Posts Tagged ‘mental coaching’

Top 72 Benefits of Psychotherapy and Sports Psychology/Performance Enhancement Training

Special to JohnFMurray.com – October 12, 2018 – Palm Beach, FL – How many of you have actually accessed general psychotherapy? How about sports psychology/performance enhancement services?  I offer both these services. This is often called one-stop shopping, so that you can work on your mental health/well being while also focusing on more specific sports or business-related needs that are proven to give you a decisive competition advantage.

I have never quite written an article like this, but I’ve noticed that a lot of people enjoy articles that succinctly summarize Top lists, Best widgets, or Greatest ideas to help them in whatever they are doing.

In this same spirit, I list below 72 specific ways in which you can benefit from either general psychotherapy or sports psychology/mental coaching.

Enjoy these TOP 72:

  1. Relaxation and stress relief.
  2. Clarity in goals and expectations.
  3. A great sense of being heard by another human being.
  4. Being able to talk about things that you might not normally discuss, in a confidential setting.
  5. Reduction of anxiety and worry.
  6. Being able to reduce guilt or process things that are weighing on you heavily.
  7. Gaining confidence and more expectations of success.
  8. Problem solving and seeing a problem in a different light.
  9. Being held accountable to talks and homework assignments to help you improve.
  10. A sense of not being judged, but fully accepted with unconditional positive regard.
  11. Learning to use humor more frequently and see the lighter side of things.
  12. Reducing interpersonal conflict and animosity toward adversaries.
  13. Gaining the peace of mind that you have dealt with an important matter professionally.
  14. Picking up on the energy of the therapist to enhance your own energy or passion.
  15. Having some quite time to self-reflect and see matters more honestly.
  16. Acquiring increased purpose and a sense of mission for your endeavors.
  17. Learning to see the big picture more and not get caught up in the trees.
  18. Setting specific performance goals that are detailed and adhere to proper scientific wisdom.
  19. Beginning to think and act more rationally and less controlled by impulse or reactivity.
  20. The joy of learning more about yourself and what many before us have taught us.
  21. Learning how to bounce back quicker from adversity.
  22. Overcoming thoughts and feelings of depression and sadness.
  23. Achieving greater balance and understanding of your position in life and how to improve it.
  24. Enhancing your focus and concentration with proven techniques.
  25. Learning how to use meditation and imagery to achieve almost anything you put your mind to.
  26. Sleeping better as a result of reducing negative or obsessive thoughts.
  27. Spending a full hour just on yourself, to work through whatever issues are on your mind.
  28. Going back into the past and repairing hurt that you may have or have caused others.
  29. Gaining stability from feelings of mania or unnecessary energy.
  30. Reducing specific phobias or fears that make life more difficult.
  31. Working on long-term personality characteristics that repeatedly cause you grief.
  32. Dealing with the stress of family expectations or holidays.
  33. Learning to become more independent and self-sufficient.
  34. Reducing anger or animosity.
  35. Coping with nervousness and stage fright better.
  36. Discussing sensitive matters of sexual or gender identity.
  37. Working through obsessions or addictions that are holding you back.
  38. Learning to live a healthier life physically.
  39. Becoming less perfectionistic, and more focused on excellence and achievement.
  40. Overcoming a losing streak or series of losses.
  41. Digging deep for motivation when things are looking and feeling flat or bleak.
  42. Reducing thoughts of helplessness or hopelessness.
  43. Dealing with thoughts of death or suicide.
  44. Coping with the death of a loved one.
  45. Managing pain more effectively with coping strategies.
  46. Studying or test taking strategies for schoolwork.
  47. Learning to become more assertive without becoming aggressive, passive or passive aggressive.
  48. Resolving confusion about beliefs or thoughts.
  49. Coping with cultural adjustments or discrimination.
  50. Dealing with dating concerns or concerns about sexual behavior.
  51. Managing eating disorders.
  52. Coping with financial loss or management issues.
  53. Working through head injuries or neurological problems after an accident.
  54. Dealing with issues of homesickness.
  55. Finding ways to compensate for learning disabilities or ADHD.
  56. Overcoming feelings of loneliness.
  57. Getting along better with teammates or co-workers.
  58. Managing any number of physical problems or disabilities.
  59. Coping with a problem pregnancy.
  60. Overcoming procrastination and learning to be more inspired for your work.
  61. Dealing with rape or unwanted sexual activity issues.
  62. Coping better with a religious or spiritual concern.
  63. Learning to overcome shyness.
  64. Getting ready for game day competition with sharp goals and brief imagery sessions.
  65. Improving training and practice conditions in sports.
  66. Winning the impression management battle with coaches and bosses.
  67. Dealing better with success and winning.
  68. Gaining a more positive overall attitude.
  69. Improving in areas of sportsmanship.
  70. Learning to communicate more openly and effectively.
  71. Changing self-talk and the internal dialogue for greater success.
  72. Coping better with financial windfalls and sudden wealth.

