ASK THE EXPERT: He doesn’t shrink from getting in jock’s heads
Detroit Free Press Feature on Sports Psychology
Are sports really mind over matter? The Free Press asked (via email) sports performance psychologist Dr. John F Murray, who’s based in Palm Beach, Florida and has worked with more than 120 professional athletes:
QUESTION: What do you offer athletes?
ANSWER: Improved mental skills, reduced distractions and positive habit formation. This is usually accomplished in two ways:
- Specific mental coaching or performance enhancement counseling to help the athlete or team develop in mental skills areas such as confidence, focus, pain management, goals, imagery, resilience, discipline, anxiety reduction, relaxation, or any variety of other areas as revealed in the assessment.
- More general counseling to navigate the many challenges presented by life and the high-performance nature of their activity. Resolving off-court or off-field issues (e.g., difficulty in relationships, low self-esteem, past burdens) can be just as necessary as teaching an athlete to concentrate better in competition. For teams I offer assessments, lectures and workshops for coaches and for players.
QUESTION: Former Lion’s quartertback Joey Harrington told the Free Press that he went to a sports psychologist on “how to stay sane in an insane world.” What type of advice would you give him?
ANSWER: I would start by listening to him rather than giving him advice. He could probably give me advice with what he has been through! … A thorough assessment would reveal the needs as described in the report, and then we would have fun rolling up our sleeves together and addressing the needs.
QUESTION: Regarding managing, what’s the difference between players’ coaches such as Steve Mariucci and Flip Saunders versus stricter coaches such as Rod Marinelli and Larry Brown? (or use Nick Saban as an example). Is one more successful than the other?
ANSWER: Both types of coaches win and will continue to win in the future. I’m not sure style is really as important as key principles such as leadership, intelligence, consistency, ability to teach and motivate, honesty and attending to details.
QUESTION: The Pistons were a good shooting team in the regular season but faltered in the playoffs. How much of it could be mental?
ANSWER: It is all mental and it is all physical too. In fact, I prefer to say that it is mind-body skills as the thoughts influence the physical performance as much as successful execution feeds into confidence.
QUESTION: Any tips for fans bummed out about their team’s losing?
ANSWER: After your team loses, identify with the aggressor by going out and buying a Heat hat or jersey. (Just kidding Detroit!).