You can do it!Dumbo isn’t the only guy to need help with a little performance anxiety. Slate has an interesting piece on whether or not sports psychology really works. The answer seems to be somewhere between “It depends” and “No one really knows.”

The fact that baseball shrinks can’t back up their work with numbers is at odds with the trend toward rational decision-making among baseball managers. Egghead GMs like Billy Beane and Theo Epstein have revolutionized the sport by using objective measures to build their teams. You might expect this new breed of executives to demand the same rigor from their psychologists.

But, say the shrinks, why not just ask the players if it works?

If John Smoltz says Llewellyn turned his career around, then Llewellyn turned his career around. Why shouldn’t we believe A-Rod when he says therapy helps him through his slumps?

This reminds me, of course, of the scene in Bull Durham when Crash lectures Annie about respecting the streak. “If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid or because you’re not getting laid or because you’re wearing women’s underwear, then you are.” But Slate writer Daniel Engber is having none of it.

In fact, we have every reason to doubt the testimony of professional athletes. Baseball players in particular are notorious for ascribing their success to inane rituals, astrological signs, and other hokum. Wade Boggs used to eat chicken before every game. If Boggs says that eating drumsticks helped him get hits, should we believe him, too?

The power of faith!Well, within baseball’s internal if-you-build-it, still-we-believe, calling-his-shot logic, I think the answer is yes. The idea behind Dumbo’s feather wasn’t that he didn’t need it to fly. He did need it—he needed to believe in himself in order to fly, and he needed the feather in order to to believe in himself. It seems pretty simple to me: a little therapy never hurt anyone, and if you think it’s helping your game, then it is. Maybe Engber is just thinking about this too hard:

Full-on experiments—with players assigned to different treatment groups—would yield the best data, but even that level of rigor isn’t necessary. Mental trainers could learn a lot just by keeping careful logs of all their cases, with statistical outcomes for each player.

Oy. I’ll give the last word to Crash: “Don’t think. It can only hurt the ballclub.”

No Responses to “90% of this game is half mental.”

  1. I recently interviewed a psychologist who travels with the A’s, Angels and Nats. Much of what these guys deal with is stress relief relating to marital issues, anxiety caused by media/fans/numbers and even drug related issues. They also work closely with coaches to influence which methods of coaching will work best with certain players and problems.

    While coaching a hitter through a slump may be one aspect of the jobs that these guys perform, it seems to be a much larger duty.

    the “Manny being Manny” approach would certainly never work in the regular workforce, but I think it definitely aids him in being a genious of a hitter. By coaching these guys away from stress, they can get closer to that zen-like thoughtlessness that the best hitters seem to practice.

    Just my two cents.

  2. Boom Boom says:

    I saw the piece Jeb is referring to. Very interesting. I must say the editor of that piece did an amazing job! He really captured the passion that the doctor presented.

    The good doctor made a great point, one must always remember that no matter how big the pay checks of these athletes may be, they are still human beings, put their pants on one leg at a time, etc. They have the same problems and pressures as the rest of the world. Some may be a little crazy (Boggsie), but whatever it took to get his 200 hits every year is fine with me!

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