham’s behavior over the past couple of seasons and that he wouldn’t want to change the player or the personality.

“Temperament is like hair color,” Murray said. “It comes in all different forms. Top athletes can often appear manic or even depressed after games but this does not necessarily mean they are going off the deep end. The key is smart performance on the field that allows an athlete to play consistently at his highest level.”

Hope you have enjoyed this feature article from the world of sports psychology.

Jamar Taylor Helps in Cleveland Browns First Win & Endorses Dr. John F Murray’s Sports Psychology

Sports Psychology Feature – December 27, 2016 – Former Miami Dolphins and current Cleveland Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor is back in a very big way. The Miami Dolphins probably should not have let him get away. His terrific play last Sunday helped the Browns to their first victory of the season, and he was rewarded for his play with a new 3-year, 15 million dollar contract extension. Prior to the season he was released by the Miami Dolphins, and his status as a newly signed Cleveland Browns player was uncertain at best. He wasn’t even on the top of the depth chart. But he wanted more and he wanted to have a great season mentally and to make it in the NFL.  Taylor called sports psychologist John F Murray and they began working together in the spring of 2016. The rest is history as he had a superb season. After the big win against the Chargers in week 15, Taylor wrote the following about the benefits of mental coaching and sports psychology:

“Dr. John F Murray’s mental coaching and sports psychology services helped me get ready for the 2016 season with great confidence and focus. We focused on what I have done in the past to help me reach what I wanted in the future. With great confidence and focus we were able to get positive results”    Jamar Taylor, Cleveland Browns cornerback, December, 2016

Thank you for the comments Jamar and keep up the great work! Below is an article that just came out after the Browns  stunning victory over the San Diego Chargers:

CLEVELAND — WYKC TV – The Cleveland Browns rewarded veteran cornerback Jamar Taylor with a three-year contract extension (for 15 million dollars) earlier this month, and he repaid that faith with a solid defensive performance against the San Diego Chargers at FirstEnergy Stadium Saturday.

Taylor defended three passes, intercepted another and registered five total tackles in helping the Browns to a 20-17 win over the Chargers for their first victory of the season.

“They kept trying me, but I knew I was just going to keep making plays,” Taylor said. “I didn’t know if they thought I was going to be the weak link, but I knew I wasn’t going to be that guy. My teammates depend on me, and our coaches do a great job of preparing us all week. Every time they tried to make a play, I tried to make one too.”

The Chargers scored on each of their first two drives of the game, and the 43-yard field goal from Josh Lambo gave them a 10-7 lead over the Browns with 1:49 to play in the first quarter.

Lambo’s field goal capped off a seven-play, 50-yard drive that took 3:23 off the first-quarter clock.

The Chargers started the drive at their own 25-yard line, but a 15-yard pass from quarterback Philip Rivers to wide receiver Travis Benjamin moved the ball up to the San Diego 40-yard line.

On the next play, Rivers found wide receiver Tyrell Williams for a 27-yard gain that became a 42-yard play when Taylor was flagged for unnecessary roughness after exchanging shoves and words with Williams out of bounds.

However, Taylor broke up a potential touchdown pass and his interception led to a Browns field goal.

“He made some plays,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “He is a guy I am glad our organization signed back here. I think he is another one of the young building blocks on our football team as we move forward.

“He has made some plays all year, and the guy has been playing injured, so I am really appreciative of his effort and what he has tried to do by staying out there. We have a lot of guys that are banged up, but they were not going to give up the chance to win a game together, and that is what they were able to do.”

After playing a critical role in the outcome, Taylor embraced the fact that the Browns’ win over the Chargers broke a 17-game losing streak.

“It was a great team win,” Taylor said. “The offense started on fire. They held it down when we were messing up. The defense, we capitalized. They were driving and we got off the field, and that’s what it’s about. Getting off the field, give the offense a chance and give them a short field. We just played our tails off.

