Vanguard Roundtable #2: Mental Health vs. Mental Toughness


2:40: How do you define mental health as compared to mental toughness?

7:27: How do you assess and monitor mental health and mental toughness in a performance program?

12:27: How does the approach change when dealing with an athlete returning from injury?

15:05: Do you track anything when working with your athletes before going into a competition?

18:52: Can you advocate mental health while also encouraging mental toughness – are they in opposition, or complimentary of each other?

20:41: How do you get the performance and coaching staff on the same page when it comes to mental health and mental toughness?

29:52: Recommendations on how you build relationship with coaches to have conversations that need to happen.

33:55: How do you know which data is appropriate to share with the coaching staff?

38:21: What are the limits within your specific role and how do you bridge that gap to help individuals access the resources they need?

47:41: How do you work with an athlete who may use mental health as an excuse, and how do you know when to push?

53:46: How do sports psychologists and mental skills coaches work together?



  • Uma Dorn, PhD – Licensed Counseling and Sport Psychologist at Salt Lake Psychology
  • Sebastian Little, PCC – Leadership and Performance Coach at Sebastian Little Performance and former collegiate student-athlete
  • Brian Alexander, MA CMPC – Mental Skills Coach with the Athletic Performance Unit at UC San Diego
  • Emma Ostermann – Human Performance Consultant at Fusion Sport and former collegiate student-athlete


Emma Ostermann 0:05
Welcome, and hello to our second Vanguard roundtable, where we discuss topics that we believe the more attention in order to drive the human performance industry forward. Today’s topic, we’re going to look at mental health versus mental toughness. Before we dive into today’s topic, we do want to highlight a few housekeeping items. Our North American Human Performance Summit is right around the corner. So visit Human Performance Summit comm to register and use the code Vanguard for a 25% discount on an in person or virtual resident registration. The views expressed today are those of the individual panelists, and do not necessarily reflect the position of fusion sport, or the panelists organization. Please submit questions and the QA window where you will also be able to upvote each other’s questions. We’ll pause during the conversation to take a question from the audience. And we will also leave some time at the end for questions. We would also like your your feedback today. At the end, I will be bringing up a QR code that has the opportunity to scan that QR code and we will donate $5 To girls who code so for each survey completed we will donate that that $5 And we also want your feedback on that survey as well. For today’s panelists, we have Dr. Uma Dorn. She is a licensed Counseling and Psychology sports psychologist at Salt Lake psychology, Sebastian Little, a leadership and performance coach at Sebastian middle performance, Brian Alexander, mental skills coach from UC San Diego, and then myself, Mo strummin. I will be moderating today’s session. Before we dive in, we do want to do a poll to start this conversation off. So we’re gonna kick that pull off right now. This is not a anonymous audience poll, the focus on mental health for athletes or service members has come at the expense of developing mental toughness. So we do encourage you before we dive into this conversation, to vote on one of those answers. And we’ll leave it up here for a few more seconds trying to get a few more people in. Perfect, thank you so much for tagging that poll. That just gives them an opportunity for our panelists to see kind of what our audience thinks and to help engage you guys as well. Perfect. Yep. So we’ll go ahead and end that poll. And let’s go ahead and dive into our conversation today. First up, we have Sebastian Little and Sebastian, I’m going to kick off this first question of how do you define mental health as compared to mental toughness?

Sebastian Little 2:52
I am. Thanks, first of all, thanks for having me on. This is super exciting. Thanks, everybody who’s in the audience? I love this question. I think it’s one that’s super relevant in the athletic space, I’m actually gonna take this a little bit out of the context of even just sport and answer it more broadly. So in my background is a life and leadership coach, I get trained, my training is really an ontological coach development and leadership, we make the distinction between coaching and therapy as a pretty distinct line. And I’d love actually, for my panelists to jump out at this point at some point and kind of give their own thoughts, but the way that we think about the mental mental health conversation is more of a therapeutic conversation, right? Typically, what we’re doing is we’re looking more in the past, right, and a therapist as a, as a clinician, they can prescribe they can diagnose. And in that context, you’re unraveling what happened in the past, usually, there’s something around trauma, you’re looking at what is the underlying source and being able to start to heal that healing work? When I have when I think about a mental toughness, conversation, I think about it being more of a coaching conversation towards performance. And now we’re starting to shift our perspective of looking at what does the individual athlete need in terms of bridging their own gap from where they are right now to where they want to go? So the conversation from is shifts from going from more of a past based conversation around making sure you’re trying to remedy something, get something back up to health, versus what is the next jump in your in your gap in your performance? And how do we close that gap? So it’s more of a plus conversation versus trying to fill the delta that go the void?

Uma Dorn 4:24
Yeah, yeah, I want to jump in, of course, kind of from the the mental health side of it. I do think there’s this perception of mental health being more a deficit or pathology based model. But I would say for me, and my perspective is that it’s more strengths based and more wellness based. And so I see mental toughness, and I will, I will say like that that word itself that I probably struggled with, for me, it’s like this idea of resilience or this this kind of knowing where our mental limits are and working to kind of expand them. And mental health is kind of Part of that or a piece of that?

Brian Alexander 5:03
Yeah, I love to dovetail on both of those comments on mental health versus mental toughness. First and foremost, I think I’m certified mental performance consultant, and in light of the publicity of the Simone Biles, case of getting twisties. At the Olympic Games. There’s been a lot of publication, media attention to mental health and athletics. And they came out and made a statement, which I agree with that mental health is a continuum that ranges from thriving to disorder. So we usually think about it from driving is like wellness versus disorders, illness. And then there’s different people trained in different ways to address those goals that you might have around boosting your mental health, something that I think we all have, just like our physical health. So we can look at it not so much from a pathological point of view all the time, versus just okay, where are you on this mental health continuum? And what kind of support and services do you actually need to help you get to just functioning versus thriving?

