Seahawks address impact on mental health


A red top for the UNCW men’s soccer team, Drew Rabil has gone through a whole range of experiences – elation and frustration, uncertainty and confidence, confusion and knowledge. With what has happened over the past few years for UNCW athletes, moments on and off the field have become intertwined.

And as tennis star Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles spoke to the world this year about what they need to do to overcome their own mental health hurdles, it was both a blessing and a surprise.

“It was eye-opening to see these athletes who we all think are on top of the world, they are also human,” said Rabil.

The year 2021 could unfold as mental health has crept into the everyday conversation about sport at all levels. At UNCW, however, players and coaches say it has been that way for some time.

“In my five years here, mental health here at UNCW has come a long way. My first year, honestly, I wasn’t even sure if we even had mental health services. Now we have people coming in. talk to us Athletics has their own advisor, we can schedule a meeting with… I know a few guys went to see her, ”Rabil said.

“It’s good to see our school and our sports department, we have really grown in this area and we continue to recognize mental health issues as a reality.”

UNCW follows through on its strategic plan

When UNCW released its Sports Strategic Plan in 2018, the fourth of the Seven Principles focused on athlete experience, including physical and mental health.

The plan was developed before she arrived in 2019, but UNCW deputy athletic director Tiffany Tucker said that while in her previous position in the state of South Carolina, mental health had already been a frequent topic of discussion at administrative meetings on campus and nationally.

“It doesn’t all have to be wrapped up in stereotypical things with mental health – bipolar or taking medication – sometimes we just need to help our brains change the way we think about things so that we can decrease anxiety, or the pressure, or the crisis situations that students may have, ”she said.

Since 2019, Seahawk athletes have the opportunity to meet a member of the University Guidance Center specializing in athletics and mental health, Dr Cora Powers. She, along with sports dietician Jen Ketterly, is listed as a Seahawk Mental Health and Sports Performance division in the staff directory.

UNCW is one of seven Colonial Athletic Association and nine Division I programs in North Carolina (out of 17) that list a psychologist or mental health professional as a staff member of the department. sports on their sports website.

Additionally, the school provides training to all staff and coaches as part of a frequently used suicide counseling and prevention program called Question, persuade, refer. “Almost like CPR training for mental health,” Tucker said.

“I’m definitely more aware of reading cues, body language and moods than I was as a young coach,” said the UNCW men’s football coach. Aidan Heaney, entering his 21st season at the helm of the Seahawks.

Heaney said the level of work and goals of his players will never change. But “taking a step back and giving the guys grace,” as he called it, was a positive change.

“You want to be aware, reach out more and be more connected with the players. I want to clarify: maybe I haven’t talked to all the players every day, but maybe 3-4 guys and ask my staff to do the same. Just try to check in and listen to everyone. ”

Continue conversations

When Tucker played basketball in North Carolina, she injured her ACL. It was the first time, she said, that she was physically unable to play the game she loved, and it tore her apart.

“I was told, ‘Maybe it would be good for you to talk to someone. It’s not that something is wrong with you. Just to talk.'”
This advisor remains a friend to this day.

“I shared my story so that my coaches and student-athletes know that all is well and that it can happen to anyone,” she said.
With more opportunities to speak their truth, coaches and athletes have seen more positive lines of communication open up.

“Mental health is something people are not afraid to talk about anymore”, women’s football coach Chris Neal noted. “People can assess their own sanity in a non-embarrassing way.… It’s an accepted part of the conversation here now. And rightly so.”

Senior volleyball player Claire Sawyer said: “What has probably been my favorite part of playing here is how close every team we have had. talk about those bad days and admit those bad days.

“It just gets more and more normal when you feel, right, not good mentally. I’m glad it gets more normal, and I think… as long as it can continue this way, it will be really good for future athletes. ”

Dan Spears is the Wilmington Star-News Sports Editor and the Southeast Region Sports Editor for the USA TODAY Network.

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