Tips for Becoming Mentally Fit Like an NBA Player

NBA Mental Health

A NBA PLAYER is many things: an athlete, a performer, a brand, and a star, to name a few. He’s probably a billionaire and in great physical form. He seemed to have everything working in his favor. But he also suffers from the same slings and arrows that send the rest of us to the therapist’s couch: anxiety, sadness, and working stress. And, just as these difficulties eat away at our mental health when ignored, they may hurt athletes both on and off the court.

Recognizing this, the league suggested that all of its clubs hire a mental-health specialist in 2018. A year later, that proposal became a regulation, spawning the NBA’s innovative Mind Health program, directed by Kensa Gunter, Psy.D., an Atlanta-based clinical and sports psychologist. “Players are human beings, and mental health is part of the human experience,” Gunter said.

She notes that the program was created after NBA stars like DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love openly discussed their emotional issues, which helped to de-stigmatize vulnerability. The NBA teams’ mental health and performance experts include psychologists, psychiatrists, and others from throughout the spectrum of mental-health treatment. We asked these mental health coaches how they assist their athletes in dealing with difficult but typical circumstances. Their game plans can also be yours.

Ronald Kimmons, Psy.D., Utah Jazz Vice President of Player Wellness

NBA players’ positions and expectations vary and evolve over their careers, like they do in many other professions. You’ll find 19-year-olds with 19-year-old issues all the way up to a person in his 30s who is getting ready to retire, typically with a lot of worry. Understandably, their identity is bound up with their job.

We speak a lot about retiring to something rather than retiring from something to help them make the move to what’s next. We discuss what their future may hold outside of the league. The same holds true throughout the league. They must, of course, perform on the court. How can they achieve it when they may no longer be at their physical peak?

First, they must determine how they can add to the team. Perhaps they can take on the role of mentor to younger players. This helps to shift the narrative from a newbie arriving to seize your job to something more agreeable.

Even if they aren’t putting up the statistics they used to, they are still contributing to the team’s success. That’s a difficult thing to learn, but happily, a veteran understands it better than a newbie.

Chantelle Green, Ph.D., Portland Trail Blazers Director of Mind Health and Wellness

It’s normal for a player to be upset or frustrated after losing a game. But it’s critical to understand your happy medium, sometimes known as your baseline. You don’t want to go too much from that, sinking too low or running too high. The first step in avoiding this is to assess your baseline by keeping track of when you feel like your best self—when you have mental clarity, tranquility, and moments of delight. The second step is to have tools and tactics in place to assist you go back to that baseline. Spending time with friends, family, and teammates is one example, as is meditation, deep breathing, appreciating nature, listening to music, practicing your faith, playing video games, and connecting with a therapist. The more tactics you have, the better. If one doesn’t work, try another.

It might be difficult to stay motivated when you are feeling below your baseline. There is a repertory of things that restore your motivation, just as there is a repertoire of coping methods that return you to your baseline happiness. You could believe that making the playoffs motivates me. When that is not an option, you must reconsider your options. It may be more like: I’m motivated to retain my contract. I’m driven by the desire to provide for my family. My children inspire me. Being a good role model motivates me. Something on that list will inspire you. It won’t always be a matter of victories and losses.

The expert is Corey Yeager, Ph.D., a psychotherapist who has worked with organizations such as the Detroit Pistons

Anxiety is the most common problem I hear from athletes and coaches. Anxiety is best defined as worrying or brooding over what will happen in the future. It isn’t necessarily negative—some worry might motivate you to go out or study more—but I’m talking about the paralyzing kind: anxiety over getting cut from the team, or the next contract, or who among your family and friends will require more financial assistance from you. I attempt to assist gamers understand that anxiety occurs in a futuristic environment. You’re worried about something that hasn’t happened yet. You’re wasting your time and energy on something that isn’t real, worrying about something that may never happen.

So I encourage them to stay in the present moment and avoid worrying about the future. Go through the routine when you get to the queue. Breathe normally. If you have a catchphrase, use it. Center yourself, then shoot the free shot as if it were the millionth time. We are aware that we have power over how we act and respond in this time. We won’t be as anxious or concerned about what’s to come. That is freedom from anxiety.

Joe Carella, Psy.D., Sport Psychology Consultant for the Orlando Magic

Anyone who is picked believes they will be an all-star with a lengthy career ahead of them. Perhaps you consider yourself a main scorer, the person you pass the ball to at the conclusion of the game to make the game-winning bucket. The coach, on the other hand, sees you as largely a defensive player. You may resist it or embrace it.

I work with the players to help them accept their coach’s vision and acquire the abilities necessary to flourish in their roles. They are far more likely to obtain the opportunity to advance to a new career that is more closely aligned with their vision of themselves after doing so. If you do not take advantage of a chance, you may come to regret it for a long time. Surprisingly, veteran players have far less of a problem with this. It’s difficult when you’re a novice who may refuse to see or accept your limitations. Unfortunately, players who do not improve their self-awareness are more prone to reject change, and their NBA careers are shorter and do not meet their potential. However, the players who can remain trustworthy while embracing the challenge of shifting opinions are the ones who have long and rewarding careers.

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