By Sydney Hartman & Katie Ward
The Catholic University Department of Athletics is sharing a focus of physical health and fitness with one of equal importance: mental health and wellness.
Cardinal Athletics teamed up with Peer Educators Empowering Respectful Students (PEERS) to host sports and performance psychologist Dr. Todd Kays for a talk titled “Better Mind, Better Performance” on Thursday, September 12, which filled up every seat in the Pryzbyla Great Rooms.
Kays spoke to the coaches and Athletic Department staff in a meeting in the early afternoon. Coaches were given tools to incorporate mental training such as mindfulness during practice. Later, Kays presented at a meeting for all team leaders and captains in the Catholic Athletics community. The group of student-athletes learned how to help teammates who might be struggling with anxiety, depression, or any other mental health concerns. The team leaders also learned healthy practices to cope with stressful situations.
The evening event held in the Great Rooms was highly encouraged for all student athletes and athletic staff, part of an initiative to increase mental health support and training to students who are part of a Division III team at the university.
Kays presented to all student athletes during the evening session. He spoke about the importance of training one’s mind as well as one’s body for a sport, and explained how shifting one’s mentality positively can allow for better performance. Some student athletes in the audience believed that the speaker did nor provide any new information or resources.
“I expected to learn more about the solutions to mental health, but I was happy with the smaller techniques that were told,” said junior women’s lacrosse player Bridget Beck. “It felt almost as if I was given more things that were wrong, and not enough solutions to solve them. This left me a little disappointed.”
This began the conversation on the importance of mental health in the athletic community; however, athletes are hungry to gain more information on the topic. Some student athletes who attended the speaker suggested that they would benefit from an athletic community staff member that would help with mental health wellness. Other suggestions included follow-up conversations and smaller group sessions to discuss mental training.
Promotional content for the session said that “most students and athletes have never been taught how to mentally train”, and the pro-athlete trainer sought to teach Catholic’s student athletes how to deal with the high-pressure and doubt that comes from balancing performances in the classroom and on the field.
The initiative has been almost a year in the making. In January 2019, then-sophomores Bridget Buckley and Brady Berger (of the women’s soccer and football teams, respectively) attended the Apple Institute— a three-day national training held in Virginia and run by the NCAA. The training is intended for student-athletes and athletic administrators and is dedicated to substance abuse prevention and health promotion of college athletes. Buckley and Berger decided after the conference that they wanted to focus on the conversation of mental health with the community at Catholic U.
In early May, Sarah Williamson, Associate Director of the Dean of Students, led a focus group of student athletes to talk about the struggles and concerns regarding student-athlete mental health.
“Through the idea and advocacy of some tremendous student leaders, so many members of the university community were able to engage in conversations on how to mentally prepare for life’s challenges and promote resiliency in each other,” Williamson said. “It truly shows how the idea of a few people can create a movement and help us become a stronger Cardinal community.”