Emma Ostermann 6:13
Those are all really great points. And I do want to just do a follow up question. There’s mental health and mental toughness. Is there any other term or word that you’ve heard associated, whether it’s in athletics, regarding, you know, anything related to that?

Uma Dorn 6:31
Well, I like again, mental resilience, that there’s that there’s mental skills that we talked about in kind of the performance area, you know, and, and even, like, kind of mental strength, that’s probably another one that I’ve heard. But yeah, I’m curious too, if folks have heard other

Brian Alexander 6:49
terms. Yeah, I’ve also heard mental fitness, which is a new kind of growing buzz term, I think, in terms of that idea of stop just when there’s a problem that’s just working fitness, as well as kind of more catchy, but mental health, you know, sort of mental health.

Emma Ostermann 7:12
Those are all really great, great words. I think at one point, I did hear mental tightness, you know, as it just another is another word to describe, you know, the the mindset that you you want to be able to share with your athletes or the individuals that you work with. Those are all really great points. I do want to keep this moving along at Brian, I’m going to come to you with the next question. How do you assess and monitor mental health and mental toughness and performance program?

Brian Alexander 7:39
That is a great question, because I think any great work starts with assessment. And we have to get really good at not jumping to conclusions right away from just, you know, what we think we see, especially as we’re training coaches, to boost athletes, you know, feelings of support vitality and well being in their programming cultures. So I what we’ve done at UCSD, we’ve actually created a performance plan sort of development plan that identifies these pillars of principles around what does it look like to have this both, you know, mental toughness balance, if you want to call it or I like to use more of the resilience piece that Dr. Dorman is talking about?

10 different pillars that we actually built into smartabase. Weave. And then we asked the athletes to reflect on their their past week, how are you doing in these areas. And so, you know, we have six, mental and then for life balance. So it’s stuff like emotional regulation, performance enhancing self talk, motivation, we talked about routines. And then we also talk about core values. And we talk about life organization. And we also talk about mental recovery time that you can just disconnect from your sport in order to reconnect with a little more balance. So we do that, we try and do that on a weekly basis, then use that to inform us and combine it with your observation, which is the unstructured assessment of what we see out there with

Uma Dorn 9:19
work. I love the idea of mental recovery. And I think that that just gets me really excited. And just, I and I do think it starts with assessment and that monitoring that happens regularly, regularly, we, we talk about, you know, the physical side pretty, pretty consistently, we’re looking at nutrition, we’re looking at where they are physically, and we have trainers and I think in the same way that that mental checkup should be part of that process and that we’re looking at that emotional and social health there as well.

Sebastian Little 9:51
So I’ll add a little bit of a different angle on this. I love love the idea of assessment of where we are now and like how do we actually pull The gap, a lot of the work that I do with folks, and again, this is more athletes through the lens of life coaching is looking at their world and where they want to go. So the question of course, there’s always going to be metrics that are performance indicators, like a high performing culture, high performing athlete, there’s going to be certain things that are going to be kind of a constant across our baseline across the board. But the next question is case, what do you want to do with it? And I love to be in the conversation with the athletes around and coaches and staffs around, what is the next next kind of breakthrough we’re aiming for? And how do we get there? That’s a different, slightly different conversation, because it’s more exploratory, often involves more creativity and partnership. And and once we have the baseline established, we can really look to what’s next. So assessment for me is ultimately comes back down to asking the question, what do you want? Which is a question that we get asked a lot, but not actually. We’ll get through or throw it around a lot. But we don’t always actually sit and take time to think about what is the thing that I really yearn for? I truly desire. Let’s go get that.

Brian Alexander 11:03
And I think you guys gonna say the same thing. Yeah, yeah.

Uma Dorn 11:08
Yeah. Yeah, I was gonna say, I think I think you’re absolutely right. I think if you’re doing monitoring just for the purposes of monitoring and not doing anything with it, it is absolutely kind of not helpful, right? If we’re just monitoring and having data or doing an assessment, and then we don’t actually think about what’s next. It kind of is pointless and not not really helpful for for the athletes.

Brian Alexander 11:30
Yeah, I think we see that too. A lot of times down in the trenches with athletes, they’re inputting all this information, they’re sending it off into the ether, and then they’re never hearing anything about it. And they’re like, well, what’s the point? Right? How is this gonna benefit me? What? How do I use it? So you know, so that’s you need just kind of triggered the idea of goal setting, but having informed goal setting and not just those outcome based goals, but also, here’s the big dream, let’s break it down into performance improvement targets. And let’s break that down into process oriented steps that are more short term. And let’s flip that upside down in terms of what we focus on, so that we can really drill into the process. And I don’t say trust process, I think we have to follow a process, which is to your point, but then keep them

Emma Ostermann 12:21
these are all really great questions. We have had some questions that are coming in as you guys are keeping the conversation going. One of the questions that came through was how does this approach change when dealing with an athlete returning from injury? Obviously, you do your assessments, coming from a performance coaching side, I understand those assessments, but does that change? With what you’re looking at how you’re communicating with the athlete as they come back from injury? And I’m actually gonna kick that over to you to, to kick us off with that one?

Uma Dorn 12:50
Yeah, I mean, I think a big part of it is, again, going back to kind of what what are they’re needing, and really understanding how is the injury impacting them? I think oftentimes, for some, it may be a quick bounce back, and for others, it might not be and to kind of know where they’re at, I think it’s really helpful. The other piece of it is that I think it’s really important that there is a touch point with whoever that might be to think about that mental side of recovering from the injury. I think that there’s both a physical recovery in the mental recovery from an injury and that can be at any given point in the continuum, right? It is also from just being injured all the way up to like getting back into the sport, and what does that look like from the

Sebastian Little 13:34
mental side of things? And mcarthurglen One more thing on this as well. Awesome. My love, love your answer. I actually want to take the perspective, I want to put myself back in my playing days, I play football, Yale University, I tore my ACL MCL meniscus, my senior year, game five, my season came back for my fifth year, starting my first game back. And I say that only because the journey was more important and what I want to pull out of it. And the thing that I learned about myself, but also the process was how important the social circle was along the way. And it’s something that’s easy for us to forget, particularly it’s like, hey, the strength staff or the medical staff has this person they got him right and they did they had me but the the check into the touch points that I really craved, wrote with my teammates and my coaches, and the mental thing that the thing that I did a social unit I did, I actually created a an ACL group chat with everybody else that was going through a similar injury. If you had a knee injury I included you we weren’t we were inclusive in this thing. But we brought people together of that were going through a shared experience. And I had some other outlets to make sure that that was that was a healthy experience even in the frustration. So of course there’s going to be the frustration, the pain that goes through recovering from an injury. But what I want to speak to is like the social and mental aspect there, those really go hand in hand with having the made a full recovery and then get back on the field the next year.

