Football mind games tell another story
Story by Chris Graham
Listen to today’s “SportsDominion Show,” featuring an interview with sports psychologist John F. Murray.
New England is a prohibitive favorite to win Super Bowl XLII, but there seems to be a movement afoot – led by Sports Illustrated football guru Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman and others – to get people to think that an upset along the lines of the New York Jets in Super Bowl III could be in the offing with another team from Gotham leading the way.
Sports psychologist John F. Murray isn’t concerned with that part of the walkup to the Big Game. He’s focused with the mental pictures of the two teams in the game – and as far as that aspect of football goes, Murray feels that it will be no contest.
“The differential overall favoring the Patriots, plus the pressure being an amazing difference, leads me to conclude, makes my fun pick, Patriots by at least two touchdowns,” Murray said in an interview for today’s “SportsDominion Show.”
Murray has developed a Mental Performance Index that assigns points on each play throughout the playoffs for “focused execution,” “pressure management,” and “reduction of mental errors.” Team scores are related like batting averages in baseball, ranging from .000 to 1.000. New England (.550) scored better than the New York Giants (.532) on the total MPI score throughout the playoffs – with a .621 to .537 advantage on offense, but with the Giants scoring better on defense (.523 to .468) and special teams (.605 to .598).
Closer inspection of pressure situations – third-down plays, drives that enter the red zone – gives the Patriots the MPI advantage in pressure offense (.590 to .467), pressure defense (.602 to .479) and total pressure (.589 to .463).
“In my system, that’s a significant difference. The scores typically will range from 45 percent to 55 percent of perfection, maybe even 40 percent to 60 percent in a higher range. That’s a significant overall difference,” Murray said.
Murray has correctly picked four of the last five Super Bowl winners using his MPI system. He developed it, he said, because he “wanted to create something that incorporated mental skills into scoring.”
“I also wanted to encourage people to focus on performance, not outcome, because I recognize that that’s oftentimes the key thing that I’m trying to do with an athlete, whether it’s a quarterback in the NFL or in high school, or whether it’s a tennis player or a golfer. The truth is that we typically get anxious about outcome – we worry too much. You’ve got to get back to the moment – and the moment in football happens to be the play,” Murray said.
“What the MPI does very precisely is it measures on every single play of a football game how well the team performed, including for mental factors like pressure, careless errors and those types of things that are important to performing well, not worrying necessarily about winning or losing,” Murray said.
“This is what people don’t look at when they look at individual statistics – passing completions or yards gained or turnovers, which are all important statistics. But I believe I’ve discovered more or less the DNA of football performance. The essence of football performance is really, how do you execute throughout the game, and including in that, how do you execute in pressure situations?” Murray said.
And the Super Bowl is the most pressurized of all pressure situations.
“It’s a totally new season when you’re talking about the Super Bowl – the pressure, the tension of the week. And if there’s ever a team that’s able to cope with the pressure, it’s going to be the Patriots,” Murray said. “The Giants have been remarkable, but it’s hard to see anything different happening. The one thing that could happen is if the Giants perform remarkably under pressure, if they change the way they’ve been doing it, or the Patriots have trouble, if Tom Brady gets injured, something like that, or they don’t perform well under pressure, that could create – let’s say the Patriots get down by a couple of touchdowns, and they start to feel like they have to finish the deal, that they’re going to lose this status as the undefeated team. That’s one scenario that could go in the Giants’ favor. But otherwise it looks like the Patriots.”
Get more about Murray’s MPI at www.johnfmurray.com.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.