Posts Tagged ‘John F Murray’

C’MON, SMASH SOME RACKETS!

ESPN.com – Sept 2, 2005 – Patrick Hruby, Page 2 Columnist – Wasteful, infantile, wantonly destructive. All of this is true. Yet to hear Bud Collins tell it, there’s an even better reason tennis players are discouraged from smashing their rackets.

“It can be dangerous,” the longtime tennis commentator says.

Collins laughs. He speaks from embarrassing experience. Once, while playing in a South African senior tournament, he flubbed an easy shot. Up went his blood pressure. Down went his wooden racket, right into the court.

“I threw it,” Collins recalls. “I didn’t realize it would have a life of its own. It bounced over the fence. A parking lot was there. A guy was getting out of his car. It hit him.”

Mardy Fish. C’mon Mardy … you know you want to … do it for the people! Wait. Hold up. The racket hit a guy in the parking lot?

Sweet.

With apologies to American Express — which really should be seeking our forgiveness for those annoying Coach K ads — there’s something missing from this year’s U.S. Open. And it ain’t Andy Roddick’s mojo.

Nearly a week into the tournament, we’ve seen Serena Williams lose a $40,000 earring, defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova lose in the first round and British hope Andrew Murray lose his lunch on the court. Twice.

Which, admittedly, was pretty cool.

So what’s missing? Try a first-class meltdown — the singular, glorious sight of a ticked-off player rearing back, blowing up and sending his or her oversized boom-stick to graphite Valhalla.

Frankly, tennis fans deserve better.

“I haven’t seen one [smashed racket] yet this year,” says Carl Munnerlyn, a locker room attendant at the National Tennis Center. “Nothing broken. Nothing mangled.”

Munnerlyn knows cracked rackets. In over two decades at the U.S. Open, he has handled more splintered grips and bent frames than he can count, professional athletic instruments violently transformed into masterworks of nonrepresentational modern art.

But the last few years? Not so many.

“You definitely see less of it,” he says. “I think players are under more control. They come in knowing they can get beat at any time. Losing doesn’t bother them as much anymore.”

Don’t worry, be happy. Sigh. First hockey goons, now this. To paraphrase Pete Seeger: Where have all the smashers gone?

Once, colossi such as John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase roamed the tennis terra firma, striking fear into the hearts of equipment manufacturers everywhere. Racket abuse became open-air theater. No one was immune.

Back in the 1950s, Collins recalls, former American No. 1 and noted tennis good guy Barry MacKay chucked a racket clear across a lake in Adelaide, Australia.

“Well, it was more like a very broad river,” Collins says with a chuckle. “Probably 100 yards. Either way, that was an impressive feat.”

Sadly, such feats have become the stuff of tennis legend. Today’s players are more likely to emulate Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras, stoic craftsmen who never found fault in their tools.

Take Roger Federer, the sport’s top talent. A tempestuous racket-mauler in his youth, the defending U.S. Open champ now sports a calm, unflappable demeanor. Asked at Wimbledon when he last smashed a racket, Federer couldn’t remember.

His most recent toss? Try this spring, when the frustrated Swiss let his racket fly during a match against Rafael Nadal in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Tellingly, the racket didn’t break. No way it would have cleared 100 yards.

“It’s more challenging now,” Collins says. “Wood was much easier to smash.”

Maybe so. But how about a little pride?

Don’t get the wrong idea: Tennis still has a few hardy souls willing to put the kibosh on harmless inanimate objects. Injured Aussie Open champ Marat Safin — a man who once totaled 50-plus rackets in a single season and reportedly played with graphite shards embedded in his arm — could be the greatest smasher ever. Frenchman Richard Gasquet was tossed from last year’s U.S. Open qualifiers after nearly beheading a line judge with a heaved racket.

Players ranging from Andre Agassi to Serena Williams have been known to abuse their equipment, if not always in public. Munnerlyn recalls a well-known player’s recent locker room eruption.

“He came in after a match, set his bag down, waited about 10 seconds,” says Munnerlyn, who declined to give a name. “He took out one racket. Bam! Bam! Bam! Smashed it against the floor.”

Out came a second racket. And a third. Munnerlyn shakes his head, eyes wide at the memory.

“Three rackets, trashed,” he says. “I’m thinking, ‘Stop! Stop! Don’t break that!’ Throw a pillow underneath or something.”