Emma Ostermann 15:02
That’s great. Thank you, Sebastian. Yeah. And there’s there’s also another question that came through. And it’s, do you track anything when working with your athletes before going into a competition? Is there like a negative or positive influence on the mental side that you guys would look at? Or is it a continuum that basically just stays the same? Whether it’s an offseason in season out of season? Do you guys approach things differently? Do through different periods?

Brian Alexander 15:32
Can I’d love to take that one? Because I think that falls right into the wheelhouse of mental skills training, which is what you know, my education is in performance psychology and sports psychology in the applied sense. And I think something that, especially around mental health is we we tend to take a reactive approach a lot of the times when we talk about it, but you know, what we’re trying to reinforce this, this idea that mental skills are meant to be practiced. And so that might may speak more towards the Mental Toughness aspect is fashionability to right? It’s like going from where you are to where you want to be. And what kind of skill sets align with that daily training. I didn’t say or share this earlier. But I think mental toughness is kind of a abused term. And we came up with some other terms, but I also think of this term called malleability. And what that really means to me is, you know, you can push on by your bed, right, and you’re going to use those skills as you’re bending to kind of work around this force may be planned for you hadn’t planned for, or you just didn’t know you didn’t know you needed to write, but you’re never going to break. And when it stops pushing on, you’re going to go back to form as you continue on. So that’s part of the idea. And a lot of times, as we’re preparing for competition, it’s about what can I control? And can I control the controls? Yeah, so

Emma Ostermann 17:02
I think like you said, you hear that term a lot, whether it’s coming from, if you’re working with a Sport Coach, you hear I want to build mental toughness, I want to build mental toughness. And it may be hard to distinguish the difference between the two, especially whether you’re a sports performance coach who’s not as familiar with, you know, what does mental toughness mean, in a sport setting versus, you know, a psychological setting versus, you know, a strength conditioning setting, which I was used to. But with that, can you advocate mental health or also encouraging mental toughness? Are they in opposition? Or are they complimentary of each other? What are your thoughts on that?

Uma Dorn 17:40
Can I go back to the previous question around tracking? I guess, for me, the the, the one thing I think, that Brian talked about was this idea that mental skills have to be practiced. And so I think for me, when I work with athletes, the big thing to let them know is like, not to have situations where they’re practicing what it feels like to be in competition, but also in competition to to have this experience of having what the mental skills what what actually happens. And oftentimes, I think we we kind of maybe focus on this idea of like, what’s my best performance? Or how do I get better, but also like the idea of, like, I teach folks to also visualize when they did make a mistake, or they did fail, and then how did they bounce back? Because that’s the part that they we need to keep building on and keep kind of encouraging them to do that. So I think, in terms of tracking, I think it’s more like, yes, maybe you’re tracking differently, but it’s more about how what do you use? And how do you use that with the athlete? I think that’s more important. So yeah, and I know, I went into that question, but

Emma Ostermann 18:46
that’s perfect. I think it’s a great point. And I think that does, does tie in with that. Next question that I asked. And, Sebastian, I do want to throw that over to you. I mean, especially with the group that you worked with, you’ve probably heard it as an athlete is you want to build mental toughness, you want to build mental toughness. Do you think they are in opposition to one another between mental skills? Or sorry, mental health and mental toughness? Or do you find them more complimentary of one another?

Sebastian Little 19:11
Yeah, thanks for the question. Whoever asked this, this is the clap This is that so even in the way that it’s worded, right, what can you have one or the other, it actually creates a paradox for us, which means that you can have either or, and I think that the the perfect marriage is a combination of both and right, so it’s complimentary, but I’d actually even put them in as integrated. I think as a coach and a practitioner, you can only go as far with your team as you’re willing to rest them. Right? So if we look at them being the power is actually in the paradox of powers and polarity both end if you’re going to advocate Hey, go take care of your your well being go take make sure that you go to that therapy session that you talked about, it’s really important that you talk about what’s going on at home. You can go further there. If you do that. You can go further into pushing your athlete to performance or what we would kind of consider To perform traditional performance, so I actually think that the more willing we are to go to one end is also gives us permission to go to the other. And they don’t exist without each other.

Emma Ostermann 20:12
Okay, well said and, Matt, do you have anything to add on to that? Yeah, I

Uma Dorn 20:14
love what you just said this idea of both. And and I think it also goes back to what Brian was saying earlier that it is a continuum, right, they are all on that same same spectrum in that line. And that if we see it as two opposing things, or different things that I think we are missing, to really address the whole person of the athlete, which is I think, really, what if we do that their performance will will be better?

Emma Ostermann 20:43
That’s awesome. Thank you. This, this conversation has been amazing so far. So thank you, guys, for all of your responses. I do want to keep it moving forward. I’m gonna come to you with this next question of how do you get the performance and coaching staff on the same page when it comes to mental health mental toughness?

