Posts Tagged ‘John F Murray’

AGASSI’S ELITE MINDSET – SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY BY DR JOHN F MURRAY

Sports Psychology Column – May 1, 2003 – By Dr. John F. Murray – Andre Agassi just became the first man to repeat as champion of the NASDAQ-100 in Key Biscayne with his 6-3, 6-3 thrashing of Carlos Moya.

He left the tournament 18-1 on the ATP circuit this year, leading all players. What is it that makes this special individual so mentally strong? What kind of audacity does he possess to keep on pushing for greater and greater heights at age 33? By reviewing Agassi’s on-court performance, and then listening to his post-match comments, let’s shed light on the mindse of a very rare master who constantly finds ways to play smarter tennis. Enjoy the clinic!

Andre Agassi just became the first man to repeat as champion of the NASDAQ-100 in Key Biscayne with his 6-3, 6-3 thrashing of Carlos Moya. He left the tournament 18-1 on the ATP circuit this year, leading all players. What is it that makes this special individual so mentally strong? What kind of audacity does he possess to keep on pushing for greater and greater heights at age 33? By reviewing Agassi’s on-court performance, and then listening to his post-match comments, let’s shed light on the mindset of a very rare master who constantly finds ways to play smarter tennis. Enjoy the clinic!

Agassi found a way to dominate Moya in most phases of the game. Let’s start with the accuracy of his serve. His 69% first serve percentage, 8 Aces, and 1 double fault all reflect pure excellence and flawless execution on a very windy day. His service accuracy was his biggest weapon rather than dominating pace. Moya actually served much faster at 119 mph. Agassi only averaged 104, but he was deadly accurate.

Coaches are right on in saying that consistency is a huge weapon in tennis! Consistency in making the correct decision on where to hit the serve. Consistency in executing the shot. Consistency in hitting more winners than unforced errors. Agassi had 28 winners to only 13 unforced errors, whereas Moya had 14 winners to 20 unforced errors.

Agassi was also more aggressive on his groundstrokes, slightly more accurate on his approach shots, and dominant once he got to the net, winning on 93% of his approaches.

The bottom line is that Agassi played better tennis. But that is just what you see. What was going on in his mind? What kind of attitude did he take to this match long before he hit any balls? This is the unseen advantage that is often overlooked.

Let’s go to the post-match press conference and identify some sport psychology principles present in Agassi’s mindset:

Turning Adversity into Advantage

The wind was a beast. Agassi didn’t see it that way. He said “today was certainly a great day for me, serving-wise. I think specifically because it was breezy. Any time you can get a good percentage of first serves in, especially on key points, in windy conditions, it’s a big advantage. I did that well today.” What an amazing attitude. Something we can all learn from. Rather than making excuses, how about realizing there is a silver lining in that cloud!

Staying Hopeful and Confident

The way we frame things is often more important than the supposed actual reality. Agassi stays very positive in his thinking. Asked about the upcoming clay season, he said “I feel great about how I feel mentally a very positive going on to the clay season, hopeful that everything is going to stay together.” Henry Ford once said “whether you think you can or think you are right.” Agassi thinks like Ford did, and how you should too.

Not Over-thinking in a Match

Despite all the great mental tips and suggestions, once a match begins it auto-pilot time. Its much better to just play tennis and let habits take over than to over-think. Agassi said “I try not to assess how I’m playing until after the fact. And then after the fact, I can look at it and be objective.”

Focusing without Fear

Agassi knows what it means to stay focused without letting fear intrude. In discussing the number of matches he had to play in a row in close proximity he said, “there’s nothing really about it that you worry about getting through so many matches, so you just focus on executing opportunities that you do get and try to create as many as possible.” So many players worry. Keep it simple and keep the focus on what you are doing now.

Remaining Extremely Confident

Agassi assumes someone else is going to have to play well to beat him! Listen to this comment “I’m thinking about preparing myself properly to be at my best for Paris; to make somebody play a great match to beat me. It’s as simple as that.” Wow. Enough said.

Working Hard

Throw out all the mental tips in the world if you dont work! When asked if he had found the fountain of youth and was just not telling anyone, Agassi smirked and said “No, no, it’s hard work.”

Agassi blew away Moya with a precise combination of physical and mental superiority. If you look at his accuracy and consistency in executing shots, then review his attitudes and insights, you soon realize that the mental game is much more than a few clever suggestions to play smart tennis. The thoughts, feelings, habits and sensations actually control the actions. When it all works together brilliantly, you get Agassi, an ever improving legend in our midst.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into sports psychology.

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY AT THE DELRAY BEACH INTERNATIONAL TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS IN 2003

Sports Psychology Column – Apr 1, 2003 – By Dr. John F. Murray – It’s been a while since I’ve posted an article! It’s great to be back this month to talk about sport psychology in Delray Beach, the closest tournament to my home, for the third straight year.