More common, however, is the pillowy sportsmanship exhibited by Kevin Kim during his Wednesday afternoon loss to Switzerland’s Michael Lammer.

Marat Safin. Marat Safin’s racket tantrums are legendary.
Tempted to crush his racket, the 27-year-old Californian held back. The reason?

“I didn’t need the extra attention,” said Kim, ranked No. 70 in the world. “And I don’t want to get fined.”

Racket smashing isn’t cheap. Kim once was fined $1,050 for tossing his stick at a minor-league tournament in Tennessee — more than double the $500 Safin was docked for racket abuse at last year’s French Open, and a far cry from the $15 Collins says it took to replace a splintered wooden racket.

Smashing also is against the rules. Five years ago, Goran Ivanisevic was disqualified from a match after he smashed three rackets and had nothing left to play with. More commonly, a cracked racket results in a code violation — and a point penalty, if the offending player immediately switches to a new stick.

As a result, Kim explains, racket-breakers often will play a point with a busted frame.

“Sometimes you might win those points,” he says with a smile. “Sometimes if you crack it, it’s still playable.”

To avoid the above indignities, Kim adds, he limits his smashing to practice. Good for his temper. Bad for our amusement.

No matter the cause, the decline in public racket pulverizing is a shame. And probably unhealthy. Frustrated tennis players can’t vent to their teammates. Or scream at their coach. Tackling isn’t allowed, and haranguing the chair umpire only goes so far. So they steam and stew, each one a pressure cooker in wristbands.

Angry player. Highly breakable object. Something has to give. Playing in San Diego, Taylor Dent once lost to someone named Maurice Ruah. Not good.

“I walk off the court, line up all my rackets on a tree,” recalls Dent, pantomiming a baseball swing. “One after another, six in a row, until there was nothing left. I just left them there. See you later. See you tomorrow.”

Did Dent feel better? Absolutely. Always does. During a March tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., he dropped a 6-1 first set to Cyril Saulnier.

Dent blamed his racket. Forcefully. Racket wrecked and spleen vented, he rallied to win the match.

“It can help you play better,” he says. “John McEnroe was the perfect example. He would throw the racket sometimes, throw a tantrum, and it would help him out.”

More help: While most junked rackets end up in the trash, Dent signs his, then donates them to charity. All’s well that ends well.

“That’s why I do it,” he says with a laugh.

In another sense, crumpled frames bring fans and pros together, physical manifestations of our common immaturity. The average club player can’t relate to Roddick’s Teutonic serves, Agassi’s whiplash reflexes, Federer’s otherworldly touch.

But racket smashing? That’s as natural as throwing a golf club. When Borg broke a racket as a boy, his parents kept him off the court for six months. He never cracked one again. His famed temperament? It was learned.

“I play tennis, and I’ve broken some rackets,” Munnerlyn says. “Sometimes, I’m about to and I catch myself. I think, ‘Hey, I don’t get free rackets like [the pros].'”

None of us does. Which is part of what makes their newfangled restraint so infuriating. Psychic Uri Geller bent a racket with his mind.

Nadal can’t crush one with his pumped-up arms?

Thankfully, the U.S. Open junior tournament starts next week. So there’s hope. In the meantime, though, we’re still waiting for a handle-shattering, shard-scattering eruption. Because when the best racket-smashing story from this year’s tournament belongs to Collins — well, it’s enough to make a fan want to break something.

“What I’d like to see is somebody tear one apart with their bare hands,” Collins says. “With wood, you’d have a chance.”

Wait. Hold up. Tear a racket to pieces? By hand?

Now that would be pretty sweet.

PALMEIRO COULD BE TRYING TO BLOCK OUT ‘INNER CHATTER,’ TOO

Baltimore Sun – Sept 1, 2005 – Bill Ordine and Roch Kubatko – Medical: Oriole may be trying to quiet ‘inner chatter,’ too, psychologists say. Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro can wear earplugs, stuff wads of cotton in his ears, even put on headphones and listen to Green Day full blast – and it won’t necessarily block the distractions that might be responsible for his feeble hitting since returning from a 10-day suspension three weeks ago after testing positive for steroids, according to some sports psychologists.

Palmeiro wore earplugs Tuesday night in Toronto to muffle the jeers from Blue Jays fans; he went 0-for-4, and is 2-for-26 with one RBI after the suspension.

