Equipping Athletes to Navigate Transition
Meet Dr. Danny J. Pueblos
Athletes sometimes struggle to seek out mental and emotional support when they need it. But to Dr. Danny J. Pueblos, mental performance coaching is just another tool athletes can use to improve their game both on and off the field.
In fact, many of Dr. Pueblos’ clients call him “Dr. Coach,” because his approach to mental health so closely mirrors the work they do with coaches in their respective sports.
Dr. Pueblos is a certified mental performance consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, and a performance enhancement specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He also holds a doctorate of psychology from the University of Arizona Global Campus, and he is a provider for The Becoming Counseling and Wellness, the official national counseling service provider for the Hall of Fame Behavioral Health.
As the official national counseling service provider for HOFBH, our team at The Becoming Counseling and Wellness has the honor of onboarding Dr. Pueblos and other coaches like him to better support athletes and their families.
In this article, Dr. Pueblos discusses the identity crises many athletes encounter throughout their careers, and he explains how mental performance coaching can help those athletes effectively address challenges in their personal and professional lives.
Difficult life transitions encountered by athletes
Athletic careers are full of transitions, whether it’s moving from the college to professional level, getting traded to a new team, dealing with an injury, or retiring and building a new life after sports.
In Dr. Pueblos’ experience — both as a mental performance coach and as an assistant women’s basketball coach at Orange Coast College — those transitions can derail the lives of athletes who lack the necessary skills to adapt and master their thoughts and emotions.
“Oftentimes, I see athletes who have either sustained a debilitating injury or maybe didn’t have what it took to play at the next level. And there are other times when athletes struggle with having to adjust to professional life and being away from their family and partners for the first time.” Dr. Pueblos shared. “This is the stuff you don’t see on TV.”
Unfortunately, many athletes are not equipped with the skills to help them navigate big changes. When left unprepared to deal with these challenges, athletes may turn to dangerous coping strategies like substance abuse, or in some cases even suicide. This is why Dr. Pueblos is so passionate about helping athletes improve their mental performance. He explained:
“Every athlete is working on their fundamental skills pertaining to their sport and also building their bodies in the gym. What many are not doing is working their ‘mental muscles.’”
The role of identity in coping with change
To better deal with transitions, an athlete also needs to understand who they are outside of the sport they play.
“Whenever I ask an athlete who they are, so many times I get a response like, ‘I’m a football player,’” Dr. Pueblos explained. “But what happens when football is no longer there?”
With this question in mind, Dr. Pueblos often uses an exercise called “Establishing Your Identity,” where he asks an athlete questions to identify parts of themselves that go beyond sports, like their role as a husband, a daughter, or friend. He believes this can help athletes see their lives as complete even without sports and, as a result, they will be prepared for any transitions they’ll inevitably face.
“If we can separate the individual from who they are while they are playing, then whenever it is time to ‘hang them up,’ they will be able to transition more effectively than someone who continues to identify with what they do.”
As an added benefit, Dr. Pueblos stressed that psychology techniques can also help an athlete increase their performance level in their sport. With the ability to control thoughts and emotions, athletes can better handle stressful game situations and become more disciplined, thus, taking their skills to the next level.
“This mental mastery is what makes good athletes great, and great athletes legendary,” he shared.
How sport psychology is changing the athlete experience
When Dr. Pueblos first started studying sport psychology it was a little-known and underappreciated field. Today, sport psychology is a growing industry and an integral part of many sports organizations.
“I talk with many colleagues in the field today who are currently mental health coaches for professional and collegiate programs, and we all continue to agree that we are finally booming,” he shared. “More and more teams are hiring mental coaches as full-time staff, while high-profile athletes are talking about the importance of the mental game now more than ever.”
Throughout his career Dr. Pueblos has seen firsthand how sport psychology and mental coaching can transform the lives of athletes. So, when he heard about the work HOFBH was doing to make services like his more accessible to athletes, he knew he wanted to get involved.
“What they are doing in helping athletes and their families is what I’ve been doing for several years now,” he explained. “It is a true honor to represent the field of sport psychology and HOFBH and to help anyone who comes my way.”
Dr. Pueblos appreciates that the HOFBH network includes providers with a wide variety of specialties which allows the team to match clients with providers that best suit their needs.
Signs an athlete may benefit from coaching
Though every individual is different, Dr. Pueblos identified a few common problems he sees among athletes who seek out his services. These issues include:
- A noticeable decline in performance
- Coaches or teammates noticing a change in behavior
- Difficulty coping with a career transition
- Struggling to translate skills from practice into game settings
Dr. Pueblos also works with individuals who are doing well in their careers and lives, and he believes there is never a bad time to reach out.
“There is a misconception that we only help clients who are going through issues,” he explained. “I would say that working with me, or anyone in my field, cannot hurt. Just like if they go and talk with a registered dietitian, it can only help them.”
When an athlete comes to him for coaching, Dr. Pueblos tries to move slowly and build a relationship before diving into the difficult work. He typically starts with a consultation and then a session or two where he and the athlete can get to know each other.
“It’s just like athletes do with their coaches when starting a new season,” he explained. “Once we have established a rapport and trust, that is when the real work can be done.”
To learn more about Hall of Fame Behavioral Health and the services The Becoming Counseling and Wellness provides as the official national counseling service provider, visit hofbh.com, or call us right now at (866) 901-1241.