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Using Braves psychologist, Nationals hope to aid own mental ills

Whenever the topic of sports psychology arises, I think of the movie "The Natural." (The same goes for whenever a guy breaks a stadium light bulb with a batted ball.)

The fictional team for which Roy Hobbs played was mired in a long losing streak, so the bosses brought in a man portraying a team psychologist in the hopes of getting players to think positively.

Over in real life, MASN and the DC Sports Bog report that the Washington Nationals, continuing to pattern themselves after the Atlanta Braves, have been working with Jack Llewellyn, a psychologist and author in the field of "mental training."

Llewellyn started working with the Braves in 1991 which, as you might recall, is the year they started winning. Dan Steinberg repeats older quotes from Chipper Jones(notes) and John Smoltz(notes) saying that Llewellyn helped them, which helped the team win.

The Nats brought in Llewellyn, presumably, using the connection of Stan Kasten, who most recently was Washington's team president after leading Atlanta's organization for 17 years starting in 1986.

As Steinberg points out, perhaps Llewellyn could help someone like Jayson Werth(notes), who has been struggling to live up to the huge contract he signed in the offseason. Further, the Nats haven't had a winning season since they've been in Washington and are under .500 going into play Tuesday.

Psychology long ago proved effective in the everyday world, but for some reason when it comes to sports, I get skeptical. This is probably because the first time anyone connected sports and psychology in my world, it was in "The Natural." And the movie was a harsh marriage between the two.

The "doctor" was an odd-looking short fellow with glasses, a funny hat and bow tie. He spoke in a shrill voice and the Hobbs character, played by Robert Redford, obviously thought he was full of baloney.

Over and over, the doctor kept saying: "Losing is a disease..."

"The mind is a strange thing, men. We must begin by asking it...'What is losing?'
Losing is a disease...as contagious as polio.
Losing is a disease...as contagious as syphilis.
Losing is a disease...as contagious as bubonic plague.
Attacking one...but infecting all. But curable.
Now, I want you to imagine you are on a ship at sea on a vast ocean...gently rocking.
Gently rocking.
Gently rocking.
Gently rocking."

I'm now imagining Werth as Roy Hobbs, looking cockeyed at Llewellyn like he's a carnival hypnotist. But if you look closer at some of what the doctor from "The Natural" is saying, his technique doesn't seem too different from exercises actual psychologists give to real patients.

Hopefully, Werth doesn't remember that part of "The Natural" and has been giving Llewellyn, or will give him, a chance.

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