• Do the Twins Need to Hire a Sports Psychologist?

    Originally posted at Twins Fan From Afar

    Much has been made over the past year or so of the physical injuries suffered by the Twins, especially injuries to Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span and, to a lesser extent Francisco Liriano. All of these players had a tough time staying in the lineup last season, and we are hoping for better health this year. But that might only be half the battle.

    In yesterday's Spring Training game, for example, Liriano was perfect for two innings (striking out three), then imploded in the third inning, giving up four runs very quickly. "I started rushing like I always do," Liriano was quoted as saying. He also stated, "I can't get mad at myself like that."

    Then there's Mauer, who hit 28 home runs in a shortened 2009 season, and who has hardly hit any since then. It's abundantly clear that the not-so-friendly confines of Target Field have gotten in his head. I can scarcely remember Mauer pulling a ball in Target Field that even looked close to becoming a home run; rather, it seems that has become a singles and doubles hitter, with the occasional home run (on the road, no less). Would this change have occurred even if the Twins had stayed in the Metrodome, or was this brought on by Target Field? Or was it some combination in between?

    Finally, Span and Morneau are both recovering from concussions. The pair has been playing hard all spring, and despite the fact that Span sat out the last couple games with neck pain, there has been no indication that either is suffering from post-concussion symptoms -- right now. But you have to wonder what's going on inside their heads. We all know, because Morneau told us, that he is essentially one injury away from retiring. Span, though younger and with less of a history of concussions, has had a tough road to recovery, as well. Certainly, these players -- arguably the core of the Twins -- are thinking about more than balls, strikes, and what restaurant they're going to after the game.

    As far as I can tell, the Twins do not employ a full-time sports psychologist. A computer search reveals a few websites for professional sports psychologists that have consulted with the Twins. The Twins website listing their front office personnel notes four physicians: two orthopedic surgeons, and two preventative/occupational medicine specialists. There are also two trainers and one strength and conditioning coordinator. It appears that the physicians all have their own individual practices, which is no surprise, but as far as I know, the trainers and strength coordinator are full-time Twins employees. In other words, there are seven professionals on the Twins' payroll that deal exclusively with the body, but not one that is trained in dealing with the mind.

    Might it be a good idea to staff a full-time sports psychologist for this team? I can't see the harm. We have a would-be ace pitcher who is consistently inconsistent and gets too amped up, even for Spring Training games; a former MVP whose power has taken a nosedive after his team moved stadiums; and two very good players that are enduring a difficult physical and mental period. Granted, these players are all multi-millionaires, represented by premiere sports agencies, and have, at their disposal, access to first rate medical care across the globe.

    But just maybe, when the team is on the road, say in Kansas City, and it's two in the morning, and Morneau can't sleep because something is plaguing him, might it not be useful for the Twins to have a trained and experienced professional sports psychologist just down the hall at the team hotel? Or, think about Liriano, pitching in an important nationally televised game against the Tigers in August, with the Twins just two games back in the division. It's a situation where, if history is any indication, Liriano might be too amped up to be successful. Having someone on staff -- someone that can talk about something other that sliders, shoulders and arm angles -- seems potentially valuable to me.

    For all the money the Twins have spent on player payroll, and even on insurance for certain player contracts, it might be beneficial to bring a psychologist into the fold.

    What do you think? As always, I'm happy to hear your thoughts.
    This article was originally published in blog: Do the Twins Need to Hire a Sports Psychologist? started by Twins Fan From Afar
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Andrew Bryz-Gornia's Avatar
      Andrew Bryz-Gornia -
      I think this is a good idea. I was going to point out that the Twins have sometimes had their players consult with psychologists, but you pointed that out yourself.

      I wonder how the Twins actually feel about this. They seem to discourage players from thinking too much (such as Kevin Slowey), but would they see a psychologist as making players think less in the field or think more? That could be an interesting debate.
    1. YLT's Avatar
      YLT -
      Baseball, as much or more than other sports, has a large mental/psychological/emotional component that I think is largely left up to the individual player to handle. Each an experiment of one. It seems fairly logical that you'd want one of those six trainers to be a pro on the mental front. Think about how many professional golfers use visualization techniques to hone their focus and deal with situations mentally before they meet them head-on during play. I know for a fact that many elite/olympic level marathoners also visualize their race, how the perfect race would go and what happens if the rails come off at some point leading up to the big day. I could see how these techniques might help out Liriano and his rushing. On the Span/Morneau front - no one would blame Morneau if he's been in the dumps throughout his dealings with the post-concussion stuff. If he does have negative thoughts, they should be dealt with if he's to play his best. A sports psychologist may be of assistance there too.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Deja vous all over again, since I already commented on this on Andrew's blog, but since there is on going discussion here to, here is my (re)take:

      I think there is somewhat of a common theme here... let's think of the players who were characterized as "head cases" the last 3 seasons:


      What do they have in common? Pretty obvious. I think that the Twins better hire a Latino coach or 2 before they hire a Psychologist. They can afford that if they can afford
      Nishioka's translator...
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Thanks for the comments, guys.
      As you mentioned, YLT, I could see a psychologist being especially beneficial for pitchers -- their "game" is so cerebral to begin with.
      But Andrew, I think you're correct to suggest that the Twins old guard might not be overly thrilled about it.
    1. steve's Avatar
      steve -
      "The mind is a strange thing, men. We must begin by asking it what is losing. Losing is a disease, as contagious as polio. Losing is a disease as contagious as syphilis. Losing is a disease as contagious as bubonic plague. Attacking one, but infecting all. But curable."
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