On Wednesday, February 16th, Positive Coaching Alliance hosted a webinar entitled, "Mental Health in Sports: The Intersectionality of Mental Health & Race", to discuss how mental health is impacted by race, and how these issues can be addressed within our community to foster better athletes and better people.
Hosted by PCA’s Marti Reed and moderated by PCA’s Trennis Jones, the webinar featured Lisa Bonta Sumii, AthMindset’s CEO/ Founder and mental health clinician, Lyneé Belton, former Duke Basketball athlete and current high school and AAU coach, and Crystal Dunn, professional soccer player for the Portland Thorns FC as well as the US Women's National Soccer team.
Trennis began the discussion by asking, "why are the voices of athletes regarding their mental health just now being heard for the first time"?
The panel agreed that there has been a gradual growth of awareness over the last 20 to 30 years, but it is becoming more acceptable for the biggest name athletes to discuss their mental health. Lyneé brought up the example of Simone Biles sharing her recent mental health struggles during the Summer Olympics. Simone has become one of the largest role models of mental health and brought the subject to the public eye despite the negative image that may surround it.
The discussion turned into a conversation about the difficulty of being authentic when you are the only person of color in your space. Everyone agreed that representation matters, and in predominantly white spaces that lack people of color, we shouldn’t expect the people of color to be the voice of their entire race or community. And instead, we should be challenging those spaces to create more equitable opportunities for more diversity & inclusion.
Crystal spoke about her experience as one of the only black players in a predominantly white sport at the time. She felt it was hard to remain authentic due to the pressure of representing her entire race. “You want to be the best for yourself, but also for others; which is a great feeling”, she shared but also comes with a lot of pressure. This pressure is one that most non-colored athletes do not have to deal with, which consequently made them a great pillar of support for Crystal during her toughest times. There’s going to be days where athletes don’t have the strength to comment, and it’s important to have a great support system of people that they can turn to and lean on when they don’t have it, understanding that athletes can’t do it all by themselves. Crystal stressed the importance of having boundaries and seeking resources, especially if you don’t have access to a support system.
Lyneé also spoke about how it was hard for her to always speak up in school or sports because she felt that people thought her voice was the voice of her entire race. She realized that she couldn’t continue to be dimmed by others if she wanted to make a change. “Nobody has your story”, she said. “We’re all different and unless you speak up, your story will not be heard. And who knows, that story may help somebody or somebody might help you.” Lyneé also works as a coach and tells her athletes to just be honest. “If you need a day off for a sprained ankle, then you also need a day off for mental recuperation”, she said. She remarked that there is no difference between a physical injury and a mental injury, they both affect your game.
Crystal continued by talking about her own growth as an athlete. After feeling burnt out due to so many issues outside of the game, she decided to take some time off for her mental health, and experienced the most significant growth of her entire career. Crystal spoke on the importance of resources and having somebody to talk to outside of the game. She shared that her talks with sport psychologists completely rejuvenated her will to win.
Trennis next turned the conversation to focus on how the panelists are able to help others so effectively while also having these personal battles going on. “You must prioritize your own mental health first, in order to help others”, stated Lisa. “It’s not about the hours, it’s about the positive and negative energy received from my clients.” We all have our own struggles, and sometimes feeding off of the energy of the person you are speaking to can help wash away your own problems and focus on something else for a change.
The panel agreed that the love of the game and team chemistry will always trump the urge to win and keep players interested and positive. The best coaches will always put your life as a real person ahead of your life as an athlete and look past the color of your skin. The panel felt these practices are already changing the narrative of mental health in the public eye and they are hopeful that the future will only bring more awareness to not only the intersectionality of mental health and race, but also to the general nuance of mental health in sports and life as a whole.