Commentary, Men's Basketball, Men's Sports, Sports

LBSU basketball player and coaches discuss why student-athlete mental health is critical for success

Mental health is a topic that can be challenging for any individual. For student-athletes, feeling mentally defeated can be very common as a result of constant stress to perform well in games while also being a full-time student.

Third-year transfer basketball player Joel Murray, who plays guard and is a civil engineering major, opened up about how playing basketball has made an impact on his mental health and how he finds it as an escape from reality.

“When you’re in that kind of moment, and that kind of zone, like, you don’t really think of all the other things that are going on in your life,” Murray said. “It’s hard to describe, but once you’re in them, when you’re in that zone, and you can look back and say yeah, I wasn’t really thinking too much. I was just playing basketball.”

Murray believes that playing basketball does a lot for him, not only as an athlete but also as a normal person with everyday struggles. Murray takes what he learns from the court and uses it to improve his life skills outside of basketball.

“Using a sport to kind of maneuver and trying to figure out different aspects of your life really benefits you in many different ways that you don’t really know until certain circumstances pop up,” Murray said.

The off-season takes away Murray’s chance at an escape from reality as the team is not playing competitive basketball.

However, during his offseason, Murray found himself at many local parks in the area, to just get out and shoot the ball. He uses this as a positive reinforcement for his mental health.

“In the offseason, it’s good to mix it up every now and then change locations and just find different ways to enjoy the game of basketball,” Murray said.

Murray believes that being mentally prepared for a sport is just as important as playing it well.

“It’s more than just play the sport or the game that you’re doing, it’s more that goes on outside of your circumstances within your sport,” Murray said. “I feel like it’s a big role, and taking that next step and then making sure everybody is mentally capable of performing and also being happy outside of the sport that they’re playing.”

Head coach Dan Monson agrees with Murray that sports are a great way to escape from reality when life gets tough. Monson admits he wasn’t aware of how important an athlete’s mental health was when he first started coaching 30 years ago.

Monson has taken many steps into ensuring his team is mentally prepared, so he came up with the idea of “personal growth Mondays” for his team.

Every Monday, Monson approaches it as a way for the team to get mentally better and to take a step back and learn about life. Monson typically has a sports psychologist come and speak to the team to make sure they are in the right mindset.

Besides getting his players in the right mindset, he will teach them about life by inviting financial advisors to come and speak to his players or even Long Beach’s police chief to try and help his players grow as individuals.

“I think when you recruit student-athletes, their parents are trusting you with a young adult,” Monson said. “Four years later, you have to give them back a full-grown adult ready to cope with the world and, be able to support more than just themselves.”

Part of personal growth Mondays is talking to the players every week and helping them take care of themselves as young adults. Some ways Monson and the team do this is by teaching them about eating the right foods for a healthy state of mind or getting a full eight hours of sleep so they’re mentally prepared for the next day.

Monson believes that playing sports gives young student-athletes a sense of purpose and teaches them discipline.

“I think athletics is a microcosm of society, and you have to learn how to handle setbacks, handle defeat, bounce back and, continue, to compete and continue to believe in yourself,” Monson said.

LBSU associate director of Student-Athlete Wellness Jarrod Spanjer has worked for Long Beach State for the last 10 years and believes student-athletes mental health is a big topic that has started to grow over the years.

“We try to raise awareness that it is normal to seek help,” Spanjer said. “If you sprained your ankle, you go get help. Well, if you’ve got something going on, mentally, you need help, we’re here to support you.”

Spanjer believes when superstar athletes like Lebron James talk about dealing with mental health, it helps make the conversation and topic easier for athletes who might be afraid to open up about the situation.

One issue that Spanjer faces is finding athletes who are going through mental health problems. What he does to identify them is throughout the season, he comes to practices and will tell players what the Student Wellness Center is and is constantly encouraging them to utilize the facility.

“I think the thing is to try to normalize [seeking help], so we [speak to athletes] multiple times throughout the year,” Spanjer said.

Spanjer mentioned the Wellness center provides many ways for student-athletes to meet with sports psychologists as they offer meetings in a private room, on zoom or they will even have the psychologist come and speak to the athlete in the trainer’s room.

LBSU Athletic Director Andy Fee believes that a student’s mental well-being is an important part of being a student-athlete. While Fee does believe that sports are a great release from everyday life and struggles, he understands that mental health is a serious aspect, and he prides the Long Beach program for its participation in mental health awareness.

Mental health awareness is something Fee will mention to student-athletes when it comes down to the recruitment process at Cal State Long Beach.

“I spend time talking about our medical staff, and sports medicine staff and the resources that we have, because I get questions from parents like ‘Well, what resources do you have around mental health?'” Fee said. “I’ve gotten more questions about that the last three years when I’ve talked to parents than I did 20 plus years of my career prior to that. So we know how important it is.”

Spanjer stated that he is always looking for ways to improve student-athletes’ mental health, which is why he is constantly looking into revaluating his program.

“I think we do a good job, we can always do a better job. And that’s why we’re constantly reevaluating our program,” Spanjer said. “We are constantly meeting with different people trying to explore new options,”

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