“It might be that he has some inner chatter going on, and it’s not just the external distraction from the booing that’s affecting him,” said Patrick J. Cohn, an Orlando, Fla., sports psychologist.

“We often think that professional players can go into their own bubble, their own cocoon, and continue to perform well even with the distractions. In some cases, the internal chatter might include the player putting greater expectations on himself to perform. Then when they think their performance doesn’t match their own expectations, they can crumble.”

Palmeiro played down the earplugs before sitting out last night’s game.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do. I’ve never been in a situation where I’m getting booed so badly, and I really don’t know how to handle it,” he said.

“I don’t mind being booed. I’ve been booed before. I was just trying to concentrate on my at-bat and do the best that I can to help my team. And, at the time, I thought that was the best I could do. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I did what I had to do at the time.”

Sports psychologists said Palmeiro’s recent slump could be due to any number of factors, including some as basic as not being able to regain a hitting rhythm after his layoff. But they didn’t discount that Palmeiro simply isn’t used to the vitriol that followed the disclosure of his failed steroids test.

“If, during most of his career, he has been well-received by fans and well-respected by his teammates and that’s been a big motivating factor in helping him reach milestones and breaking records … then that would be an important factor,” Cohn said.

“If he really cares about teammates’ and fan approval,” Cohn added, “that could cause some issues.”

Palmeiro said he used the earplugs to help his concentration.

“I’ve been booed before. Obviously, not this heavily,” the 40-year-old first baseman said. “It’s part of the game. But when I’m up at bat, I’m trying to focus on what I have to do, and it’s just hard to really focus when the whole stadium is booing and yelling. I thought that would maybe be a way to block out some of the booing.”

Two negative things can happen when distractions overtake an athlete, said West Palm Beach, Fla., sports psychologist John Murray.

“One, you might not process information as effectively as you normally do … you might not be as visually aware, for instance,” Murray said. “And second, the information may not be communicated as well from brain to body. You might have the ability for great motor skills, but the message from your brain is blocked in getting to your arms and hands.”

Again, that could be because of external distractions – booing – or an internal distraction, “a little bit of guilt, a tinge of a depressed mood or sadness,” Murray said.

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo could have done without Palmeiro’s earplugs.

“I probably would rather have not seen it.” Perlozzo said. “I’m sure that it helped a little bit, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet it drew attention to it and could possibly make it worse. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention by any stretch.”

If distractions – either external or internal – are contributing to Palmeiro’s problems at the plate, the remedies can be elusive. It could be the player needs to get back to a regular routine of sleeping, eating and interacting with his teammates and coaches as he did before the problems surfaced, Murray said. Or the fix might not come until there is a catharsis involving the murky circumstances of Palmeiro’s steroids difficulties.

“Without addressing Palmeiro specifically, if a player took steroids and is battling those demons, he’s not going to get rid of the distractions until he comes clean,” Murray said. “On the other hand, if he felt totally blameless, then he might be playing better because it’s him against the world.”

Cohn wasn’t as sure clearing the air would help lift a transgressive player’s batting average, though.

“If the allegations are true and he has been using steroids on and off, there’s probably no need for a catharsis,” Cohn said. “He has benefited from cheating the system. Why would he have a need to come clean now?”

Palmeiro said he wasn’t sure whether he would try the earplugs again.

“It’s been hard. It hasn’t been easy,” he said. “I’ve never looked at it in a way where I expected it to be good or bad. I’m just dealing with it on a daily basis.”

EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE LIKED

Chicago Tribune – Sep 1, 2005 – Bill Ordine and Roch Kubatko – Experts say earplugs not necessarily answer for Palmeiro – Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro can wear earplugs. He can stuff wads of cotton in his ears. He can put on headphones and listen to Green Day full blast. He can do all that and it won’t necessarily block the distractions that might be responsible for his recent feeble hitting. Palmeiro wore earplugs Tuesday night in Toronto to muffle the jeers from fans; he went 0-for-4. Since his return from a 10-day suspension for testing positive for steroids, he’s 2-for-26 with one RBI. He did not play Wednesday.

“It might be that he has some inner chatter going on, and it’s not just the external distraction from the booing that’s affecting him,” said Patrick J. Cohn, an Orlando sports psychologist.

Palmeiro said he used the earplugs to help his concentration.

