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  • Brianna Welch

Supporting Positive Character Development and Healthy Identities Through the Culture We Create

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

At the age of eight I started my running career under the guidance of my mom, a former division I athlete herself having competed for Arizona State and Hunter College. Whether it was racing in the USATF cross country championships in Saratoga or winning the Colgate Women's Games in Madison Square Garden at 10, my journey with running goes way back and continues to this day.

I wasn't always solely focused on running, though. Before high school I was heavily involved in basketball, soccer and lacrosse --- soccer being my second love. Sports and physical challenge have always been an outlet for me, an exhilarating experience. Whether it was the rush of excitement when I got a breakaway, or the runners high that left me feeling untouchable, it provided me something that no other activity could. There is so much that I have gained from these experiences. The determination to be better, stronger, faster each season, the grit and relentless drive to keep pushing my boundaries and see how far I can go, and the commitment to a team that has my back and I theirs.

Another important component of being involved in sports, and physically pushing our limits, is the mental component --- we often forget how big of a role this plays in our enjoyment, our engagement and our success in athletics. Our confidence and self-esteem can often be tested, our belief in self may deteriorate after a bad race or lost game, and our identity and self worth can be challenged by our relationship with our sport. Learning how to be an effective leader, understanding how to maintain focus and commitment to our goals, and developing strategies to combat the negative thoughts in our head are just a few examples of the mental aspect of the sport which are undoubtedly tied to our athletic success and enjoyment.

The athlete on the field can never be separated from the individual off the field. A breakup with a boyfriend, acing a test, drowning in homework, working part time after practice, financial struggle, emotional distress....whether positive or negative everything that is going on in an athletes life permeates their experiences on and off the field.

It's impossible to compartmentalize. It's unhealthy to try to separate the two. When a holistic perspective is embraced it can, and will, result in more positive outcomes both on and off the playing field. The leadership role that he naturally fits into with his team is a result of the agency he is given at his job. The emotional sensitivity she demonstrates with her injured friend will be carried into her family life to provide support to her younger siblings. When the athletic environment encourages a trusting space that allows the individual to bring their full self, when it fosters meaning making, ownership in their own personal development, understanding of their "why" and finally, of taking chances because there are no failures just learning and growing from mistakes, the athlete has no fear. Rather they are driven to explore and create, to dig deeper into their motivators, to find new and better approaches, to push their limits, to make a difference, to inspire others and to author their own story. They are no longer limited to a single identity, an athlete, which often results in identity foreclosure and lowered self-worth and we have been taught for too long to view ourselves, and our successes as a person, by our athletic achievements. Instead, they are able to reflect all facets of their identity and bring this to their sport.

As a mind+body athletic coach my goal is to support coaches in understanding the influential role of sports in shaping positive and healthy athlete identities, which are inextricably linked to an individuals investment, enjoyment and success in their sport. I work to empower each athlete to set and achieve challenging but reasonable physical and technical goals, train the mind by building strategies for resilience and focus, and see the individual for all of the struggles, doubts, excitement, joys and fears that they are experiencing in all areas of their life. When we are understanding and supportive of the needs of the whole athlete we can tap into a state known as "flow". A state in which the individual is, almost effortlessly, able to thrive and reach their potential as they are fully experiencing the joy that is embedded in the process.

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