Mind Over Sports

Rick Ankiel’s relationship with his father

Posted on: September 14, 2006

Note to readers: Since this article was first written, Rick Ankiel married and it is my understanding that he’s made amends with his father, which is why his performance level has jumped considerably.
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rickankielEven though I’ve followed the career of St. Louis Cardinal pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel as reported by the media, only recently did I learn that his father is serving a sentence in a federal prison for drug-trafficking.

This type of dark cloud hovering above an athlete’s head, if not addressed and resolved (or at least begin the process of resolving it) can have a powerful negative effect on the athlete’s performance. From my understanding, Rick was always very close to his father and has been since he began playing organized baseball as a young child. I called a friend of mine who is pretty knowledgeable about the Cardinal organization and he assured me Rick had received substantial help and counseling in an attempt to help him overcome his problem. If this help came from sports psychologists, then it’s little wonder Rick’s game didnt improve since sports psychologists are not allowed to delve ever so slightly into the personal problems of athletes since this is considered the domain of the clinical psychologist, and if they did, they could lose their license. Their exclusive areas of expertise involve visualization and other forms of mental exercises.

More than likely Rick has never been convinced of the importance of acknowledging and addressing (and resolving) this important issue involving his father. What makes me believe this is that a local radio sports reporter told me that it was his understanding that Rick was in denial and was not even willing to acknowledge what had happened to his father. If this is true, it’s no wonder that his pitching hasn’t improved. Also, the fact he is withholding (bottling up) his feelings about his father has lowered his self-esteem since withholding (not being honest with your feelings) is a form of lying that demeans you and lowers your self-esteem, creating psychological baggage that affects your ability to focus and process information.

If I were working with Rick I would take him to the federal prison where his father is serving his sentence and allow them to discuss what had happened, thus beginning the process of resolving the issue. Each of them could use the opportunity to apologize to the other; Rick’s dad for the mistake he had made by getting involved in the trafficking of drugs, and Rick for having disowned his father after learning of his father’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment. This, of course, falls into the category of “clinical psychology,” not “sports psychology” which is probably the reason why, up until now, Rick’s pitching performance has not improved. If Rick were to follow my advice I believe you would see the old Rick surface, along with his pitching skills, and he would soon be back on track toward fulfilling his destiny as one of major league baseball’s great pitchers.

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