Hi, I’m Aaron Schiedies, Paralympic triathlete and TrueSport Ambassador. And today I want to talk to you about mental wellness. Mental wellness can be a complicated subject, but I think what’s most important is thinking about how we define it first, in order to learn how to put it into practice. Just like the body, the mind needs caring and training in order to stay mentally well. Day to day activities like learning and decision making all play a role in our mental wellness. What’s cool about sport, though, is it offers an environment that challenges and nurtures mental wellness. When I was in middle school, I was a really good soccer player and I really had this dream of becoming a professional soccer player. I kind of really thought that that was the direction that I was going and it was my path. But that all changed as I started losing my vision.
When I was nine, I started losing my vision progressively from a genetic eye condition. And as I lost more and more vision, it became more and more difficult for me to see the ball, see my teammates. And at first I really just thought, Well, I’ll just work harder than everyone else and I can still kind of keep up with everyone else. But when you can’t see the ball and can’t see who’s your teammate or who’s the opponent, it’s just not realistic. So I really struggled in those years, my teenage years, because those are the years also that everyone’s really trying to be normal and seek normalcy. And so I was struggling with that because, you know, the reality was that I wasn’t necessarily normal like everyone else. And I really needed to learn that what I was and the vision or lack thereof that I had was normal for me. And that just was who I was. So my teenage years were really riddled with kind of a mental health struggle. I was diagnosed with OCD, an eating disorder and depression, going into high school. And that was really where, thankfully, I was able to really lean on my support network.
My brother saw that I was struggling and he encouraged me to join the swim team and at that time I was really in a deep hole of not really having any sort of motivation for anything. But thankfully I did get enough energy to take him up on it and, you know, go into swimming and join the swim team. And swimming really changed my perspective. It changed my life because it gave me that outlet. Being in the water was kind of like that freedom from all the pressures of society and from there I really started looking for new challenges and developing more confidence. I really learned to be resilient. It just gave me confidence that I could still be involved in sport.
And it also made me realize that there’s another door and, you know, maybe soccer at one point was the direction I thought I was going, but there was another door that I could still kind of persevere and move towards and succeed in sports. I just had this energy and motivation to continue challenging myself. And so I did my first triathlon when I was going into my senior year of high school and it became my passion at Michigan State to develop a team of triathletes as part of my college experience. And they really became like my family and another part of my support network along my journey in triathlon. In 2002 I won my first world championship in triathlon as an athlete with a disability. And that really just jumpstarted my career and gave me more and more opportunities and it really gave me something that I never thought I would have when I was in those difficult times.
But you never really know where you’ll go if you keep your kind of mindset only in one area, you need to have that open mind of other doors that might come up. And so for me, just having that opportunity to start swimming and going to endurance sports really changed my life. As my personal journey has taught me, working on mental wellness is not as linear as I thought it would be. There are bumps along the way and we need to seek out support during challenging times. Developing healthy coping mechanisms like learning to breathe and asking for help takes time. By simply changing your attitude, you can
In athletics, what you want to do is be able to put yourself in a situation where you’re challenged, which by definition is going to be anxiety. Your expectation is maybe a little higher than your performance, and you’re trying to figure out how to get there. In addition, you’re trying to figure out how to get there with other people. The problem with that is that if you continually put higher expectations than you can ever receive, you’re in a state of chronic stress, chronic anxiety.
You want anxiety to be episodic, so you want the athlete to be able to feel a little anxious and then push and push and get there and then feel relieved and then recovery. For all of us in anything we do, we want to have that push and recovery, just like you’re lifting weights or anything else. That’s how you build your brain, especially in an adolescent, but even in a child. You learn that comfort, that, “I didn’t think I could do it, but I could do it.” That’s the message that you can take on into your adult life.
But if you’re put in a situation where you’re always pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, and you never get it, you get this sort of sense of hopelessness, or you get a, “I’m never going to be able to do this.” If the challenge is there and the coach is saying, “You can do this,” and you know you can’t or you think you can’t, you never get to the point where you build that confidence that you just do the additional push. It leads to all sorts of conditions. Chronic anxiety affects the immune system, and it certainly affects brain development, particularly regarding memory.