Uma Dorn 20:59
Yeah, I think a big part of it is changing the kind of the language and the narrative around it. Because I think there’s still this perception of mental health equals bad mental toughness is good for performance. And then I think being really careful about not necessarily emphasizing one over the other. Right, I think it is this balance of having both. And also providing specific, I think, oftentimes providing specific tools and language in how to approach athletes around mental health and mental toughness. I think oftentimes, there’s this fear of I can’t talk about mental health, that must be something the psychologist needs to do, or the therapist needs to do. And but but knowing that, just like Sebastian just said a minute ago, like, what would it be like for the coach to say, Hey, I think you need to go to that therapy session. That’s great. How can I support you in doing that, that your well being is just as important, but that coming from the coach makes that much more accessible for the athlete?

Emma Ostermann 22:03
Brian, I know you work with a variety of teams in the college setting as well. Do you have anything to add on to that?

Brian Alexander 22:10
Yeah, I agree with what Huma said about just educating the coach giving them language, that’s common language, also making it okay to not be okay, as we’ve probably heard by now in the media. It’s a cultural, you know, shift. And I’d love to hear from Sebastian too, because he’s in the in the tufts where the football player, but I played water polo. And that’s also one of those things where it’s like, hey, get punched in the face, don’t talk about it, just, you know, be tough, keep swimming, keep going. It’s part of the game, or, you know, you’re gonna grind, don’t worry about it, get over it, you know, it’s that kind of stuff. But we don’t want to lose that aspect of competition. We just want them to know that you need to take care of yourself as a person first, and then an athlete second. And there’s certain ways to do it, where it’s performance enhancing versus performance, debilitating, you can do both.

Sebastian Little 23:10
John Maxwell talks about the level of the team will never see that the level of the leader, I always go one level further, the level of the leader will now exceed that the level of the system or the culture that they live in, right. So one of the thing, the reason why I bring that forward is if you as a coach aren’t doing your own work, not necessarily therapeutic, not necessarily coaching, but doing your own work actively, you are clearing for the rest of your team. Right? So the permission you permission your athletes give themselves to take care of themselves happens when they see their coach go home for dinner with their kids. It happens when they bring work life balance to work, and they actually have their two roles running on the practice field. So the level of the leader actually gives the team permission to go take care of themselves. But if they’re not eating well, or if they see in the film room, super late eating pizza every night, credibility comes off a little bit, and so does the permission for the rest of the team. So I actually even look at this as a cultural conversation if we just continue to elevate this right look at different angles. But yeah, as as the individual, you know, I totally agree with what anyone and Brian put forward. And when we look at the system, what is the system actually saying yes or no to? And I think that’s super important thing when we look at people being willing to go step into and ask for support, which is very, very difficult to do even more difficult to do when you don’t quite know as a high school or college athlete.

Uma Dorn 24:39
Yeah, and Sebastian, you said that really? I yeah, I do think we have it’s not just the coaching staff, right. It is administration. It is further up, right. It is across the board and we have to be educating across because the pressure just doesn’t come there. It’s it’s across the board and how do we kind of shift the culture to Yeah, I mean, and I would say athletics is notorious for not shifting at night or not being in that culture of well, kind of that mental health and wellness. So how do we kind of shift that across across the board?

Sebastian Little 25:11
I think what we have to start to practices is what we do when we do any type of training or teaching, there’s kind of three different levels usually have like assimilation with the content that we’re trying to provide, there’s language, I’m going to give you some new language, here’s some new terminology, we can go use together, great. That’s typically happens in a training, you get somebody external to come in, everybody walks away, they’re really happy with it. And then usually, within 72 hours, we’ve forgotten most of what we talked, the next level of it is real skill building. And then what I love about this conversation is we’re starting to get into the how, like, just the nature of the work that we do. So you go from language to skill to true identity, where I start to identify, that’s how I do things. So that’s how we do things. And now we’re talking about a value conversation. And when the value conversation, it starts to look at Team norms and culture. So when mental health or mental toughness is good moves from the language of it, the sexiness of it into now skills, we can now use, you know, a focal point, we can use breathing and meditation, we can use different calls and communication on the field or in the locker room. Now, we start to have an identity conversation. And that is really where the juice, the juice happens. And that’s where you see the consistency happen over time.

Emma Ostermann 26:26
You guys first spoke about the system and changing it from you know, an administrative level. And that can be really difficult, especially like you guys all set in the collegiate setting, is there like a chooser checking period or, you know, touch base period that you find that you’d have to do whether it’s handy to check in with this group every so often, just to make sure that they’re, they’re staying educated on the points that we made two months ago, are still staying in contact? Do you guys have any advice on that terms of those touch base work, just check in periods for the system based as book spoke about.

Brian Alexander 27:02
I could just share the frequency with which I usually meet with teams, but it’s it’s sort of a model of service, where you really going to be a change agent in the system, right? It starts with the buy in, and just mastering the art of hanging out. Right. You may I mean, I think I’m, I’m my point of view, I just hang out sometimes. And I feel like I’m totally worthless and not doing anything. And then all of a sudden, they see my face, and I start to get some trust building rapport built. And all of a sudden they’re saying, hey, and I’m like, Oh, hey, you see me, right? And then and then if I know their name, boom, that’s a big one. But then all of a sudden, there’s this one day where you’re there. And if it’s one on one, or the coach or whomever, they ask you a question, and then bam, you’ve got, you’ve got an opportunity. So you’ve just gained entry, if you can, I sort of even just use your counseling skills, and actively listen and give them an opportunity to sound sound off on what they’re seeing and how they’re experiencing. But a lot of that does also work through your relationship with the coaches. And obviously, there might be more on top of that, depending on who’s bringing you in and paying, you know, maybe paying for your services or whomever, but I think it’s it always comes down to that right. But then I usually try and meet weekly or just be around weekly, at least once a week, if not more, so that they feel like you’re a part of what their experiences as well, right? Because there’s that covenant to athletics, where if they don’t feel like you’re given some some of the sacrifice or some of the, the consistent, showing up aspect. If you do that, then you’re in the team. So you have to kind of get that buy in. And it’s hard. It’s a it’s an art, it’s not necessarily science.

