Get your head in the game

Lauryn+Miller%2C+2017+KHS+alumni+and+former+UCLA+basketball+player%2C+said+mental+health+is+becoming+more+talked+about+in+sports.+Art+by+Emma+Frizzell.

Sophia Beckmann

Lauryn Miller, 2017 KHS alumni and former UCLA basketball player, said mental health is becoming more talked about in sports. Art by Emma Frizzell.

“Go hard, be aggressive.”

She repeated in her head while warming up before each game. But this time was different. It was her first competition back after a concussion, and she was playing in her home city at Chicago State University. She had family, friends and old coaches watching in the stands. Even an old teammate on the court. 

Robin Giden, KHS senior class guidance counselor and former Western Michigan University basketball player, earned 12 points and 12 rebounds in that game. But it was not her loved ones in the stands that got her through the game, she said it was the four words.

“Go hard, be aggressive.”

“[In games during] my freshman year, I didn’t want to touch the ball because I was so afraid of making a mistake,” Giden said. “Then you go in, and your coach is going to pull you right back out because you’re in the game not doing anything. If I wanted to play, I had to work on my confidence.”

As athletes you’re seen as gladiators, in a sense. You’re supposed to be superheroes or whatever campus you’re on.”

— Lauryn Miller

According to Giden, realizing mindset could control her performance made her interested in mental health and led her to become a guidance counselor. She said she teaches her current students about the mental health lessons she learned through basketball, like the importance of celebrating small victories and confidence. 

“I truly believe self-confidence is a superpower,” Giden said. “I say that all the time. If you believe it and say it to yourself enough you can do anything.”

Confidence is not the only struggle for Giden and other collegiate athletes. According to Giden and Lauryn Miller, 2017 KHS alumni and former UCLA basketball player, athletes also deal with expectations to excel in school and sports. 

“As athletes you’re seen as gladiators, in a sense,” Miller said. “You’re supposed to be superheroes or whatever campus you’re on. People lose that piece of humanity that is still there. It’s easy to see the tangible ACL tear I suffered, but it’s hard to conceptualize why [athletes] wouldn’t be fine [mentally].”

Miller is currently dealing with an ACL injury, but is considering going overseas to play basketball next year. With multiple practices a day, classes and traveling for sports, Miller said she had trouble finding time for activities outside of homework and basketball. She believes her busy schedule helped her discover the importance of self-care. 

“For [many] athletes the main [person] who loses is yourself,” Miller said. “That’s who you lose spending time with, taking care of and just checking in on because you’re so busy [tending] to the world. I had to learn [to find] ‘me time’ [so I could] still perform and excel, but make sure that I wasn’t falling behind in a personal sense.”

I truly believe self-confidence is a superpower. I say that all the time. If you believe it and say it to yourself enough you can do anything.”

— Robin Giden

Miller almost returned home after feeling homesick during her freshman year, but said she changed her mind because of her strong relationships with teammates and coaches. Grace Murphy, 2020 KHS alumni and former Missouri State University cross country and track athlete, also almost came home during her freshman year. 

“Senior year of high school our team was so close [and] that was the best experience ever,” Murphy said. “I came into college hoping for those experiences, and I got them first semester because everyone was on a high. But once second semester hit, I found [the people on my team] weren’t my people.”

Murphy stopped running in college after her freshman year. Since then, she said her mental health has greatly improved, and she now enjoys running non-competitively. Murphy is thankful for the experience she got as a Division I athlete.

“[I realized] I’m going to struggle with anxiety the rest of my life,” Murphy said. “But there’s so many ways to cope with it, and so many other people are struggling and that’s OK. We just have to be there for each other.”  

Tara Behnam, KHS varsity basketball and volleyball player, said she considered playing volleyball at the University of Massachusetts Boston, but recently changed her mind because she felt burnt out. Behnam said she does not see herself continuing for four more years, especially after an experience last winter where balancing club volleyball with basketball affected her mentally. 

“For a while I was super stressed and anxious all the time,” Behnam said. “[I was] worried about when I was going to get school work done, about this next game [or letting] my team down. [I was] also worried about myself. I felt so tired [and] needed a break.”

[I realized] I’m going to struggle with anxiety the rest of my life. But there’s so many ways to cope with it, and so many other people are struggling and that’s OK. We just have to be there for each other.”

— Grace Murphy

Miller believes mental health is starting to become more de-stigmatized in the athletic world. She credited this to the recent honesty of high level athletes who have struggled with mental health, especially men like Kevin Love, former UCLA and current NBA Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player. 

“When you have huge public figures, especially men, who are willing to be honest and put themselves out there, [it’s easier to break the mental health stigma],” Miller said. “[Society] already thinks women are hysterical and emotional, so it’s not off-brand when we admit to [mental health issues]. When men are honest and are able to share [their struggles], especially men who are admired in an athletic sense, people soften their hearts to the idea.” 

According to Miller, Love has gifted every UCLA athlete a subscription to Headspace, a mindfulness app. She also praised the UCLA women’s basketball program for having some form of mental health training every week. Miller said the lessons taught her to separate her performance from self-worth.

“How I impact people is not dependent on how I play basketball,” Miller said. “Whether I have a double-double or play five minutes, it doesn’t diminish my worth that I add to the world or people around me.”

Miller said playing at UCLA was worth all of the mental struggles because of the networking, relationships and experiences it has given her.  

“The woman I am now is nothing like the girl who left Kirkwood,” Miller said. “Not only because of what I got to experience, but even some of the adversity, because at some point I was forced to grow.”