We’re coming up on 7 months of this new normal. Since the cancellation of collegiate spring sports and various "Bubble" scenarios for pro leagues the Athletic Community is very much still navigating this new normal.
We have already seen collegiate sports cut, budgets deflated and resources going towards a LOT of testing. Athletic staff's have restructured weight rooms and worked tirelessly to make sure that facilities are set up to maintain standards and protocols that put student athlete safety first. As if there were not already a plethora of demands placed on college athletes, having to maneuver through a season and the normal day to day among the COVID crisis is definitely an added task.
There’s a lot to navigate here.
Take COVID away and regular student athlete life is challenging enough. Time to simply get everything done academically, athletically, and socially is strained. There’s the added piece of performance, which, arguably, student athletes sign up for. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get hard and overwhelming.
Studies over the last several years show that the college demographic is exceptionally vulnerable to depression and anxiety. Anxiety, depression and suicide rates are at an all time high in our country. Psychologist Robert Leahy states that the average high school kid has the same level of anxiety that a 1950’s psychiatric patient had. I believe we are living in a time where we are more distracted and disconnected than ever.
Although data is lacking in looking specifically at college student athletes, I don’t think there is a college coach I’ve spoken to in the last 2 years that doesn’t admit that stress and anxiety are a major issue. I also don’t believe that student athlete mental health is a new conversation.
Now, we have a pandemic and a country that is exposed, hurting and angry due the years of systematic oppression of the African American community. One of the most important and controversial Presidential elections is on our doorstep.
All of this affects our locker rooms. All of this will continue to affect our locker rooms.
We as an athletic community cannot afford to skip out on establishing healthy practices for the mind. I'm not just talking about our Student Athletes. This goes for coaches and support staff too. I wholeheartedly believe that now, more than ever is a time that we have to address this.
Our minds are just as important, if not more, than the physical body.
Although I am not yet a practicing mental health professional, I am in the process of pursuing my Masters in Clinical Social Work at the University of Denver. I currently work with elite athletes through Mindfulness training, Meditation, Yoga and Breath Work. Much of my work is based on the premise that athletes need avenues and resources to manage their world both on AND off the field.
One of my favorite mindfulness quotes states, “We can’t stop the waves but we can learn to surf.” I love this quote specifically for where we are because this is what we must do. We have to learn how to surf.
Practices such as Mindfulness, Meditation, Yoga and Breath Work allow athletes to develop tools and skills to be able to manage their own minds. The more insight and awareness we gain about ourselves and our own minds, the more capacity we have to be able to work with it.
What we know through neuroscience and neuroplasticity is that we have the ability to change our brain. We can strengthen our brain’s ability to focus, pay attention, and navigate stress in a more beneficial way.
The added plus for elite athletes is that through modalities like Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga, we’re constantly enhancing our mind-body connection. The mind and body are CONSTANTLY talking to each other. The more tools and practices we give to our athletes to tap in to that communication, the better for both on AND off the field.
In the world of athletics, almost everything is performance based. In the professional realm, how well you play and perform is directly linked to your means of living. Performance is oftentimes linked to an athlete’s self worth and becomes an overwhelming piece of their identity. If you know anything about yoga, mindfulness and meditation, you will know that there is nothing performance based about these practices.
You cannot be bad. You cannot be good. Your only job is to be.
In my opinion, having an outlet that has no degree of performance that allows athletes to be present and be themselves is beyond needed. These practices are more than worth taking the time away from training, game film, the weight room, and team meetings.
So as we continue to take things day by day in the Athletic Community, I believe it’s our job as Coaches and Athletes to continue to address how we cultivate and take care of our minds. Do I think Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga are the only way to do this? Absolutely not. But I have seen this help many of the teams and athletes I work with, and I fully believe in the power of training the brain.
We have to invest as much time and energy into our brains as we do our bodies. We have to continue to work on our minds so that they work for us, not against us.
Now, more than ever, I believe the athletic community needs this.
Interested in learning more or chatting? Reach out!