Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Tips for athletes
Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Recently I was asked to write some “Mental Health Vitamin-nuggets” for our student-athletes at GCU. Working with our athletes is one of my greatest privileges, and while these “nuggets” were specifically directed at overcoming obstacles and adversity (especially relating to return-to-play injuries), I firmly believe that sports analogies abound and there are many life lessons to be squeezed out!
So, keeping in mind that these nuggets are meant for those student-athletes who have suffered injuries and or mental obstacles, let’s see what they may reveal!
Five Mental Health Vitamins for the Student-Athlete
- Eliminate the Dream-Stealers and Naysayers! Whether you are trying to rebound from an injury or trying to set a goal that will require grit and determination, beware of those around you who may be sending negative messages. “You know that you may be more apt to re-injure yourself, right?” “Are you sure you want to stretch that far?” “I’ve never seen anyone recover completely from an injury like the one you have.” “Maybe you should set your sights on a smaller goal so that you won’t be disappointed.” If this is the case, you MUST learn to distance yourself from those who want to dampen your enthusiasm, your confidence and/or your passion! And … by the way … if those negative messages are in YOUR OWN head, evict the “obnoxious roommate!” Replace any doubt with positive, encouraging messages that you give yourself to spur you forward!
- What is Within You is FAR GREATER than What is Outside of You! Too often, athletes will ponder the question, “Where has all the passion gone?” Let me be the first to tell you … it is inside of YOU! Athletes often begin to feel that the passion for hard work, grind, endeavor and commitment is sorely lacking. Then they often begin to wonder what they need to do to “find it” again. It’s very easy to “find!” Your passion resides within you … if the ember has burned out, then learn how to stoke it again! You will NEVER find passion waiting for you on the court, the field, the pool, the sand, the track or the course! Rather, it is IN you; it merely needs to be fired up, intentionally fed with enthusiasm and adrenalin, then intentionally fed again and again. You see, passion is not found outside of you … it is an inside job, and YOU are the gatekeeper!
- I am Afraid; I May as Well Quit! One thing that will completely haunt you for a very long time… if not forever … is the action of quitting! It is so very true that the hours of hard work, the overcoming of injuries, the reality that you may not be a starter and the endless and relentless drive for excellence all can be completely overwhelming and at times seemingly unbearable. BUT … do not quit! Instead, find the “fire in your belly” again, stay the course, refuse to entertain negative thoughts that begin to excuse your consideration to quit and refuse the notion of taking the easy way out. You will thank yourself time and again for sticking and staying! And, by the way, the rest of your life the overcoming of obstacles will be a little bit easier … just because you refused to throw in the towel!
- Don’t Be Surprised at the Mental Toll of an Injury! Many athletes who have encountered injuries just accept (though reluctantly) that recovery may be long and frustrating. Few, however, are prepared for the mental challenge that comes with recovery. For example, the athlete may feel isolated from the team and left out of the excitement that is going on, not only in practice but primarily on game day. Athletes also may feel that not participating actively has somewhat stripped them of their identity. It is no fun rehabbing while your teammates are practicing, no fun sitting on the bench while your teammates are chasing team goals and certainly no fun hobbling around on campus and listening to the pity of those around you. You see your teammates out there playing well and having fun. You may begin to worry about your position on the team. Dig down deep – find that reservoir of strength and that “I won’t be denied attitude” – and stay the course! You will emerge stronger, both mentally and physically – and the eventual return to play will be worth it!
- The Biggest “Tool” in the Box is Self-Talk! Are you your own worst enemy? You are if you constantly criticize yourself, have doubt in your ability and negatively evaluate your performance. Of course, it is important to be truthful about your contribution to the game – evaluate the positive and the negative, if any. However, the important thing is to correct any mental or physical errors and then LET GO! In addition, prepare your mind to see the best in your efforts, to “talk to” yourself with thoughts that portray positive intentions and self-belief! Along those same lines, fill your mind with positive “food” – then when it’s time to dig into your thoughts about the game you are getting ready to play, the performance you are about to undertake or the goal that you are pursuing, your thoughts will enhance your chances for success – plain and simple!
So … whether you’re a student-athlete or, like me, a “regular Joe,” hopefully some of these nuggets can encourage, inspire or challenge you – regardless of the “injury” or heart-hurt that you may be experiencing! Let’s always have as our mantra, “Put me in, Coach! I’m ready to play!”