Updated: Jan 19, 2021
Contrary to popular belief, what impacts our mental health is our emotions and our relationships. Athletes are heavily inundated with the complexities of relationships magnified by fame. Relationships with coaches, teammates, team staff, fans, and (similar relationships as the general population) with family of origin, family of choice, and other associates in and outside of their local communities. Athletes are imperfect humans that have to balance a sense of connection with imperfect people while coming from imperfect backgrounds.
Sports is protective in that it can aid athletes ability to cope, limit time in involvement in environments that maybe of negative influence, has structure in place that teach discipline, and the importance of managing emotions and relationships effectively to maintain team roles and involvement.
Sports increases the risk in that athletes have to consistently use their mental capacities to navigate playbooks, relationships, their athletic gifts/talents and skills, and often without much room for error. Athletes are at increased risk of being exploited and have increased pressure to perform within their playing arena and in life as their every action is placed under a magnifying glass and fault comes at a high cost. Athletes may come from trauma-filled backgrounds, yet are potentially burdened with the responsibility of bringing fame, money, and power to their family name and hometown.
Relational poverty, to me, means the lack or absence of healthy relational skills, which often involves mismanagement of emotions. The lack of exposure to healthy relational skills and healthy relationships in the environment or neighborhood we call home. We can have something in one environment or area of our life, yet have barriers that keep us or increase the difficulty in transferring those skills over to another area, environment, or relationship. Cultural and systemic barriers that have exacerbated the impact of intergenerational trauma (trauma passed down from generation to generation) like financial poverty, racism, systemic biases, discrimination, unequal pay and access to opportunity can distract us from seeing the value in transferring over healthy skills.
Although sports may serve in some areas, we have to be intentional about placing it in a position to serve, not harm us.
What are you playing for?
Updated: Jan 19, 2021
Before I was thought of, sports was a catalyst for change in socioeconomic status for my family. It significantly shifted the context in which I was raised and environment in which I lived. Sports was meaningful and transformative.
Within me, it was instilled that sports, plants and nurtures connection, hope, joy, laughter, play and fun within my community. Sports taught the leaders in my family how to engage with others, how to protect and defend, and how to develop friendships and relationships with others. This way of relating was passed down and integrated with how relating was taught and shown ancestrally, yet there still seemed to be a relational poverty (more on that later).
Sports was a way of coping in a world of chaos, it was distraction and escape from the realities of poverty and...life. Sports taught social skills, morals, integrity. Sports protected us from the chaos of the community surrounding us and the dysfunction that existed. Sports prompted conversations with people who do and don’t look like me. Sports cultivated space for confidence and esteem building and for compartmentalizing and at times avoiding tough conversations. Sports was a way out.
As a young child, I was labeled as a tomboy. I loved basketball so much that I thought I would be the first female in the NBA, until the WNBA formed and received fame as Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes took over the world with the Houston Comets. I looked up to them and Tracy McGrady. I sought to fill the shoes they possessed on the court and to have the confidence they have possessed on the court, off the court.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) specializing in Sports, I think of how valuable and critical sports was in developing and shaping my personal and familial relationships. As a MFT, I am intentionally focusing clinically and professionally on exploring how my clients and other individuals are influenced by the systems (of school, of family, of friends, of work, of sports, of teams, of athletic coaches and staff, of fans). Putting the strengths of the worlds I love (Sports and Marriage and Family Therapy) together makes sense to me and strengthens my love and my gift for who I become and what I do.
I desire for athletes to utilize the skills that they are learning within their respectful
sports. Athletes are taught leadership, teamwork, cooperation, trust, healthy
dependence, accountability, collaboration, consistency, endurance, discipline, resilience, and other values that are necessary for creating and maintaining positive change within the systems they are embedded. Athletes are leaders within and outside of their local communities. If athletes demonstrated health and wellness in relationships and in emotional and cognitive management, all of us fans can learn the thriving strategies of self-care and healthy relational skills. We can, too, walk in the athletic shoes we so often seek to fill to perform in life: leaving healthy legacies.