Bull Durham Media Response

Miracle movie poster showing hockey player wearing USA jersey with hands up in victory
The movie Bull Durham follows the life of a rookie baseball player, Nuke, as he navigates through the minor-league with the dream of eventually becoming a major league baseball player. It is evident from the beginning of the movie that Nuke has the potential to be a star, but he lacks the experience and maturity. Thus, the managers of the Durham Bulls ask an experienced minor league baseball player, Crash, to join the team as a mentor for Nuke. This movie displays three major concepts in the field of Sport Psychology, including the use of psychological skills to improve attention and concentration, different types of motivation and the personality-athletic participation relationship.

There are several examples of psychological strategies that the players in the movie use in order to improve attention and concentration. Primarily, it is evident that many of the players have superstitions that they believe drive their success. For example, one of the players has a chicken bone cross and he hits his bat with this object several times before every game. One of the other players says that he has been having a horrible season and wants one tap of the chicken bone cross with hope that it could help him too. The original player says that you need to believe in ‘voodoo’ in order for it to work, and therefore it will not have the same effect on him. This scene corresponds to the findings discussed in class that said that believing in superstitions actually does help, because it acts similarly to the placebo effect (Sanderson, 2020). Another example of a superstition that appears in the film is Annie’s garter that Nuke wears to every game. Once he starts wearing it and he was winning games, he has to wear it for every game in order to keep their winning streak. He also refuses to have sex with Annie in order to continue this winning streak because she refuses to have sex with him the night before their first win. Further, this movie also represents the importance of self-talk as discussed in class, something that can help to remind a person of their goals and refocus them during the game. In the movie, Crash is constantly talking to himself saying “you can hit this shit, relax”, and “bring it, bring it”. The movie shows that when Crash engages in this positive self-talk, these are the times when he hits successfully.

Bull Durham further shows different examples of the types of motivation that drive Nuke’s desire for success in baseball. At first, there seems to be significant extrinsic motivation that drives Nuke to want to be successful. As explained in class, extrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from external sources, not just an individual’s passion for the sport, but things such as money, fame, fear of punishment, social status, etc. (Sanderson, 2020). For example, the movie begins with Nuke in the locker room kissing a girl, clearly not concerned with the game his team is about to play. This shows that he cares more about the ‘clout’ that baseball gives him and the girls that come along with it, than the actual game. Further, he comes into the season insisting that he needs a nickname. This also appears to be extrinsic motivation, as he wants to play well in order to deserve a nickname. Additionally, Nuke brings up that he drives a Porsche numerous times, demonstrating that the money associated with playing baseball is also a motivating factor for him. Yet, overtime, it appears as though Nuke becomes less extrinsically motivated than he was when he first joined the team. For example, after a big win, he runs over to Crash and asks him to teach him more about the game declaring that he ‘loves to win’. While it is evident that Nuke still shows extrinsic motivation, he shows that he may also feel intrinsic motivation from things such as the fun of the game, desire to learn new skills, and the excitement he feels after a successful performance (Sanderson, 2020). This is representative of the integrated theory of motivation that was discussed in class, suggesting that motivation is not just internal versus external, but extrinsic motivation is on a continuum.

Lastly, Bull Durham depicts various ways in which personality can affect athletic participation and performance. Nuke joins the Durham Bulls as a rookie who has the potential to be a star, but the coaches explain to Crash that he needs a mentor to help him mature. As someone who lacks maturity, it is also evident that Nuke is not sufficient in emotional intelligence, which is crucial to performance and one’s ability to work well on a team (Sanderson, 2020). It is clear that when Nuke acts immaturely and ignores Crash’s hand signals, their team is not successful. Yet, when he and Crash work together and are able to properly read each other, the Bulls begin to win games. Another example of personality that is shown in the movie is when Crash tells Nuke that “God gave him a gift” when he was a baby, and that gift was his pitching arm. While many athletes tend to attribute success to God, there are genetic predispositions that could contribute to an athlete’s success in this context such as the build of an athlete’s body or other things such as sensation seeking or competitiveness (Sanderson, 2020). Additionally, the announcers of the baseball game mention Nuke’s attractiveness when introducing him as a rookie. Psychology studies have indicated that men with more dominant and attractive facial features are likely to be better athletes (Sanderson, 2020).  These two examples contribute to the questions around nature versus nurture in athletic participation. These scenes of the movie would support the psychological theory that nature contributed more to Nuke’s success. Therefore, while Nuke’s attractiveness could help to explain part of his athleticism, it is difficult to say that ‘God blessed him’ with a good arm, because the nature explanation would be a particular genetic predisposition.

The movie Bull Durham does a good job of accurately depicting many of the findings in the field of Sports Psychology. This film shows the use of psychological strategies, the different types of motivation seen in athletes, and the way in which an athlete’s personality affects their athletic experience. Superstitions are commonly associated with sports as are extrinsic motivations such as clout, women and nice cars. The movie does an excellent job including these stereotypical aspects of an athletic career. Finally, this film depicts the way in which an individual’s predisposed personality can affect their play and their relationships with teammates.

Works Cited

Orion Pictures. (1988). Bull Durham.

Sanderson, C. (2020). Class 2, 3 4 & 6 –Personality, Attribution & Cognition, Motivation & Goals, Psychological Skills [Lecture]. Amherst, MA: Amherst College, PSYC354


Katherine Malone