“I’ve been booed before. Obviously, not this heavily,” the 40-year-old first baseman said. “It’s part of the game. But when I’m up at bat, I’m trying to focus on what I have to do, and it’s just hard to really focus when the whole stadium is booing and yelling.”

Two negative things can happen when distractions overtake an athlete, said West Palm Beach, Fla., sports psychologist John Murray.

“One, you might not process information as effectively as you normally do … you might not be as visually aware, for instance,” Murray said. “And second, the information may not be communicated as well from brain to body. You might have the ability for great motor skills, but the message from your brain is blocked in getting to your arms and hands.”

If distractions–either external or internal–are contributing to Palmeiro’s problems at the plate, the remedies can be elusive. It could be the player needs to get back to a regular routine, as he did before the problems surfaced, Murray said.

Or the fix might not come until there is a catharsis involving the murky circumstances of Palmeiro’s steroids difficulties.

Palmeiro said he wasn’t sure whether he would try the earplugs again.

“It hasn’t been easy,” he said.

WORLD TALK RADIO INTERVIEW

Aug 15, 2005 – Dr. Murray was recently a guest on World Talk Radio to discuss Overcoming Anxiety in Sports. Anxiety is a very common theme in sports psychology. To find the interview, please access the archive section at World Talk Radio

CHICAGO WONDERS: CAN CURSE-BUSTING CATCH ON?

Sun Sentinel – Apr 3, 2005 – Mike Berardino – Watching the Boston Red Sox end the Curse of the Bambino last October, Ryne Sandberg couldn’t help but smile.

You know Sandberg as the former Chicago Cubs second baseman, maybe the greatest ever to play the position. You probably remember his disappointments in the National League playoffs of 1984 and 1989, how even the great Sandberg was unable to return the Cubs to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

But you probably didn’t know Sandberg has been a closet Red Sox fan all these years.

“I had great feelings [watching Boston win],” Sandberg says during a break at Cubs spring training in Mesa, Ariz. “In a lot of ways, I’ve been a Red Sox fan for a number of years, just pulling for the underdog. I just wanted to see them win finally, which I can relate to here with the Cubs.”

Although the Red Sox hadn’t won the World Series since 1918, Cubs fans have been suffering even longer. Their last championship came in 1908, when it was Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance around the infield and Teddy Roosevelt in the White House.

Their most recent tease came two years ago, when they were five outs from besting the Marlins for the National League pennant with Mark Prior on the mound. Before you could say “Steve Bartman,” the whole crazy notion of a Cubs championship collapsed beneath the weight of history and a stirring Marlins comeback.

Wasn’t a part of Sandberg saddened the Red Sox got to the mountaintop before his beloved Cubbies? That the Curse of the Bambino was toppled before Chicagoans could lay waste to the Curse of the Billy Goat once and for all?

Apparently not.

“I thought it was great to watch,” Sandberg says. “I had a good feeling about it. To me it kind of brings hope to the Cubs getting to the World Series and winning the World Series. It can happen. If you’ve got the right guys, and you’ve got them all playing like a bunch of wild guys like the Red Sox were doing, it works. That brings optimism for me.”

Extending the thought, perhaps the entire city of Chicago should be more hopeful than ever in light of Boston’s Band of Idiots’ unlikely success. Baseball’s second-longest championship drought belongs to the pride of the South Side, where the White Sox haven’t won since 1917.

There have been five postseason appearances since Pants Rowland managed those Sox to the title, but each — most recently a three-game sweep by Seattle in 2000 — has ended in disappointment. Most painfully, 1919 brought the Black Sox Scandal in which eight players were exiled from the sport for their role in fixing a World Series loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

One city. One sport. Two franchises. Two excruciating waits for a modern-day championship.

Maybe that’s why White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen admits he, too, was uplifted by Boston’s comeback from a 3-0 American League Championship Series hole against the hated New York Yankees and subsequent four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

“My reaction was that it was a great thing for baseball, and the way they did it was great, too,” says Guillen, a White Sox shortstop on their 1993 playoff team. “The Red Sox were down and out. All of a sudden they wake up and win.”

To hear Guillen talk, Boston’s victory stirred him into heightened consciousness as well. You can almost picture him sitting bolt upright on his couch in Miami and realizing his destiny was at hand.