“It’s real special for Cleveland and for Head Coach Hue. It hasn’t been the best year, but we know if we just stick together and find a way, no excuses, just find a way. It’s big for Cleveland, but more importantly, this team and Coach Hue.”

I hope you have enjoyed this feature article from the world of sports psychology.

New Study Demonstrates Power of Mental Performance in NFL over 8 Years

By John F Murray, PhD

I would like to share some exciting news. I am going to keep it simple and concise, but I think you will realize that this is very powerful.

As many of you know, I wrote a book after developing a new way to analyze football performance that included for mental performance. Both the new statistic and the book were titled “The Mental Performance Index” and the study discussed in the book on all the Super Bowl games showed that this index correlated with winning in the Super Bowl more than any other traditional statistic. It worked because the MPI captures more of reality than more dry statistics that do not include the observable mental aspects of performance and it also works because it measures every moment. It is both a mental measure and a measure of consistency over every play.

On the one hand this was very thrilling and I secured a 4-time Super Bowl winning coach, Tom Flores, to write the forward, and America’s most beloved and successful female sports broadcaster, Lesley Visser, who wrote the epilogue. Many NFL people provided supportive quotes including Don Shula and the late Steve Sabol of NFL Films, but my purpose here is not to promote this book, but to share something much more exciting and new. I aim to just further promote the vitality of mental performance and the need for mental coaching. I think my study has accomplished this. Read on.

I developed the MPI to help football teams by describing overall performance more accurately, because it includes a vital mental component usually ignored, but I never intended to use it to predict future games. Sure, I went on national radio and on television to talk about the Super Bowl over an 8 year stretch to give my fun pick based on MPI data, and I was right against the spread 6 of 8 years, but that was the fun angle and never the point of the MPI. It was intriguing success to get 6 of 8 correct, but an entirely too small sample size of only 8 games does not allow the serious scientist to get too excited about the predictive qualities of the MPI. I needed to do more to wake up the world.

Enter the year 2013. At this point, I realized that many in the sports world, and particularly in football, were still slow in grasping the importance of mental performance and mental coaching, so I endeavored to do something new to help illuminate the importance of mental performance and to also determine on my own how well the MPI could actually predict. I wasn’t sure, but if I could show that the MPI could reliably predict future games, it would add firepower to the notion that since I was measuring an important but often ignored part of the game – the mental game – I would also be able to predict better than most because I was using a tool that others did not have, and a tool that was capturing rich data that was often ignored.

Sure, I had already shown that the mental measure I created correlated best in winning the Super Bowl, but taking it to the level of game prediction was an entirely different animal. I was stuck on game description, but not future game prediction. I did not quit my day job as I have a duty to still see clients out of my office, on the phone, and at client sites, but this side project became a huge passion too, and I am happy to say that I have some very interesting results after having studied the MPI to predict games over an 8 year period of time from 2007 to 2014.

It would be entirely too complicated to discuss in this brief article how I took the MPI and turned it into a prediction machine. It was a great challenge and I tackled it with passion and purpose, starting with the raw data that the MPI produced and tweaking it relentlessly (based on numerous mini studies) for a variety of factors such as home field advantage, the established line on the game, the strength of schedule, and many other factors, but the essence was still a measure that included observable mental performance using the MPI that I discussed in my book.

I even hired professional statisticians to check my work and make sure I was doing everything properly. I have a background in statistics, having taught it at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but I needed to pay someone to check on my work, and I wanted someone who does this work full time.

In developing my study, I borrowed from a format that the world is very familiar with in the Westgate Super Contest, the largest handicapping contest on the planet. Contestants picks 5 games each week and make their picks against a contest line. So each season contestants picks 85 total games and the most recent contest had over 1700 entries. It is exploding in popularity. The player with the highest win percentage (represented as total points) is the winner. I used their method of selecting 5 games each week, but I did it over an 8 year period of time, and methodically applied the system I developed to select 5 games each week in a totally systematic/objective manner.

