Thursday, June 25, 2009

"...anxiety is much more likely to affect pitchers than position players "

A reader sends in an interesting article about athletes being treated by sports psychologists:

Mel Didier is as old-school baseball as they come.

The 83-year-old has been around the game for 58 years as a Minor League player, big league scout and executive and has seen and learned a lot.

It was Didier, for example, who told Kirk Gibson that Dennis Eckersley would throw a back-door slider with a full count and first base open and then watched one of the most famous home runs in World Series history leave Dodger Stadium.

In other words, not a lot surprises Didier, even though he has seen established Major Leaguers such as pitchers Zack Greinke and Steve Blass, catcher Mackey Sasser and infielders Chuck Knoblauch and Steve Sax suffer from diagnosed and undiagnosed psychological maladies that affected their play in strange and sometimes career-threatening ways.....

More and more, clubs are turning to sports psychologists to make these situations less difficult, and according to a prominent doctor in the Pacific Northwest, it's good to see anxiety disorders now being considered legitimately DL-worthy.

"It's a highly stressful situation with players these days," says Dr. Donald Smith, the director of the clinical psychology program at the University of Washington and a former roving Minor League psychology instructor for the Houston Astros (1985-96) and team counselor for the Seattle Mariners (1990).

"Anxiety is a mind and body phenomenon, and muscle tension interferes with the smooth, athletic movements we normally associate with Major League players. We tackle it by teaching stress management coping skills."

Smith says he has helped conduct studies that have shown that anxiety is much more likely to affect pitchers than position players and that even moderate muscle tension by a batter can "make an 85-mph fastball turn into 95 mph."

And for any team that has any doubts that psychological treatment can help players riddled with anxiety, Smith says clubs can go ahead and avoid it -- at their own risk.

"I met an old-school pitching coach who told me, 'I'm not here to coddle mental weaklings. It's a game of survival.'

You can read the rest of the story here.



Blogger Ern said...

it's good to see anxiety disorders now being considered legitimately DL-worthy

Unfortunately, it also opens up the door for major-league teams effectively to carry more than twenty-five players by putting a player on the DL, alleging an anxiety disorder, any time he isn't playing well. There have already been accusations of teams doing this, as reported in recent issues of Baseball America.

10:30 AM, June 25, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Probably the most recent case of anxiety causing a DL stint is that of Joey Votto, who plays 1B for the Cincinnati Reds. He just admitted this week that the reason he'd been DLed for the past month or so was from depression caused by the untimely passing of his father. It got a fair bit of airtime up here in Canada since he's a Canadian kid and the Reds were playing the Blue Jays at the time.

I think he got a pretty positive reception from the Toronto fans for his first at bat...though I wasn't paying attention too closely to the tv at the time.

10:34 AM, June 25, 2009  
Blogger tomcal said...

This doesn't seem surprising to me. The pitcher is in an active psycological war the entire time he is on the mound, an inherently stressful activity. The other guys wait around and make programed responses to events that happen too quickly to think about.

That's why I like golf, because I understand the intense psychological pressure on the players, and the painfully long time they have to consider it.

11:32 AM, June 25, 2009  
Blogger TMink said...

I share tomcal's view. Golf and pitching leave the participants exposed and very open to scrutiny. Lots of pressure in both activities, and lots of room for anxiety which would tighten up the muscles and mess up the motions.


12:56 PM, June 25, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are more people standing on the mound than just pitchers in baseball. And bad decisions are being made from those under duress.

It's getting shaky out here, and one doesn't need the Drudge report to see it.

12:58 PM, June 25, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want more athletic comparisons, how about last second freethrows in basketball, or gamewinning field goals in football? I still have a vivid memory of Mike Vanderjagt, who was at the time the most accurate kicker in NFL history, missing a playoff game-tying field goal in the dying seconds by something like 20 ft. He was never the same afterwards and actually spent last year in the CFL since no NFL team wanted him. Once his psychological foundation cracked, he never really recovered.

1:18 PM, June 25, 2009  
Blogger TMink said...

"Once his psychological foundation cracked, he never really recovered."

What a shame as anxiety disorders are some of the easiest and most effective to treat using psychology.


2:30 PM, June 25, 2009  
Blogger Jason said...

You should read Ron Darling's new book!

It's excellent... and very much about the psychology of pitching.

9:17 PM, June 25, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing happens until the pitcher throws the ball. No one knows that better than the pitcher.

6:33 PM, June 26, 2009  

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