You want to help avoid those situations, and athletes just find themselves get caught into those things. Socially they’re pushed into staying in that anxiety-provoking situation. Now, perfectionism is another thing, and you may get a coach or a teacher that’s driving that perfection. We see the same thing in musicians, for example. They focus on what isn’t right with them, and they miss out on what’s right with you and what have you learned from this.
And I think that there is that danger just built into sport in some sports, particularly that puts you at risk for, “Am I too heavy? Do I have the right body? Did I move exactly the right way? What if I make a mistake?” For adolescents that are impressionable and idealistic and who have this maybe optimistic bias that they can do it, without good coaching, they get sucked into this very dangerous culture.
Hi. I’m Trevon, Trey, Jennifer. Team USA wheelchair basketball player, paralympian, and true sport athlete. Today, I want to talk to you about goal setting. And there are three things that I would like you to know. First, successful athletes set goals and a planned roadmap. Second, goals should be written down, assessed over time, and changed if necessary. And third, goals need to be challenging in order to be worthwhile. As a freshmen at Edinboro University, I was a part of a team that made the national championship game. And at that time I recognized I was the low man on the totem pole, but I felt in my heart that I knew my dreams were so much bigger than winning a national title. I wanted to make Team USA. I knew what achieving my lofty goal was not going to be easy and that I would need to work hard every day.
So, as a reminder, I created a pyramid of goals that I kept right above my bed. This pyramid reminded me of the accomplishments that I was working towards and visually represented my need to create a solid foundation underneath me before reaching the top. In the bottom roll of my pyramid of goals I listed goals such as obtaining my bachelor’s degree, becoming a scholar athlete award recipient, and becoming an All-American. The middle row listed winning a national title and playing for a professional team. And at the top row, the most challenging of them all, I listed becoming a gold medalist for Team USA.
By understanding that there are smaller stepping stones to achieving my ultimate goal of being on Team USA, I was able to stay motivated and to stay focused on completing the smaller stepping stones fully before moving onto the next one. Now I’ll be the first to admit that not every goal that I listed on my pyramid was accomplished, but seeing my goals every day when I went to bed, I was able to push through the days that I felt like doing nothing in hopes of achieving the bigger picture. Remember, create a clear goal roadmap, assess your goals often, and continue to challenge yourself. I hope that you never stopped dreaming big or reaching for the stars. And I look forward to seeing where your roadmap takes you.
Hi, I’m Kara Winger, Olympic javelin thrower, and true sport athlete. Today I want to talk to you about body image and I have three things I’d like you to know. First, healthy thoughts often lead to healthier bodies. Second, there are varying body types and no one’s body is exactly like another. And third, true beauty goes deeper than the skin. As a multi-time Olympian, I’ve experienced a lot of variation and progression in my training. My coaches and I adapt to my training frequently, all with the goal of supporting my long-term success and health in the sport of javelin. I’m talking to you about body image today because sometimes even with the best of intentions and a common goal in mind, the changes you make to your training habits can prove to be detrimental if made for the wrong reasons. In the lead up to the 2012 Olympic trials, I was told in order to improve my performance on the field, I should try to become a leaner, skinnier version of myself.
So I changed my diet. I went along with what I was being told to do, even though I’d had great success at a slightly heavier weight and higher body fat percentage, and became much leaner than ever before. It seemed like a successful change at first, but I didn’t have nearly the results I’d had before. And I believe becoming leaner than my body naturally wanted to be was what caused my ACL to tear. In the end, it cost me heavily going into the 2012 London games. The takeaway for me, and hopefully for you, is that it’s important to know what works for you and your body and to not compare yourself to others. You should do your research and experiment with your diet to find what makes you feel the best, rather than focusing on what you look like. Today, if I feel like having a chocolate chip cookie, I have one, just not every day.
I’ve learned what a properly balanced meal for my body looks like and I recognize food as the fuel that keeps me throwing. I hydrate and allow myself time to recover. And I listen to and communicate with my body so that I can be the best version of myself. In the end, you are in control of how you see, treat, and respond to your body. We only get one and it’s amazing to discover how many things our bodies can do. Be a true sport athlete. Love who you are in this moment and get excited for all the places your body will take you.