The study actually included 4 different composite variations of a multiple regression approach, but the purest multiple regression approach was the clear winner, and boy did it win. The total sample size was very large as there are over 2000 NFL games to choose from over an 8 year stretch, but picking 85 games each year narrows that down to 680 game picks. Since in weeks 1 and 2 there is not enough data, I began each year at week 3, leading to a total of 600 picks. I did not count pushes (ties) in my analysis. If there was a push, I treated it as if it did not exist. In the contest, pushes count as half a point, but I did not give myself that luxury, so my findings conservatively underestimate my true success.

I am only going to share the findings from the most successful approach, the simple linear regression approach that fit the data best. In sum, I used my regression formula to select 5 games each week over an 8 year period of NFL games, and I used this formula in conjunction with the MPI that had been tweaked multiple times into a complex algorithm. The end result was that by using this formula I was able to first identify the 5 best games from which to make my picks, and then the algorithm which had produced an MPI line on the game was used to select a team either above or below the established line to make the actual picks. It was either a win or loss, or it didn’t count as a push. Keeping it simple, I ended up with 5 picks each week from week 3 to week 17 in each of 8 years.

If what I had created was meaningless, we would expect to find close to 50% success rate in an ATS (against the spread) format. The established contest line (or Vegas line) does a very good job of making it virtually a coin flip, so not matter what team you pick, the inexperienced or unsophisticated person making a pick will get closer and closer to 50% over time and since we are starting with close to 2000 games, the statistical power is such that any deviation above a 50% success rate would be interesting. A baby or person with an IQ of 75 making selections would be close to 50%. Professional handicappers who do this regularly and have records on them over an 8 year period of time usually get it right 50, 51 or 52% of the time. Very good ones are at 53% or rarely 54%, and the very best in history are still usually below 57 or 58% over hundreds of games of selections. It is one of the hardest things in life to do to win in an ATS format.

What kind of results did the MPI get? I am thrilled to report that it hit the ball out of the park! Below are the actual records for each of the 8 years of using this system to make picks in this study:

2007: 48 wins, 27 losses (64%)
2008: 44 wins, 31 losses (59%)
2009: 37 wins, 38 losses (49%)
2010: 45 wins, 30 losses (60%)
2011: 46 wins, 29 losses (61%)
2012: 44 wins, 31 losses (59%)
2013: 39 wins, 36 losses (52%)
2014: 44 wins, 31 losses (59%)
________________________________
Overall Average Success Rate Over 8 Years = 58%

What does all this mean? I am more than excited about this approach that took a few years to refine, and I plan to actually use it in future Super Contests to see if I can place in the top 50. From the data above, if I had played the contest using this exact system approach each year, I probably would have been in the top 50 about 5 or 6 out of the 8 years.

58% success did not come by accident. If this had meant nothing, it would have registered a 49.8% success rate or very close to 50%, but this 8% jump on chance over close to 2000 observations and 600 selections from that is huge evidence about how critically important the mental game is in football and all sports.

What about the future? Some people reading this will be impressed that I have found that measuring the mental game is now proven to have predictive powers. This is not surprising to me but it took a ton of work to get there. Others will not be impressed at all, and that is fine. It will probably take a public application of my system with consistent proven future results in contests to sway the doubters. I plan on now applying my system the same way I have in the study to see if I can get similar results, and that will be the proof everyone needs. Doubting Thomas people are fine. Doubt is the hallmark of science so I totally understand. The null hypothesis begins by saying that nothing exists. It does not begin with belief. I love that.

In sum, the main purpose of this study was to determine if using the MPI as a predictor is possible, lending further likely support to my study revealed in the book, that mental performance really does matter. Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals if it matters. Ask Blair Walsh the same question now.

The take home message from my book, and these newly released results, is that if you would like to be your best in any sport you had better pay attention to mental performance and the best way to do that is through consistent long-term mental skills training or mental coaching.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into the exciting world of sports psychology!