I recently attended the International Tennis Championships of Delray Beach. Writing about this event and working with players here the past few years, I think I’m starting to enjoy Delray Beach more than the US Open! The tennis is so up close and personal, players, coaches and fans intermingle freely, and the practice courts are as interesting to watch as center court on Sunday. Thanks again go to Co-Tournament directors Mark Baron and Fred Stolle for this gift of superior tennis, and to Lisa Franson for her wonderful efforts and for keeping us all in line in the media center.

Some of you may have noticed the increase in awareness among players and coaches about the essential role of sport psychology in player development and performance. Everyone is collaborating to offer the best in mental training to the players. Players benefit most from a team strategy where coaches, parents, sports psychologists, physical trainers, and others work more as a team for mutual success.

I’m always refining my understanding of what it means to perform well mentally. Much of this is acquired through talking with the best players and observing their play. Last year in Delray Beach, for instance, players shared their insights with me about how to close out a match, something I call the “killer instinct.” This year, I looked for action, watching for on-court examples of mental strength. I’ll share these in the article. Let’s take a look at how players in this year’s singles matches displayed or failed to display six of the important psychological skills. Whether you’re a coach, player, or parent, these examples will help you reach a higher level in all your pursuits.

Passion

Robert Kendrick displayed enormous heart and passion, winning six straight matches and reaching the semi-finals before falling to eventual champion Jan Michael Gambill. He truly seemed to be having fun out there with his winning personality and love of the game. His talents will only get better with than kind of attitude. Passion is a good starting place for many accomplishments.

Resiliency

Paul Goldstein, Michael Llorda, Ricardo Mello, and Robert Kendrick all showed amazing resiliency in bouncing back from the adversity of losing a set to qualify for the main draw. Goldstein earned his berth by roaring back from a first set loss to win strong 6-0, 6-1 against Frantisek Cermak. Kendrick overcame a first set loss to Michael Russell, Mello recovered from a second set loss to Jose De Armas, and Llorda came back after losing 1-6 in the first set to Alex Bogomolov. These players are all filled with an abundance of resiliency. The message is to never give up – no matter what the score – and see adversity as opportunity.

Emotional Control

It’s very important to keep the emotions in check – and anger is a common problem at all levels. In first round action, Nicolas Kiefer became visibly angry a few times on critical points against Jan Michael Gambill. Leading 2-1 in the second set, his obvious anger disrupted his play and lead to two careless errors on ensuing points. Later with the score tied 4-4 he again lost his cool, smacking flowers with his racket. End result, Gambill’s relative emotional control persevered, and Jan Michael went on to win his second Delray Beach title.

Focus

Marcello Rios made it to the semi-finals with a fine display of focus, taking out Morrison, Verkerk, and Lee before succumbing to the surprising Mardy Fish. One could see the focus in Rios’ eyes the moment he stepped onto the tournament site. He looked like a man possessed, on a mission to win! His focus continued well into the tournament as he resisted visual distractions left and right, he held off serving and returning until he was completely ready, and he controlled his eyes in between points be focusing on the strings. Proper focus needs to be practiced just like a forehand or backhand.

Confidence

Mardy Fish, for his part, gained a ton of confidence from the support of his friends, family and local buddies painted with the letters F-I-S-H-Y in a cheering section. He earned his first final of his career and gave Gambill a run for his money in the second set. In the press conference following the match, Fishy showed why he is a force to reckon with for many years to come. He was not only confident on court, but modest in describing his abilities afterward. This talent will continue to rise.

Killer Instinct

Flavio Saretta seemed to lack killer instinct after winning the first set in the quarters against Gambill. Many would later say that he tanked the final set which he lost 6-0. While I am not one to judge whether this is true or not, it was curious that Saretta’s head dropped, his intensity wavered and his sense of urgency in the third set appeared nonexistent. When you are up you have to know how to close out an opponent. When you are down, keep on fighting. Love challenges, especially when the going gets rough, and you’ll be in a great place mentally.

If you want a suntan and some great tennis in March, come down and to the International Tennis Championships. Delray Beach is a great resort town by the sea with cozy restaurants and a European downtown feel. The tennis is up-close and excellent. Keep pushing your mental skills to a higher level and I’ll see you again soon!

This was an article on sports psychology.

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY AT THE DELRAY BEACH INTERNATIONAL TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS 2002

Sports Psychology Column – Apr 2, 2002 – By Dr. John F. Murray – South Florida was recently invaded by some of the top tennis players in the world in three consecutive tournaments. I had the privilege to work with players and cover the International Tennis Championships of Delray Beach for the Tennis Server. I also made it to the new $50,000 Challenger of North Miami Beach (won by Vince Spadea) and the NASDAQ 100 on Key Biscayne (won by Serena Williams and Andre Agassi) in which I interviewed four top players for a story in USTA Magazine. In this edition of Mental Equipment, I focus on the highlights of the Delray Beach event.

