Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – September 21, 2011 – John F Murray – Publisher’s Note: “Mind Games” is a column written for CaneSport each week by John Murray, a noted sports psychologist and author who has developed an index for evaluating the mental performance of players and coaches in games. We think it will provide all of us with a unique viewpoint as the Hurricanes navigate through the season.
The Ohio State victory was great to watch, and I later enjoyed chatting online with a few posters from CaneSport.com. While there were many critical comments about the team to go along with the more positive ones, the mood was bright overall.
The detailed level of scrutiny on this team after defeating a powerhouse like Ohio State 24-6 only illustrates more that this is a proud team with super high ambitions. There is nothing wrong with expecting to be the best, and that is actually what I tell my clients to think all the time. I love the competitive fire of this program and those associated with it.
Before we look at the Ohio State game, and beyond it to KSU this Saturday, I want to share a little more about why I believe so much in using the MPI and statistics to help teams like the Canes. Today I’ll discuss four benefits of this approach:
Let’s zoom in a little closer:
Meaningfulness: Most statistics provided after a game give only “raw numbers” such as yards gained, time of possession or quarterback attempts and completions. So much is thrown at you in such a short time that it’s often impossible to make heads or tails of it all. This is because raw numbers are not standardized, or converted into scores which make immediate sense. However, in my analyses, I use percentiles to show more precisely what a number means. I get these by having an extensive database of past games. Furthermore, the seven main MPI statistics are already presented in a standardized form from .000 to 1.000, and this roughly translates into “degree of perfection” which anyone can relate to. So the first benefit of these analyses is that they make much more sense than what is usually presented because the numbers are more meaningful.
Simplicity: The MPI Total score (MPI-T) is just one single number showing how well a team performed overall in a game. How much easier could that be? The MPI Total Dominance score (MPI-TD) tells how much better or worse a team was from its opponent in terms of a percentage. With these two main numbers you instantly know how the teams performed. This simplicity of just one number allows for great tracking of progress from quarter to quarter, game to game, or season to season.
Relevance: Coaches and sports psychologists encourage their players to “perform” their best in every moment of a game. This emphasis of “play well” or “perform” over poorer advice such as “score points” and “win” has been long known to work because players are more aware specifically of what they have to do, more focused, more consistent, and less worried about losing. I often tell my clients to “place process and performance over outcome.” The MPI statistics measure only performance or what is relevant to do, and not outcome. I wanted my clients accountable to what I asked of them, so I needed to measure those relevant factors. Everyone can “perform” well as it is 100% controllable, but only 50% of teams win. Making the MPI relevant was crucial to putting my ratings where my mouth was! If you want to measure free throw shooting percentage, you don’t ask your players to shoot lay-ups. The same holds here. I want my players performing well in the moment, and that is exactly what I measure.
Precision: By including the factor of mental performance in my game reviews, I obtain greater precision through more complete data. I gain this because I am capturing something that is so important in football, or any sport, but not represented in traditional statistics. Mental performance is always present and frequently observable. In fact, it was so obvious (and right in front of our noses that we could sniff it) that we forgot to measure it until the MPI was invented. Isn’t that amazing? Now that we have corrected this historical omission in football statistics with the MPI, we have a more precise instrument. We are able to paint a more accurate picture of how a team actually performed. If you were to paint horses, you would probably not go to a barn where the horses had only three legs and their tails missing. Then why would you rate a football game and ignore the role of the mind or smart play? The key was seeing “mental performance” as just another aspect of performance with all different levels from poor (careless mental errors) to great (smart play). You certainly don’t want to ignore the role of the brain or smart play in depicting the reality of a game.
That was your MPI lesson for the week and I hope it helped you understand the method to my madness a little more.
Now let’s get back to the game, and wasn’t it a thriller!? I don’t care how many ways you criticize this game, the bottom line is that the University of Miami crushed the No. 17 team in the country 24-6, and the team’s name is Ohio State. I have been to that Columbus, Ohio campus, and those folks live and breathe football success as much as any group in America. So let’s start by giving a huge round of applause to this UM team and especially to coach Al Golden. I am so impressed by the knowledge and professionalism he has displayed so far as head coach, and I think Miami’s future with him is very bright for years to come.
Going into this game with the MPI data from the Maryland game shared in my last Mind Games column, I came up with 5 performance goals to crush OSU. Let’s see how the Canes did on these 5 specific performance goals:
Goal 1: Improve total performance on MPI-T from .475 to .500.
Results: Goal achieved with much room to spare! With an MPI-T score of .547, the Miami Hurricanes far exceeded expectations and scored at about the 85th percentile for a football team overall. Teams that perform this well rarely lose and this was the case here, too.
Goal 2: Reduce combined turnovers and penalties from 14 to 6 and have no more than one turnover.
