August 29, 2006

Docs: It's All In His Head

With everyone from Joe Torre to John Wooden trying to find out what is wrong with Alex Rodriguez, The Post contacted two local sports psychologists yesterday to get their thoughts on what is wrong with the Yankee third baseman and how he can fix it.

Like most Yankee fans, the psychologists believe A-Rod's problems are 100 percent mental.

"It seems like it is in his head," said Jonathan F. Katz, director of sports psychology for Altheus, an advanced performance center in Rye. "For an athlete, that means they're starting to think about it. What athletes do best is react and play. The more they can trust their instincts and not think about it, the more likely they're going to succeed." Anyone who watched Rodriguez go 2-for-20 with 14 strikeouts on the Yankees' West Coast swing last week saw a player desperately trying to shake himself from a funk.

"The guy's obviously pressing too hard," said Robert Reiner, a clinical psychologist and the executive director of Behavioral Associates in Manhattan. "He's human, remember that. A lot of guys before him in New York have gone through this. Ed Whitson is the poster boy for this stuff. Then you have [Chuck] Knoblauch and Mackey Sasser." While A-Rod has not quite hit the level of those last three, his slump in the field and at the plate has lasted long enough that it's become one of the biggest issues surrounding the Yankees as they enter the final month of the season.

Both psychologists said the key for Rodriguez to snap out of his fog is to shut out the outside criticism and concentrate on staying in his normal routine and not changing something for the sake of change.

"This poses an incredible challenge to him because he's never gone through it before," Katz said. "It tests your intestinal fortitude.

You just have to trust what you do.

You can't overreact and not make changes because then you're not trusting your ability in what you do. When you start not trusting it, things go from bad to worse." Katz said if he were treating Rodriguez, he would present this as a challenge to him, trying to capitalize on his competitive nature.

Reiner said there are breathing techniques that Rodriguez could use to decrease his anxiety level on the field. The key in his opinion is for Rodriguez to relax and let his natural ability take over.

"There's a few things in life that you can't force," Reiner said. "You have to let go and natural process take control, like falling asleep. You can't force yourself to fall asleep."

Both of the psychologists agreed there is one thing Yankee fans can do to help Rodriguez: stop booing.

"Anybody who is a Yankee fan who is booing this guy has their head up their [backside]," said Reiner, a Yankee fan himself. "If you think you're helping him by booing him, you're wrong."