Before the Cubs entertained the first-place St. Louis Cardinals over the weekend, Manager Joe Maddon spent his evening at the “Steak 48” restaurant Thursday night (Video Courtesy of CBS Chicago).
Manager Joe Maddon, a longtime proponent of mental skills development, said that process isn’t radical.
“Sometimes the player has to work through these issues, not from the front-office or managerial perspective,” Maddon said. “It’s the player himself having to realize: ‘I’m not weak for having to talk to these (people). I may need another tool that permits me to do my job a little bit better.’
“If my guys are thinking right, their physical mechanics will be right.”
Maddon and Cubs mental skills coordinator Bob Tewksbury conveyed their thoughts on breaking the stigma of mental health Thursday night at Steak 48 on a panel discussing “The Psychology of Top Performance,” presented by the Family Institute at Northwestern University.
“Joe is a champion of mental health,” said Danielle Black, director of the Family Institute’s postdoctoral fellowship program.
Maddon recalled former Angels executive Bill Bavasi bringing Arizona State professor Doug Larish to spring training 35 years ago to stress the importance of teaching in sequential order to improve players’ retention of information.
Larish’s academic background was met with resistance by the “old-school dudes,” Maddon said.
“Since that time I met him, any time I teach, I’m aware if I’m jumping all over the place and making it confusing for my student or player,” Maddon said.
Maddon’s interest in mental skills was enhanced by Dr. Ken Ravizza, who worked as a mental skills coach for Maddon with the Rays and Cubs before his death in July. The Cubs hired Tewksbury in January essentially as Ravizza’s replacement in the mental skills department, which also includes Joshua Lifrak and John Baker.
Maddon’s daily task of keeping players mentally sharp as well as physically ready is essential for managing a roster with only four full-time starting position players.
“If you’re physically bound up because you’re worried about your next at-bat, your next pitch — worried about it, not just processing it — there’s a difference,” Maddon said. “That’s where you’ve got to give them a tool.
“Kenny was very good about the breath being the anchor and would give guys different thoughts or concepts walking from the hole to the on-deck circle to the batter’s box. Or a pitcher getting off the rubber. If you’re going to think anything negative, get off the slab. That’s got to be positive, from here to home plate.”