Emma Ostermann 29:02
Definitely understand that, especially when I was a performance performance coach, you know, we sit in on these weekly performance staff meetings, and I know you you’re familiar with that as well, spatially and Ryan, I’m sure you guys are also familiar with that. And that kind of helps with that check in point. But when it comes to building that relationship, Ronnie, you don’t ahead of you need to build a relationship with the coach, the coaching staff. Do you have any recommendations on how you would go about that to build that relationship? So then you do get that buy in when it is time to have those conversations that need to have happen?

Brian Alexander 29:39
Well, I can share the way I do it and it’s not a one size fits all approach. It’s definitely a one size fits one approach depending on how well I know the coach Hello. Or, well as you know what kinds of similar can Do we have, but it starts usually with just like a discovery kind of call, you know? Because if they’re, if they’re seeking me out, or if I’m available to work with them, well, then there’s something that hopefully we can find to work on. Right? So I just want to stay to the Union. And maybe even not just the team yet, maybe it’s just what the program is. Tell me a little bit about the history of your program. I would love to know your coaching philosophy, what do you stand for? I just want to be a sponge and really just learn from because then all of a sudden, you’re giving them the power of conversation. And I think they’re usually used to that, like this is there, you’re coming in to add value, you’re not gonna come in and just take it away? So I think that’s so it’s kind of an assessment process, right? So it’s kind of like yo, the first step, I usually take, just gaining information, trying to open dialogue with them. And through that.

Sometimes you need that maybe elevator pitch to share with what kind of value that what do you offer, what kinds of things you work on. And then you kind of customize if you have the opportunity there.

Uma Dorn 31:19
I would say similarly to Brian, I think it is about that relationship and creating space for that. And I think much of it is also empathizing with their role that they’re in and really understanding the complexity of what that means. And what is kind of what they’re doing and what its impact on them and their well being right. And I think kind of coming in from that empathetic role can really help to then build those relationships, and then hopefully connect in open opening dialogue about the athletes.

Sebastian Little 31:52
Get really nitty gritty and tactical here. We’re speaking really to like how do we maintain and build a relationship so that we can be effective, right, because if we’re not in relationship with somebody, then we’re just consulting or throwing stuff at them. I love the equation, a touchpoint equals quality times quantity times frequency. So a touch point is any interaction you have with somebody else, right? Quality is the type of interaction that could be called Text, FaceTime, zoom, physical touch acts of service, right? Now you start to get to like, love languages that we might call, quantity might be like, I need to go check in with the head coach once a week. That is what he or she needs in order for us to be in relationship. And the frequency or sorry, quantity might be an hour, right frequency might be once a week. So I look at, I’m always kind of constantly looking for what does this person need? Right? Do they really responsive via text? Well, I’m gonna shoot him just a text, a podcast via text, right? Maybe they really need more in person time. So it really requires a stop in their office. And I’ll be looking at, like, how do I create relationship and maximize my time? Because I that’s not a financial aid is a finite resource.

Emma Ostermann 33:05
I mean, that’s great. Thank you guys. And, and I think Brian, you said it best. As a support staff, you’re there to add value. Coming from that performance coaching side, you know, my, the value I would add was, hey, these, these are their metrics, their testing numbers, and this is how they’re performing on this side. But when it comes to the data, you collect on a mental skills side, or the sports psychology side, how do you know which data is appropriate to share with the coaching staff? And in which isn’t? Because there is going to be some, some conversations that happened where, hey, that that information might be pertinent to know, especially going into a competition or, or a heavy practice. But also understanding that there is that that door where it’s like, Hey, I can’t I can’t share that information. How do you distinguish which information you’re able to share? In wish you aren’t? And I’m going to kick that one off to you first.

Uma Dorn 33:59
Yeah, I think this is really tough on the mental health side of things. I mean, I think when it’s more performance or mental skills, like I feel a little more comfortable, and, and I can but when we get into that blurred line of where that starts, where it stops, it gets really complicated. Because a big part of why therapy works is that there’s confidentiality and that the the client can trust that that’s going to be kept. And I think for me, the hard part is not always knowing how that information is going to be used. You know, I’ve had where that information then gets used in ways like you can’t play in the game this week, you know, those kinds of things, which then really kind of, again, reduces trust or and then also hurts kind of that trust with the coach and the athlete as well. So, for me, I think it’s, it’s really tough. Typically, I try to provide like aggregate kind of data or here’s some general information or hear some themes that are coming up. and knowing the coach really well, and knowing what kind of where, how did how do they align with all of this, and then maybe being a little more about, you know, this athlete needs something extra this week, and maybe not getting into specifics, but more talking about what their needs are and kind of helping them to support the athlete in that way.

Brian Alexander 35:20
Yeah, I think to add to that, I also fall into this dilemma sometimes, right, because we want to honor that confidentiality and that privacy. And a lot of times too, I hear that from athletes, when I meet with them one on one, like they really value that separation from the coaching staff and someone that they can just lean on. So we have to remember who’s our real client, right, who’s our real client, even though there’s certain people that get you in the door, certain people that give you an opportunity to work with athletes, I think the athletes are the one reason why I’m there. Even though I’d love to be able to coach the coach, and a lot of times, I am just through being there, as well as having challenging conversations and just asking those questions around, maybe, you know, something that we agreed to early in the season, and now that they have real time results. Now we’re, you know, maybe veering off track a little bit. So ask a question that brings them back on maybe or just gets them to think about it in a different way. But using the data to I think I usually have a plan, right before I just asked for the data. And I’m usually including all the stakeholders in creating that plan. So kind of it sharing like, well, this is the expectation about, you know, I use that mental training and wellbeing scoreboard for smartabase. So this is the expectation about four times throughout the year, I plan is to average each area and give you sort of like a little graph and show you where your team right. Now, so with no one’s names listed, right? Athletes, how do you feel about that? What What can we have dialogue? Like what could you know, come of that, right. And I’m obviously going through all these ethical situations in my mind, too, before I get there, maybe even going to an ethical decision making model with other peers outside of it. So I get a different perspective. But then in addition to that, I’m also asking them, like what would be really valuable with this data to help your team perform at a higher level? Right. And so then maybe we get creative together, and kind of innovative and, and come up with some kind of display of that. Right? So it’s all that stuff put together to sort of support them. And obviously, like I said, add value to it.