The Mental Side of the NFL Playoffs and a Little Guarantee

By John F. Murray, PhD

First, What is Happening in the NFL Playoffs!

Hello from clinical and sports performance psychologist Dr. John F. Murray in Palm Beach, Florida. With all the excitement and craziness that is the NFL and the 2016 playoffs, I thought it was time to chime in again.

There is no question that the Cincinnati Bengals just lost a game mentally to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only did they lose it, they lost it big and they lost it because they had obviously not been properly prepared to deal with emotions in the heat of battle. Joey Porter taunted them and they bit. This kind of behavior is unacceptable and they are sadly at home watching the rest of the playoffs because their mental performance stunk. It is a hard lesson to learn, but one that teams seems to keep forgetting about time and time again.

With proper advanced imagery and resilience training, those kinds of mistakes would never happen. Players would have been so inundated with mental distractions and frustrations in visualization sessions where they were forced to keep their cool that the likelihood of a meltdown would have been close to zero. We have seen this thousands of times in sports and we will continue to see it most often in teams and athletes not training their mental skills regularly.

Over in another wildcard playoff game, Blair Walsh missed a chip shot field goal that was closer than an extra point to lose a game when the team had all but sealed the victory against the Seahawks. On the one hand I must feel really bad for Walsh and we are all human and this can happen. On the other hand, the success rate of a 27 yard field goal is above 98%, so the skill itself is virtually automatic. This same skill under the extreme pressure of winning or losing is not so easy. This demonstrates that what you see is not what you get when it comes to pressure, and it only argues further that players need to train regularly their minds for such occasions.
In my work, I see these things all the time because mental performance comes out in the ordinary moments of sports just as it does in the critical moments. There are countless careless lapses in the first quarters of games, just as there are horrible chokes in the fourth quarters. The reality is that mental performance is always around us, and the team or athlete that manages their mental skills better (areas such as confidence, focus, goals, resilience, emotional control, imagery etc.) gain an often decisive advantage over those who do not. In fact, in my book “The Mental Performance Index” I discovered that this newly created measure that included mental performance accounted for success better in the Super Bowl games than any other factor and it was upwards of 80% correlated with success. Ignore mental skills only to your peril was the take home message of my study and book.

My Guarantee

Now I’d like to share with you a little guarantee that I made to the entire sports world and it’s a slight variation of a previous article that I published.

Sports are constantly in flux and evolving. New techniques and plays are always being developed and there is an almost linear progression that seems to take place from year to year as more money, research and accumulated experience contribute to a better mousetrap. NFL passes thrown as they were in 1946 would be easily picked off by most high school safeties today. Tennis forehands in 1930 at Wimbledon would not come close to winning in the first round of any boy’s 16 year old championship today, and major league baseball pitchers from the 1920s would probably be knocked out in the first inning of every division I college game today. Darwin was right … evolution is relentless!

One of the still rarely discussed, but no less important aspects of peak performance improvement takes place in the training of the mind or “mental coaching” as it is often called. While athletes may only be able to jump so high and sprint so fast, there is an equally important aspect of achievement that is much more flexible and amenable to change. It has unlimited potential unlike the physical ceilings of jump height or strength. It resides between the ears in that most marvelous computer of all – the brain – and it flexes its own form of elbow grease in areas such as hope, confidence, focus, resilience and smarter decision making.

Sports psychology is the science and practice most responsible for this training of the brain for high performance, and many casual observers just assume that all great athletes have a sports psychologist or mental coach, but I have found that not to be true at all. My estimation having worked 17 years as an independent practicing clinical and sports psychologist is that less than 10% of college, professional and Olympic athletes are doing mental training regularly and properly. While this may seem very odd, since gaining a performance advantage is crucial and the most pressing need for these great competitors, consider the reality. When I completed my specialized internship in sports psychology from 1997 to 1998, it was the only sports psychology internship in the United States that was also approved and accredited by the American Psychological Association’s internship consortium! I’m not sure the situation is much better today, 18 years later. Training opportunities are rare and hard to find.