While I tend to view tennis from a somewhat nontraditional mental lens, more players are explaining that the mental game cannot be ignored. I interviewed many top 100 players again this year. I began by asking each player how important (in percentages) they felt their mental game is to success on the ATP or WTA Tour. The lowest response was 70% while the highest was 99%! While many players are working with a sport psychologist or practicing mental skills regularly, a surprising number still take a more casual and irregular approach to mental training even though they acknowledge the extreme importance.

Called the Citrix Tennis Championships the past couple years, and now seeking a new title sponsor, this tournament never ceases to thrill. Stephan Koubek captivated the crowd two years ago with his passionate three-set victory over Alex Calatrava, while Jan Michael Gambill fought off Xavier Malisse in the finals last year after surviving multiple match points. Would one of these two fighters prevail” or would there be a new champion in this beautiful town on the ocean?

Mark Baron and Fred Stolle co-directed another fine week of tennis for this growing International Series event. Another round of applause is due tireless media director Lisa Franson. Thanks go out to Cliff Kurtzman and the Tennis Server for media credentials, and I again appreciate all the players who spent time talking tennis. I also enjoyed discussing injuries with ATP trainer Bill Norris, and enjoyed meeting Director of Sales Ivan Baron, and Iggy Jovanovic from the ATP.

Marius Barnard is a solid doubles player who has been on the tour since 1988. We talked for 30 minutes about his career and the trials and tribulations of travel and competition. He is an impressive person who is beginning to ponder what life will be like after tennis. I enjoyed his views on the mental game and motivation, and how he sometimes performs better when he stops trying so hard. He expressed a possible interest in becoming a sport psychologist” and we need more of them. If you’re reading Marius, call me anytime. I will trade you sport psychology tips for an improved backhand topspin!

I really enjoyed talking with Michael Llorda, Stefan Koubek, Kristian Pless, Paul Goldstein, Scott Humphries, Andrei Stoliarov, Michael Russell, Mardy Fish, Jeff Morrison, Nicolas Massu, Leander Paes, Davide Sanguinetti, Jarkko Nieminen and Tom Vanhoudt. I enjoyed picking many of their brains for their keys to mental strength.

I focused this year on the topics of match preparation and closing out the opponent (the killer instinct).

Top seeds this year were (1) Roddick (2) Gambill (3) Koubek (4) Massu (5) Sanguinetti (6) Burgsmuller (7) Nieminen and (7) Hipfl.

Qualifying Rounds

The qualifying rounds are often more fun and competitive than main draw matches. The top four qualifiers, earning entry into the main draw, were American Chris Woodruff, Feliciano Lopez of Spain, Alexandre Simoni of Brazil and Martin Verkerk of the Netherlands.

A rising star among the youngest crop of players is Eric Nunez who lost in the first round of the qualifying tournament to Simoni. Nunez won the first set 6-1 and almost won the second, losing 7-6. In the third set he was ahead 4-3, seeming to dominate in many ways, before he had to retire due to muscle cramps. Watch out for this pesky American from Florida. He is coached by his father, Colon, who coached Andre Gomez to a French Open championship over Andre Agassi in 1990. In my humble opinon, this kid Eric has the raw tools to be great.

Feliciano Lopez is another rising Spaniard. After qualifying with wins over Scott Draper, George Bastl, and Filippo Volandri, Lopez went to the main draw and dispatched of Chris Woodruff and Michael Russell before falling at last to Anthony Dupuis 7-6, 7-6. What a great showing! Watch out for him too.

Main Draw

Local favorite Andy Roddicks star continues to rise. Seeded number one due to a tremendous 2001, Andy did not disappoint, rolling over Davydenko, Lee, Llorda, and Dupuis to reach the finals. His emotional maturity is improving and his serve and big forehand are getting better too. As he approached the finals he appeared extremely tired. He admitted that he was fighting a nasty cold (or something) and later would cancel his upcoming tournament appearance – stirring up a minor ATP controversy for not flying to the event to be examined by the tour physician. When I spoke with him briefly after his win over Dupuis, I can attest that he looked ready for a 13-week vacation totally exhausted hacking cough so I kept my distance. What more to say? Tennis and the travel can be brutal on the body?

Number two seed and defending champion Jan Michael Gambill looked very ready to win again. He thrilled the crowd in his first match against serve and volleying Wayne Arthurs. Amazingly, he fought off match point to prevail (as he did last year against Arthurs after being down 3 match points!) 6-7, 6-3, 7-6. It was guts and glory as usual. When I mentioned to his father and coach that many think Jan Michael likes to play from behind, Mr. Gambill replied” “anyone who thinks that does not know his game.” After his second annual Houdini Act, Gambill went on to win over rising American Mardy Fish and Andre Sa from Brazil.