Emma Ostermann 37:48
was perfect. Yes. Thank you guys. I think that transitions really well into this into this next question of what are the limits within your specific role? And how do you bridge that gap? Do you have individuals access to the resources they need? And what I mean by that is, once again, I come from a performance coaching background. And then you also have, you know, sports nutritionists, dieticians, as a training sports medicine staff, who may all experience a conversation with an athlete or an individual that they are working with. And it’s what information or what feedback can I give them? My own experience, I know it’s knowing my own limits, and understanding my limits of what talking points that I can give to that individual, as well as the relationship I’ve already built with that individual, as well as this idea of breaking down the silos. And what I mean by silos is, if you have mental skills, or mental health, in one silo, sports performance, and another strength and conditioning and other sports, nutrition and another, and you’re resulting in your silo, are we creating organic conversation? Are we do we have anything that may be pertinent to the other person in their silo? Quote, unquote? Or are we coming together and sharing each other these tidbits of information that can help for the athlete sake, and my biggest takeaway for that was communication and transparency, you know, as long as we’re communicating, you know, with one another, and I do bring him into this because I have worked with Emma before was, especially in the weight room, how can what she is doing what she’s working on, also help in the weight room side of things. And one of the biggest things that we did was, hey, this was a theme that I was going to highlight this week when working with a specific team. And within that theme, I created a team of their team challenge that that also brought that theme in. And that was one way that we that we work together to help bridge that gap. I’d be interested to hear from from either one of you. How do you guys see bridging that gap between those different quote unquote silos that we’re all in?

Uma Dorn 39:57
And I think I mean, that was a great sample and I always I loved that work that we did together me and it was really quick right I came in and did this five minute presentation on a mental skill and and then you kind of used it in the workout you know and in the in the weight room. And I think that was really helpful to kind of help the athlete see how we can bridge it because I think they also see it as kind of siloed that this is mental health. This is one thing, nutrition is one thing, but if we kind of all speak the language of all all of our kind of counterparts, I think it can really help to go back to what Sebastian st was saying earlier, but help to create an identity around this that we all value all the pieces of what makes us the best performer.

Sebastian Little 40:41
I love this. I love this question. This one UFC fighter. There’s so many about this, about how do you actually work as a team of teams, which represented book title as well highly recommend that if you’re interested in looking at how do you bring together multidisciplinary teams, teams that do things really well individually, to it being interdisciplinary. And I think we’re ultimately we’re going and even in this conversation, we’ve talked about the continuum that we’re on, it makes us shift into being integrated or interdisciplinary teams. So what’s your point, having your nutrition team or performance team, you’re all of them separate? Every time we have a gap in a system and a team on a frontline? It’s an opportunity for us to get exploited. So it’s in the breakdowns, it’s in the breakdowns between teams that we usually see communication drops, or competition, right for resources. And we’ve all decorated the resources, they have more we don’t have as much all of those are taking away from us actually staying focused on the objective, which is to win, to support our athletes to support Holistic Health, you name it, right. So I think part of what we can do from the get go is even from your first kickoff meeting of the year, the annual one of the year is to set really clear expectations of what how are we going to work together and service of the the mission that we’re we’re trying to achieve. I think the breakdown happens when the expectations are unmet or unspoken, too. And everybody could talk all they want about communication, but if we don’t actually vocalize. And Brian, to your point, make visible these things. You know, all of a sudden, we’re gonna have issues not in week, one of the season, we’re gonna have week one, week seven, when we’re going through the big game, right? Because there’s gonna be a breakdown that we hadn’t spoken about.

Uma Dorn 42:30
And I think often times we do this reactively rather than proactively right? And I think, Brian, you were speaking to that earlier. But I think it’s really important that we think about this on the front end. Because it’s often in when things happen is when we’re like, oh, there’s a communication breakdown. But what if we kind of think about it on the front end, and really help to create a communication plan or have a kind of be on that same page at the very onset of it?

Brian Alexander 43:02
By Ryan, I was gonna add, you know, a lot of great organizations now are creating high performance teams, right, they have a high performance model, and they have different pillars within that model, which cover all those things that you mentioned. We at UCSD, we’ve actually, we’re in a transition period from going from division two to division one. But we hired the University Athletic Department hired a Associate Athletic Director of high performance, and well being from a national governing body of all of sport of culture, right. So there’s a model in place with all these people’s specialties in place. And your job is to work as a team wrapped around each team, but probably more importantly, each individual athlete, right to support every need, they could have in terms of high performance. Right and and so in order to do that, in order, like Sebastian was saying, you get exploited, you tend to hear about it. And then we take the reactive approach, versus if we can be get ahead of it and set clear expectations and also procedures and strategies that we can follow through on then, and have continuous checking, because we’re not just going to set it and then it’s going to ride out perfectly right? We’re going to set it, we’re going to hit road bumps, we’re going to constantly have check ins, we’re going to make adjustments, we’re going to educate one another honor different specialties and try and really, you know, make each one that the the go to professional if that comes up in conversation with the individuals or with the coaches with teams, but still, we’re going to support the high performance model all the way through. And then hopefully, everything else kind of happens where they’re advocating for it as well. So it turns into a system, right? It’s not just necessarily like let’s throw it against the wall and see what sticks.