“It made me feel like, `Wow, it’s time for us to turn around and do it,'” Guillen says. “It’s just something that you look up and say, `Wow, now it’s the White Sox’s and Cubs’ opportunity.’ We should look at that as an inspiration.”

Breeding confidence

The theory is calling “modeling,” and it has nothing to do with a handful of Red Sox players showing up this season on Queer Eye For the Straight Guy.

According to the concept, which originated in the 1960s with psychologist Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy, the success of one team or individual can improve the confidence and, in turn, the results of another.

Dr. John F. Murray, a South Florida-based sports psychologist, says he “absolutely” would use the theory if he were hired to assist either Chicago baseball team.

“With modeling we can see somebody else like the Red Sox who have finally broken down that door,” Murray says. “We then say, `Hey, I’m a White Sox person. If the Red Sox can do it, now I can do it.’ Confidence can come from others if you do it right.”

Murray has helped expedite psychological breakthroughs before. He helped tennis pro Vince Spadea overcome a 21-match losing streak and rise to his highest career ranking.

In 1997, Murray and Dr. James Bowman, now working with the U.S. Olympic program, conducted regular sessions at Washington State University. The Cougars tennis team spent three months doing mental imagery in an effort to end a long losing streak against its archrival Washington Huskies.

When the breakthrough finally came, the Cougars won by the exact score the team had envisioned.

That same year, the Washington State football team, which also worked with Bowman and Murray, reached the Rose Bowl for the first time in 67 years.

“When you talk about losing streaks or breaking down barriers, you’re talking about the whole concept,” Murray says. “It can almost be like a slump, but a historical slump. How do you break that wall?”

The answer comes from within, although Murray cautions every player on a given team could have a unique set of mental challenges.

“You have to believe in yourself,” Murray says. “It’s critically important. It’s not the only thing that’s important. You also need talent. But confidence is a component that’s relevant.”

`It wasn’t us’

Not everyone buys into this psychological connection between the two cities, or at least not into the notion that the Red Sox’s breakthrough somehow makes the quest more attainable for the Cubs or White Sox.

Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux, who returned to the club in 2004 after 11 years in Atlanta, says watching the Red Sox win was “no different than being in Atlanta when the Yankees won. It wasn’t us.”

Says White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko: “I don’t draw anything from it other than the Red Sox are off the hook. They don’t have to worry about people getting on them anymore or calling them whatever. I guess it just moves to the next couple teams that are in line that haven’t won in a long time, which would be us and the Cubs.”

Former Cubs television analyst and White Sox pitcher Steve Stone downplays the connection as well.

“I think the Red Sox winning has absolutely no bearing on what the Cubs will do,” Stone says. “I just don’t really believe in curses and I don’t believe when curses are broken, it helps other people. It certainly helped the Red Sox, but so did having Pedro [Martinez] and [Derek] Lowe come on and adding [Curt] Schilling to that group. They had a very good team who got hot at the right time and refused to quit, but there’s no bearing on the Cubs.”

He smiles and points down the hall toward the Cubs’ clubhouse.

“If Kerry Wood and Mark Prior go down the first week, how do you think it will affect the Cubs?” he says. “A lot more than the Red Sox winning will.”

Personnel key

Indeed, the fragile co-aces of the Cubs pitching staff have spent much of the spring battling arm problems. No amount of Beantown idiocy would likely lift the Cubs past that sort of hardship.

Along those same lines, trading Sammy Sosa and losing Moises Alou via free agency this offseason wouldn’t seem to bring the Lovable Losers any closer to ending their nearly centurylong drought. At best, the Cubs are expected to have a ferocious battle with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros for the top spot in the National League Central.

Moreover, the White Sox must open the season without their best hitter, Frank Thomas, still recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Most preseason forecasts picked the Minnesota Twins to win their fourth straight American League Central title, with some placing the White Sox below the Cleveland Indians and even the improving Detroit Tigers in a relatively weak division.

But that doesn’t mean people in Chicago can’t dream. The Red Sox breakthrough was that significant.

“I guess this is one of those things over the years: Boston and the Cubs haven’t won in so long, people just tie the two together,” says Cubs Hall of Fame outfielder Billy Williams. “They got rid of the Curse of the Bambino, so we should get rid of the Curse of the Goat and all that kind of stuff. I know this: When you’ve got good ballplayers, no curse could stop you.”

But does Boston winning make things any easier for those in the Second City?