What happened to Stefan Koubek? Two years ago he won the event and my story on him prompted my Smart Tennis Sport Psychology Tour 2000! He’s had a great year so far (see Australian Open), but he ran into the hard hitting American buzz-saw named Michael Russell. Koubek played well but Russell was incredible – pounding low forehands and backhands and matching Koubek shot to shot with powerful blasts from the baseline. In my opinon, Koubek has matured mentally since his breakdown in the finals two years ago, but no luck this time around.

The fifth seed was a friendly and soft-spoken veteran named Davide Sanguinetti from Italy. He made it to the finals of this event about 6 years ago. He began by winning a tough first round match over Christophe Rochus 0-6, 6-4, 6-1 then easily beat Kristian Pless 6-3, 6-2 before defeating Paradorn Srichaphan from Thailand in three sets. This led to the semi-final match against Gambill.

Semi-Final 1

Andy Roddick over Anthony Dupuis 7-6 (4) 6-4

Dupuis, ranked 82 in the world, was only able to break Roddick’s big serve once in the match, in the sixth game of the first set. The second set stayed on serve until the final game when Dupuis double faulted. Overall it was an impressive performance by both the Frenchman and the Boca Raton prodigy. Roddick has so much raw power. With improved strategy and refinement, this guy is unstoppable.

Semi-Final 2

Davide Sanguinetti over Jan Michael Gambill 7-6 (8) 6-3

This was a close match and a funny one too. Sanguinetti’s Lotto shoes fell apart (the rubber broke off the bottom) at 5-4, 15-0 in the first set and he was forced to borrow the the shoes worn by Iggy Jovanovic from the ATP Tour. I’ve never seen anythink like this in a professional tournament. Showing the calm and relaxed style of his boyhood hero Milslov Mechir, along with some pretty nasty low groundstrokes delievered with an old- fashioned eastern grip, Gambill had to work extra hard to avoid mistakes with that two-handed on both sides style. Davide took full advantage. As Gambill later said “I thought his game would break down with the pressure but it didn’t.” Flat and low shots are hard to combat when that is not the norm on the tour. Jimmy Connors retired a long time ago. In a showcase of talent, the relaxed Italian master with the slow and low shots overcame the pressure-loving American blaster.

Final

Davide Sanguinetti over Andy Roddick 6-4 4-6 6-4

You gotta love this match for the welfare of the game. Never count out a clever marksman and assume the young gun will win easily. Give Andy credit for the fight despite his illness. This was a fun match to watch. Roddick later would say “it’s hard to rip the ball against him because he keeps it so low.” He went on “I tried to get in a groove and bully him around, but this took a lot of energy and I could not keep bluffing it.” Sanguinetti wore out the young Roddick with his soft shots, control, and persistant passing shots and angles saying “I knew he was frustrated and I took the pace off the ball to see what would happen.” He attributed his great success not to talent, but to a grueling 6-week workout routine that improved his confidence. By winning, Sanguinetti was the first player on the tour with two championships in 2002.

Summary

If you want a suntan and some great tennis in March, come down and to the International Tennis Championships. Delray Beach is a great little resort town by the sea with cozy restaurants and a European downtown feel. The tennis is up-close and excellent. Keep pushing your mental skills to a higher level and I’ll see you again soon!

This article was on sports psychology.

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY AND PERFORMANCE ADVICE FOR THE NEW YEAR BY DR JOHN F MURRAY

Sports Psychology Column – Jan 1, 2002 – By Dr. John F. Murray – I hope you had a healthy holiday season with friends, family and celebration! Are you excited about the challenges the New Year presents? If you read this column, you’re probably interested in improving your tennis, or perhaps sharpening mental skills in another important area of life. This month, I share some of your inquiries followed by brief performance solutions. Names are changed to preserve privacy, but these issues represent typical questions that are often asked. Keep your questions and comments flowing this year as it benefits everyone and helps determine future columns.

Dear Dr. John:

I have a young world ranked player who wants to find out all he can about putting it all together from the very beginning of the game. He has acquired a bit of a habit of falling behind in his matches and having to fight very hard to overcome a tardy start. I can’t fault his physical warm up, but mentally something is lacking in this area. Overall he is as mentally tough as they come and not prone to being over anxious. What should I do? Taylor

Dear Taylor:

If he is “not prone to being over-anxious” I wonder if his mental intensity is lacking from the outset. Perhaps helping him get into the match sooner with imagery of the final few games of a match will help. I would test the limits too – in other words, really get him pumped before his matches and then have him practice as if whomever wins the first two games will win the match. Good Luck. Get him a copy of Smart Tennis and have him review the Mental Equipment article on Arousal (Link there please)! Good Luck! Dr. John

Dear Dr. John:

This question is about paralysis by analysis. When I play against someone I know is better than me, many times I fall into paralysis by analysis. I start to tell to myself to move well, move the legs, the arms, and so on. It is a terrible sensation. I sometimes think I will not play anymore. Do you have a prescription for me? On the other side, when I play against someone is weaker than me, I’ll go completely on what you call “automatic pilot.” Could you believe that I am so foolish on the court? Thank you in advance. Pete