Results: Goal not achieved but definite improvements made. The Hurricanes cut back turnovers and penalties from 14 to 7 instead of 6, but still had two interceptions or turnovers instead of just one (and two other near interceptions). While they only missed each mark by the count of 1, there was clearly a lot of improvement compared with the Maryland game. Al Golden’s message to reduce mistakes was heard.
Goal 3: Improve defensive performance on MPI-D from .424 to .490 and improve pressure play on defense on MPI-DP from .469 to .550.
Results: Goal achieved with flying colors! The defense was the weakest link against Maryland (.424), but improved to .519 overall (71st percentile) and to .688 in pressure situations (86th percentile) against OSU. It certainly helped to have those suspended players back on defense, but I didn’t expect performance in clutch situations to be this high. Huge Congrats!
Goal 4: Maintain great special teams play by scoring .650 on MPI-ST
Results: I say this goal was achieved (read my fine print!). While the special teams unit actually performed just slightly off the mark at .646, readers should know that this is the 95th percentile and represents the best Canes unit of the field once again! I will, thus, round up to an even .650 and say that this unit achieved the goal. Remember when your math teacher changed your 89.6 grade by rounding up to a 90 and giving you an A? I am doing exactly the same thing here, but there is even more reason to do this here since 95th percentile is big guns. Great job again special teams!
Goal 5: Improve offensive performance from .479 to .520 on the MPI-O and dominate the OSU defense by at least two percent.
Results: Achieved with much room to spare! Despite the miscues in the passing game, this offense ran the ball extremely well and overall offensive performance hit the 73rd percentile at .551 on MPI-O. Further, the UM offense dominated the OSU defense by seven percent, above the two percent target.
In review, goal setting showed how this team could crush Ohio State and the team passed this first test well. Miami achieved four of the five goals set, and even improved in the goal they did not achieve. The Canes should be very proud of their overall performance against Ohio State.
Other highlights included time of possession at the 80th percentile, total pressure performance at the 96th percentile (MPI-TP=.679), and rushing yards at the 98th percentile (240).
Now that great improvement has been made in most areas, it is going to be extremely important that Miami keeps performing better and consistently, and not get complacent or overconfident. When a team is supposed to win easily is when I get most nervous as a sports psychologist.
Everyone has concluded that Miami is going to enter the Virginia Tech game with a 4-1 record. Are we forgetting the sting of history, and the amazing upsets that occur each week in any sport and especially the emotional game of football. Read my lips, Miami, “DO NOT LET UP.” Each team that plays against The U will be playing their version of a Super Bowl, so do not think it will be easy and you will be in the best place mentally.
Here are my specific performance goal recommendations for the Kansas State game based on the trends seen so far in the first two games:
1) UM escaped a bullet with only two turnovers and two is not even good. It is average. I would like to see this team reduce turnovers to 1 or less, and maintain a T + P score of no more than 7. This means continued refinement, focus, consistency, and effort directed at perfect execution.
2) There was little balance in the last game between passing and running the ball. Running was exceptional and passing was far below average. KSU is a division one team, but has not been one of the top 25 teams at the end of the year in quite a while. Miami needs to continue blocking well and run the ball for at least 240 yards again, but take care of the ball better in the passing game and have no interceptions while throwing for at least 250 yards. In addition, total team performance needs to remain high, and since Miami is not playing a team as strong as OSU, I would like to see MPI-T rise to above .565.
3) Special teams play has been the story of the year, so why stop now. I would like them once again to be the top performing unit, and achieve at least at .630 mark on MPI-ST. Offense and defense should strive to outperform special teams on their MPI scores.
4) Despite Miami’s impressive rushing attack against OSU, offensive dominance was still at only an improved garden variety level at 7 percent (39th percentile). I would like to see the offense of Miami dominate the defense of KSU by at least 12 percent in the upcoming game.
5) Finally, Miami excelled in pressure situations overall against OSU (MPI-TP=.679, 96th percentile) with a nice balance between offensive pressure play (MPI-OP=.672) and defensive pressure play (MPI-DP=.688). I would like to see this overall pressure play dominance (MPI-TPD=.268) continue to be strong and for MPI-TPD to be at least at a level of .250 or 25%.
That’s enough for now Canes. If you are listening football team, keep up the good work, and maintain the swag, but also be on guard. I know of a team with the letters KSU that would like nothing more than to make their season with a K S on U! Don’t let it happen. Continue to represent!
Dr. John F. Murray, described as “The Freud of Football” by the Washington Post, is a South Florida native and licensed clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach. He provides mental coaching and sports psychology services, counseling, speeches and seminars. He recently authored his second book, “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,” destroying stigmas about the mental game in sports and showing football teams how to perform better and win more games by enhancing team performance assessments and training. For further information call Dr. Murray at 561-596-9898, visit johnfmurray.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.