The truth is that the profession that trains practitioners to do mental coaching and sports psychology work is still in its infancy. Let’s consider the analogy of the development of the field and practice of psychology itself. While the science of psychology began in a Leipzig, Germany lab in the 1880s, it was not until the 1960s and 70s that it was commonplace to see a psychologist in private practice. I like to call this beginning recognition of the field as the “Bob Newhart” era, after the popular sitcom of the 70s depicting the Chicago-based psychologist we all know and love.

Dr. Phil is an extension of Bob Newhart in the media today, but even he is not a sports psychologist. So when you consider that it took about 90 years for the science of psychology to become a viable widespread clinical practice, there should be no surprise that qualified and experienced sports psychologists are few and far between since this science only began in the 1960s and 70s, or just 40 years ago. By psychology standards, the field and practice of sports psychology is like psychology was in 1925! It was all over the world in academic and research settings, but only a handful of rare individuals practiced psychology back then. It was not until after WW2 with the training opportunities of the VA hospital system brought about by head injuries sustained on the battlefront, that psychology really had an opportunity to become a profession. The Boulder Conference, as it was called, created hundreds of internships for future practicing psychologists overnight in the VA system. There are many thousands of psychologists today but still only a handful of properly trained and qualified sports psychologists.

I knew I was taking a little bit of a risk in getting into such a new field when I went back to graduate school in 1991. I had been a tennis coach worldwide, and mostly in Europe, and over there the idea of mental coaching had taken much firmer hold philosophically, but the graduate school education was still far better in the United States. So I came back to the University of Florida, got a couple masters degrees, a PhD, the aforementioned specialized internship, and finally a specialized postdoctoral fellowship. By 1999, I was on my way with a new practice in a very rare field.

I was in a field that was so new that I realized I had to publish to get the word out. I wrote hundreds of articles and I wrote the book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” and got the top tennis player at the time, Lindsay Davenport, to endorse it. It is now in three languages with almost 20 printings. I later wrote a second book that expressed my passion for all that is football and titled it “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.” This book was also very well endorsed. The reviews from NFL Films and Tom Flores were excellent. Even Don Shula gave me a quote. However, even these powerful recommendations will take time to hit the mainstream. I had to do more.

In writing this second book, I realized that I had stumbled upon a major finding, and I grow ever more excited whenever I ponder this. Since the beginning of mankind, mental skills and smart play were always important for survival. In the cave era, if you wanted to feed your village, you had to remain calm, poised and focused to be able to properly throw that spear into the wooly mammoth. While there were certainly no sports psychologists back then, and still few today, the truth then and today remains that mental performance is and always was critical to success. Spear throwers had to figure it out alone back then.

Broadcasters, sports writers, and authors all lend credence to the vast importance of peak mental performance that still exists today. Athletes known as overachievers constantly outperform those with more raw speed or strength because they make better decisions. The stay focused rather than getting rattled in the heat of battle. They remain confident and resilient no matter what the situation is, and we all recognize that their performance has nothing to do with their limbs and muscles and everything to do with their brain! It was this realization that mental performance matters that led me on the passionate journey of creating a “Mental Performance Index” and writing a book with the same name in order to share my passion.

I realized that mental performance was critical, but I was astounded that nobody was taking the time to measure it. There were no statistics to capture how well a team performed mentally, so I decided to create one, and the abbreviation is MPI. The most amazing part of this is what happened when I analyzed the data for my book. I had studied every play in Super Bowl history and rated each play with the MPI, essentially measuring football a different way by looking at each moment and including an adjustment for the mental performance. When I did this with the help of several statisticians, I discovered something phenomenal. It was this MPI, or measurement of the moment, that correlated best with winning when compared with almost 40 other statistics. This emphasis on performance in the moment and mental skills, in other words, had best captured what it takes to win a football game. In my mind, what had always been known, but never formerly measured until the MPI, was not only important to success …. it is probably the most important factor in success!

