How Mental Fitness Can Transform the Athlete Experience
Meet Shelley Till
High-level athletes understand the importance of a great coach on the field or court. But when it comes to emotional well-being and life outside of sports, they don’t always recognize the need for a different type of coach.
Shelley Till is working to change that. She’s a professional certified coach through the International Coach Federation, and she specializes in working with athletes and their families to help them find peak performance in life, without sacrificing their emotional or mental wellbeing.
Till is also one of The Becoming’s partners in our work as the official national counseling provider for Hall of Fame Behavioral Health. As a Preferred Provider of Coaching, she works with athletes and athlete families to help them improve their mental fitness.
In this article, Till shares her unique perspective on the athlete experience as a former collegiate player, coach, analyst, and mother of two athletes. She also explains how mental fitness can play a key role in helping athletes thrive both during and after their sports careers.
A Four-Lens Perspective on the Athlete Experience
Till hasn’t just studied the athlete experience, she also lived it for years. As a former college basketball player, a college basketball coach, a sports TV analyst, and a mother of two NCAA DI college athletes, Till has viewed and experienced the world of sports from four unique angles.
Each of those experiences has deepened her understanding of the unique challenges facing high-level athletes and their family members.
“I specialize in helping current and former athletes overcome a different kind of PTSD — Post-Traumatic Sports Distress — the stress, anxiety, and challenges that come from adversities related to playing or transitioning out of high-level sports,” Till explained.
In her coaching work, in her own life, and in the lives of athletes she coached and played with, Till has seen those adversities lead to issues including:
- Low self-esteem
- Identity struggles
- Imposter syndrome
- Performance anxiety
- Post-career depression
- Post-career anxiety
And because there is still a stigma around reaching out for help with mental and emotional struggles as an athlete, Till is passionate about using all of her knowledge to help athletes one-on-one while also promoting mental fitness on a broader scale.
“I know firsthand the challenges and the ramifications that playing high-level athletics can have on one’s mental and emotional well-being. I want to use my experiences and training for the purpose of helping others to thrive during and after their athletic careers,” she shared.
The Importance of Mental Fitness for Athletes
In her work with athletes and their families, Till focuses on helping individuals strengthen the three core muscles that make up a person’s mental fitness.
Those muscles, which were identified by Shirzad Chamine, are:
- Saboteur Interceptor — which intercepts and discredits negative emotions.
- Sage — which handles challenges with a clear and calm mind.
- Self-Command — which takes control and silences negative emotions.
Each of these muscles can play a powerful role in transforming a person’s mindset and emotions, but just like our physical muscles, they need to be trained and exercised to work at their fullest capacity.
In Till’s coaching method, she walks athletes through a 7-week program that includes a variety of lessons, exercises, and one-on-one coaching meetings with Till. By strengthening their mental fitness, clients often see outcomes like improved performance, peace of mind, and healthier relationships.
“If you’re physically fit, you can climb steep hills with low physical stress. If you are mentally fit, you can handle life’s great challenges with minimal mental stress or other negative emotions. The result? You will be happier and perform better,” she explained.
Though every individual can benefit from mental fitness, Till sees it as uniquely valuable for athletes, who deal with major pressure while competing and often struggle to understand who they are outside of sports once it’s time to retire.
Finding a Relatable Coaching Program
Till’s coaching process is similar when working with people both in and outside of the sports world, but she believes that athletes can greatly benefit from talking to someone who can relate to their specific experience.
“I’ve always said that athletics is like its own language, and if you’ve never participated, then it is difficult to speak the language and relate to the lifestyle and the unique challenges that accompany it,” she shared. “My background is key in relating to and empathizing with athletes and their families. My four-lens look into this world affords me the opportunity to view it from all angles and offer diversity of thought to see solutions that may have been previously overlooked.”
This is also why Till was so excited to work with Hall of Fame Behavioral Health. Since many athletes struggle to find the right resources to support their mental and emotional wellbeing, Till believes that HOFBH will be a transformative force for the people who use its services.
“When I heard about HOFBH, I immediately reached out to them because I believe in their mission and wanted to be a part of the solution. “Not only have I experienced my own behavioral health challenges, but I have witnessed and worked with countless other athletes who deal with this on a daily basis,” she said. “I know that this movement is going to be powerful and life changing!”
A Message for Athletes
In a study with more than 7,000 current and former athletes, The British Journal of Sports Medicine found that 34% of current elite athletes and 26% of former elite athletes struggled with anxiety and depression. This is significantly higher than the general population: Mental Health America estimated that only 19% of Americans struggle with a mental illness.
In spite of this, many athletes struggle to access mental health resources, whether it’s because they don’t want to admit they need help or because they don’t know where to find affordable providers.
To any athletes currently struggling with their mental or emotional wellbeing, Till stressed the importance of getting treatment, just as you would for a physical injury.
Till also encourages athletes to recognize that they are not alone in their struggles. Though some people’s challenges are more severe, everyone deals with mental and emotional difficulties throughout life. But by improving mental fitness, we can heal more quickly and handle greater adversity.
“We can all benefit from identifying, treating and strengthening the muscles that support our level of mental fitness. You are not broken, you are not alone, and there are so many people who can relate to you and want to help,” Till emphasized.