Dear Pete:

Thanks for writing. You are not foolish, but your description of “paralysis by analysis” is a good way to think of losing focus, or over-thinking. This appears to happen to you when you think the opponent is better than you. I would seriously ask yourself why the skill level of the opponent is changing the way you think about competition. What does it mean to you to possibly lose a match? Why do you play? To improve skills, win, have more fun etc…? Whatever is happening is making you over-conscious. In this instance, you lose the natural flow or the zone. I would encourage you to re-think what playing tennis means to you. If you embrace the challenge and forget about winning and losing, you will be less apt to go into ultra-think mode. You might also like to tell yourself, when you begin to go into this thinking mode, phases like: “just play” “just have fun,” take a deep breath, jog in place, and get your physical self back! You need to think in tennis – but not too much during the point! Better to just play. Go for it! Dr. John

Dear Dr John:

I love tennis but whenever I play a match and I start to miss easy balls I get angry. It feels out of control because I know I shouldn’t be doing it but I still do it. It’s dragged on for years and I don’t know how to control my anger when I get on the court. It’s like I am a different person when I am on the court. Could you please give an exercise to work with which will allow me to think of the match and not how bad that last shot or game was. Lisa

Dear Lisa:

The key is to re-focus quickly following anger, not to eliminate anger. We all get angry and it has its purpose to motivate, but not to destroy, the present and future. You really need a consistent pre-shot routine, disciplined, key words, eye control etc… to give yourself other things to think about. The “zone” is really nothing more than being totally in the moment. You might also do imagery in which you practice getting angry and then releasing anger for the next point, and re-direct the energy into proper focus and awareness on the present. I wish this were easy, but it is not – and there could be deeper issues still … but it is usually just a problem for your game. I’ll talk with you later! Dr. John

Now that you’ve glimpsed some of Taylor, Pete and Lisa’s concerns, what about your own situation? If there is any way I can help, please drop me a line using this form, call me at: 561-596-9898.

From Sports Psychologist Dr John F. Murray

FIGHTING THROUGH FATIGUE – BY DR. JOHN F MURRAY

Sports Psychology Column – Dec 1, 2001 – By Dr. John F. Murray – One of the most difficult states to overcome is fatigue. It has been said that fatigue makes cowards of us all. This is not true for everyone. Following a 33-hour solo flight, Charles Lindberg landed safely in France. Give in to fatigue and you are cooked. Fight through it properly and you gain a huge advantage! Let’s take a closer look.

No matter how fit you are you have undoubtedly experienced the ravages of being exhausted during a match. Fatigue should always be considered from both a psychological and physiological perspective.

Safety First

It’s essential to know your body and physical condition well before undergoing any rigorous activity. Always have a medical exam and ask your physician before attempting to withstand 3 to 5 sets of hard core tennis, especially in heat conditions. Look at the recent number of deaths due to heat stroke. If you experience severe pain, headaches, vomiting, inability to sweat, or other common danger signs, always stop playing immediately.

Assuming that you are able to play tennis and not in significant danger, fatigue usually presents itself in a variety of ways. Physical signs that your body is tiring include greater difficulty breathing, slower movements, aching muscles, reduced vision and slower reaction times to name just a few.

Lost Focus

Perhaps the riskiest thing to your tennis game, and eventual ego, is the focus you often lose when you are tired. The mind has a way of wandering all over the place when the body signals exhaustion. This is partly due to the relationship between arousal and attention (Optimizing Arousal in Tennis) whereby narrow attention allows many distractions to intrude. It is also true that when you become tired, your focus has a tendency to turn inward and dwell on your condition. Again, focus is lost because it could be much better spent attending to more relevant performance cues.

What can be done to battle this robber of attention and energy? If you are seeking a crucial edge for your game, let’s take a look at my ten tips to battle fatigue:

1. First and foremost, make sure that you get plenty of sleep prior to the big match. Nothing prepares your mind and body better to fight fatigue than recharging the batteries the conventional way.

2. Eat small balanced meals throughout the day and never consume a large meal before the match. Eat light a few hours before the match, but make sure to get some good complex carbohydrates in your body the day before the match too. For more details, consult with a nutritionist. Everyone’s body and performance demands are different.

3. Drink plenty of water mixed with Gatorade or fruit juice prior to and throughout the match. Start hydrating at least two hours before the match. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

4. Pace yourself throughout the match. Anticipate your opponent’s style in advance and know what will be needed to win in the final set if necessary. If needed, take a little longer before serving and setting for the return. Control the pace of the match and you save valuable energy for later.

5. Wear a hat and light-colored clothing in the sun. These minor measures mean a lot when battling outdoors. Protecting the head is especially important. White reflects sun.

6. Lose weight. Carrying an extra load around makes everything more difficult. Like a hot air balloon, throwing off some of the excessive baggage helps you soar higher for much longer.

