Mental Health and Athletes: The Role of Athletic Trainers and Administrators
Studies show that nearly 60% of Wisconsinites can look at the list below and say at least one of them is prevalent in their life:
-Witness Domestic Violence
-Adult struggling with mental illness
-Adult struggling with AODA (Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse)
14% can say that four or more are true.
These are kids that are in our schools today. Many of them are athletes, and this is what they bring to the field or court every day.
Add these experiences and traumas to all the uncertainties and pressures of the world today, and more than 50% of high school students report feeling anxious, tense, scared or like something bad was going to happen.
18% reported feeling like suicide was the only solution.
Parents and coaches play an important role in the lives of these students and athletes and their mental health, but so do many others.
First, let’s talk about what role athletic trainers can play.
“For me, it was going into the training room knowing it was a safe place,” says Lauren Holiday, former professional soccer player, wife of Bucks player Jrue Holiday and Stryv 365 board member. “A lot of times, if you are in the training room, you’re hurt, you’re vulnerable as is, but knowing that there is confidence in whatever is going to be said. There’s probably frustration happening, someone is injured or something like that, but just holding the space for the athlete. And, not having the answers necessarily, but just knowing that they can trust you.”
“Showing me how to breathe,” added Kevin (KP) Perkins, basketball player and youth coach for Stryv 365. “I know that sounds like something simple, I should probably know how to breathe. But, showing me how to take a deep breath, take my time, let me know you have 10 full seconds to shoot, take your time.”
“Back in college I had a trainer that helped develop my game,” said Kadeem Batts, former NBA player and current Stryv 365 program manager. “The things I learned from him were affirmations. If you tell yourself you can do something, you can do it. Your biggest challenge half the time is your mind telling yourself you can’t do it. We would have to get up at four a.m., five a.m., run miles on the beach, sore, tired, fatigued mentally. But, pushing through that wall, telling yourself you can do it, that was the biggest takeaway in having a trainer help me with my mental health. You have to believe in yourself before you can do anything.”
Additionally, as the one overseeing the coaches and athletic trainers, school administrators are also vital in understanding and trying to improve the mental health of students and athletes.
“Ask questions,” says Dr. Brandon Currie, CEO of Stryv 365. “Invite your student athletes to the table. When you’re trying to put new systems in and new policies or procedures, instead of acting like you know what they want, ask them what they want. It starts there, it’s just that simple. I realized when I was coaching that every year I brought in a new recruiting class, the gap got that much further with my age/their age, what they’re experiencing, what they’re going through. And, I needed to give them more space to be free to share what it is they’re going through. I think the same thing can happen for administrators. They have a challenging job, but if you open the space and you have more dialogue about what they are experiencing, what they are going through. Especially now, with everything that’s happened the last few years from COVID to war, social unrest in different ways. Are we actually having open discussions and forums on what these kids are going through? Empower them, give them the platform to share that information. That’s how you start creating change at the administrative level, from top down. A lot of times, universities we work with will say, ‘We want our staff to go through some training on building relationships and connections,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s great, what about you?’ Don’t always look macro, look micro. Start with self. Change within self leads to change within your role, responsibility, change within your team, change within your campus, and then change within community.”
“From a leadership point of view, I would argue that in today’s environment, adversity, mental health and what coaching can do, it has to be sort of prioritized in the context of race in America,” added Tim Grove, senior consultant at Wellpoint Care Network. “And, that means leadership has to understand that all this stuff we are talking about is not blind to race. Racism exists, sexism exists. It exists individually, it exists structurally. I come from a place where I say, ‘If I’m worried about trauma for these kids, I gotta be worried about what happened to their people, not just yesterday, but 200 years ago. Because it matters. That stuff happened, that stuff is real. One of the things I see administrative folks shy away from is, ‘I’m just not gonna go down that road, unless I’m forced to.’ I think that is a missed opportunity in a myriad of ways.”
The preceding responses were part of a “Resilience in Sports” panel, hosted by Wellpoint Care Network, Stryv 365, and the Milwaukee Bucks.
For pictures from the event, click here.