sports psychologist & clinical psychology

PALMEIRO COULD BE TRYING TO BLOCK OUT ‘INNER CHATTER,’ TOO

Baltimore Sun – Sept 1, 2005 – Bill Ordine and Roch Kubatko – Medical: Oriole may be trying to quiet ‘inner chatter,’ too, psychologists say. Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro can wear earplugs, stuff wads of cotton in his ears, even put on headphones and listen to Green Day full blast – and it won’t necessarily block the distractions that might be responsible for his feeble hitting since returning from a 10-day suspension three weeks ago after testing positive for steroids, according to some sports psychologists.

Palmeiro wore earplugs Tuesday night in Toronto to muffle the jeers from Blue Jays fans; he went 0-for-4, and is 2-for-26 with one RBI after the suspension.

“It might be that he has some inner chatter going on, and it’s not just the external distraction from the booing that’s affecting him,” said Patrick J. Cohn, an Orlando, Fla., sports psychologist.

“We often think that professional players can go into their own bubble, their own cocoon, and continue to perform well even with the distractions. In some cases, the internal chatter might include the player putting greater expectations on himself to perform. Then when they think their performance doesn’t match their own expectations, they can crumble.”

Palmeiro played down the earplugs before sitting out last night’s game.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do. I’ve never been in a situation where I’m getting booed so badly, and I really don’t know how to handle it,” he said.

“I don’t mind being booed. I’ve been booed before. I was just trying to concentrate on my at-bat and do the best that I can to help my team. And, at the time, I thought that was the best I could do. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I did what I had to do at the time.”

Sports psychologists said Palmeiro’s recent slump could be due to any number of factors, including some as basic as not being able to regain a hitting rhythm after his layoff. But they didn’t discount that Palmeiro simply isn’t used to the vitriol that followed the disclosure of his failed steroids test.

“If, during most of his career, he has been well-received by fans and well-respected by his teammates and that’s been a big motivating factor in helping him reach milestones and breaking records … then that would be an important factor,” Cohn said.

“If he really cares about teammates’ and fan approval,” Cohn added, “that could cause some issues.”

Palmeiro said he used the earplugs to help his concentration.

“I’ve been booed before. Obviously, not this heavily,” the 40-year-old first baseman said. “It’s part of the game. But when I’m up at bat, I’m trying to focus on what I have to do, and it’s just hard to really focus when the whole stadium is booing and yelling. I thought that would maybe be a way to block out some of the booing.”

Two negative things can happen when distractions overtake an athlete, said West Palm Beach, Fla., sports psychologist John Murray.

“One, you might not process information as effectively as you normally do … you might not be as visually aware, for instance,” Murray said. “And second, the information may not be communicated as well from brain to body. You might have the ability for great motor skills, but the message from your brain is blocked in getting to your arms and hands.”

Again, that could be because of external distractions – booing – or an internal distraction, “a little bit of guilt, a tinge of a depressed mood or sadness,” Murray said.

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo could have done without Palmeiro’s earplugs.

“I probably would rather have not seen it.” Perlozzo said. “I’m sure that it helped a little bit, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet it drew attention to it and could possibly make it worse. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention by any stretch.”

If distractions – either external or internal – are contributing to Palmeiro’s problems at the plate, the remedies can be elusive. It could be the player needs to get back to a regular routine of sleeping, eating and interacting with his teammates and coaches as he did before the problems surfaced, Murray said. Or the fix might not come until there is a catharsis involving the murky circumstances of Palmeiro’s steroids difficulties.

“Without addressing Palmeiro specifically, if a player took steroids and is battling those demons, he’s not going to get rid of the distractions until he comes clean,” Murray said. “On the other hand, if he felt totally blameless, then he might be playing better because it’s him against the world.”

Cohn wasn’t as sure clearing the air would help lift a transgressive player’s batting average, though.

“If the allegations are true and he has been using steroids on and off, there’s probably no need for a catharsis,” Cohn said. “He has benefited from cheating the system. Why would he have a need to come clean now?”

Palmeiro said he wasn’t sure whether he would try the earplugs again.

“It’s been hard. It hasn’t been easy,” he said. “I’ve never looked at it in a way where I expected it to be good or bad. I’m just dealing with it on a daily basis.”

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