Active listening is a key component of mental performance

South Carolina Athletics prides itself on equipping its student-athletes with everything they need to perform in the arena, the classroom and beyond. In addition to caring about their physical health, South Carolina student-athletes have many resources for their mental well-being, as the Gamecocks have access to a slew of mental health and performance professionals, including Dr. Raylene Rosswho was recently hired as director of athletic leadership and intellectual performance.

“Team culture is important. To support our sport, I develop team culture and leadership programs for student athletes and coaches,” said Ross. “We want our student-athletes to use their mental toughness to develop holistically: academically, athletically, and socially as they prepare for life outside of the University of South Carolina.”

Ross graduated from Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania in 2000 and later earned a Masters in Psychological Services from Springfield College, her Ph.D. in Developmental Foundations from South Carolina and another Masters in Clinical Health Counseling from Louisiana in Monroe. She has worked as a Health and Wellness Coach/Mental Performance Consultant in Columbia and was previously a Master Resilience Trainer/Performance Expert at the United States Army Training Center at Fort Jackson.

“You have to listen very actively to find out which path we’re going to take.”

There is a difference in the treatment of mental health issues and mental performance when dealing with student athletes.

“Some may need help with mental health, others may need help with performance,” Ross said. “You have to listen very actively to find out which way we are going to go. Mental health focuses on whether the student-athlete has impairments in social, occupational, or academic functioning, ranging from very few symptoms to mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, sleep, drug use, trauma, and stress. If so, we need to focus on mental health. If it’s normal mental functioning, with periods of imbalance and occasional dips, that impedes a student-athlete’s ability to face challenges and struggles, then it’s mental health.

“We focus on mental performance when there is good to high mental functioning and a desire for optimal performance. Mental performance is more than a reactive approach to problem solving. Through conscious practice and execution, student-athletes can take weaknesses and challenges and obstacles to turn them into strengths. This helps when student-athletes have little to no disruptions in their personal lives, use effective coping strategies, but have difficulty performing their sport. Sometimes athletes come in and sabotage themselves by allowing distractions to negatively impact their performance in training or competition. They internalize negative self-talk or struggle to refocus after experiencing obstacles. That’s mental effort.”

Being a good listener is important to Ross to help the student-athlete understand that setbacks or challenges are opportunities for growth and development.

“Since internal dialogue can affect our performance and daily functioning, we need to actively listen,” Ross said. “Not listening to what they say, but listening to what they say. Sometimes athletes think the problem that prompts them to seek help is recent. In most cases it has built up over a long period of time.”

Ross is another piece of the puzzle for South Carolina Athletics to work with sports medicine, exercise science, nutrition, and strength and conditioning staff to improve the performance of teams and individual student-athletes on and off the field.

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