A growing, though rarely discussed, trend in professional baseball is the use of psychotherapy to address the mental health elements of the game. Recently, the Minneapolis Star Tribune spoke with minor league players whose team is integrating mental health exercises into their regular practice routine. Experts say that with any competitive sport, the psychological stresses on athletes are many. Expectations from fans, teammates and coaches join with media scrutiny to create high pressure to perform. And during a game, there are often thousands of people watching and anticipating a player’s every move. Plus, the physical rigors of high level performance can be psychologically taxing and mentally distracting during a game.
But the self-imposed pressures are perhaps the highest of all. Baseball, like many sports, is a game of the mind as much as it is one of the body. Players expect the most of themselves, and have a tendency toward self-critical internal monologues. Doubt, worry, and criticism are always ready to surface during games and practices, say players. Incorporating a few basic practices—breathing exercises, positive self-talk, and sometimes talk therapy with a sports psychologist—into a team’s routine can alter the mental landscape of the game. It’s hard to prove that team psychotherapy influences scores and statistics, but players report one significant benefit: learning to let go of small disappointments and failures, rather than letting them trigger a mental domino affect that clouds the whole game.
These lessons work very well for non-athletes, too. Often, we are our own worst critics, and most could benefit from more positive mental health habits. Self-positive internal monologues paired with breathing exercises and occasional talk therapy sessions can do wonders to keep our mental lives on track for every day activities, social pressures, and work stresses. Incorporating elements of psychotherapy into every day life, or even into workplaces outside the diamond, can encourage positive thinking and better mental health for all.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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