“It depends how you look at it,” Sandberg says. “It can bring hope or now maybe it can bring more of a spotlight and more pressure. It all depends how it’s perceived and how it’s taken. But I look at it as a positive, as there is hope. Now it’s the Cubs and the White Sox, both in the same city, that haven’t been to the World Series in a long time.”

Count Cubs superscout Gary Hughes, one of the early Marlins architects, as a proponent of the “modeling” theory. He sees no negatives whatsoever in the Boston victory.

“If there was doubt before, there can be no doubt now,” Hughes says with his trademark chuckle. “The Red Sox have done it. We still haven’t. So it’s our turn. All those people saying, `It’s never going to happen.’ Well, it just happened. Why not again?”

Then there’s Guillen, who admittedly has daydreamed about a championship parade in the Windy City and what it would mean to his life.

“Having played there for so many years, being one of the biggest White Sox fans in the history of baseball, that’s one of my dreams,” Guillen says. “I told my wife and my family, if we win the World Series in Chicago, I’ll quit managing baseball.”

Wouldn’t that be pretty drastic?

“I’ll be running for mayor in Chicago,” Guillen says. “Whoever wins first is going to own the city.”

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

MIND THE BEND: GELLER BENT A WILSON T-2000 RACKET MADE FAMOUS BY JIMMY CONNORS

BBC – Mar 16, 2005 – Geller bent a Wilson T-2000 racket made famous by Jimmy Connors

Celebrity spoon-bender Uri Geller has proved it isn’t just cutlery he can manipulate with his mind.

At a workshop on psychology in tennis, Geller succeeded in bending a Wilson aluminium T-2000 racket (as made famous by Jimmy Connors) using only the power of thought.

He also took on and beat former British player Barry Cowan in a battle of positive thinking.

The workshop, in Raines Park, London, was organised by Dr. John F. Murray – who famously helped Vince Spadea end his record losing run of 21 matches in 2000.

TENNIS-X NEWS, NOTES, QUOTES AND BARBS

Tennis-X.com – Feb 5, 2006 – Vince Spadea’s sport psychologist, Dr. John F. Murray, on his student in Delray Beach: “Vince is striking the ball down here cleaner and earlier than I have ever seen before. It is amazing. This is the result of many months of increased work ethic and seriousness, and in part due to the determination that comes from wanting to make good on a contract he signed with me last year to guarantee to reach Top 10 with sport psychology.

This exemplifies the power of goal setting and commitment — basic tools in psychology 101. I am confident that Vince will indeed make Top 10 if he stays injury free and doesn’t waver in his focus. He might even make Top 5 playing this well.”…

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

SUCCESS IS MUCH MORE THAN TALENT

Cincinnati Enquirer – Jan 29, 2005 – John Eckberg – THE BENGAL SYSTEM Sport psychologist John F. Murray figures that nobody likes discipline less than a player in the National Football League.

And Murray, who has consulted for NFL teams – that he refuses to name – says Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has a bead on performance that should pay off.

Lewis gives players three strikes before they are out. The first strike is a breakdown that leads to a meeting with the head coach. And the meeting itself is the second strike. So if you’ve screwed up one time, you’ve really screwed up twice.

The third strike is when the same thing happens again.

“I like Marvin Lewis’s disciplinary approach,” Murray said. “NFL players respond to that. They want direction. They want to feel like somebody is in charge of the ship. The problem with a lot of coaches is that they try to please everybody.

“There has to be a little fear, consequences that are real. There has to be a bite – otherwise you’re just barking.”

Today’s Super Bowl XXXIX brings local sports fans one final evening of professional football from a 2004-2005 season that was disappointing for avid Cincinnati Bengals fans but fairly entertaining for everybody else.

Performance expert and sport psychologist John F. Murray of West Palm Beach, Fla., believes the Super Bowl is an annual event that gives everybody a chance to look for lessons into achieving peak performance.

This year Murray picks the Philadelphia Eagles.

He arrived at this conclusion by extrapolating from the play-by-play behavior of players and teams’ mental make-up during the intense pressure of post-season playoffs.

He calls his gauge the Mental Performance Index and used it last year to correctly predict that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would upset the Oakland Raiders by at least two touchdowns.

The Bucs won 48-21, a margin of about four touchdowns.

“When you think about it, performance enhancement is far more important in business than in sports,” said the sport psychologist who is known as the “Football Shrink.”