Hi, I’m Izy Isaksen, Team USA, Modern Pentathlon, Olympian, US Army Sergeant, and True Sport Ambassador. Today, I want to talk to you about being a good sport. There are three things I’d like you to know. First, real winners act the same toward their opponent, whether they win or lose. Second, follow the rules and be a gracious winner and respectful loser. And third, sportsmanship reveals your true character.
I started competing in Modern Pentathlon eight years after my older sister and three-time Olympian, Margaux Isaksen, began competing. I soon realized that people often compared the two of us. I would overhear spectators and teammates asking, “Who’s the better athlete,” and “Who’s going to beat the other.” Instead of letting outside pressures create a negative experience for us, I chose to practice winning and losing with grace and respect. I know that it would have been easy to let our hyper competitive mindset affect our relationship, but instead we decided to support and cheer for each other, regardless of our own performance. My experience of competing against and being compared to my older sister, taught me to focus on how to perform at my best, rather than putting wasted energy into wishing for others to fail.
I believe that sportsmanship reveals true character. So, no matter what situation I encounter during competition, I know it’s important to always treat people with respect and be a good sport. Remember, be a fierce competitor, find grace in all your victories and losses. And I hope to see you out there.
Edwin Moses: You’re a coach. Maybe what you want is very simple, for everyone to just run in the right direction, score for their own team, to try and try again and again. Maybe you want your athletes to become all stars. You want them to earn trophies, medals, win titles. You want them to reach the highest height their sport allows. And wanting all of that, of course, that’s good. But as every great coach discovers, developing a great athlete means nurturing, nurturing the even greater person within. Truth is, you have even more influence than you know.
You have the ability to affect even deeper change, to take what’s in your hands and do something even more extraordinary. You can be both the coach who provides the skills needed to win the game and the coach who helps them learn and succeed beyond the sport, to become all stars wherever they land in the future, and to enjoy their lives more now, because the confidence and courage they find working with you will stay with them when they need it the most. There are games to be won, lives to change. Coaches have the power to do both.
I’m Edwin Moses, and the lessons I’ve learned through sport have challenged me, guided me, and shaped my life forever. What kind of coach do you want to be?
At first glance, dietary supplements look the same. They seem safe and healthy, but just because the label says a product is a dietary supplement, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Unfortunately, you can’t tell whether a product is safe or not just by looking at the label. Most vitamins, minerals, fish oil, and other supplements containing nutrients are probably just fine, but supplements are not evaluated or approved by FDA before they are sold. Although it is rare for vitamins or minerals to be contaminated with drugs, there has been at least one case of a vitamin containing an anabolic steroid.
At the other extreme are products that contain drugs, stimulants, anabolic steroids, or other hormones. Even though these are not technically dietary supplements, many of them are labeled as supplements. For example, body-building products sometimes contain anabolic steroids or Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators, known as SARMs, or other hormones. Some pre-workout or energy products contain illegal stimulants like DMAA, ephedra, or other amphetamine-like stimulants. Weight loss products might contain prescription drugs like sibutramine, or hormones, like human chorionic gonadotropin, also known as hCG. All natural or herbal sexual enhancement products might contain hormones or Viagra-like drugs. Products like these can harm your health and career, but they’re for sale online, in some nutrition stores, and they’re labeled as dietary supplements.
When you pick up a supplement, especially one that promises performance enhancement, you don’t know if it belongs in the “Mostly O.K.” pile or in the “Dangerous” pile. After all, two products might look the same, but one might contain just amino acids and other legitimate ingredients, while the other also contains anabolic steroids. Because of this, FDA has issued a warning about certain categories of supplements: body building products, weight loss products, and sexual enhancement products. Be extremely careful when considering a supplement in one of these categories. We strongly recommend that you avoid products in these categories.
Even when FDA tests supplements and finds dangerous ingredients, companies sometimes refuse to recall them. Sometimes, they simply repackage their product and continue selling it under a new name. Just because a product is on a store shelf doesn’t mean it is safe. You need to do your research and be an informed consumer. The dietary supplement industry is enormous. Supplements that appear to be safe could actually be dangerous products in disguise. If you use dietary supplements without doing your research, you may be taking serious risks with your health and your career. Please visit USADA’s Supplement 411 for more information about dietary supplements.