“It’s really an uplifting experience to come to practice every day and know that there will be 14 other guys with the same goals who are ready to support each other both on and off the court.”
Jack Cruz-Dumont and Brian Wallack, co-captains of the UBC men’s basketball team, share their reflections on athlete mental health and wellness, as well as their own personal experiences managing the demands of being a student-athlete.
What does athlete mental health mean to you?
Jack – As an athlete, your sport can often become a form of escape from difficult aspects of your life. When your mental health suffers, your ability to express yourself through sport can suffer as well, making problems worse. At the end of the day, good mental health and the freedom to enjoy sport go hand in hand.
Brian – The first thing that comes to my mind is the necessity of mental fortitude for athletic performance. When it comes to competition and entering a performance mindset, it’s important to not have factors outside your game affecting you. Having a good grasp on your mental health can help bring an aspect of resilience and toughness to your capabilities as an athlete that extend beyond physical limits.
What are some mentally taxing challenges that you and your teammates face in your sport?
Jack – It may seem like there’s a lot of pressure in basketball, but at the end of the day, it’s just a game. It takes a lot of confidence to trust the work you’ve put in and accept that the result will be what it will be, all you can control is your own performance.
Brian – Right now it’s definitely the lack of competition. As an athlete, a large part of your identity is preparing to compete at the top level of your sport and without that external motivator, questions come into play mentally about why all the work is being done. Eventually we’ll get to compete again, but taking a step back and observing things from long-term point of view isn’t always easy. That said, it is super important to keep that perspective and not get too focused on the little things.
How important do you think it is for athletes to have routines to help manage their mental health?
Brian – I think it’s super important to have some sort of coping mechanism or outlet for whenever you need it. A lot of the time it comes down to the momentum that you carry with you in your day to day life. When your momentum is good, you’re on top of the world but when you get tripped up it’s good to have routines in place to help you gain that confidence back.
Jack – I think doing things with intent is super important. When mental health deteriorates it can take a lot of things with it, especially as a student-athlete with everything we have to balance. Trying to find routines and patterns that allow you to continue to complete necessary tasks in periods of hardship is crucial.
What’s your favourite pick-me-up after a tough day mentally?
Brian – Probably a nice big smoothie! I like to come home after a tough practice and blend something up.
Jack – Korean barbecue with my teammates is definitely my go to pick-me-up.
Is there an individual or group of people who have been there to support you mentally throughout your career?
Brian – I definitely have multiple, it’s impossible to go through everything required as a student-athlete without a support system, whether the support they provide is material or emotional. A big one for me is the coaching staff. They’ve been there to support us all as the backbone of our team, making sure everyone’s taken care of no matter what they need. My parents have also supported me a great deal, especially with the little things like meal prepping that take some of the stress off my shoulders and give me time to decompress. One of the most important individuals I’ve been in contact with throughout my career is my high-school coach. If I have any problems or questions, I can turn to him, which is an amazing resource to have.
Jack – Throughout the years there have been more people than I can count who have been there to support me. At the end of the day, it’s always been my family and my teammates who have are there to lift me up when need be and that’s something I really value.
How important do you think it is as an athlete to have a support system?
Jack – I think it’s one of the most important resources you can have as an athlete and it’s one of the reasons I love being part of a team so much. It’s really an uplifting experience to come to practice every day and know that there will be 14 other guys with the same goals who are ready to support each other both on and off the court.
Brian – It’s extremely important! Going at it alone, especially with all the stresses we face is super difficult. Even if you’re managing it well for the most part, the stress eventually builds up
and we all have rough patches. Having a support system to back you up when need be is something I’ll never take for granted.
Has there been a specific mental challenge that you’ve struggled with?
Brian – One of the biggest things that I’ve struggled with is confidence. You put in the reps in the gym and the work on the court, but when it comes to performance there is often a seed of doubt telling you that you might not be good enough. I think it’s something a lot of athletes face when the time comes to compete. Everybody wants to keep getting better and see improvement, but it’s important to have confidence in where you are now.
Do you have any advice on maintaining mental health as a student-athlete?
Brian – Like I mentioned before, keeping an open mind and focusing on long-term goals is super important. Having something you’re pushing for in the long term helps shift the focus off of day-to-day ups and downs and forces you to look at how far you’ve come and the future that’s waiting for you.
Jack – Be open about it, your team is there for a reason and if you have something going on, getting the support of your peers can be helpful. The people that surround you are there to help push you through the issues you might face but they can’t lend a hand if they don’t know you’re struggling.
There is obviously a stigma around athlete mental health and toughness, is this something that’s impacted you at all?
Brian – It’s nice to take this opportunity to have an open discussion about it because it’s not something that gets talked about often. There’s a lot of messaging around being tough and fighting off weakness, and often times, struggling with mental health gets lumped in there as a sign of inadequacy. It’s important to remember that it’s not something that’s always directly controllable and plays a much bigger role in performance than many people might think.
Jack – Personally, I don’t think it’s talked about enough. This stigma around toughness is something that exists heavily in our sport. As an athlete, you always have so much going on and often find yourself under pressure or in stressful situations where it feels like a lot is expected of you. It can be extremely difficult to manage this and I feel it’s often forgotten that we as athletes need to put our mental health first.
Interview by Quinn Storey, B.A. majoring in Psychology, UBC, and Mental Health Advocate