The Mental Aspect of Sport

Feb. 08, 2018, 1 p.m. (ET)
Physical injuries are common in sports, but athletes also experience mental injuries and recovering from those can be just as challenging. Carli Lloyd and Dustin Watten share their experience with the mental aspect of sport and how they overcame it.

Carli Lloyd

Setter, U.S. Women's National Team

I’ve been on this journey of trying to find the best version of myself, on and off the court, just pushing myself to find ways to be better. I’m looking forward to that growth and what that’s going to look like this year.

I’ve been through some pretty rough injuries. The first one was when I joined the National Team, I’m competing for a spot in the gym, then I get injured and it kind of sets you back a little bit. I had stress fractures in both of my shins and was playing in a lot of pain for months and this is leading up to the 2012 Olympics. I had a choice to make, was I going to try to push through it or was I going to stop playing. Was I going to get surgery or hope that time off would heal me completely? Those kinds of moments are moments of growth.

It’s totally normal to have self-doubt thoughts in sport and it’s perfectly normal to ask for help and talk to someone. Talking to a professional, like a sport psychologist or counselor can be very helpful. Some people put this stigma on asking for help and say it means you’re weak, but it’s not easy to do what we do and be mentally and physically at our best every day. I can honestly say I don’t think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t reached out for help when I needed it and I think every athlete could benefit from having someone in their corner that they can go to.

My family is my corner. I have an amazing family, they came to Rio to see me compete in the Olympics. My mom and uncle are incredible parents and leaders for me. My uncle, being my father figure and coach, he put in a lot of hours helping me understand the game, work hard and set goals. My mom is my emotional support, she’s the backbone, my strength and my biggest fan. My siblings are really important to me. They show me how much they love me by how they support me and believe in what I’m doing, and believe I’m doing the right thing for me.

Through that injury in my first year with the National Team, I think I learned a lot about not only identifying myself as volleyball player and not letting my happiness reside in whether I’m performing or not. I needed to find my value as a person and I think for a long time I invested everything I could in volleyball and sacrificed a lot growing up, but when I had my injury I was able to see that there’s more. My family was able to help me through all that. So that’s where this growth of finding the best version of myself began. I’m passionate about that and hopefully I can help the people around me do the same.

Dustin Watten

Libero, U.S. Men's National Team

Two years ago I was playing in France, it was a dream come true to play in such a high level league, except everything that had previously gave me joy and happiness came to a crashing end.

Our team was terrible (ended up 3-23) the foreigners and the local players fought all the time. No one wanted to train hard and improve. The weather was constantly grey and rainy. I had no friends, my long-term girlfriend and I had just broken up. I was alone, frustrated, angry and ready to quit.

I was ready to quit because everything outside of me was falling apart and so on the inside, I gave in as well. Finally, the day came, I had had enough. I called my agent and told him I wanted out, either he finds me another team or that I would just leave and come back to California.

I went to bed, frustrated, angry and disheartened. I felt I had gave so much to this season but nothing was being returned. I woke up the next day and it was black and white, either I was quitting or I would stick it out. I realized right away that I wasn't a quitter nor would I begin to be. I accepted everything out of my control (constant losing, teammates, weather, loneliness, angry coach and lack of quality facilities) and realized that they were just that, out of my control. Why pay any attention to them, they weren't going to change nor would they with any amount of my frustration towards them.

Instead I looked at myself in the mirror, then I looked even deeper. What can I be doing better? Am I showing up every day to training with the best attitude possible? When something happens that I don't agree with, do I let these actions effect my attitude and my professionalism? Can I work even harder and closer to my values and priorities?

At the time, I had a weekly list of values I could commit to that would help me grow on the court and help push myself physically and mentally off the court. At the time, I was completing it 50-60% on the list. After the meltdown I committed to finishing everything on the list for 2 weeks straight, taking back the power that I had control over. After the 2 weeks ended, I decided to push even more, relentlessly working the best I could on and off the court in line with my values as an athlete and person. The team didn't change, the coach and players didn't change, but because of hitting rock bottom, I decided there was nowhere to go but up and I would dig myself out. No more reliance on anyone else but my own determination, it was up to me.

It was a complete 180 flip. Every day was amazing, I woke up with purpose and immediately got to work, excited to build myself to become a better version each and every day. (Even though the team won 2/13 game in the 2nd half) I was living the "best day ever" and it was because I stopped making excuses, explanations and finding scapegoats. I took back the control and power over my life and finished the season strong, laying the foundation to how I still work today.