7. Visualize yourself as a powerful force. When you become tired, an energy jolt is often helpful. See yourself as a space shuttle taking off rather than as a donkey bogged down in the sand.

8. In an emergency, end points sooner. If you are hopelessly outclassed by a more consistent player and realize that your energy reserves will not last, find another way to win. Thinking of two and three point combinations to end the rally sooner will sometimes do the trick. Don’t get wild, just bring the point to a close sooner and conserve energy.

9. Never let your opponent know how tired you really are. Psychological warfare often involves deception. Show how tired you are and your opponent gains both a tactical and emotional boost. Disguise your fatigue by turning toward the fence to catch your breath and your energy.

10. Breathe continuously and steadily through the match. Players sometimes hold their breath under stress. Just like a world-champion weight lifter, oxygen is essential. Breath in and out with your strokes. Use deep slow breathing during changeovers.

I hope this article has rejuvenated your energy and given you another weapon to unfurl on the court. Like many other distraction, fatigue should be managed wisely to your advantage.

Keep your comments, suggestions and feedback flowing. This is truly an international tennis forum and I love hearing from you, wherever on the globe you type. I’m in Munich for the next couple weeks and can be contacted using this form.

Article written by Sports Psychologist Dr John F. Murray

THE IMPORTANCE OF BELIEF – BY SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST DR JOHN F MURRAY

Sports Psychology Column – Nov 1, 2001 – Dr. John F. Murray – Talent, desire and mind-body skills all work together to enhance performance. This increases the probability that success will occur, but the opponent has to cooperate before winning actually takes place. Remember — higher performance never guarantees success, but only increases the probability.

In providing sport psychology services to athletes at many levels, I’ve found that one particular mindset is useful in unlocking true potential in a person. It is the attitude of the beginner’s mind, open and trusting, that seems to work well. No matter how accomplished an athlete may be or how much they know, an innocence and almost trust in our plan together is what sets the stage for learning and excellence. Let’s call this attitude belief.

Scientists usually scoff at the notion of belief in their research and knowledge creation. After all, we’ve sent men to the moon and discovered the cures for many diseases not by believing, but by analyzing and thinking in an extremely critical fashion. This healthy doubt is the hallmark of the scientific revolution and serves us well in creating knowledge, but doubt in an athlete’s mind only sidetracks progress and interferes with performance.

The problem with doubt for the athlete is that an awful lot of energy and left-brain thinking is required to analyze critically and consider the many possibilities of action. Doubt creates distractions that disrupt flow and focus and reduce confidence. To perform with grace and efficiency on the tennis court requires an almost single-minded and simple trust in the chosen training method.

In working with an athlete, whether as a coach or sport psychologist, it is essential to establish trust up front and spell out the benefits that occur by letting go of control and believing in the plan. This is not to say that every word out of a good coach or sport psychologists’ mouth is scientifically based. Far from it! A good part of any coaching and counseling is art, based upon intuition, smart risks, trends and hunches.

Still, it is often the athlete’s belief, as well as the precision of their knowledge, that leads them to progress. Much has been written about the placebo effect in medicine. A sugar pill will often cure pain as effectively as an established pain medication. The mechanism here is belief. This placebo effect is equally important in getting an athlete ready for peak performance.

Here are some guidelines in helping promote belief in an athlete. Whether you are an athlete, coach, sport psychologist or highly involved tennis parent, you will find these useful:

1. Whatever you are doing, make sure that your approach is based on sound principles. Although belief is important, belief alone will never suffice. Part of the challenge in establishing trust is showing how what you are doing is credible and state of the art.

2. Paint a total picture for the athlete from the outset. Show the person what it takes to achieve high performance and how goals will be accomplished. Only after showing the overall plan is it time to get specific and address details.

3. Simplify your message. Rather than trying to accomplish too many things at once, focus on one skill at a time until mastery occurs. Confusion rarely enhances belief or performance.

4. Never promise victory, but always promise higher performance. There is no way to absolutely control the outcome of an athletic event. False promises only reduce belief.

With solid knowledge and a total belief in the program and goals chosen, the athlete is more confident, uncluttered by doubts and free to express their own creative genius. Teach belief as much as you teach skills and you’ll unleash a force with few limitations.

Hope you enjoyed a useful and important passage written by Dr John F. Murray

Top 10 Reasons to See a Sports Psychologist

Special from John F Murray – September 10, 2009 – See the new article on the Top 10 Reasons for Sports Psychology today. It was posted on the Squidoo website.

For more information overall about the field and to hear 2-minute audio mental tips, go to the main site about sports psychology.

Is Oudin’s Run the Best Ever for a Teenager?

Sports psychology insight – New York Times – Nicholas McCarvel – September 9, 2009 – Women’s tennis has always been littered with talented teenagers. Martina Hingis reached her first grand slam quarterfinal at 15 years of age. Venus Williams did so at age 17. Steffi Graf was 16.