I hope you have enjoyed this gift from the world of sports psychology!

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

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

Who is Dr. John F Murray?

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

Mental Performance Matters

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

Support from NFL Experts

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

A Shift Toward Predicting Future Games

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

Extensive Research

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

FootballShrink.com Was Born

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

The Challenge of Prediction

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

How Do the Best in the World Do?

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

Results:

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

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

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

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

FootballShrink.com Ready to Launch in 2018

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

Meaning of the Predictions

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

Sports Psychology Article: The 10 Biggest Issues Seen in Private Practice

Sports Psychology Article: My name is Dr. John F. Murray, a clinical and sports performance psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida. I have been licensed and in practice since 1999, providing a variety of mental coaching and psychotherapy services to athletes, business people, and people just looking to live a healthier or more successful life. This work can occur in the office, by phone or skype, or at client locations, and I also deliver workshops and speeches worldwide.

While I believe clinical psychology skills and training are vital in providing sports psychology services because people and their range of issues need to be understood and often treated, it is interesting that the vast majority of people who have hired me come in initially seeking performance enhancement for their sports, businesses, or performing arts. The truth is that mental skills are rarely trained in formal education and so there is a huge gap and need. Just as true, people who struggle with clinical disorders find it very difficult to achieve lasting success in any endeavor.

Today, as I look back on 17 years in private practice, I would like to share what I believe to be the top 10 issues that I have dealt with in working with clients. These issues are in no particular order in terms of frequency and severity, and each case in unique, but this should be a pretty representative sample of what I have seen. I’m sure I am missing many issues, but this will account for a huge percentage of them.

(1) PERFORMING WELL IN PRACTICE BUT NOT IN GAMES: Athletes often get in my door with this one. They tell me or their parents tell me that practice is great but actual live games are a total mess. While there may be many reasons for this, competitive pressure comes to mind as a frequent culprit. Sometimes the person is not training properly. Learning to face the pressure in guided imagery, relaxation, goal setting, and cognitive restructuring can work wonders. Here is an article by Larry Stone of the Seattle Times that I contributed to that addresses the issue of pressure in baseball.

(2) ANXIETY: This is an overworked word and one person’s anxiety is never another’s anxiety, but for lack of a better term let’s use it. People in all walks of life think too much, obsess, worry about what other people think (often coaches, parents or teammates), and lose the game or botch the boardroom presentation long before it even begins. Luckily for those who come in, anxiety is one of the problems that resolves best with treatment. I use a variety of techniques depending on the client. Often an approach that combines new learning, classical conditioning, and some form of relaxation with guided imagery is the key to success. It might take a little time to make progress or it might occur rather soon because each case is so different. It is one of my favorite problems to work with because the success rate is so high. Here is an article by John Nelander in the Palm Beach Daily News that I helped with that addresses the problem of anxiety.

(3) LOW SELF-ESTEEM OR LOW CONFIDENCE: While these are different issues, I lump them together here for simplicity. People are rarely born with confidence, and any number of past or current factors can tear away at confidence. The most typical problem is when an athlete is in a slump or bombarded by what is perceived as failure. Just like any solid mental skill, confidence is a tool that needs to be sharpened and continually used in battle in order to gain the edge. I build confidence in a variety of ways through education, self-talk modification, stories, examples, quotes, audios, videos and just good old solid cognitive-behavioral therapy. In fact, all of these approaches may be used in treating the 10 issues in this article. Here is an article I once wrote on the topic of confidence for a regular column I was writing for the Tennis Server website.

(4) POOR FOCUS OR CONCENTRATION: Since human beings are designed to be distracted with what is called the “orienting response” (it had survival value in the wild for our ancient ancestors to be easily distracted by the crocodile when stopping to get water from a lake) we are quite susceptible to distractions of all kinds, both sensory distractions and distractions from inner thoughts and feelings. Add to this the number of clients whom I have seen with attentional disorders such as ADHD, and you soon realize that focus in anything is never guaranteed and rarely natural. Like any mental skill it needs to be properly practiced and refined. Golfers lose focus in a tournament just as much as linebackers do in football, and training is called for. I use a number of techniques to help including pre-performance routines, key words and phrases, guided imagery with relaxation, and goal setting. Since focus might be the most important mental skills for success, it is vitally important to ensure that the person is optimally thrilled in the moment of whatever they are doing. Here is an article I wrote about how to get better focused in football.