Emma Ostermann 44:57
I love that and I think one of the things that This product was, you know, bridging the gap. As a performance coach, you know, what, as whether sports psychologists and mental skills coach, what do you feel you’re comfortable with, you know, with someone in my position to be able to speak to an athlete about, you know, you build that trust with an athlete, especially from a performance coaching side or Sport Coaching side, where you’re with that athlete quite a bit of time. And, and they build that level of trust. And I think you were the one who noted it was, you know, you build those those people who you have that trust with, and you give guidance to those, to those disciplines to those individuals on Hey, when they come to you regarding this, these are kind of some of the talking points that you can you can speak on? Or do you guys provide that guidance for any of the coaches or individuals that you work with?

Uma Dorn 45:49
So we did a little bit of training on what we called, like, kind of like first aid kinds of things, but like really helping to have, again, I think there’s this like, Oh, it’s a mental health issue, I’m not going to touch it. Right. And and there’s this the sensitivity around it. And yet, I think it’s as simple as like, how are you doing? Is everything okay? How is your How are you doing outside the field, right, what’s going on, on and off the field. And really, it’s those personal relationships, that in some ways that you might have more so than I might, when I’m only touching in with them, maybe one, one hour a week. And so in many ways, it’s that relationship that will hopefully bridge some of that. And so it is doing those check ins in the way that we would do with anyone else. But I think we get get anxious about when it starts to move into that mental health field that maybe we need to shied away

Brian Alexander 46:45
from it, we’re lucky to have a really good Counseling and Psychological Services Department. And I’ve kind of gone through a lot of ethics training in my, you know, professional educational path and knowing what are the boundaries of my competencies and knowing how to make referrals and knowing kind of what the resources are, and having them ready beforehand. So even having like a referral list for different needs, with, you know, direct contacts, and all that is really useful in terms of being you know, professionally ready, I think, to support people.

Uma Dorn 47:19
And I think, Brian, what what you were saying is really right on, because I think but you might be the one poised to do that referral, or to make that connection to maybe them needing to see a therapist or psychologist because again, oftentimes, they may not come to us and till they hear someone they trust kind of being the one to encourage them to do.

Emma Ostermann 47:43
So really good points. And, Sebastian, I do want to pose this question that came through and the chat towards you. It’s how do you assess an athlete who may use mental health health as a potential excuse? For their safety blanket? And at what point do you start to switch it over to mental toughness resiliency within that athlete?

Sebastian Little 48:03
You know, I’ll take a stab at this. I think it’s and there’s another question on here, as well as like, when do you know when to push? And I think it’s all a gradient, which is the classic non answer from a consultant or coach of like, I’m not going to ask the question, but But on a more serious note, like, I do think that we all we coach to a gradient, and you’re not going to coach a freshman the same way you’re gonna coach a senior. So being able to look at what is what is not only what the behaviors showing right now. But also, what’s this? What’s that a symptom of what’s actually underlying cause? If we’re seeing erratic behavior over time, is that because there’s an untreated something? Or is there an issue at home is there we can actually get curious about that. But with that actually becomes a partnership conversation with the athlete. Because what’s not gonna go well is when we approach somebody and we say, Hey, here’s how this is gonna happen, or you’re doing this or you’re this way, when we say you’re this way, we start going to our own shame cycles, shame spirals from Brene Brown’s work. And when we’re in that place, we’re actually we’re not going to get out of it. So as soon as we come with a you as you are this way, or your your mental health is holding back the team, we now closed off that athlete, we actually can’t support or help them. Right. So I think the first thing to Brian’s point coming with questions he’s talked about a couple times, how are you what’s going on in your world? Even short, sweet, pointed questions about what’s going on in the world gives us more access to support. Now we can start to look at, well, this is a mental health or this is a mental toughness thing. And now we can do that in partnership. I think we’re seeing that more and more with the Generation Z athletes and Millennial athletes. They want to be involved in their decision making and we can’t go grab a facemask like we used to. I was at the very end of that in my career, grabbing a face mask and yelling into it. That doesn’t work anymore. Right? So we can get mad at that or we can adjust our approach and be more effective and what we do now, I think it looks like partnering with the athlete.

Emma Ostermann 49:58
I love And in from the performance coaching side, it can be tough, especially when you’re in the weight room and, or on the on a court or on a field. You know, it’s when I when I’m trying to build this mental toughness or whatever word you want to put there, how do I know when to push. And what helped for me when I was coaching with those athletes was, like you said, built that level of trust. And that came through conversation, having an individual conversation with those athletes to mind get an understanding of what kind of coaching style do you respond to? What kind of coaching style have you had in the past, and it was really trying to dig deeper on how I can get the most out of that athlete, you know, when things are starting to get hard. And the other thing was, hey, if I’m collecting this data, there is some data I’m going to share with you. So you know, know where you are, and they’re having a bad day. It’s like, oh, this is really hard. It’s, well, yes, you are lifting way heavier than you have ever in your life. That’s a good thing. It’s kind of given that visual stimulus, that visual feedback, it’s, oh, I can see that now. And so those are some of the ways that helped me when I was, you know, in that coaching realm.

Uma Dorn 51:08
Yeah, and I would add to that, I think it is that conversation piece. And I think maybe even shifting our mindset of this is an excuse, you know, and, and maybe it’s also trying to figure out, how do we kind of know, like, what, what is their push points? And where do they want to be pushed? Like you’re saying, I’m, it’s like having this conversation of like, not when they’re, in the moment, having it right beforehand, saying, you know, how do I, how do you want me to challenge you? And what does pushing look like for you? And when do you know, when do you know when your limit is? And if you do? What would that communication be for me? Like? How would I know that for you? And and really kind of, again, going back to like, building that relationship? I think so.

