Blue Jays putting emphasis on mental performance throughout organization

TORONTO — The so-called mind gym is one of the first places new draft picks go at the Toronto Blue Jays’ training facility in Dunedin, Fla.

It’s a group workshop where they learn the importance of mindfulness and get an introduction to the Blue Jays’ mental performance coaching staff. Like meeting with the organization’s strength and conditioning co-ordinator or nutritionist, Toronto general manager Ross Atkins sees mental performance as critical to every player’s development.

“Thinking about performance, thinking about being an elite athlete, we feel as a department that you have to have every resource possible for them to realize their potential,” said Atkins. “You think about an athlete fundamentally, which is the more skill-specific coaching, you think about them physically, which is on the strength and conditioning side, and then you think of them mentally.”

When Atkins became Blue Jays GM in December 2015, he and director of high performance Angus Mugford made hiring sport psychologists a priority. Starting with Mugford, who is a former president of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and has a PhD in the discipline, Toronto went from having no mental performance coaches to six, the largest such department in Major League Baseball.

The Blue Jays want players to develop healthy mental routines as early as possible. The idea is to make players mentally strong before there’s an issue.

“From the very get go, like the draft class that just came in, they were exposed to some workshops in Dunedin around mental performance,” said Mugford. “We have a mind gym, which is also teaching them about mindfulness and the role of the mind-body connection and being able to be present in the moment, which we can all appreciate in baseball but also in life it’s a really key skill.

“I think skill is the operative word because skills improve with repetition and deliberate practice.”

That belief in developing healthy mental routines means that every player in the Blue Jays organization, from low A ball to the major league team, is expected to participate regularly in group workshops and also meet with mental performance coaches one on one.

“Traditionally, some see sport psychology as a fix, as opposed to a tool that helps you become better and make it an integral part of your routine and a part of your foundation and something to fall back on,” said Atkins. “Because if you are thinking of sport psychology as ‘all of a sudden I have this mental issue I need a sport psychologist,’ quite frankly, it’s probably too late.

“It’s not unlike developing your swing, it’s not unlike developing your pitching delivery, you have to develop your mental routines that help you not only cope but also help you deal with success.”

If a player does find himself in a crisis of confidence — or is struggling in his personal life — Toronto also employs Sam Lima, a former United States Marine Corps officer, as a therapist. If a sport psychologist is like a strength coach, Lima is like a physiotherapist, helping his charges heal.

Atkins has found that younger players in the minor leagues are more receptive to mental performance work than their senior counterparts, in part because they’ve been introduced to it earlier in their lives. However, he’s been pleased to see that a pair of veterans in the Blue Jays clubhouse have really taken to Paddy Steinfort, head of mental performance, and are encouraging their big-league teammates to engage in the process as well.

It also helps that there’s a growing conversation surrounding mental health in society as a whole. Atkins points to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Toronto Raptors all-star DeMar DeRozan as positive examples of athletes opening up about mental conditioning and clinical issues like anxiety and depression.

“When you have elite athletes on such elite stages that are willing to talk about, whether it be a hurdle mentally or finding a way to make sport psychology a part of their routine, then it makes it less intimidating for any athlete to approach it,” said Atkins.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Pro-pipeline protest convoy approaches Ottawa after rolling across country

OTTAWA — A convoy of angry Albertans and other westerners rolls into… Continue reading

For sake of pupils’ pupils, China to ban homework on apps

BEIJING — An eastern Chinese province plans to ban teachers from assigning… Continue reading

Parole hearing for Calgary man who strangled wife, buried body in basement

BOWDEN, Alta. — A man who strangled his wife and concealed her… Continue reading

Red Deerians brave the chill to spend Family Day in the new Celebration Plaza

The 2019 Canada Winter Games hub attracted a lot of parents and kids

Historic win for Team Nunavut at Canada Winter Games

Four years in the making boiled down to a collection of firsts… Continue reading

Canadian women beat US 2-0 to win inaugural Rivalry Series

DETROIT — The inaugural Rivalry Series was created to give Canada and… Continue reading

Don Cherry blasts Hurricanes as ‘jerks’; team responds with his words on T-shirt

TORONTO — Don Cherry’s latest rant about the Carolina Hurricanes and their… Continue reading

Country star Miranda Lambert reveals secret marriage

NASHVILLE — Country star Miranda Lambert celebrated Valentine’s Day weekend with the… Continue reading

‘Black Panther’ costume designer blazes trail to inspire

LOS ANGELES — Ruth E. Carter is a black woman blazing a… Continue reading

Chicago police: Jussie Smollett assault case has ‘shifted’

Chicago police said Saturday the investigation into the assault reported by Jussie… Continue reading

Still-active human rights case speaks to lasting homophobia in Canada: activists

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Just over 14 years ago, the government of… Continue reading

Alberta missionaries among the Canadians heading home from riot-stricken Haiti

MONTREAL — A Canadian couple who had to leave Haiti due to… Continue reading

Man charged in daughter’s death in hospital with self-inflicted gunshot wound: police

Police say a man charged with first-degree murder in the death of… Continue reading

Most Read