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Athletes Are Human

Before I begin my newsletter, I would like to wish everyone a happy holiday season. I would also like to invite you to check out my revised, new website, www.winnersunlimited.com.
This past Saturday morning a terrible tragedy happened in Kansas City. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, Javon Belcher murdered his girlfriend at their residence and then drove to the Chiefs training facility at Arrowhead Stadium and committed suicide. This murder/suicide left their three-month old daughter, an orphan and numerous questions about why and how this could happen. Unfortunately, murders and suicides happen at an alarmingly high rate in the United States, and all too often happen amongst young adults in their 20’s and 30’s. Over the past week, much has been speculated and written about why and how Belcher could have committed such a terrible act. Many peoples lives were affected, not only the families of both, but many in the world of sports. Although deaths like this occur way too often, this has been highly publicized because Belcher was a professional football player. Talk shows, blogs and the internet have been full of discussions about gun control, domestic violence and mental health. All of these topics are pertinent towards what happened. Apparently, Belcher and his girlfriend had been arguing frequently about their relationship and finances. The Chiefs had offered counseling for both, but according to statements made by Belcher, it wasn’t helping. Each month I write a newsletter that usually focuses on sport psychology. However, this month I want to focus a little deeper on psychology. As I have stated numerous times, I have loved sports all my life, as a participant, fan, parent, coach and as a sport psychologist. We have discussed the roles athletes, parents, coaches, fans and officials have in this newsletter for the past six years. But in the end, no matter how talented an athlete you may be, no matter how well you perform under pressure, no matter how motivated you are to succeed, you are still a human being with a wide array of emotions. I have frequently stated that you can have two athletes of equal physical skills, but the one with the stronger mind will usually come out on top. All too often, many athletes are able to skirt the rules because they are a good athlete. I have worked with many collegiate and professional athletes over the years who have been able to accomplish a lot because of their physical abilities, but mentally are far behind the norm. They have gotten by because they were good at sports. Coaches and teachers have commonly given them a free pass in class and in life because they were good at sports. In my opinion, when we let them get by because they are physically gifted, we may be cheating them by not teaching them life’s more important lessons, related to respect, honesty and an understanding of dealing with your emotions, positive or negative. An individual’s mental health is more important than any sports talent. It doesn’t matter what level you coach at, I believe working with an athlete on issues related to self confidence, self esteem, respect and balance in their life is more important than how physically gifted they are. We may never know the reasons why Belcher committed these acts. But, it reinforces to me that athletes may be in tremendous physical condition, but mentally they may be hurting and in trouble. Perhaps the best lesson that can be learned from this tragedy is to take the time and listen to the athletes you coach. Listen to signs of emotional pain and address them. Don’t ignore them because the young person can run fast, hit a ball a long way or shoot three pointers. Make sure the support is there to help them if they demonstrate that they need it.

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