Since my book and passion are very much centered on the sport of football, why are there still so few sports psychologists in the NFL? How about the other major sports of hockey, baseball and basketball? While I’ve worked with professional franchises and their top stars, both privately and paid by the teams, it has usually been to put out fires or help a single player rather than as a program to prepare entire teams for success.

The bottom line is that coaches and executives in the major professional sports have still not really discovered sports psychology. Given that today is still analogous to only the year 1925 in psychology terms, this should not be too surprising. But given the amount of money spent on top players, and the turnover rate in coaching and high management, one would think that mental coaching would have been long ago discovered as essential for every team from day one of training camp. What else could be going on you might ask?
I think there is still a fear of the unknown. It is a fear that coaches and managers have about mental coaching and peak performance sports psychology. Could this be a fear that hiring a top employee or consultant will somehow steal the thunder of the head coach, or put the team at risk in some way? Coaches cannot be that controlling, can they?

While I cannot speak for other sports psychologists, I always start with the assumption that the coach is the captain of the ship and I am there to provide a needed service just the same way any professional would, all the way from the team physician to the dentist, trainer, assistant coach, and massage therapist. I am not the coach and have no desire to be the coach. He brings me in to help with his own philosophy of football. I am there to adapt to his needs to help him and help the team and players achieve worthy goals.

I do know that about 12 years ago, while on the sidelines of an NFL team practice, the head coach said the following to me: “While you might be the best and most well trained sports psychologist in the world, I just cannot stand in front of my team today and tell them they have a psychologist.” That comment still reverberates with me today as the possible reason why there is hesitancy, but I think times are changing. In other words, in the past there was the idea that it was shameful or showed weakness in some way to seek mental coaching. When you consider the history of mental health care, which began in treating those who were mentally ill, it makes sense. That coach somehow thought that telling his team that they had a success coach was the same as telling them they were all mentally ill. How ludicrous, but how probably true! I get it. He was afraid!

It is my hope that today more coaches and managers will realize that just as doctors and lawyers and coaches study for years and practice for years to accumulate knowledge and practical wisdom in their chosen area of study, smart sports psychologists are no different. I did not get into the field to treat mental illness. I did not spend years in graduate school to have someone be ashamed of my profession. I had been a worldwide coach, and I wanted to open my expertise to the new and exciting findings about training the mind rather than just the body.

I love what I do today as a sports psychologist. But I still get the majority of my clients from pro and amateur athletes calling on their own, or the parents or private coaches calling. I want that to change, and it is partly why I wrote “The Mental Performance Index.” If you read this, you will learn about this coach/sports psychologist relationship and how to ensure that everything goes smoothly to best help the team, how problems are prevented before they occur, and much more about the best teams mentally and physically in Super Bowl History.”

My guarantee is that your team and players will prosper with mental coaching. You will discover that there is no shame associated with trying to make yourself or your team better through proper mental coaching. A player can only run so fast and hit so hard, but by helping players tweak their mental performance just a little, the whole team will benefit. I guarantee it! Imagine what would happen if each player got 15% more confident, more focused, and more resilient. Do you think the team would also benefit. You can bank on it because I guarantee it. The days of fear are over. The biggest fear might be not investing in mental coaching for our teams and players.

I hope you enjoyed this initial walk down the avenue of sports psychology.

Early retirement: players call it quits in prime of careers

Sports Psychology in Associate Press – By JANIE McCAULEY – July 30, 2015 – SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Patrick Willis walked away first with a nagging toe injury that kept him from being the dominant All-Pro linebacker of his prime.

Then his heir apparent and San Francisco teammate Chris Borland followed with his own stunning retirement on the heels of his spectacular rookie season, citing concern about head trauma over a hard-hitting career.

Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker called it quits after four seasons. Next, ex-Pittsburgh pass-rushing specialist Jason Worilds bid farewell to football. And then yet another 49er joined the list of departures from the NFL while still young: Offensive lineman and 2010 first-round pick Anthony Davis also chose his health and future over more punishing knocks in the head after a concussion left him dazed for weeks late last year.

“You don’t want to see guys walk away, but at the end of the day everyone has their own problems and things they need to deal with, their own reasons,” San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis said. “We didn’t expect Patrick to retire.”

Around the league, players began taking the leap to that unknown life after football — at 30 or younger, no less.

“As many players that do consider perhaps the long-term risks and the cost benefits of a long-term career in a contact sport, you’re going to get that,” said sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray, based in Palm Beach, Florida. “We’ve had more education and increased awareness from many avenues about the risks of concussions long term, the risks of the effects of that.”

In an offseason overshadowed by deflated footballs, Willis, Locker and the 27-year-old Worilds retired in a stunning 24-hour span starting March 10.

Five-time All-Pro Willis retired at age 30. Davis is 25 and Borland 24. Locker, then 26 — the NFL’s eighth overall pick in 2011 — never played a full season and appeared in only 30 games in all.

Willis left without a Super Bowl ring, coming so close following the 2012 season in a three-point loss to the Ravens.

“I always told myself that I wanted it to be on my terms,” Willis said in an emotional announcement at Levi’s Stadium last spring. “I wanted it to be in a way that was just amazing. … In my head, I’m already a Hall of Famer. I am leaving this with closure, saying that I am happy today, more happy today than I was the day I was drafted. That says something to me.”

San Francisco players expressed mixed emotions at the turnover, as fearsome defensive end Justin Smith also retired, though the 35-year-old had 14 years in the league.

Borland and Anthony Davis feared concussions and head injuries.

“When I started there wasn’t a whole lot of awareness on concussions,” 40-year-old 49ers placekicker Phil Dawson said. “Now, guys are informed. The doctors are on top of it. I think it’s a good deal.”

Willis, San Francisco’s defensive captain and locker room leader, explained his tender size-13 feet “12½ when they’re bent” could no longer handle the grind of NFL practices, let alone the demands of game day. He had surgery on his left big toe, went on season-ending injured reserve on Nov. 11 after getting hurt at St. Louis on Oct. 13.

“I have no regrets. I’ve had the most amazing eight years of football of my life,” he said.

Locker has returned to his roots in Washington state with his wife and two young children.

Davis, the outspoken offensive lineman, left open returning if his body fully heals. Davis had been considering leaving for a few years, announcing his plans in a statement.

“This will be a time for me to allow my brain and body a chance to heal. I know many won’t understand my decision, that’s OK,” Davis said. “I hope you, too, have the courage to live your life how you planned it when day dreaming to yourself growing up. Your life is your dream and you have the power to control that dream. I’m simply doing what’s best for my body as well as my mental health at this time in my life.”

For veterans who have stayed healthy, thoughts of retirement might be far from their minds.

“When you have those things going for you, why not keep playing?” 38-year-old Raiders safety Charles Woodson said. “Even though you’ve got guys retiring, there’s a bunch of guys that would still love to be playing. For all of those guys that I’ve played with that tell me every year, ‘Keep going,’ because they would love to have this opportunity.”

Murray says the NFL shouldn’t be overly concerned about a dwindling talent pool.

“There will always be a demand for multi-million-dollar salaries and the glory that goes with playing NFL football,” he said.

Still, constant change is part of the business.

“Every man in here has the right to decide how long he wants to play. It’s his career,” Dawson said. “Whether it’s retirements, or injuries or trades or cuts or whatever the case may be, for those of us who are still here you’ve just got to come to work and do the best you can.”

AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker and AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report. I hope you enjoyed this item from the world of sports psychology.