So when comparing Melanie Oudin’s meteoric run at this week’sUnited States Open to the past, it doesn’t seem so meteoric; Oudin is a mature 17 herself.

But for Hingis, Williams, Graf and a host of other women, their appearance in such late-round matches early in their careers were expected of them. They had been predicted to make it big from a young age; they had been primed for the big time.

Oudin, on the other hand has had to fight for every point, game, set and match on her way from world No. 373 in 2007, to a current rank of No. 70.

Moreover, she has taken the hardest path to a Grand Slam quarterfinal by any little-known teenager in recent years.

In the past decade, only three players under 18 have advanced to a Grand Slam quarterfinal while possessing a ranking outside of the top 50 in the world: Oudin, Sesil Karatantcheva and Lina Krasnoroutskaya.

Karatantcheva’s run came at the 2005 French Open, where as a 15-year-old she stunned Venus Williams in the third round. Her path, otherwise, was rather padded: she beat one other seeded player and faced two players ranked outside the top 90. The average rank of her four opponents was 57.

Krasnoroutskaya also made her run at the French Open, but as a 17-year-old in 2001. She beat no. 9 Nathalie Tauziat in the opening round, but then did not face another seed until Justine Henin handily beat her in the quarterfinals. The average rank of her opponents was 67.

In contrast, Oudin has faced magnificent resistance at Flushing Meadows. Her first-round opponent, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, was ranked No. 36, and was only the third player not to be seeded coming into the Open. The average rank of Oudin’s first four opponents? 21.

The biggest obstacle for any young player to overcome is her older opponent’s power. On clay – where both Karatantcheva and Krasnoroutskaya accomplished their quarterfinal feats – the speed of the ball is slowed significantly, and power is neutralized.

At the United States Open, however, the courts are DecoTurf hard courts that play extremely fast, making Oudin’s ball-retrieving, power absorbing and counter-punching that much more impressive against the powerful groundstrokes of Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova.

Is Oudin’s run to the second week the best ever by a low-ranked youngster? It’s hard to say. But she can certainly put herself in an elite group with a win over Caroline Wozniacki on Wednesday night.

No American teenager has been to a Grand Slam semifinal since Serena Williams did so here a decade ago. Good company to keep for the No. 70 player in the world.

Melanie certainly has the eye of this sports psychologist

Sports Psychology Needs to Stop Shooting itself in the Foot

Editorial by John F. Murray, Ph.D. – JohnFMurray.com – Sports Psychology commentary – With today’s news that Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Warren Moon credits therapy and going to a psychologist for much of his success over the years, we are faced with an exciting opportunity to once and for all put the nail in the coffin of ignorance about psychology, sports psychology, therapy, mental health and whatever else you wish to call it.

Many have written about the terrible stigma associated with going to a psychologist, and I have worked very hard to help eliminate that. I have been on national television and radio talking about it, I have written hundreds of articles, and I have been quoted in over 2000 articles and often extolling the same theme that talk is tough and that it is more manly to admit to a problem and seek help than to hide from counseling as if it is some deep dark secret that can never be revealed. And my thesis today is that one of the primary reasons for this stigma comes directly from my own profession – from the thousands of psychologists and few sports psychologist in America who only further the terrible stigma by taking the principle of confidentiality and perverting it to an unnecessary degree!

In graduate school and in professional supervision, we as psychologists are taught about the virtues of total patient confidentiality so much that I think we go way overboard. Now I am not saying that every client does not have the right to total privacy, even about the fact that they entered therapy or sports psychology counseling, or whatever you call it, and this right is essential to getting people to open up, feel safe, and deal with difficult issues in a professional manner. But what really irks me is that many psychologists take this principle to the absolute extreme with their introverted personalities, and their hush hush environments, and that this behavior contributes unnecessarily to the stigma that we all need to eradicate. Many clients (by the way I hate using the word “patient” as it is demeaning and puts the client in the role of a sick person) end up with the view that what they are doing is somehow shameful, embarrassing or taboo. No wonder so many people like Warren Moon had to sneak into the therapist’s office late at night, probably dressed in disguise, so that nobody would find out that he was seeing a shrink!

Get real world. The biggest problem is that people are not accessing mental heath care and they are not accessing sports psychology the way they all know they should. This stigma associated with psychology is especially pervasive in my specialty of sports psychology because athletes are supposed to be “tough” and to not need help from another person. How silly and insane is that? People like Warren Moon are the toughest and strongest of them all by coming out and admitting to a problem. Moon got help. Did it hurt him? Is being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame such a bad thing?