(5) ANGER OR FRUSTRATION: Competition can bring out the best and worst in us, and one nasty little enemy is the anger that often builds up without relief, and then explodes at the wrong time to wreak devastation on the competitor in whatever they do. Communication fails when couples try to resolve their issues with anger, MMA fighters lose poise and get submitted more quickly, and tennis players blow the next four points and ultimately the entire match as their emotions sandbag them. Like anxiety, a cousin of anger, treatment for anger has very high success rates. The sources of anger and anxiety begin in the deep temporal regions of the amygdala, that little part brain shared by almost any walking organism on the planet. It was a great alarm mechanism in caveman days as it sends important signals of danger and allows quick fight or flight reactions automatically. Unfortunately, it rarely helps the quarterback thread the needle on a critical 4th down pass. Many techniques are successful here including helping a client learn new ways to break the pattern, and these behaviors like any new learning need to be rehearsed many times in imagery and practice before they become habits that sustain future success. Success here might also require a total change in how a person perceives reality. Here is an article in Men’s Fitness magazine that I contributed to about ways to control and manage anger better.

(6) RELATIONSHIPS: People are social creatures, and I learned in doing my doctoral dissertation on the 1996 national champion Florida Gator football team, and in other studies, how incredibly important social support and feeling the right things from others can be in achieving success and coping with stress. The problem is that people are so very different. It’s hard to get along, and stress of competition can often spell disaster for relationships. On teams, the coaches have important decisions to make and players who are snubbed or overlooked often feel slighted. Favoritism happens a lot in junior athletics, when the baseball manager starts his son or best friend’s son over another player just as good or better. Feelings are easily hurt and sometimes hard to repair. Football players may worry about what coaches think about them, and corporate executives might have serious philosophical differences with the way the CEO wants things done. Treating these problems requires experience and savvy. Helping people see things a bit differently or helping them to communicate more effectively often works. Being relaxed and less stressed can also do wonders. Changing expectations and learning to be more assertive without being too aggressive is useful too. Here is an article in the Sun Sentinel that I helped with right after the tragedy of 911 that was focused on the value of relationships with others.

(7) PERFECTIONISM: Think about who might be the first person to seek out a sports psychologist for mental coaching. It is of course the perfectionist, seeking another avenue for success in their relentless pursuit of the ideal. The problem is that true perfectionism is actually like a mental disorder. The perfectionist is never really satisfied, and despite extraordinary attempts to be the best at all costs, the person usually sabotages performance rather than enhancing it. I like to get my clients to see the pitfalls of perfectionism and encourage them to strive for excellence which is a far healthier recipe for advancement. This takes a little time and savvy, but it works well. Here is a column article I wrote entitled “Eliminate Perfectionism for Success”

(8) DEPRESSION: This problem, like many other clinical problems, illustrates why it is so helpful if your sports psychologist is also a trained and licensed psychologist. In a lifetime, a huge percentage of people (over 25%) will be depressed in their lifetime, whether they are the cleanup hitter for the New York Yankees, a world champion boxer, or your next door neighbor. Athletes and top executives are people like all of us, so they get depressed and need help too. The problem is that mental disorders like depression are stigmatized, labeling a person weak or telling him or her to just suck it up. As Jon Wertheim so aptly pointed out in his article “Prisoners of Depression” in Sports Illustrated over a decade ago, those with serious clinical depression are more impaired than a person with a broken leg. A broken leg will heal nicely and teammates will cheer on the recovery, but a person with depression is still often seen as a team outcast or virus and their performance usually suffers just as if their leg were broken. Many cases go untreated due to shame. I’m hoping for a day when mental problems are taken just a seriously, or more so, than physical ailments. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young people. To treat depression, I use an eclectic approach, often finding cognitive behavioral psychotherapy to be effective as the client learns to change irrational or illogical thoughts and perceive their world differently. While I am not equipped to prescribe medication, and believe that less intrusive approaches such as talk therapy should be attempted first, I also keep a keen eye to the severity of depression and suicidal ideation. More severe cases might justify my referring the client to a medical doctoral for a medication evaluation to go along with the psychotherapy we are doing. Here is that article ‘Prisoners of Depression” that Jon Wertheim wrote.

