Q: I've been having some off-the-field problems (i.e., relationship just ended) and I've noticed a decline in my rec. league softball play. Do you think the two are related? Also, do you think that Frank Thomas will return to form this year? - Justin (age 27) of Peoria, IL
A:Justin, although I want to avoid turning this column into a sport psychology version of "Dear Abby," I think that your question is an important one to consider. Anecdotally, probably about 75% of the individual cases I have seen for the purpose of performance enhancement have ultimately dealt with off-the-field relationship issues (e.g., parent/child, girlfriend/boyfriend, spouse).
Fortunately, I am involved in a clinical psychology program, which provides me with the training and supervision to deal with such issues. Many sport psychology professionals do not have appropriate clinical or counseling training, and are ethically bound to refer those types of issues to other professionals. To make a long answer short…yes, relationship issues can greatly affect on-the-field performance. Further, I think that the absence of those off-the-field stressors (past few years have been particularly rough on Frank – divorce, failed business ventures, etc.) will allow Frank Thomas to have another "Big Hurt"-like season.
Q: What do you think are the implications of the Sox staged attempt at boycotting the pre-season drug screening? - Julio (age 21) of Chicago, IL
A: Julio, I think that the gesture that the Sox made in the pre-season could have been a big deal, had it been given the press coverage that it deserved. Granted, the 16 Sox players (who shall remain nameless) backed down after consulting the Players' Union, but I think that the statement was made that the Sox have guts enough to level the playing field. Although many sports writers have questioned the talent level and clubhouse demeanor of the Sox, I do not think that anyone would have the right to question their integrity. Makes you wonder what Sammy Sosa would have done in the clubhouse if he had never been traded for George Bell. Overall, I think that the spring training gesture will get them quite far with most baseball fans who are aware of it, although it may not endear them to the Cansecos and Caminitis of the world.
Q: What can a baseball manager, or any coach in sports, do or say as a way to keep bench players ready and accepting of their roles? - Erica (age 27) of St. Louis, MO
A: That may be one of the most challenging tasks in baseball, Erica. Primarily, I think that managers are likely to try to choose bench players who show evidence of being able to be ready for every game. However, once those players are chosen, it behooves the manager to make sure that each player has a particular role even while on the bench. I might suggest to a manager that those who are not scheduled to play should be made responsible for knowing the tendencies of the opposing pitchers and hitters, and ask those players to "remind" him of those tendencies throughout the game to "help" him manage (although the managers wouldn't likely rely on those players).
Finally, I think that the best way that a manager can keep his players fresh is by giving them at least 1 or 2 starts per week like Jerry Manuel does. I do not believe that I have ever seen a Sox bench player look totally unprepared (with the possible exception of Jeff Leifer, on occasion) since Manuel has been managing.