Between the Ears

Keep sending those questions!! As always, I've picked the three most intriguing questions (send questions with name, age, and hometown to sportspsych@soxnet.net) and answered them from a psychology-oriented perspective. Here are answers to some of the great questions that I received:

Marcella M. (32 years old) of Sarasota, Florida asks: From the way it looks, the White Sox will be carrying a predominantly right-handed hitting lineup this year. What kind of mental impact would this have on opposing pitchers, both righty and lefty?

Marcella, that is a challenging question. My best answer is that there will be individual differences between the respective pitchers. Frankly, I think that most pitchers will be nervous about facing the Sox regardless of his pitching hand due to the success the Sox had last year offensively. I would guess that most left-handed pitchers will have a bit more anxiety about facing the righty-heavy lineup of the Sox, which could lead to increased muscle tension and less movement on his fastball. Psychologically, pitchers usually find it necessary when focusing on mechanics to view their pitching arm kind of like a whip that is propelled by their lower body and torso (similar to tennis players while serving). The basic premise is that tense muscles are slow muscles, while relaxed muscles are fast muscles. Home experiment: 1) Place your hand on your table/desk and tap your index finger of your dominant hand on the desk as hard as you can. 2) Take your other hand and stretch that *relaxed* finger back and let it snap back to the table. Which made the louder thump? The same principle applies to larger limbs and more complex movements. Therefore, pitchers who have an extra level of muscle tension will not get the greatest range of motion and resulting velocity (and movement) on their pitches.

Dennis M. of Eureka, Illinois (39 years old) asks: Little League is coming up for my 7-year-old son Josh and I want him to have the best experience possible. What is the healthiest approach to take with young children when introducing them to a sport?

Dennis, you've touched on a topic that is an important one to many parents out there, especially in the wake of the escalating problems with parent violence in youth sport. Although there are many ways to reinforce a child's interest in any sport, the most powerful method is genuine praise. Research indicates that many children who receive primarily external reinforcement (i.e., toys, ice cream, new equipment, trophies) for playing do not develop an intrinsic motivation for sports and subsequently drop-out / burn-out very quickly. Unfortunately, this is a trend that seems to be growing annually. I remember setting up a game-like drill for a tennis camp a couple of years ago, and the question that immediately followed the instructions of the game was, "What do we get if we win?" I'm certain that the perplexity showed on my face when I responded, "Well…you get to be the WINNER." This response was met with resounding disappointment. Praise your child for giving his best effort, help him correct his mental and technical errors while practicing, and always meet him after every competition with, "Great game, you really played hard…" before commenting on how to improve on any mistakes. Finally, do not ever put any limitations on what he can or cannot do if he is willing to try (e.g., do NOT tell him "…you're not ______ enough to play [sport]." Adhering to these principles will foster an intrinsic motivation that will remain with him for a long time. I do not think that my own father ever picked up a psychology text in his life, but the more I learn the more I grow to appreciate the way that he approached sports with me…give your child the same gift.

Rhode Island native Chris F. (31 years old) asks: Is there any psychological significance to the White Sox uniforms? Also, why are they called the White Sox when their socks are black?

Chris, I do not believe that there is any psychological significance to the White Sox current uniforms, except to those players who have had a particularly hard time against the Sox. For those players, they may be conditioned to have feelings of lower self-confidence at the sight of any team that has dominated them (it is more likely that recent dynasties such as those damn navy blue pinstripes prime this feeling more often than the Sox of the last two years). However, there is some research to suggest that teams who wear darker uniforms are penalized more often in football and hockey. This may be due to a general "bad guy" perception of those who wear black, or it could possibly influence the players' aggressive tendencies. It would be interesting to see a statistical analysis of the games in which the Sox wore black jerseys and the ball-strike ratio of the pitchers, but I make no predictions. As far as why the White Sox (formerly known as the White Stockings) are the team with black stirrups (they still wear white socks underneath), you'll need to ask your local White Sox historian about that one. My best guess is that they wore white socks with their original uniforms (as opposed to the red worn by Boston's Red Stockings or Cincinnati's Redlegs).

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