For anyone who forgot it yesterday, the Indiana Daily Student dropped a bomb on a story about Indiana University’s head volleyball coach, Steve Aird, and the toxic culture he is said to have instilled in the program. You need to read this book.
The story and subsequent publicity should put some pressure on the Indiana administration to act, something they apparently avoided for a reason. The university launched an investigation in December 2021 and wrapped it up in January 2022 before any of the players were interviewed, according to IDS, which concluded that Aird had not breached the terms of his contract.
That something like this could still happen in May 2022 is discouraging, but not entirely surprising. Indiana has faced similar issues with Kevin Wilson in the past, but between Naomi Osaka’s retirement from the top ranks in tennis competition and Simone Biles ’decision to leave the Olympics for mental health reasons. , the part of mental health in sports and athletes has reached national. leading since Wilson was fired in 2016.
I played club sport during my time in Indiana, and I was pretty ordinary at it. My coach, Peter Nelson, was not accepted by the town with a big contract as a savior in the program, like Aird was a few years ago.
We practiced at the John Mellencamp Pavillion with varsity athletes, but Club Sports was always a phone call to let us know how difficult it was for us to access the athlete’s facilities.
The similarities between my experience and that of a varsity athlete are certainly limited, but I think Aird, Wilson, and coaches who exhibit the same ethics out there can learn from the way Indiana Lacrosse treats mental health. of players under Coach Nelson.
Like many college athletes and students in general, I started having mental health issues for the first time when I was still in college. I started treatment for recurrent panic attacks while I was a sophomore in Indiana in 2015, but given how hit or failed mental health treatment was, I never controlled it until last year or so. pa.
Fortunately for me, the lacrosse team’s culture of mental health is already good. One of my teammates, David Haggerty, works with a side mental health research team, so we teamed up with them for an annual “Stick it to Stigma” game aimed at to defeat the idea that athletes are rude, stoic, physical creatures.
For the game, we got a special green uniform – the official color of mental health awareness – and recorded a video as a team talking about our own experiences with mental illness. The sponsoring organization, BringChangeToMind, even sent people to record the game and broadcast it on YouTube. We did everything we could as a club sport to get this issue into the spotlight.
Despite these team efforts, I personally can’t bring myself to “stick it to the stigma.” I plan to speak on video, then let the moment pass while my teammates and friends share their stories. I did a lot to put the space between these abstract discussions about “mental health” in general and the fact that I still often have panic attacks.
In my senior year, I got to the point where I could no longer hide. Driving to practice or home games can trigger panic attacks, such as high-pressure drills and conditioning our habits. Things are not trending in the right direction for me.
Given the aforementioned group culture and involvement in mental health initiatives, I was never nervous about Coach Nelson’s approach. However, I’m not sure how to explain myself if he has questions about it. Mental health issues are new to me, and I don’t have the vocabulary to describe what happened to me.
This fear is unfounded. There were no more questions, and I was told to do as much as I could to give my limit; essentially what is expected to be heard in a response to a sports physical injury.
Aside from the immediate comfort of being able to sit outside for drills when needed, Coach Nelson assured me that my place in the lineup was not in danger. Like I said before, it’s not necessary GOOD in lacrosse, so it meant so much to me that I had regular playing time in my senior year. That I am not forced to choose between playing time and my own well -being is crucial to my success as an athlete and person.
Of course, it also needs a lot of support from my colleagues. My housemates wouldn’t mind taking on driving duties for me if I didn’t have a good day and never once made me feel bad about the fact that I was struggling with these basic tasks.
Even years after graduation, when I was in the final stages of managing my mental health, one of them offered to take us to Bloomington from Chicago for our team reunion, just to make sure I didn’t have to. endurance on the trip.
All of this is to say that Indiana’s volleyball culture doesn’t have to be like this supposedly.
Athlete programs do not have to act on fear and internal competition to succeed. Under Coach Nelson, Indiana lacrosse reached the MCLA National Championship for the first time in program history in 2014, then also in 2018. As IDS observed in yesterday’s article, the volleyball program is trending in the opposite direction.
I want to write this because, although there has been more discussion about the fact that athletes struggle with mental health issues, I have yet to see much of what it means to support an athlete on these issues. . Perhaps, for once, varsity games can mimic club games.
And if you find Pete Nelson around Bloomington, buy him a beer for me.