Brian Alexander 51:54
I also, I agree, you know, learning about the people asking them, how do I support you, but I think we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg on the mental health discussion, which is important, right? We’re talking about it. But one of the focuses, I think, when you shift from mental health and mental toughness, or just mental training, let’s say is how do we get more solution focused rather than problem focused, because one of the things that we haven’t really talked about, but is here is motivation. And as coaches, you know, a lot of them, they have to motivate our athletes, and you can’t necessarily motivate anybody. But what you could do is you can create a climate environment where you support their psychological needs, and you create a climate. That’s, you know, performance enhancing, that’s both task focus, as well as that ego focus component. And now we’re really thriving, right. And it’s built on some more theory in there too, like self determination theory, and all those things. And even like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, if you want to go that people kind of stuff, but I think that’s something and that takes education on the coach’s part, as well as just constant reinforcement, because the stress of the job is so challenging.

Uma Dorn 53:12
I think part of that is that it takes time to do that. And oftentimes, you know, we want those results or those outcomes pretty immediately. And knowing that in order for that creating that environment or that space, it’s going to take time, and really building it to make it happen.

Emma Ostermann 53:35
Those are all really great plains. And, you know, we are getting close on our time here. And I do want to pose one more question to the group because I do find it really interesting. And this came through on the chat of how do you go? How do sports psychologists and mental skills coaches come together and work together? Is there a difference between say, you know, on the sports psychology side on what you’re going to touch on when working with an athlete versus on the mental skill side? What you’re going to work on when working with an athlete? Do you have anything, Brian, or fashion regarding that?

Uma Dorn 54:12
I’m happy to I was gonna say collaboratively. I mean, I think we are you know, we have to be in communication with each other and really kind of meeting meeting where the athletes are, and knowing that, you know, sometimes I might be moving into mental skills or performance related and being sure that we’re communicating. And similarly, you know, there may be things that come up that that in the mental skill side that it’s important to bring up to, and so I think it’s that constant communication and being in touch, because, because, honestly, athletes might may not know the difference, like what’s the difference between going to psychologists and men’s mental skills and what’s that difference and where does that line again begin and end? And so really helping to both delineate for them but also being in constant communication with with each other.

Brian Alexander 55:03
Yeah, I agree. And I also, I mean, we may have said this, but we didn’t really say it, somebody could really be challenged with a mental health need and still be able to perform. My focus is on the applied sense of, okay, you’re performing you’re functioning on a certain level, and let’s make sure if you need help there, we can get the support you need, and that presenting issue or concern, but we’re going to focus on how do you become a better performer on the field or in the gym, or wherever, right? That’s my role and my scope. And as we talk about these things, which we can we don’t want to stigmatize them, I’m just going to reinforce like, maybe that’s something that you should speak with, with your therapist on or your counselor, the person that’s clinically trained, because, honestly, they’re going to probably be able to help you more in that area. And I wouldn’t want to overstep that. But chances are, and what I’ve seen is we’re still talking about breathing. So tell you about self talk, she’ll tell you imagery and visualization and goal setting, and all those kinds of things, just in a different context.

Emma Ostermann 56:03
The passion from the private setting, do you do you see a difference in that as well with the individuals that you work with?

Sebastian Little 56:10
Yeah, so I see, the biggest difference is that the folks that I’m working with are going to be independent contributors versus working within a team or organization. What’s awesome about a college or professional sports team is you have people under one roof, right, which is also looks like usually shared confidentiality, legal agreements, liability. So all those things that start to get messy when you start pairing people, both in my training, and in my experience, there’s been a couple times in working with a therapist through a with a client. And what what’s important is that the client empowers that relationship. And it’s really, really intentional about the client is taking anything that they’re bringing back and forth. They’re the one connecting us, they’re the one facilitating the whole process. And in the private sector, they actually almost sit as the middle bridge, and we actually get to support them on both sides. I think in a more academic or collegiate setting, a lot of times those are all in house. So it ends up being more in the same arena. Absolutely works. It just requires a little bit more intentionality in setting up the agreement upfront.

Emma Ostermann 57:17
These are all really great points today. And like I said, we were getting close up close on time here. And I do want to invite mass adoption. Brian, do you guys have anything you would like to add as we as we start to close out today’s session?

Sebastian Little 57:32
Yeah, I’ll okay. So I’ll say thank you to my fellow panelists is incredible learning from both of you. And thank you for facilitating this conversation. The questions that came in were incredible salsa, one of this thing, thank the folks that were there, we’re here and attentive, this conversation starts to shift when we start being willing to have it. I’ve noticed that particularly even in the Diversity Equity inclusion realm over the last year and a half, we’re willing to come to the table now about it. And all of a sudden, we’re starting to see some shifts. And I think the same thing happens here with somebody that’s been historically stigmatized, and is now becoming more than on the front line. So thanks for being here. And I’m just grateful to be part of this.

Brian Alexander 58:11
And yeah, really well said. And I also think there’s one more piece of this to keep educating the general public and like Sebastian said, thank you to everybody that attended, because we can always learn so much more together. But there’s different specialties within this mental health and mental training area. Right? It’s it’s similar to the physical side, right? You have strength coaches, physical therapists, the Yoga Instructor Yeah, I mean, you got like so many different things, right. So like, we’re we’re coming to realize one, there’s a need here. But there’s a lot of different areas and pockets in need that have specialty in this aspect of just, you know, thriving and well being. So I appreciate the opportunity.

Emma Ostermann 58:58
Thank you to all of you for joining us today. We are very appreciative Sikma, Sebastian and Ryan, for you guys for hopping on. And like I said at the beginning, we do want to hear everyone’s feedback. So that QR code that is up on your screen right now. Use your phone and scan that code. Just tell us how we did today. How would you think of a conversation? Do you have any suggestions or anything that you would like us to consider in the future. And with that, with every survey that we receive, we will be donating $5 to Girls Who Code. As for upcoming events, we do have our next round, Vanguard Round Table coming up November 17. We will get more information as well on that. But once again from fusion sport. Thank you so much for joining us today. My Sebastian Brian, thank you for all of your guys’s insight. We do appreciate it. And then for everyone who has stayed on and listened to the conversation and submitting those questions. We do thank you as well. We’ll see you guys next time. Thank you so much. The people


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