Let’s not sugarcoat it: living as an athlete can come with some difficult times. With basketball having now turned into a ‘year-round’ sport, most young players with big dreams of continuing a prolonged career after high school pretty much live in the gym on a daily basis. Guys get burnt out at some point; it happens and there’s no reason to pretend like it doesn’t. While physical symptoms usually tend to draw the most attention, a player’s mental stability proves just as, if not more important. We’ve all heard it before: “basketball is just as mental as it is physical.”
Yes, the mental side of the game serves a big purpose. Nevertheless, many of those watching in the stands continue to go about the wrong direction of solely focusing on what a player demonstrates physically without fully considering his/her mental balance. My man, Gary “Trey” Taylor, can attest to that. With years of background experience as a mental health specialist, Trey is the founder of ‘Uphold 31:8,’ a mental health consulting agency. His business contains a few brands also, including ‘Mental Health Keys,’ a manual guide with helpful insight, and the ‘Backwoodz Podcast,’ an open forum that discusses several different cultural aspects.
Not long ago, Trey released his first book, “You Good Fam?” an inside-look on mental health in the African-American community (pictured above, along with ‘Mental Health Keys’). I really like the title phrase… it comes off as a simple moniker yet can contain different uses of meaning, depending on the context. I feel like most athletes just end up giving quick answers to assure they’re fine without truly expressing how they may feel if going through any tribulations. Heck, I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of this in the past during my basketball playing days. Throughout these last few years, the entire aspect of athletes’ mental stability has attracted more of my attention just due to how in-depth it can really become. Having caught up with Trey recently, who also was a hooper in his upbringing, we had a great talk detailing the relevance of the subject, both stemming from our past athletic experience and observations; excerpts from our conservation will appear.
So, one may question why mental health in basketball intrigues us so much. Well, for starters, we both went through our own journeys.
Keion: “Those who know me well will acknowledge how my basketball career never came with any ease. I had the blessing to play at the college level but definitely went through rough times at each stage. My drive and passion for the game always left me unsatisfied and striving for greater gain. I felt unaccomplished the majority of the time and I think it had a great impact on my interactions with daily life outside of ball. Feeling introverted, depressed, angry, all of that. It’s something that can really have a toll on you, possibly even months/years after you finish playing.”
Trey: “I can relate; I lived and breathed basketball too growing up. For me, a lot of coaches honestly didn’t pour into me (outside of my dad). Most coaches didn’t allow me to play my true game, so it held me back from reaching my full playing potential back in high school. However, I knew I could hoop and dominate in different environments, like AAU for example, when given the chance. That frustration made me play with a chip on shoulder until the age of about 27 or 28, far removed from high school. I always felt “I had to prove myself.” Those thoughts played a major role in my confidence and self-esteem on how I approached basketball. In a certain way, it was how I managed my own mental health. However, it was also self-destructive because I played with this chip into my late 20s, until I realized there was nothing to prove. Once I came to terms with that, at the age of 30 years old, I can now “play for fun again.”
That basketball passion helps both Trey and I when we try and give back to younger players we stumble across. As a scout/journalist, I feel blessed to help high school players get their name out there on the recruiting radar and serve as a voice they hopefully can relate to. I was in that same position not terribly long ago as a high school senior back in 2014. In Trey’s case, he coaches youth basketball and pushes his players to reach the highest level possible. In all, we both rely on our own past history to pass knowledge on to whoever else may seek it; experience is the best teacher. Along with striving to achieve their fullest potential, we also hope players realize that trying to conceal personal issues with mental instability only makes it worse. You only see progress when you start to let it out. If you don’t believe us, maybe take into consideration that some NBA stars opened up about their own challenges earlier this year.
Trey: “I think it’s great what guys like (Kevin) Love and (DeMar) DeRozan are doing just because they’re opening up a conversation that we don’t discuss enough. I’m happy that the NBA is so swift and progressive about stuff like this; they understand the issues that players face. It’s a good step because mental and physical health work hand-in-hand, you can’t do one without the other. If you mentally cannot get to the space to perform… ultimately, you’re not going to perform; It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional, amateur, or recreation player. Those two expressing their own stories will help pave the way for more athletes in the future to be comfortable speaking and addressing their own Mental Health.”
Keion: “This can also help young fans of the NBA come to realize how their idols go through struggles just like the rest of us. Playing as a grown pro doesn’t make you immune to those same ugly feelings. NBA players honestly have some of the most pressure because the way they play dictates how much they get paid. I can’t even imagine what else they go through mentally at times. Acknowledging that you’re going through some tough stages mentally doesn’t make you weak or soft. If anything, it makes you courageous and stronger. I hope that Love and DeRozan’s admittance will influence a lot of young players. Whether they like it or not, NBA players serve as a role models for a ton of people.”