(9) LOW MOTIVATION/WANTING TO QUIT: Parents bring me their junior athletes for any number of reasons, usually just to help them perform better, but this can also be a reason for referral. An athlete or high performer who has done very well for a number of years might suddenly lose the fire and want to quit. This can puzzle those around the person. The reasons can vary from A to Z, but hiring a trained professional to help sort out the issues and provide treatment can often be the difference between that child going on to compete at the college and professional level or quitting at age 14. This problem also presents amongst older athletes or those considering retirement, or just normal people in jobs they’ve lost passion for. As a clinician, it is important that I determine if there is a serious clinical disorder, or if this is a temporary phase including mostly staleness, burnout, or stress. Quitting might be in the best interests of the client. While I never make this decision for the client, I can help sort it all out, and rule out many factors that might have been overlooked. Intrinsic motivation is so important in all that we do and passion and joy is important for any success. Often time off from physical training and competition combined with psychotherapy or mental coaching helps. This is a tough one to treat but that does not mean that it does not need to be addressed. On the contrary, the person’s entire sport or career could be at stake. Self-esteem and huge money could be on the line. Here is an article by Janie McCauley in the Associated Press that I helped with recently about athletes retiring in the prime of their careers.

(10) TRAUMA/SUBSTANCE ABUSE/EATING DISORDERS: I’ve put these three clinical problems together as one just for the purposes of this article because they often go together, but technically they are quite different. Past horrible events and circumstances can often play themselves out later in life and the diagnosis of PTSD is one of the most common amongst those who have been in war or have been sexually or physically abused. Did you even wonder why so many NFL and NBA players who have the world at their fingertips and multi-million dollar contracts suddenly throw it all away as a result of domestic violence, drug use, or other criminal behavior. While some people are just wired wrong and need to be incarcerated to protect society, I would venture to say that this is rare and that the vast majority of these serious problems have their roots in serious problems that have huge historical origins, often of a traumatic nature. The media and public is often quick to condemn people who act out but slow to truly examine why they do it. Society has a long way to go. Again, these types of problems are rarely going to be well treated by a mental coach guru without proper training and credentials as a psychologist too. The truth is that many people, often evident in pro sports but even more prevalent in the general population, struggle with things that happened many years ago. It can sabotage self-esteem and lead to so many inappropriate ways to compensate including murder. Serious psychotherapy is needed and it is needed as soon as possible. This is just one why all 4 major sports should have a licensed clinical and sports psychologist present in the team headquarters throughout the year. This person should be equipped to deal with these more serious problems just as well as being able to provide mental coaching and lectures to the teams and players needing just a mild to modest performance boost for their upcoming game. Here is an article in AFP (Paris) about the effects of trauma for a skier.

I truly hope you have enjoyed this brief exploration into the world of sports psychology!

The Mental Side of the NFL Playoffs and a Little Guarantee

By John F. Murray, PhD

First, What is Happening in the NFL Playoffs!

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

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

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

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

My Guarantee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culture Change Speeches and Consultation for Corporations and Sports Teams

Sports Psychology Special Feature – Culture Change Speeches and Consultation for Corporations & Sports Teams – Mental Performance Inc – October 8,2015 – Invite Dr. John F. Murray to speak at your next company or team meeting. He will inspire your group and demonstrate the factors he has used for years to help top athletes and teams to develop mental skills to the highest level possible for excellence and success.

Dr. Murray’s expertise over the past 18 years since getting the PhD has been to help teams in sports and business change culture to become more competitive and successful. Clients include the world’s largest global real estate firm, countless businesses and CEOs, the prestigious Saddlebrook Golf Academy where he now consults twice monthly, the Evert Tennis Academy, Olympic athletes, high school and college athletes, and pro athletes and teams in all sports including the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA.

While speeches, seminars and dinner discussions are very helpful and inspiring, Dr. Murray also believes that the best successes come from working with one individual at a time, and in small or large groups as necessary, but the one-on-one mental coaching and clinical psychology intervention has produced best results.

Dr. Murray conducts individual mental skills evaluations and one-on-one consultation to develop leadership skills and help people become the absolute best mentally that is possible. The best way to gain the most competitive and mentally strong leaders, whether in sports or business, is to do this work consistently with a top professional over a long period of time. Dr. Murray has a history of under-promising, but greatly over-delivering, and his career speaks for itself.

Thank you for your considering this culture change proposal for your team or organization. Dr. Murray will be happy to discuss rates and scheduling for speeches or consultation with you further. Call 561-596-9898.

I hope you have enjoyed this special offer from the world of sports psychology.

The Importance of Confidence in Sports, Business, and Life

Sport Psychologist, Dr. John F. Murray on Confidence.
PALM BEACH, Fla., Dec. 8 PRNewswire — When sport performance psychologist John F. Murray decided to auction the idea of “Confidence” on eBay he had no idea how much interest this auction would draw. Top athletes and film stars use mental coaches, but he didn’t know whether the general public would pay for what might be called nothing more than an idea.

