The Creation of Barney Google
If there was ever a group of American soldiers who would seem fated to suffer lifelong post-traumatic stress, it was the band of 566 Vietnam veterans who endured brutal mental and physical torment during the Vietnam War in the late 60’s and early 70’s at what they called the Hanoi Hilton. Prisoners had no connection with the outside world, were incredibly malnourished and had no idea if, or when, they would return home.
The POW’s did finally return home in 1973. The Navy was concerned for their mental health, so much so, that they kept tabs on POW’s for the next 20 years. In 1996, researchers revealed results of a two-decade long study, finding that virtually none of the former prisoners had developed major signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In 2001, a researcher studied 50 of the prisoners to learn more about the reason behind their resilience and found that it was HUMOR. During their imprisonment, the soldiers found that humor was the key to their survival and would risk torture to tell a joke to another prisoner who needed to be cheered up.
In the midst of a five-year incarceration, Colonel Gerald Venanzi spotted a few fellow prisoners tied up near his open cell. In the next few moments, he made pretend he was on a motorcycle, revving up the imaginary engine. Then he proceeded to “ride” his motorcycle around the prison compound, producing sound effects such as an engine and even an occasional crash. Needless to say, the captors thought he was crazy. They “took away” his motorcycle and put him in solitary confinement. The reason? The commander said it wasn’t fair for him to have a motorcycle if the other captives couldn’t too!
While in his cell, Venanzi invented an imaginary chimpanzee friend named Barney Google. The make-believe primate soon became a fixture at the prison complex. Whenever Venanzi went into interrogations, he brought Barney with him where he staged pretend conversations.
“I can’t tell them that!” They’ll beat the hell out of me”.
Needless to say, the captors didn’t quite know what to make of this. One time, the camp commander tried to mollify the discord by offering Barney tea, but Venanzi had to relay a polite no because Barney didn’t like tea. Venanzi’s Barney Google stories provided limitless entertainment and humor to the Americans. Ultimately, the guards summoned Venanzi once more and told him he would have to release Barney into the wild. He was getting new roommates and Barney’s presence might upset them…
(Even as I have read this several times, as I write this I still have to laugh…)
How does this relate to athletes? When people (athletes) are trapped in a stressful situation and feel overwhelmed, they’re stuck in one way of thinking – “this is terrible, I gotta get out of here”. If you can take a humorous perspective, then by definition you’re looking at it differently, which means you’re breaking the rigid mindset. By poking fun at a stressor, we take away it’s psychological venom and suddenly things seem less dire. Our attitude shifts from dread and tension towards challenge and control.
I remember one summer while pitching for the Yankees AAA team in Columbus, Ohio our pitching coach, Dave LaRoche, made a visit to the pitcher’s mound to comfort the beleaguered and defeated pitcher, while donning a batting helmet! Yes. LaRoche took a helmet from the bat rack and put it on as he headed to the mound. When he got to the mound, Dave said, “I figured the only way it was safe for me to come out here was to put this (helmet) on”
How can you not laugh about that? I don’t recall the pitcher’s reaction, or how he did after that, but I’ll never forget that story.
So when times are tough, lighten up a little bit. Use a little humor to change your perspective. It may be just the trick to performing under pressure.
Until next time….
Be good to yourself.
“On our way back to IL from ATL we listened to 90%. I saw Will pull out his phone and start taking notes. He then began to hit the pause button to finish his note as not to miss anything that was to come. I asked him what were some things that he got from his first run with this book. He said the “Little Man”, the “Stop Sign”, “Breathe”, and “Anchor Statements; specifically the Boat & Anchor analogy”. Mr. Tewks is doing incredible work and I saw it with my son Will. It has been the single best development piece of Will’s 14U season.”
“Tewks talked about different things as far as the mental side of the game, and building that relationship with him I had a trust where I could go and bounce things off of him. He’s a no BS guy. I knew he wouldn’t pussyfoot around with me. I knew if I asked him a question, he would give me an honest answer, both on the pitching side and on the mental side. I knew I would get that from him.”
“He tells you what he sees, and he calls you out on things. He makes you better as a player as you go along. The biggest thing I’ve found is that if a player continues to seek advice, seek help, there are people who can help that player get the most out of his potential on the baseball field.”
“He’s got more instant credibility and more to offer if a player or staff is so inclined to engage with him because of his long career in baseball. As we know, pitching is the loneliest thing you can do.”
“What Bob brings to the table, Bob did it. He was there. He had his career,” Ravizza says. “When Bob talks about the mental game, I listen, because he’s walked the walk. I really have so much respect for him.”
“I’ve worked with other people, but the stuff we put in place in Boston is what I’m still using today,” Miller says. “It’s a very important part of my success, or turnaround. It’s something I take very seriously and I think it’s had a big impact on my pitching.”
“Having worked with Tewks as a player as well as a coach, I’ve been lucky enough to see firsthand how much he can impact individuals and teams. He has been invaluable to me personally throughout my career, as well as our baseball team at Boston College.”