The Cubs’ Special Spark: Stay Injury Free and Visualize the Game

An in-depth interview with the Cubs’ traveling physical therapist, Coach Ryan Mertz

In the movie Back to the Future Two, a news report said the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2015. While they did make their first appearance in the National League Championship Series since 2003, they did not go as far as the 1989 Sci-Fi movie predicted.

As of September 24th, the Cubs are 98-56 and have clenched a 2016 playoff spot. But what made these past two seasons significantly better? In a recent interview with the Cubs’ traveling physical therapist, Coach Ryan Mertz, he stated, “New leadership in the coaches and front office. Drafting certain types of players.  Players continuing to develop in the minors and being able to contribute in the majors. Free agent signings. Team chemistry continuing to improve.”

There are three themes pushing the Cubs to the World Series this year – Manager Joe Maddon and his approach to players, reducing injuries and an emphasis on the mental game.

In 2015, Joe Maddon managed his first game for the Cubs. When asked what Joe Maddon has done to help the organization, Ryan Mertz says, “I think it’s safe to say since day one, Joe has always wanted the guys to be themselves. He loves individual personalities, creativity, and having fun. He understands that they all want to work hard, do well, and win, but at the same time understands that not every player’s way of going about these things is going to be the same.”

From 2015-2016, the Chicago Cubs have decreased their injury rate by around 30%. The Cubs physical therapist says it has to do with being proactive. “What we’ve been doing from a medical standpoint has been building over the course of the last 5 years. We’ve put a heavy emphasis on taking a proactive approach as opposed to reactive, which has helped us limit injuries, but also work to continually progress the players’ physical development. Players now much more so compared to five years ago understand the importance of coming in before games to warm up properly, get soft tissue work, and do corrective exercises.” Do the Cubs have something up their sleeve this playoff run?

The final ingredient to the Cubs season long success may also be a commitment to the mental side of the game. Mertz emphasizes, “With the Cubs, we’ve got mental skills coaches who help the guys visualize game scenario before taking the field. They sit with the player and paint a very vivid picture of the scenario: the score, the inning, how many men on base, who’s at the plate, what the count is, the temperature outside, what type of grip you’re able to get on the ball, what the mound is like, what your heart rate and respiratory rate are, etc. The more details, the more the player is able to truly practice being in that same situation.”

Maybe the Curse of the Billy Goat has been mental all along? Or maybe the Cubs have figured out the formula of being themselves, staying injury free and preparing for any and all game situations. Will the Cubs go all the way and have a chance to break the curse? Looks like this story is “To be Continued.”