As Charles Barkley once stated, however, the biggest influence should stem from parents, guardians, coaches, and others. Not just NBA stars.
Trey: “Let’s think about it for a second. If your child is playing basketball year-around, you need to have something in place to help him/her recuperate and maintain his/her mental health. For example, consider the effect of playing AAU. You go to school all week, travel long distances for the weekend, play games ALL day, depending on how well your team does. Then, back to school on Monday morning. Oh, and if you’re on a school team, you most likely have practice/workouts that Monday; that is a lot for a child/teenager. I would caution parents to watch how they push their children. Listen to your child and watch their behaviors; you are the one that knows them best. Warning signs include isolating, mood changes, irritabilty, issues with sleep, loss of interest, decreased school and sports performance. Talk to them, free of judgement and come up with a plan, (therapy, break from sports, etc). If you don’t catch it or keep pushing the child too much, they might end up leaving the game entirely. I’ve seen it happen. Playing the game, or doing anything in general, without love for it can be mentally unhealthy.”
Certain age groups should also see consideration when discussing the likelihood of greatest vulnerability in regards to mental health issues.
Trey: “I would say… athletes around the age of 10-15 are at the greatest risk, in my opinion.”
Keion: “Really? Ok… so that’s around middle school going into high school. Do you feel it has to do with pressures of going into more competitive sport?”
Trey: “Yeah, in a sense. Middle school can be a VERY tough transition year, all-around. You have the biological component, kids growing into their bodies pretty much overnight. Then, there’s the school and social issues/pressure, which are added stressors. These issues coupled with performance on a basketball court can really impact self-confidence, self-esteem and other behaviors. These behaviors can turn into long-term habits that are either positive or negative, on and off the court. This I why I believe the middle school age is the most impressionable as far as developing certain habits. Parents should REALLY should monitor their child during that stage of life.”
Keion: “I agree. Man, middle school wasn’t for me (laughs). I guess you could say that the second half of high school also brings a lot of pressure. Upperclassmen enjoy being ‘the man’ at their school, obviously, but the athletes seeking to play in college may become drained from steadily working to get their name out there for recruitment purposes. That’s probably why a lot of guys who commit to an institution express how it’s a relief to end the process.”
Trey: “We also need to remember that the mind itself is not fully developed until the age of 25. The prefrontal cortex, which controls impulses and rationalization of behaviors, doesn’t peak until one turns 25. These kids in middle, high school, college and even professionals have a long way to go, until they reach their max mental development. So when an 18-year old or 19-year old player, (the major star) has this immense pressure on him to perform and responsibility on/off the court; then BOOM makes a mistake and gets berated for it, it’s not really fair because technically his mind has not fully developed. It affects self-confidence and self-esteem, ultimately affecting overall Mental Health.
Keion: “I think most of these college freshmen nowadays appear so impressive when looking at their build that many of us forget they’re all still young. Coming right out of high school.”
Trey: “That’s what I’m saying! We don’t understand the dynamics of the mental health component enough to even equate it to physical health. Mental Health is daily, and it is loosely defined as how we deal with day to day stressors. All we think about with athletes are their talents, gifts, and athleticism. That’s how we perceive them. But, it’s WAY more to that.”
To any athletes out there struggling, Trey has some words of advice.
Trey: “If it’s a crisis, please call the National Suicide Hotline or talk to someone you can trust to get help. If you’re struggling with managing your own mental health, I would say look into therapy, talk to your doctor, family, friends and coaches. The key is understanding what makes you TICK. What specifically stresses you out? You have to do a lot of introspection in order to realize why you feel the way you are feeling. It most likely won’t happen overnight. It’s a daily process, just like working out. Take it one step at a time to build up the healthiness of your mind. Ignoring it will affect other aspects of your life, outside of ball.”
As one can see, Trey clearly knows his stuff. His passion for teaching others about mental health stands preeminent and he hopes to see his brand continue to grow toward a point where he can facilitate classes and agencies with people around the world. I definitely recommend giving his books a read and adding him to your ‘following’ list on social media:
Facebook: Trey Taylor
Trey and I hope this helps bring the subject more to life for all athletes, not solely basketball players. Do not take your health lightly. If you feel some type of way, talk to people; don’t go through it alone. Start observing how your stress levels appear now, before they accumulate to something more serious.
Trey: Many may not realize how stress and anxiety differ. Stress acts as the precursor to anxiety.
Maybe all of this will make someone think a bit deeper when asked if he/she is ‘good.’ Live your life and live it healthy!