In this week’s basketball coaching conversation, Dr. Corey Yeager and NBA coach JD DuBois share insights on improving mental health in sports.
Dr. Corey Yeager is a currently a sports and entertainment life coach and psychotherapist. His most recently worked as a psychotherapist for the Detroit Pistons. Dr. Yeager has been instrumental in helping NBA players with their mental health and has been on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health in sports. Dr. Yeager believes that mental health is critical to team success and works with coaches to create a supportive environment for players’ mental health. He has also worked with young basketball players and beginners who need an advantage. Dr. Yeager has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Detroit Mercy and is working within the merging of his two passions, athletics, and therapy.
Jarred “JD” DuBois is an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. He joined the Lakers in 2022, working under head coach Darvin Ham. Prior to joining the Lakers, DuBois served as an assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons from 2018 to 2022 and worked with the Toronto Raptors in player development during the 2017-18 season. DuBois is known for his work in improving mental health resources for athletes. He believes that mental health is a critical component of team success and has been on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health in sports.
Dr. Corey Yeager and JD DuBois Quotes:
Yeager: “What we all know is that everyone has struggles. We all do. Every person in this world has struggles. But oftentimes those major athletes who end up being coaches are taught to hold those things in. Don’t talk about that, that’s vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have those struggles.”
DuBois: “I can see players that are able to feel comfortable and get that [mental and emotional support. It helps them not only on the floor, but off the floor as well, as they manage the day-to-day life of a professional athlete.”
Yeager: “If you get a high ankle sprain, we all know, we see you go down . . you start rehab, everyone kind of knows the trajectory of when you’ll be back. Mental wellness is quite different. No one really knows what you’re struggling with mentally. So, if you have some anxiety or if you have some depressive symptoms, you can mask them and most people move through life finding the ability to mask those symptoms. But that doesn’t mean the impact is not showing up on the court or on the field.”
DuBois: “For me, coaching is such a collaborative relationship that if I can [handle] both the X’s and O’s game plan, present what’s happening on the floor, but I also have a deep understanding of what you may be struggling with, I have some modalities and some tools to help you.”
Yeager: “I think the stigma of mental wellness that we deal with in our world that is treacherous territory for us to all work through. I do believe that this newer generation is much more demanding that mental wellness be on the table than former generations . . but I think coaches can be anxious about engaging in this mental wellness [space].”
Yeager: “I talk a lot with players and coaches about staying in the current moment, engaging with the self better, understanding who we are, and then moving forward.”
DuBois: “I’ve got a question from a coach’s lens. I know this is a big thing in the coaching community, I want to understand and be cognizant of the mental health and the mental wellness space, but we are also in a performance business, and I don’t want to feel like I’m coddling the athlete. I don’t want to feel like I’m not making sure that they’re being gritty and tough-minded.”
Yeager: “We need to get all that we can from him. I think that’s important in any major sport. That has to be part of the agenda because that’s what pays the bills. But the newfound space that we’re playing with is I also need to understand who that man is. I also need to be able to support who that person is as a man. And that’s new territory.”
Yeager: “f we can slow things down, listen to those inner conversations and trust that I’ll figure it out, we’ll be okay. We have to trust that the future will unfold in a positive way. That doesn’t mean everything’s going to be peachy, but it will unfold in a way that’s beneficial to me in the long run. Adversity is not a negative thing. We need adversity.”
Yeager: “All growth comes with some associated pain. If you’re going to grow, something’s going to be a little painful as you grow. If we can start to see that pain as an indicator that I’m growing, we’ll deal with it more. It’s more readily available to deal with because I can see that as part of the growth process.”
DuBois: “If you can create the space to where conversation is just natural then, when you’re shooting a free throw and you miss one, I can ask you, ‘What’s your thought process while you’re shooting a free throw? Do you have one?’ . . Be aware of it because that internal dialogue impacts you. If you see a player consistently reacting to the refs or a missed shot, how can I create a space of conversation to where I can educate them on certain language that allows them to be more aware?”
DuBois: “How do we be proactive? One of the big ways I’ve found that has been helpful is just plain, simple collaborating with everyone who may touch that athlete because they’re all important.”
Yeager: “A trained therapist being around, embedded with the team will be able to add proactive support as well as reactive support. Both are very important because there’s going to be reactive moments. There’s going to be times where I haven’t talked to a player and something happens. That means we have to be reactive. So that line between proactive reactive, is really important. Both are going to occur.”
Yeager: “If a coach becomes aware of the importance of mental wellness, they’re never going to be able to turn that off. They’re always going to be thinking about it . . So, I think that that first level is the critical mass of understanding. We must become aware of the importance of supporting our players and our coaches from a mental wellness perspective. After we get there, I think it’s about integration. How do you integrate this mental wellness aspect into the organization, into the university?”
DuBois: “[Being supportive] isn’t necessarily what [the coaches] are saying, it’s how they’re behaving and acting on a day-to-day basis. Showing the athlete, on a day-to-day basis, we care about you. We’re about winning. This is a championship organization. But [we also care about] who you are, how your family is doing, And we’re letting you know we have support all over this building in any area of life. If you ever need it, let us know.”
DuBois: “If the athlete understands, my coach cares about who I am, they’re going to be more comfortable communicating when they may be struggling. To me, that’s always felt like step one. Can we create a space where the athlete isn’t suffering in silence and they feel like they have someone that they can communicate with?
Yeager: “Safety is built is similar to trust. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to show me over and over and over. Think about the people that you trust the most, that didn’t happen in two minutes or two days. It took time. So, that means consistency becomes the critical endeavor. I have to consistently say, ‘Hey, I’m here for you.’ And I’m showing up every day. I’m here for you.”
Dr. Corey Yeager and JD DuBois Breakdown:
1:00 – Both Together
3:00 – Sports and Entertainment Life Coach
7:30 – Future Coaching Opportunities
9:30 – Concept of Suffer
14:00 – Counter Concept of Suffer
17:00 – Proactive
19:00 – Long Term Problem
23:00 – Liaison
26:41 – 27:43 – Hoopsalytics Ad 3
27:43 – Embedded
31:30 – Bring Conscious Awareness
36:30 – Coaching and Learning
39:30 – Mental Wellness Problem
47:00 – Actionable Practice Ways
50:30 – Psychological Safety
54:00 – Conclusion
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