Miguel Cabrera striking out

We know so much more about sports performance, both mechanically and even psychologically, than we did a generation ago. But like uncharted oceans, the depths of performance hold secrets we still don’t fully grasp.

What enables an athlete to be “in the zone,” playing to their top level of performance? And conversely, what causes the slumps that athletic flesh are heir to, the slumps that so often seem to come from out of

Not too long ago, writers focused on the downturn in the performance of Miguel Cabrera, a lifetime all star slugger off to a terrible start in 2017. (He later recovered slightly, but his season was still well below par.)

Writers groped for ways to explain his struggles:

“The answer to Cabrera’s slow start remains a mystery. Truth be told, it’s likely a combination of several factors. The weather, the pressure from a record-breaking contract, and most notably his rehabilitation from surgery — all likely play a role. For now, Cabrera continues to take extra batting practice each day in an effort to perfect his swing and he’s still working diligently to get his swing mechanics in order. It’s clearly a work in progress…”

mlive.com, April 22, 2017

Note that these sports analysts, as fellow mystery analysts, are grasping at straws drawn from all sorts of realms. The weather. Pop sports psychology–he’s trying too hard to prove he’s worth what he’s paid. Sports medicine, perhaps he’s not a hundred percent recovered from whatever ailed him, although cleared to play. He takes extra batting practice… is that really a practice-makes-perfect scenario, or a voodoo of sorts. He’s a “work in progress,” this guy who’s been a superstar for umpteen years.

To us, it all sounds a lot like saying, we don’t have a clue why the peaks of performance show themselves sometimes, and not others times. Sports guys have long been superstitious–“I wear this red bandana on game days”–for a reason. They don’t have a clue how to achieve the zone, the peak performance, either.

Josh Hamilton

Add an extra dimension when a great talent is also a troubled soul. “The Natural,” Josh Hamilton, was a sweet a raw baseball talent as ever lived. And a tortured addict of drugs and alcohol.

At his peak, he lead his league in hitting, he took his team to the World Series and nearly won it for them with a clutch home run, straight out of the classic sports legends.

But he only had a few good seasons. Did his disappointing career overall have to do with his deamons, not his bloated contract to move to L.A. and the “pressures” of all that pay, not too much or too little time in the batting cage? As we ask the question, who’s engaging in pop psychology now?

MindOverMystery will revisit the mystery of sports performance on several more occasions. Just to whet the appetite, consider the cases from the baseball world, Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton.