Sports

Red Sox create new behavioral health department

The annual announcement of Red Sox front office personnel changes typically features an array of title changes and newly hired evaluators who put in critical but unseen work, and this year’s will be little different — except, perhaps, on one count.

Amid the announcement of promotions and hires will be the mention of an unusual addition to baseball operations. According to team and industry sources, the Red Sox will name Dr. Richard Ginsburg, co-director of the PACES Institute of Sports Psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital, as the head of a new department of behavioral health.

The creation of the department is part of the Red Sox’ effort to broaden the way they address sports psychology.

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From 2005-13, the Red Sox staff featured Bob Tewksbury as a mental skills coach. According to team sources, Tewksbury’s absence in 2014 — he left the Sox to work for the Players Association before the team rehired him following the season — was felt acutely in a year when young players such as Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts struggled in their transition to the big leagues.

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Tewksbury will now work under Ginsburg, focusing on players in the big leagues and Triple A. Laz Gutierrez, the Sox’ player development programs coordinator, will offer similar counseling for players at Double A Portland, High A Salem, and Single A Greenville. Justin Su’a has joined the organization from IMG Academy in Florida to work with the short-season minor leagues.

The staff plans to place an emphasis on the emerging field of “mindfulness,” in which individuals consciously identify and take stock of the circumstances surrounding them to avoid getting overwhelmed or distracted. So, rather than getting distracted by a hostile crowd while batting in the ninth inning of a tie game, a player is trained through mindfulness to recognize that crowd prior to the at-bat and implement behaviors such as controlled breathing to manage his response to it.

Other sports teams, such as Phil Jackson’s Knicks, have also developed programs to incorporate exercises in mindfulness.

The Red Sox department will do more than offer traditional sports psychology and on-field mental skills development. The PACES Institute emphasizes looking beyond game circumstances to provide a broader perspective on the behavioral health of athletes.

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“We’re trying to take care of the body as well as we possibly can in the name of health,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said recently. “Health extends past the body, but it’s all related.

“A player’s overall behavior in his daily practices, his environment — where he’s coming from in the morning, what he’s putting into his body — all these things go into a player’s overall health.

“We’re really just trying to help players be as healthy as they possibly can be, physically and mentally.”

The department will also oversee the team’s growing interest in neuro-scouting, which includes measuring a player’s reaction time and hand-eye coordination in baseball simulation exercises to get a sense of his potential pitch recognition. Neuro-scouting also focuses on developing exercises to improve skills in a way that might translate to games.

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.