Bidding opened at $10 and after fifteen bids this idea sold for $250, representing perhaps the first time an “idea” has been sold in an auction. The winner is a recreational tennis player in New York. She will receive one hour of mental coaching by Dr. Murray.

“I had a hunch this would draw some attention since so many are beginning to recognize the value of confidence and mental training. The auction testified to broad-based interest,” said Dr. Murray, who has coached some of the top athletes in the world. “The public response justified my hunch.”

The auction was started to demonstrate public and professional interest in training the brain. “We’ve gone almost as far as we can go physically, but mental training is a territory with unlimited potential for improvement in business, sports, or life,” said Murray, who has spoken on this topic on numerous talk shows.

Many pro athletes, teams, businesses, and organizations receive the benefits of mental coaching, but most people are still often surprised to know that these services even exist as there are few legitimate performance psychologists or other professionals to provide these services.

Confidence is described as an umbrella term reflecting all the thoughts, feelings, actions and sensations reflecting self-belief and expectations of success. Top tennis professional Vincent Spadea spoke on national television about the benefits of mental coaching to reverse the longest losing streak in tennis history and return to top 20 in the world.

For more information about “mental training” and Dr. Murray go to https://www.JohnFMurray.com.

Contact:
John F. Murray, PhD
TEL: 561-596-9898
FAX: 561-805-8662

Dr. John. F. Murray is a Sport and Clinical Psychologist in Palm Beach, FL and helps athletes, and business people build their confidence.

Football Sports Psychology Tips From 1972 Dolphins QB Earl Morrall

Sarasota, Florida – April 25, 2013 – By Dr. John F. Murray – A new football season is approaching and every year this brings back great memories for me. I was fortunate enough to meet a great NFL player whom I had watched play when I was a young boy. His name is Earl Morrall; and given his place in history and the overtone of this article, I suspect that he will need some kind of an introduction for the readers here.

It has now been just over 40 years since the Miami Dolphins completed their legendary “perfect season”. They remain as the only NFL team to win the Super Bowl and finish the season with an undefeated record to this day. You will find very few people in the football sports psychology world that don’t view the Dolphins’ 1972 team as “iconic”. I find it startling that the ’72 team can live on in the history books with such notoriety, but yet the name Earl Morrall remains forgotten by almost everyone except for those who were there to see him play.

I was lucky enough to have been in the stadium that year and I was able to watch Don Shula coach his men to greatness. Some of my greatest memories from that season include Don Shula pacing the sidelines and QB Bob Griese throwing the ball down the field with seemingly un-measurable velocity. Alongside of Don Shula and Bob Griese, I also remember Earl Morrall; the sometimes forgotten Quarterback who led Miami to win 71% of their games that year.

Earl began the 1972 season as a backup QB. During the 5th game of the season Bob Griese suffered a broken ankle and Earl was put into the game as the new QB. Earl proceeded to lead his team through the season with an undefeated record. When the championship game arrived, Bob Griese was put back into the game and he won the Super Bowl just as if he had never missed a play.

Since Earl Morrall began 1972 as a backup and finished 1972 as a backup, his name does not receive the same type of notoriety that a winning quarterback from a championship team would usually receive. Earl Morrall played a crucial role in the Dolphins’ success during the ’72 season and his name certainly deserves a fair amount of recognition.

In 2009 I was lucky enough to meet Earl Morrall outside of a local Hyatt hotel.

A small part of me is now glad that I didn’t meet Earl when I was younger. I likely would have asked him the type of questions that you would expect from an 11 year old boy. It would have been entertaining for me of course, but I probably wouldn’t have picked his brain very much from a sports psychology perspective.

Here are some football sports psychology tips that I was able to siphon from my childhood hero on this occasion.

(1) Communicate well with everyone around you and make sure you are all on the same page.

(2) The difference between good and great is often just to do a little bit more.

(3) Sacrifice and keep your focus on the team rather than yourself.

(4) Work hard.

(5) Do the right thing.

I hope that Miami Dolphins fans will do their best to remember Earl Morrall. He led the team to some great victories and played a crucial role on the Dolphins’ team during the ’72 season. I hope that he will be remembered as a leader, a champion, a man that played a defining roll in the greatest NFL team ever, and a guy who – in his day, had one of the finest crew cuts that the professional sports world has ever seen.

Students Wishing to Become Sports Psychologists Should Read This

Do You Want to Become a Sports Psychologist?

Where does the field and the science of sports psychology stand today in 2013?  In a nutshell, it is still an emerging science and profession that is often cloaked in mystery and ignorance. Part of the problem is that there are so few people who have actually become fully licensed and legitimate psychologists who specialize in sport. Another aspect is that to become a licensed psychologist and sports psychologist who can see clients independently and provide both mental training for sports and more general psychotherapy too, you have to obtain training and experience in two vastly different disciplines: psychology and the sports sciences. Understanding the field and profession of sports psychology can be difficult at best!

Ponder the implications for a second. Psychologists are social scientists who usually come from an orientation of helping others through careful listening, understanding, reflecting and providing a needed therapeutic intervention for mental distress. Of course there are exceptions but I believe I speak for many. Now contrast that with the role of a competitive sports psychologist like myself, coming from a sports and coaching background, whose mission is more likely to help my clients win the Super Bowl, become the heavyweight champion of the world, or find the strike zone better in baseball. Whereas one profession is associated with “therapeutic” and gentle caring, the other is directed toward helping athletes sharpen their fighting skills to destroy their opponent! Imagine the sea of potential differences!

In some ways this contrast in styles is true and in some ways not, as even top prize fighters need therapy at times and even depressed middle aged managers need to perform better in their weekend bowling leagues! Of course, extreme contrasts are more salient in memory than fine nuances or technical differences. The fact is that to help an athlete or team in a profession that is known as sports psychology, you really would be well suited if you could offer a broad range of skills acquired through a total and complete exposure to both sports and the various sports sciences, as well as all that professional psychology has to offer. It is the merger of these two often contradictory and different disciplines – the various sports sciences and psychology – that produces state of the art applied sports psychology today. Mental toughness is rooted in a lot of training and experience!

Training for this profession is never easy or rapid, and only the most persistent and completely focused graduate students and beginning professionals will even stand a chance of gaining specialization in two totally separate academic disciplines that appear so different.  Patience and practical experience in these two areas is needed. Try to find a supervisor to help you gain the hours needed for a state license and it is not easy at all as there are so few psychologist/sports psychologists. Those not licensed by definition cannot supervise. It is a classic catch 22!

While psychology programs for years have been organized to provide academic and professional training opportunities (after WWII injured soldiers’ needs led to the creation of vast internship opportunities at VA Hospitals), similar programs in sports science departments have not been nearly so well organized and usually do not exist. As a result, a student going through a sports science program is not likely to obtain the hands on training gained by his psychology student counterpart even if he or she is exposed to marvelous research and literature, ideas and dogma. In a similar way, the psychology student does not receive sports science training because the courses do not usually exist in those areas in a psychology department. The key for the student is independent thinking and resourcefulness, and mental toughness too.

As a general rule in life, we become who we are surrounded by. The sober truth is that if you go to a sports science program you will become just that – a sports scientist – because your mentors will be those people.   The same holds true in reverse with those being trained by psychologists. This all further highlights the fact that to gain this training and experience students need to be extremely open-minded, creative, and flexible. In my own pursuits as a graduate student, I started in a sports science program, got a masters degree, and was fortunate to jump ships and gain admittance to a totally different world – a clinical psychology doctoral program. It was like going from a football stadium during homecoming to a university library on Spring Break. The world of contrasts jumped out at you. Students in sports sciences tended to be fitter, more jock-like, and less rigorous academically. This is not to say that the jocks were lacking intelligence or that the egg-heads lacked in physical coordination, but there was a clear distinction between blue and white collars, GPA, GRE scores, educational background, sports experience and more.

The same contrasts held true for practical training opportunities in each program. The psychology part was easy to gain since the system is set up for that. The hardest part for me was to find an internship (the last year of any PhD program in professional psychology) that was both APA accredited as a psychology internship but also with a full year training program in sports psychology. You might be shocked to hear this, but it was the only accredited psychology internship in the country with this dual designation! I had been granted a truly rare internship and this was going to help me become the sports psychologist I had always wanted to become.

The following year this pattern continued with a similar set-up of working with athletes on my post-doctoral fellowship at FIU in Miami where I was hired in the counseling center, but did a lot of outreach to the athletic department and the various teams and coaches. I was able to work with athletes and teams on many issues including performance enhancement with a tennis team that had their best season in history (the same happened the previous year on internship with the tennis team) as well as working with general students through the counseling center.

While you may not have the opportunity or time to gain training in separate graduate school programs like I did, you don’t need to lose hope or give up. You might consider looking into some programs that did not exist when I was in school. You can also gain this experience in the community once you finish your formal studies, and one way is to pay a current practicing sports psychologist for extra supervision until you are qualified (usually 2000 hours after the doctorate of supervised work).

The main message here is that the bare minimum to be able to practice this profession independently, ethically and legally, compels you to obtain training, supervision, and academics in two arenas that may seem worlds apart. You definitely need a state license to practice. There is no getting around that if you want to practice independently.

