Beyond skills, Solon High athletes focus on mental health

Beyond skills, Solon High athletes focus on mental health

Team works with UI sports psychologist to improve leadership, confidence

Alexis Anderson competes in the 140-pound wrestling match with Solon assistant coach Caitlin Hatcher and head coach during the WaMaC Girls Wrestling Championships at Williamsburg High School on Jan. 23, 2023 in Williamsburg Coach Jack Monson yelled at her.  (Savannah Black/The Gazette)

Alexis Anderson competes in the 140-pound wrestling match with Solon assistant coach Caitlin Hatcher and head coach during the WaMaC Girls Wrestling Championships at Williamsburg High School on Jan. 23, 2023 in Williamsburg Coach Jack Monson yelled at her. (Savannah Black/The Gazette)

SOLON — Solon High School girls wrestling coach Jake Munson is watching his athletes grow — not just as competitors, but also in their confidence and team camaraderie since they began working with a sports psychologist has also been improved.

Last spring, the district hired Mike Berrebi, an expert in sports and performance psychology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, to help provide support with the mental aspects of practices and games.

Munson said these learnings will help the girls beyond the wrestling mat. Student-athletes across all sports are learning how to prioritize their mental health, challenge their negative self-talk, make space for mindfulness and support each other.

Berebi has been meeting with coaches and student-athletes since March to teach them relaxation strategies, such as how to manage their breathing. They also participate in cognitive behavioral therapy, examining how their thoughts affect how they feel, identifying negative statements and replacing them with positive self-talk.

Mike Berrebi, an expert in sport and performance psychology at the University of Iowa, speaks to student-athletes at Solon High School on April 27, 2023 in Solon.  (Nick Rollman/The Gazette)

Mike Berrebi, an expert in sport and performance psychology at the University of Iowa, speaks to student-athletes at Solon High School on April 27, 2023 in Solon. (Nick Rollman/The Gazette)

The Gazette spoke with Solon Athletic Director Kathy Hack about the impact integrating sports psychology into high school athletics has on students.

Q: How did you learn about performance psychology? Why introduce it to Sauron athletes?

A: My interest was piqued because when you read about high-level athletes, you see that what makes those great athletes great and makes them special is that they have sports psychologists. This has always been something I’ve been interested in. I started thinking, “What are we doing for high school athletes?” Coaches are busy working on certain skills and game strategies, but how much time are we investing in the mental health of our student-athletes?

Dr. Berrebi sees a future for this. It’s similar to a school counselor, but more like a sports psychologist supporting athletes. I’m interested in finding someone here to meet with students face to face.

Q: How does it affect athletic performance?

A: You’ll see the kids practicing the strategies they’re taught – taking some deep breaths. This actually works. It will refocus you. Imagine what it feels like to be on the court. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? So when you show up, whether it’s on game night or a big interview later in life, it’s like you’ve been here before.

You can also imagine it all day long – like in wrestling – you’re going to go out and pin this kid, and then you go out and get pinned within 10 seconds. That kid might be better off. We talk about what you can control, what you can’t control, and what do you do when things don’t go your way? Coach well, be a good teammate, and be realistic. If we’re the 30th best team in the state playing the No. 1 best team in the state, then our goal is to go out there, compete and do our best. This needs to be your focus.

Our women’s soccer coaches do a great job using these materials, such as practicing meditation before games. Our aim is that if children are able to take what they have learned and use it to their own benefit, then it is a successful session. Not everything is suitable for every child. It’s still worth trying to find one or two things from the course that can help students in some way.

It’s great to see us taking mental health seriously.

Q: What did you learn from this program?

A: When I coached, I didn’t feel like I took too much of a beating mentally. For example, cross country, how much of your sport is physical and how much is mental? A lot of kids would say it’s 50/50, but how much time do you spend on the mental side of cross country? Even if you spent 10 minutes a day doing this part, do you think it would help you? It opens up a conversation with kids that maybe we’re on to something.

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