The third and final portion of this interview features a discussion about some of the mental aspects of Tommy John surgery recovery and how, as a trainer, Kyle assisted his athletes through the process. Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
Shawn Brody: One thing that doing this series has brought to my attention is that players who have gone through TJS and rehab can have a mental battle almost greater than the physical rehab. A lot of the time guys struggle with an identity crisis, depression, anxiety, stuff of that nature. Have you experienced this in your time as a trainer, or have you attacked it preemptively?
Kyle Boddy: I’ve never had surgery on my arm so I can’t say specifically what that is like, but it’s not really any different from any loss, grieving, or anything else. It follows Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Experiencing great loss means that you have to attack the mental and psychological side of it first, and that is no different from an injury, divorce, or anything else.
How do you attack that? Well, it never becomes, “I am going to solve your problems.” They don’t want to hear that then. They want to regain their confidence that you’re going to be able to help them. They don’t want the solution now. That is not the time. It’s about how are we going to do our best to work together as a team. To understand that you and I are in this together, and that we’re on the same side. That we’re going to do this together. They don’t want to know how they’re going to do it today, or even tomorrow. Maybe they’ll want to talk about it in two weeks, or even a month.
You just need to be there when they’re ready, and that is a huge part of the rehabilitation. It’s the feel. It’s the understanding of human nature. It’s all the stuff that makes a coach good. It is not their technical proficiency, it is how they handle people. That is what makes a good teacher, coach, person. That is where we try to start.
SB: You talked about wanting to expand your rehab facility, have you thought about bringing in a sports psychologist — either professional or from a nearby college program — to assist your athletes in recovery?
KB: We have. We’ve interviewed a few, but unfortunately the field is full of pseudoscience. It’s tough. That side of science — if you want to call it that — is hard to test. To me, science is repeatable, open-source, and shared with the world. Psychology is not any of that. It is not re-testable, humans are not reliable experiments when it comes to that kind of stuff, and at the end of the day our language is not good at describing what is actually going on in our brain. There’s just no good way to do that.
So, unfortunately, most of the well-known psychologists out there that have written books that claim to have their hands around it, to me, are fraudulent. They’re almost all making up science and using it to further their career. So, I don’t find a lot of value in the people that are overly motivational, very go-getter, that post a log of slogans, or that authoritatively state that science is on their side. My experience with science is much the opposite, and I think most people’s experience with science is much the opposite.
The last thing I want to give a player is a false sense of security. I think there is nothing worse that you can do to someone than give them unrealistic expectations. At the end of the day, they will potentially remember you forever as being the person that let them down, and you have to live with the fact that you basically lied to someone to further your career or make them feel better. Often it hurts, but you have to tell them the truth right up front. That view is largely incompatible with how people treat psychology and mental skills now.
I think there are some people that are doing a good job. Andy McKay is one, but he is currently the Director of Player Development with the Mariners, so he has a pretty good job. It’s finding people that are process over outcome, and what is probably the most effective way at dealing with mental skills is probably the least liked. That is the unfortunate reality, going forward.
That’s all to say that I’ve looked a lot into it, to be honest, and almost 95 percent of what I’ve read is just garbage. Just completely useless. It’s about figuring out the best way to help our athletes, and I’m not going to expose them to something that just is not true. I won’t do that.
SB: What is your biggest takeaway from dealing with athletes rehabbing from TJS?
KB: The biggest thing is just the admiration I have for athletes to stick to a plan through one of the toughest times of their life. It actively hurt Troy to be in the facility because he is throwing baseballs, and we are tracking his results. He is working with people in a group that are fully healthy, and Troy is throwing baseballs at 55 mph. For him, that is a huge deal. Then the next group has guys throwing 100 mph. So what does that do to someone like Troy? That’s tough.
He’s like, “I could do that when I’m healthy, but I’m not,” and that is a tough thing for a guy like that. The biggest takeaway is that we probably need to give them a much better environment — to isolate them. We have a third building, which I think we will use for that capacity going forward. Just doing a better job of being more sensitive to who they are. Now, Troy is a warrior. It didn’t affect his output, but it clearly affected his mood.
That is something, going into it, I didn’t really understand and I think I could’ve done a better job with. That is one of the things I learned. You can’t put them in a group of people that are healthy — that they used to be part of — and not expect them to have an identity crisis. Just like you said earlier. That was the biggest takeaway I had.
SB: What is your biggest advice to somebody who is worried about injury, and worried about having Tommy John?
KB: A lot of it is right what Anthony said, which sucks. We have a guy who is on his last leg pitching in independent ball. He was formerly a Baseball America Top-50 prospect, and he was a very big deal. But injuries have taken the game away from him, largely. His stuff is better than ever, his command is fine, but he is pitching in independent ball because of some decisions he made that were not great and some bad luck.
He is overly concerned with injuries. He is up to 97 or 99 mph with nasty breaking ball stuff. He looks every bit as good as he once was, if you catch him on the right day. If he has a tweak in his shoulder (he has had two surgeries already) or a tweak in his elbow he goes, “Oh it hurts, I need to do an hour and a half of movement prep. I need to do this, I need to look at this.”
My advice to him simply is, if you think you are worried about injury then you need to retire. You don’t get to think like that. You’re older, you’re competitive, and no one competitive thinks that way. If that’s how you think, then you’ve lost. You should just hang it up before you actually hurt yourself. You have to get to the mindset where, if it is going to happen, you can be at peace with it. You have to get past that.
I don’t know the best way to do that, but if you are worried about being hurt then you can’t pitch. You have no business competing in baseball. You need to figure out how you can get yourself physically and mentally to the point you need to be. You need to be physically confident in your stuff. When you’re physically confident, then the mental confidence comes after that. Then you can go. If you’re worried, this game has a 100 percent mortality rate. No one plays forever, and most stop because they’re hurt. Whether they go on the DL or not, most just don’t have it. They tear their UCL, they lose enough velocity, they have dead-arm. Whatever happens, that is what takes it away from them. You have to understand that is the end for everybody.
You have to be 100 percent ready to go into battle, and accept the risks. To get to that point, you have to train the right way and have the mental fortitude. For me, that all starts from that physical fortitude. That all starts from choosing a correct training program, having faith in your trainer, your doctor. To know that you are 100 percent good to go, and if bad luck occurs or it just wasn’t meant to be, then it is what it is. That’s it, you’re done. You have to be spiritually fit. If you’re thinking the other way, then you just shouldn’t pitch. That is my demotivational advice, unfortunately, for anyone who thinks that way.
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Shawn Brody is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score, producer of In Play, Pod(cast), and pitcher recovering from Tommy John at Howard Payne University. He is a Senior double majoring in Business Management and Computer Information Systems. You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnBrody or email him at Shawnbrody9@gmail.com