If you think getting entry into this field is hard, you are right. But don’t lose hope. It is possible to do what you love. I do it. With persistence anything is possible and what is nice about the challenges in getting properly educated and credentialed is that it nicely mirrors what we are asking our athletes and teams to do on a regular basis! Just as they need to achieve and become one of the top 1% of 1% of 1%, those who make it into this profession are often the hardest workers who just refuse to quit or give in, even to monetary pressures!

I am hopeful that more get into this profession so that more know about sports psychology. I often feel like I am fighting an uphill but winning battle in letting others know about it and that is why I am so grateful to the media for helping me spread the good word.

Whether you are a sailor, salesman, stock broker or sports psychology student, never give up on your dreams. Work hard and you will find that your luck increases! Did I really say that? I am supposed to be a scientist! I am just kidding. Let’s get real. And let’s tune into sports psychology! If the most basic need in life is survival, and sports psychology teaches and trains people to survive and even thrive better, then by definition a huge key to life is sports psychology and what it offers!

There are great benefits for athletes, coaches, managers and owners for fully integrating this sports psychology science and profession into their training and programs. If you want to get into the profession, you have to battle and hang in there and battle again, and never lose hope. You really get to use the skills you teach others! With effort you can make it in this exciting science and profession of success. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of sports psychology and I would be happy to help you on your career course by answering any questions.

Evert Tennis Academy Partners with Dr. John F Murray!

Press Release from Evert Tennis Academy – Evert Tennis Academy Partners with Dr. John F Murray! – December 29th, 2012 – Boca Raton, FL – Evert Tennis Academy has joined forces with Dr. John F. Murray, world renowned sport psychologist from Palm Beach, Florida, to enhance the Mental Toughness component of their high performance program.

Dr. Murray has worked with a wide variety of Olympic, professional, amateur, junior athletes, as well as business executives and corporate groups, to enhance personal performance and well-being.  Dr. Murray earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Loyola University New Orleans, after which he coached tennis worldwide throughout much of the 1980s with USPTA and PTR certification.  He returned to graduate school in the United States in 1991 and obtained two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida, specializing in both clinical and sport psychology.

Murray has published several books, including The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History and Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game, in addition he has written hundreds of articles and contributed to thousands of stories in the popular media including Tennis Magazine, Tennis Week, and Florida Tennis. His work has been featured in ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated.

“Chrissie and I are both very excited about the partnership and believe it will benefit the development of ETA students as well as enhance our full-time program,” said John Evert.

For more information about Dr. John F. Murray, please visit his website at https://www.JohnFMurray.com

 

 

 

Mind Games: Miami Must Get Better on Defense

Sports psychology in Canesport Magazine – October 4, 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.

While many Miami faithful squirmed and complained early during the recent victory over Bethune-Cookman, and rightly so, all’s well that ends well in this convincing 45-14 victory.

It was a win more than needed for this team and community and new head coach. The devastating loss to Kansas State by inches after having a first and goal on the two stung for a long time, but the win over “boys who wanted to play for Miami but got snubbed” sort of righted the ship. “Sort of” implies that we are far from out of the woods with the daunting task of V-Tech in Blacksburg looking like a very rough assignment.

But isn’t this what we live for in sports? Challenge is what it is all about. So bring on the mighty Virginia Tech program. Bring them all on. This is the “U,” and while this U might not be as successful as the great teams of the past, there is no shortcut to greatness. We might as well shut up, face as many great teams as possible, and get used to it.

But before we jump into the line of fire too quickly, remember that all great athletic (like military) accomplishments must be led by intelligence and wisdom. By understanding our recent clashes, we are in a better position to battle hard in the upcoming skirmish. And the MPI combined with traditional statistics and percentiles gives us an edge over all those other fans, coaches, players and teams who do not use the MPI. It helps us to see more precisely what really happened so we can prepare for V-Tech by knowing how our team is doing in a precise way that also includes mental performance.

While Bethune Cookman was having its way with Miami early in this game, several angry fans posted all sorts of crazy messages on the message board at Canesport.com. I enjoy rating these games in my favorite sports bar with wi-fi, so I got in on the action and encouraged fans to relax and look at the MPI stats. Once Miami scored, I predicted a 42-14 blow-out win, and I was not far off from the 45-14 final score.

The point is not to brag, but to demonstrate again that the numbers I get show what is likely to happen in a game. In all of Super Bowl history, for example, teams that perform better on the MPI-T (total performance) win about 90 percent of the time (see this all in my new book “The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History“).