“In business, money is on the line. And like professional football it’s extremely competitive.”

Keys for success

Murray has worked with NFL teams and has testimonials from many sports figures: Dave Wannstedt and Jimmy Johnson, former head coaches for the Miami Dolphins, plenty of college tennis coaches and tennis pro Lindsay Davenport.

Though Murray, 43, can talk for hours on the topic of performance under pressure, he says his strategy has eight broad, mental keys for success:

Discipline and hard work.

Passion and having fun.

Resilience or bounce-back.

Confidence and expectations of success.

Intense focus on the task at hand.

Setting and achieving goals.

Controlling emotion and energy levels.

Visualization and imagery.

Dealing with pressure

But nothing separates peak performers from the almost-as-good as the crucible of pressure.

“When lights are shining and the moment is there, super performance can emerge more easily,” said Murray, the author of “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” (Jossey-Bass).

Companies that want to encourage peak performance should order up ground-zero evaluations of individuals and then treat people as individuals, not as a group, since the best approaches spurn one-size-fits-all.

When asked to choose one aspect that companies should focus on, he did not hesitate:

“Taking care of the customer is No.1,” Murray said. “Do you give them what they need? Do you find out what they need and provide quality service that is focused and passionate?”

Forget about talent, creativity, goals, vision and leadership.

I would not agree to “forget about” those other factors, but assert that customer service is indeed top priority!

“Finding out what a customer needs and then filling that need is by far the most important action that companies can take to achieve peak performance,” he said. “Talent is not everything. It’s the intangibles that are sometimes ignored that are important.” Dr. Murray’s Bio

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED LETTERS

Jan 27, 2005 – Sports Illustrated Letters – “Alex in Wonderland” – A-Rod demonstrates that seeking counseling is a sign of strength, not weakness. Eventually, getting sports-psychology services will be just as accepted as seeking help for a twisted ankle. John F. Murray, West Palm Beach, Fla. (in Palm Beach, Florida since 2006)

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

NFL PLAYOFFS – PSYCHED OUT

Baltimore Sun – Jan 25, 2005 – Ken Murray – NFL teams trying to get over the hump in big games carry psychological baggage only Freud could appreciate.

At the height of his frustration in the mid-1990s, then-Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf let out a howl of exasperation that could be heard all the way to Dallas.

“They could put seven helmets and four players out there and we’d find a way to fall over a helmet,” Wolf said of the Cowboys.

Wolf was worn down by an eight-game losing streak in a lopsided series. Three of the losses came in the postseason, the worst being the NFC championship game in January 1995. It wasn’t until the season after the Packers won the January 1997 Super Bowl that they finally exorcised their Dallas demon and ended the streak.

Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Pro Bowl quarterback, knows how Wolf felt. McNabb has lived through the agony of losing three consecutive NFC championship games, two of them at home.

He can only hope the Atlanta Falcons roll out their black helmets and play four-man defense today at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, where he will try one more time to reach the Super Bowl.

By going 0-for-3 in the championship game, McNabb also has stepped into elite, if somewhat infamous, company in the NFL. Quarterback Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills lost four Super Bowls and Fran Tarkenton of the Minnesota Vikings was winless in three. The Cleveland Browns’ Bernie Kosar lost three times in the AFC championship game.

And John Elway of the Denver Broncos didn’t win his first Super Bowl, either, until he had lost three of them.

This is no place for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach. It is where history is made, reputations are forged and dreams are smashed.

Unlike the Packers of the 1990s, the Eagles have no single nemesis to confront. They lost to the St. Louis Rams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers the past three years at the threshold of the Super Bowl.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to us the last three years, but it’s just a different feeling this year,” McNabb said during a news conference last week. “We’ve had a special season; things have really been moving in a positive direction.”

Getting teams or individual players over the big-game hump is a job that often falls under the purview of sports psychologists.

Harry Edwards, a sports sociologist, retired Cal-Berkeley professor and longtime consultant for the San Francisco 49ers, watched as coach Bill Walsh crafted a dynasty after one of the most traumatic defeats in team history.

The defeat came in the 1987 playoffs, when the 49ers, with a 13-2 regular-season record, were upset at home by the Vikings in a conference semifinal, 36-24. San Francisco already had won two Super Bowls under Walsh, but the Minnesota loss was particularly devastating.