Now confidentiality is indeed important and I tell all my clients that this is their total right. I explain to them how it helps them. But the fact that they are seeing a therapist or a clinical psychologist or a sports psychologist should not be such a deep shameful secret. I am certainly not going to tell anyone who my clients are without their consent and participation and desire, but there are no reasons why any individual on the planet should feel that they have to sneak into their therapist’s office late at night! It is this shame and this ridiculous stigma that prevents people from accessing care and getting the help they need in the first place. It is this absurd baggage that prevents NFL teams and coaches from employing team psychologists as regularly as they do trainers and physicians. People – stop equating counseling and psychology with shame! It is just a profession to help people become more well adjusted, and sports psychology can also give them a better chance to win the Super Bowl with vastly improved mental skills such as confidence, focus, energy control and goal setting. Even Joe Namath recently talked about how hard it was to stay totally focused.

I recently received an email on a list of a group of psychologists from a therapist that I will not name after the Warren Moon news came out. Here is a direct quote: “can athletes really feel safe when so many sport psychologists advertise who they work with (whether it is an individual, team, etc). I do whatever I can to make sure no one ever knows who I work with for so many reasons, but in our field, it is rare…let’s work to improve this.”

While every therapist and sports psychologist is entitled to their opinion and to practice the way they see fit, it is the spirit of this message which got my attention and which irritates me to no end. Why would it be a shameful thing for a team to say they had a team psychologist or sports psychologist? I would say that we need to improve our marketing much more and to remove the stigma by shedding light on what we do, not running into a corner and pretending like our clients just committed an embarrassing act by coming to see us! He did not say anything inherently wrong but the field of sports psychology is cloaked in shame and secrecy so much that good athletes are suffering and good teams are being prevented from improving.

My message to all therapists and fellow sports psychologists is that we need to be much louder in talking about our work, and we need to do a much better job of telling everyone that we exist and that our services are needed, not going into hiding as if we just committed a crime! The shame associated with seeing us is ridiculous and we are our own worst enemies in promoting confidentiality so much that it makes it seem like a horrible thing for clients to come see us.

I say remove all stigmas about going to see a psychologist but retain total confidentiality about what is discussed. Promote to your clients and promote in your advertising that going to see a psychologist is like going to your dentist, medical doctor, or publicist. We are providing a vital service to society that is being terribly neglected because we have too many introverted, OCD, and secretive characters who are fearful of telling our clients to let others know that we exist. We are greatly needed, we should be confident in that truth, and there is nothing at all shameful in seeing us.

On the contrary, our clients should be raving about our services. Why did it take Warren Moon many years after his career to finally tell the world his secret. It should not have been a secret at all. It should have been a celebration that he was getting help for his issues and others should have known about it so that they could get help too. In some ways, confidentiality taken to the extreme is not only weird, it is selfish because it prevents others from knowing about a great profession!

The Berlin Wall only fell because there was an overwhelming movement and tipping point that revealed that keeping people locked up behind a wall is somehow wrong. What an interesting view. When the wall came down everyone asked why it did not happen earlier. Today we face the same problem in psychology and sports psychology. As a society, let’s band together to tear down the wall of ignorance and shame surrounding psychological services.

Most people will have some form of depression or anxiety in their lifetime. All athletes need mental training to be at their best. Brag about your sports psychologist. Brag about your psychologist. Brag about your counselor and social worker. Tell your teammates they are wimps and losers for not going to the sports psychologist when they need it. Tell your coaches that they are neglecting the team by not having a regular sports psychologist on site. Deal with mental health and mental training issues long in advance as preventive care, not long after it is too late and someone abuses dogs, shoots someone in a nightclub, beats their wife, goes in hiding before the Super Bowl, or suffers from social phobia so much that they go to Australia to smoke weed and destroy a team and all their fans in the process.

The bottom line is that Warren Moon just took a big chunk out of that wall of absurdity with a big and strong sledge hammer. I encourage every one of you who reads this article to start swinging and pounding away at that wall of idiocy until it falls even harder than the Berlin Wall did! I hope you enjoyed this editorial article on sports psychology.

Joe Namath Talks about How Difiicult Focus is in Football

Sports psychology comments from the Orlando Sentinel – Ethan J. Skolnick – September 5, 2009 – Towards the end of this article, the coach of the Miami Dolphins, Tony Sparano, is quoted as saying, “So nothing is owed to you. Nothing is guaranted.” Skolnick continues, “And even the guy who made football’s most famous guarantee can attest.” He then quoted Joe Namath: “And I can tell you, our brains throw a lot at us, man,” Namath said. “You know, they’re tricky. We like to think we’re very strong, too, but we can be brought to our knees very easily with some strange things, man … Total tunnel vision is very difficult to achieve. Tunnel vision, my goodness! But focus is so critical and distractions play such a role. We think we’re ready when we’re really not. It’s hard to convince yourself, but sometimes you really get fooled.”As Namath put it, “We talk about how frail the brain is. You lose some of that urgency. You get spoiled, maybe.”

Focus is indeed so important in all sports and sports psychology is the profession best suited to train this critical mental skill. Hope you enjoyed the commentary by another NFL legend, Joe Namath, on sports psychology.