Performance does not lie. It is not always aligned with winning, but it seems to be about 9 out of 10 times. Performance (including mental performance) is the best we have at rating a team and I had noticed that despite Bethune’s success the trend was changing quickly in Miami’s favor. As Bethune started playing worse, Miami performed better and I sensed a blow-out win even with the score tied at seven. This was less hunch, and simply performance related statistics!

Keep in mind that Bethune-Cookman has a lot of talented players. While they are no match for a team like Virginia Tech, they were hardly a teenage girl’s touch football program either. They were damn good, and many were transfers from big division one schools! Miami should be proud of the win and the way they won, and that is what we are going to now analyze

The first thing that jumps out at me is that Miami’s special teams, which started slowly, ended up dominating this game in a manner that is seen in fewer than 1 in 1000 games! Miami (MPI-ST=.661) has been playing great on special teams all year, and combined with Bethune’s horrific showing (MPI-ST=.266), this unit dominance of almost 40% represents the 99.9th percentile for the Hurricanes. It is almost unheard of in football. The significance of this, however, is probably not appreciated by the vast majority. But you are Canes fans!

The second most influential factor was the number of penalties committed by Bethune (12) along with two turnovers and -1 takeaway minus giveaway statistic. This is a very sloppy performance and this team was not going to get away with it against a more talented team like Miami. Their penalty total alone places them at the 99.6th percentile in number of penalties (higher percentile being bad in this case).

As you can tell from the first two most important factors, Bethune shot themselves in the foot more than Miami cleaned them up. In fact, time of possession was a huge advantage for Bethune (at the 96th percentile) but it did not matter because they made so many mistakes and could not cash in with their skill players the way Miami did.

The third decisive factor was Miami’s offensive unit (MPI-O=.585) which achieved in this game at the 88th percentile combined with Bethune’s overall lousy play on offense, defense and special teams (MPI-T = .437), at the 8th percentile only for total performance.

Neither defensive unit performed well (Miami’s MPI-D = .493, Bethune’s MPI-D = .411) but Bethune was much worse, and made worse too by Miami’s skilled passing attack and Lamar Miller’s exceptional running (over 100 yards again).

In summary, Miami won this game on special teams, on mistakes by Bethune Cookman, and on offensive firepower. And this scares me a little as the Hurricanes prepare to face Virginia Tech.

Had Bethune-Cookman played only average on special teams and reduced their penalties greatly, the game could have been much closer. Thank goodness that Jacory Harris and his receivers are beginning to sync up, but there is an obvious talent difference between Miami’s explosive passing attack and Bethune’s woeful secondary.

To Miami’s credit, it reduced penalties to six, only committed one turnover, and had a plus 1 takeaway-giveaway statistic. The more talented team prevailed because it made many fewer mistakes, killed the opponent on special teams, and got the offense rolling against an inferior opponent. I am concerned about the defense entering Blacksburg.

Let’s take a comparison look at a Miami’s MPI scores on offense and defense in its first 4 games. The defense is performing 6.8% worse than the offense.

In game one, the Miami offense scored .479 compared to .424 for the defense.

In game two, it was .551 compared to .518.

In game three against Kansas State, it was .533 on offense and .439 on defense.

Against Bethune-Cookman, it was .585 for the offense compared to .493 for the defense.

The averages come out to .537 for the offense and .469 for the defense.

These numbers really bring to life the truth so far about the 2011 version of the Miami Hurricanes football program. The have an above average offensive performance overall and a below average defensive performance overall and the offense is performing 6.8% better than the defense.

What does this say about this Saturday?

Virginia Tech is ranked 34th in rushing in the country, 15 spots better than Miami’s 49th-ranked rushing attack. Virginia Tech is much better in points against, ranked eighth overall compared with Miam’s No 28 ranking. The offenses are similar in terms of passing the ball and points for. Given the MPI defensive weakness in Miami combined with the Virginia Tech rushing attack, Miami is going to be in for a long long day if it does not get some things fixed on defense in a hurry.

I know that Clemson had its way last Saturday in Blacksburg, but this should do very little to make Canes fans feel comfortable. This will only strengthen the resolve of the home opponent. If I were advising Coach Golden, I would do everything and anything possible this week to improve the defense, especially against the run, keep encouraging the offense to find the big play, and encourage the special teams unit to keep winning games for this team.

Blacksburg will be an epic battle and I am excited to watch it. It is a chance for Miami to grow-up a little bit more and totally erase the bad feelings from the KSU and Maryland losses, and look forward to a much brighter future soon or a wake-up call of continued suffering.

FOCUS ON BETTER DEFENSE is my final message to the team this week.

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 johnfmurray@mindspring.com.