Becoming an avid lover of baseball while growing up in western Pennsylvania I naturally followed the Pittsburgh Pirates. An 11-year-old at the time the Pirates came back from a three-games-to-one deficit to defeat the Baltimore Orioles to become the 1971 World Series champions I witnessed two quality pitching performances by Steve Blass, including the deciding seventh game. A year later, Blass would win 19 games and it appeared his career was to be on rise for years to come.
Then came 1973. A season after he nearly reached the 20-win distinction Blass, without injury nor apparent any other reason, lost control of his pitches. The Bucs pitcher saw his ERA balloon to triple his career average and he walked 84 batters in 88 innings. As if the affliction suffered by Blass wasn’t enough to force his retirement by 1975, the term Steve Blass Disease was placed alongside the name of any future major leaguer with similar problems; unexpected downward slides in the ability for a baseball player to perform his required duties.
These infamous exploits were later to befall Steve Sax of the Los Angeles Dodgers about a decade later. Sax, a Rookie of the Year winner, had trouble throwing the ball to first base — which was obviously critical to his playing second base. The media exchanged the name of Blass and designated the affliction Steve Sax Syndrome. By 1989 Sax, now playing for the New York Yankees, seemed to be over the enigmatic problem as he led the American League in fielding percentage and double plays.
The following season it was as if the baseball gods determined it was time of New York Mets catcher Mackey Sasser to be rendered with the frustrated dilemma. After a July 1990 home plate collision involving Sasser, one in which the catcher was not seriously injured, the major leaguer developed a throwing problem. After catching a pitch Sasser could not do something catchers do without thinking — simply throwing the ball back to the pitcher. Sasser would nab the incoming pitch and then pump his arm in a throwing motion once, twice or more before releasing the ball. Ironically, Sasser had no problem throwing the ball when an opposing player was attempting to steal a base. It only occurred during the catch-the-pitch and return the ball directly to the pitcher.
In writing this I want to stay away from naming these related athletic afflictions by being detrimental to Messrs. Blass, Sax and Sasser. I wonder why the media accounts of these three gentlemen would care to demonize their names for something which has likely plagued athletes from ancient Rome, Greece and prior civilizations and was first introduced in this country as the ‘Yips.’ The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes the yips as: a state of nervous tension affecting an athlete (such as a golfer) in the performance of a crucial action. The first known use of the term is recorded as 1935. The dictionary is uncertain to why ‘yip’ was first used but some theories equate the way an athlete will slightly flinch akin to a dog’s short bark, or yip.
Long after Sasser left the major leagues, his yip continued to plague him. He was now a baseball coach at Wallace Community College in Alabama and like any baseball coach Sasser was expected to throw batting practice. “I was still having problems,” Sasser explained in a 2007 article appearing in NewsDay. “There were times I couldn’t throw and I would just sit down. But it (the yip) would come back.” Just as Sasser had no control over the yip as a MLB catcher he had no way of telling when it would occur while pitching a batting practice session.
The year was 2003 when psychotherapist Dr. David Garand introduced his discovery and development of the Brainspotting method. In a previous discussion available on YouTube, Grand simplifies the overall intent of the client-centered therapy as, “Where you look effects how you feel. Where we visually orient effects how we feel emotionally and sematically.” In other words, our emotions, when faced with an inward trauma will unconsciously force us to adhere to a warning or danger. It also results in where we physically are looking.
So, what does all of this have to do with an ex-major leaguer who still has problems throwing a baseball? Fast forward to 2006. A friend of Sasser’s informed him of Grand’s working to publish a book on performance blocks. Sasser met with the psychotherapist and after a three-hour session with Grand he flew back to Alabama. Sasser could now pitch batting practice sans the yip. Sasser told NewsDay, “It’s not hypnosis or anything like that. They find out about you personally and the trauma in your life.”
Sasser was impressed as he had previously met countless psychologists as well as attempting other methods to rid himself of the yips. “It opens a lot of windows to look at your history. I think it would have helped me that situation a lot better.” Sasser’s story is also a popular 2014 ESPN 30 for 30 segment entitled Fields of Fear.
My Interest is Piqued!
Dr. Thomas Rohrer is a psychotherapist in Walnut Creek, CA. A Vietnam veteran, Rohrer specializes in addiction treatment (walking the walk, he has been clean and sober since 1985) as well as sports performance. With certificates in Sports Psychology, Positive Psychology and extensive training in Brainspotting I sought his assistance to discuss the Brainspotting method as it pertains to athletic performance, motivation and coaching.
Our conversation turned immediately to the subject matter. “I am in complete agreement with Dr. Grand’s statement, ‘Brain-based therapy is the fastest growing psychological health’ and I would just add the organic nature of this client-centered therapy may result in a quicker road discovering problems blocking an athlete’s peak performance,” said Rohrer.
Expanding on the organic element Rohrer spoke of being “in-person with the client allows both to be in the experience,” particularly in reference to the client’s “in-body’s connection with the outer body’s sensations.” The psychotherapist says when performance is the issue the entire “work is to get better.”
Rohrer then alluded to the trauma, or painful events from an athlete’s past which is blocking the ability for the athlete to achieve what he describes as a “mental calmness.” He also alludes to how peak performance cannot be attained until such mental calmness coincides with the body’s outward sensations. “Brainspotting is the way to expand the athlete’s peak performance in a more capable manner than ever imagined,” said Rohrer.
“When you’re in a situation, you can complain about it, you can feel sorry for yourself, you can do a lot of things. But how are you gonna make the situation better?” — Tony Dungy
‘Brainspotting for Dummies’
As Rohrer expanded on method used to get clients to focus on a specific location where they are looking, and then getting in touch with the sematic (the trauma which serves as a warning or danger) and being able to develop acceptance on the exact spot of they are looking to is directly related to the trauma — he asked if I would like to be involved in an initial Brainspotting session.
I am a writer and a high school football coach. My peak performance days in an athletic venture are as far away as me seeing all my cartilage miraculously replaced in my knees. Rohrer assured me Brainspotting is not just for the athlete. It’s for the artist, musician, actor and other roles requiring peak performance. With this explanation, I became even more interested in my ‘Brainspotting for Dummies’ session.
I was to think of something associated with my writing, something which would be a possible detractor to me getting something written. Rohrer didn’t ask for a specific (trauma, e.g.) but just a starting point as to something which may interfere with my writing process. I immediately thought of my penchant for procrastinating at times, especially when a project deadline was more than a few days in the future.
Rohrer asked me to become as calm as possible, cognizant of my movement even my blinking. He explained how he would not be talking much as he was looking for me connecting thoughts with facial expressions or body movements. He spoke of the ‘zone,’ thinking of a time when I was in the zone for writing. I began to focus on a wall in front of me. Rohrer asked me to discover the ‘flow’ as part of the experience.
Earlier, the psychotherapist had explained how I should rate my feelings at this specific time on a scale of 0–10. The goal is to always be calm and reach ‘0.’ I am then thinking of an anxiety (procrastination, for me). Several seconds into this point, I am instructed to focus on another area, away from my original location.
Although I didn’t time the initial session, it seemed to be around 30 minutes. In this short session, I could actually understand the basis of Brainspotting. As a coach, I have always been a proponent of positive visualization, having athletes meditate and focus on positive plays within a game. Brainspotting is much more emotional. It allows a person to focus on a past event which is subconsciously blocking one’s ability to perform at the highest level, and through the various sessions the trauma becomes realized and can then be neutralized thus releasing one’s peak performance.