We got the opportunity to sit down with Arkansas football players Grant Morgan and John Stephen Jones as they prepared for their Bowl game to discuss mental toughness and its role on and off the field.
1. As student-athletes who spend so much time focused on your physical health, how do you make sure you can also prioritize your mental health? Grant Morgan: I make this a priority because I know how mental rest can affect you holistically. Taking care of your mind also affects your body. For me, I carve out time to read. It helps me calm down and focus on myself. John Jones: I tend to spend “me time” without any distractions. We can let things such as our phones or computers get in the way of being able to completely clear our minds and stop us from focusing on what is important. It is crucial to be able to think back on how your day was and look back on what you can improve on.
2. Why would you say it’s important to seek treatment for your mental health? Grant Morgan: Talking to people helps clear your head if you’re fighting with demons inside your head. Being able to reach out to someone who has either been in this situation or knows solutions to get you out of that headspace. John Jones: In your own mind you can convince yourself that things are a lot worse than they are. Just getting someone to talk and let you know that things are going to be okay. People tend to overanalyze the day-to-day obstacles that are going on in their lives, hearing a second voice telling you that it’s not the end of the world and you have options are sometimes all you need to hear.
3. Do you think there is a stigma around mental health? Grant Morgan: For sure, but I’ve definitely seen it improving especially in athletics. I think the stigma used to be if you came out about your mental health conditions you were labeled “soft.” This was before people realized exactly what mental health is! Now it’s being brought to life and people are starting to take it more seriously. There are a lot of players in sports that are considered “mentally tough,” but people don’t see that so many of them are starting to ask for help – which is the right thing to do. John Jones: Football players and athletes, in general, think they are supposed to be so tough and strong – we’re people too. It takes strength to come out and say you aren’t okay and there’s no weakness in saying you need help. To me, that’s the epitome of being mentally tough – is knowing when to ask for help.
4. Grant, I’m sure being a walk-on at The University of Arkansas required true mental strength – what did that look like for you? Grant Morgan: I had to be able to keep my self-confidence levels higher than my self-doubt. I had to go back many times and repeat “You can do this.” There were definitely times where I had doubts. Being able to keep my head down and put my mind to staying positive was not always easy. I’m now able to say I’ve earned the opportunity to be surrounded by an amazing group of people and I feel like I’ve done my job here. It’s great looking back at the challenging times and knowing without the grit and work I put in, I would not be where I am today.
5. You both spoke to the mental health stigma in athletics starting to fade. What mental preparation goes into your training? Grant Morgan: The mental side of football is so prominent; you constantly hear it’s 10% physical and 90% mental. There are so many hours of the week that aren’t physical – where we need to mentally prepare for game day. Our coaches know what we’re going through mentally and they are always here to help us. John Jones: Our coaches always say their doors are open and they mean that! We always have someone on our side making sure we are taking care of ourselves not only physically but mentally. It’s so important to get that balance and to know that we’re never alone, on or off the field.
6. So to wrap it up – what does being Mentally Tough mean to you? Grant Morgan: Being mentally tough is having self confidence even through your self doubt. It’s being able to bounce back and show your perseverance through any situation. Most importantly, it’s recognizing that you don’t have to do it alone. You don’t have to simply “power through.” When you’re mentally tough, you ask for help when you need it. Prioritizing your mental wellness IS being mentally tough. John Jones: I agree, it’s really being able to set your mind to something even when the times get tough. You have the mindset to focus on telling yourself you can do it, and recognizing when you need that extra support. Like I said before, it is easy to convince yourself that things are worse than what they are. Talking with someone can really help you get clarity and perspective. Because of stigma, not every athlete talks about their mental health struggles, but athletes like Grant and John, we’ll continue to the conversation about what being mentally tough really means. If you or someone you know is struggling, there is nothing wrong with asking for help. At Connections Wellness Group, we have mental health professionals that offer a variety of services. To learn more about how to manage your mental health and improve your overall well-being, contact us today.