The 49ers came back the next year to beat the Chicago Bears in the NFC championship game and the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl, the last of Walsh’s three NFL titles.

“The key to it was how the leadership of the organization handled that crushing disappointment,” Edwards said. “I remember before the Super Bowl against the Bengals, Bill said there were going to be ebbs and flows in the game. That took out the idea that if something bad happens [as in 1987], ‘Here we go again.’

“If the Eagles go out on the field thinking, ‘Here we go again,’ they’ll lose.”

John F. Murray, a sports psychologist in West Palm Beach, Fla., believes the Eagles should embrace the potential for losing to relieve the pressure of winning.

“I would let them go to the possibility they might lose again,” he said. “That’s outcome. In sports psychology, you focus on performance, not outcome. Outcome can never be controlled, just as you can never control when a tsunami hits your house.

“We choke if we blow up the magnitude of the situation. It comes down to what’s going on inside each person’s head.”

Losing big games regularly plays havoc with the head, Gil Brandt said.

“I don’t think there’s any question that it gets into your mind,” said Brandt, the Cowboys’ personnel chief through their formative years into the Super Bowl era.

Brandt watched the phenomenon weave its damage in the 1960s, when the Cowboys were Next Year’s Champions, the title of a book that chronicled their early failures in big games. The Cowboys lost consecutive NFL championship games to the Packers at the dawn of the Super Bowl era in 1966 and 1967, then lost to the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs the next two seasons.

Dallas didn’t get to the Super Bowl until the 1970 season, and didn’t win the Super Bowl until the 1971 season. How did the Cowboys get over the hump?

By trading for tight end Mike Ditka, flanker Lance Alworth and cornerback Herb Adderley, who brought mental toughness to the team.

“Those three veteran players had a dramatic influence on our team,” Brandt said. “You can add a descending veteran player and it gives the team the thought, ‘They’re trying to help us win.’ The Eagles went out and got [Jevon] Kearse and [Terrell] Owens, and the players said the team tried to do everything it could to win.”

Three decades later, the Packers endured their six-year losing streak against the Cowboys. They lost to Dallas in the divisional round of the playoffs after the 1993 and 1994 seasons, and the NFC championship game the next year. All but one of the eight losses came in Dallas.

“We couldn’t get them [to play] in Green Bay,” Wolf said. “It was like a nightmare. It got to the point they played a [quarterback] named Jason Garrett and beat us. Obviously, it’s a psychological thing when you put out a guy like that and win.

“It’s like seeing Indianapolis and New England now. Indianapolis can’t go to New England and win the game.”

The Packers won the Super Bowl in the 1996 season after losing a regular-season game in Dallas, but didn’t have to face the Cowboys in the postseason. In 1997, they finally got the Cowboys in Green Bay and punished them, 45-17. End of streak.

Some teams never make it over the hump, though. The Browns of Kosar and tight end Ozzie Newsome endured three championship losses in four years, all against the Broncos, and never reached the Super Bowl.

The first loss in the 1986 season was highlighted by Elway’s 98-yard touchdown drive to force overtime, where the Broncos won, 23-20. The second, a year later, was punctuated by Earnest Byner’s fumble inside the 5-yard line as he was about to score the tying touchdown. The Browns lost, 38-33.

Two years later, they were blown out by the Broncos, 37-21.

Even though Newsome, as a front office executive, helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl four years ago, it didn’t take away the sting of those three defeats.

“In that I had the opportunity to win a Super Bowl, it has been softened,” the Ravens’ general manager said. “Not being able to go and play in it, it is some of the emptiness that I have.”

There was some satisfaction in going to the championship game three times, he said.

“It was a great accomplishment, but not as big as the Bills going to four straight Super Bowls. That was a lot tougher to do, and a lot tougher to deal with,” Newsome said.

Even while the Bills were losing four straight Super Bowls from 1991 through 1994, coach Marv Levy was never concerned about a psychological minefield.

“No, I really wasn’t,” Levy said, “because I made up mind, it wasn’t going to prey on me. I knew I couldn’t change the previous outcomes.”

Levy, of course, can feel empathy for the Eagles’ plight today.

“I admire their resilience,” he said. “They’re going to battle back. They didn’t fall apart because they suffered a tremendous disappointment.

“I don’t know if their story is going to parallel ours, but if they win, I will feel good for them.”

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