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Professional Development

Mind Over Matter

How former professional baseball player, China McCarney, leveraged his own battle with anxiety to create a foundation that provides athletes with the resources they need to conquer mental health disorders.

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McCarney turned his struggle with balancing a mental health disorder and playing baseball into an initiative that is changing the lives of athletes across the country. (Photo via China McCarney)

The Olympics are over and although they didn’t perform as well as past years, Team USA still had some moments of glory. The United States had Red Gerard, Jamie Anderson, Chloe Kim, Shaun White, Mikaela Shiffrin, Kikkan Randall, Jessie Diggins, David Wise, and the Women’s Ice Hockey and Men’s Curling Team all take home gold medals.

By the time these athletes arrived in Pyeongchang, South Korea, their bodies were prepared for the physical rigor of the games due to the intense training and nutrition regime that they take part in during the four years leading up to the games. However, what people often don’t account for is the fact that by the time these athletes finally make it to the Olympics, it’s often not the physical ability that determines whether they make it to the podium or not, it’s how they handle the stresses and pressures associated with the games that makes all the difference.

“Scientists claim that as little as 10 percent of sports is physical, while the other 90 percent is mental.”

That means, in order to succeed at the highest level (i.e. the Olympics), athletes have to learn to master what goes on between their ears and they have to do it consistently, while the entire world is watching.

But what happens if you’re not only an Olympian, but you’re also a part of the one in five adults who suffer from a mental health disorder and the mastery of the mind is harder than normal? Or worse, what if you’re an athlete who suffers from a mental health disorder but are too ashamed or afraid to seek the proper help you need?

Unfortunately, those circumstances are all too common amongst athletes, whether they’re an Olympian or not. Luckily for the sports world, there’s someone who has made it his life’s mission to help diminish the stigma around mental health disorders, by building community and being unashamed to tell his own story.

That man is China McCarney, former professional baseball player, entrepreneur, writer (his new book, Tell Your Story was released on February 24th) and founder of Athletes Against Anxiety and Depression, a first of its kind, non-profit organization dedicated to providing athletes with the resources and community they need to overcome their battles with mental health disorders.

Athlete’s Against Anxiety and Depression: The first non-profit organization that is solely dedicated to helping athletes manage their mental health concerns. (Photo via China McCarney)

“I wanted to start Athletes Against Anxiety and Depression because of my own personal battle with panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. I hid it for so long because I didn’t want anyone to find out and I thought I’d be judged negatively because of the mental stigma associated with mental health disorders.”

In fact, McCarney attributes the start of the foundation to a panic attack that the had in 2015. McCarney had been struggling with anxiety for six to seven years at that time and eventually got fed up with not having an effective solution to his problem. As a result, he decided to look at his disorder through the lens of an identity he has always held, that of an athlete.

“Okay, how do I beat this? Instead of being negative about it, I wanted to turn this into a positive and make this a competition amongst myself. And I soon realized that the best way for me to beat it was to start talking about it. I began going to counseling and the biggest positive shift for me occurred once I started telling my story and once I realized how many people there are that are struggling, yet, keeping it silent.”

It was that drive that fueled McCarney’s creative spirit and his desire to create something that was non-existent up until this point: a place where athletes could go, obtain resources, build community and do so without judgment. McCarney didn’t even realize how many people he would touch with his story until he began sharing his own testimony over social media videos in November 2016.

“After I posted the first video, my phone started blowing up. People were shocked and it was very clear that I needed to do something more than a social media campaign, so I got my lawyers together and three months later, Athletes Against Anxiety and Depression was a fully functioning 501c(3).”

And the stigma McCarney references is one that is admittedly still prevalent in the sports world, but with initiatives like McCarney’s, is becoming less and less taboo. In fact, Gracie Gold, a figure-skating bronze medalist removed herself from competing in the winter games this year due to her bout with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder. An admission that some would argue, wouldn’t have been provided even five years ago.

“Michael Phelps came out and said he didn’t know if he was going to make it through the games at one point and thought about committing suicide. Emma Stone and other celebrities have also come out and spoken about their journey. People ask me all the time about what can be done and the only answer I have is to have more people share their story. I think the more testimonies that people hear, especially stars, the more community that can be created. And when you create community, you bring people together instead of alienating people, which is the key to managing mental health effectively.”

And furthermore, the community that McCarney helps create for athletes across the country is only one of the many benefits that his foundation offers.

“I am not a licensed medical professional by any stretch of the imagination, but I wanted to create a space so if an athlete contacted the foundation, we would have the resources they would need to be pointed in the right direction. We have formed very strong partnerships with organizations like the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and other entities who have thousands of licensed counselors, therapists, and psychologists trained to address the needs of athletes and others who are struggling with mental health issues in a timely and effective manner.”

Down the line, McCarney hopes to host a series of events in partnership with the Olympics, NCAA Tournament and the Super Bowl to bring mental health awareness to the forefront of the minds of the fans who view the events and the athletes who participate in them. Additionally, McCarney would like to help facilitate programs that focus on student-athlete wellness on campuses across the country. The programs will cover topics like meditation, mindfulness, and other techniques proven to decrease the effects of anxiety and depression in athletes.

And although McCarney has big dreams for the future, he’s making sure that he’s appreciative of all that the foundation has accomplished in such a short amount of time.

For McCarney, starting Athletes Against Anxiety and Depression was a way to give back to those who helped him throughout his own struggle with mental health. (Photo via China McCarney)

 

“Every time I get an email from someone that the work we do has impacted them in one way or another, it just keeps me going. It’s hard for me sometimes because you wonder if the work that you do matters and if it’s really making an impact. Then you get an e-mail or a phone call from someone who has loved our videos and has benefited from the resources we provide and it makes it all worth it.”

What also makes the work he does worth it, is that he knows the what he does every day is helping to diminish the misconceptions surrounding mental health that keep so many athletes from seeking help.

According to McCarney, the biggest misconception surrounding mental health is that it’s helpless.

 “People who suffer from mental health disorders often get so self-conscious that they feel that there’s no upside, no way that they can get better, and no help.”

However, McCarney also says that he works every day both in his own life and in the lives of others to remind people that:

Mental Health struggles and personal success can co-exist. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to succeed in your career, your relationship, and your social life while still physically struggling with your mental health disorder. Your diagnosis is just an obstacle, it’s not a cliff and it’s something that can be managed and dealt with effectively if you’re brave enough to seek the appropriate help.

To learn more about Athlete’s Against Anxiety and Depression and about how McCarney leverages his background as an athlete to overcome his own mental health obstacles, check out his new book, Tell Your Story! 

Chloe is a former DI Women's Basketball player turned entrepreneur, writer, advocate and Chicago Tribune Red Eye "Big Idea" Award Winner. She's also the Founder and CEO of Elle Grace Consulting, LLC, an athletics consulting firm that helps prepare ALL athletes for lives of thoughtful leadership and meaningful service beyond athletics. You can connect with Chloe at chloe@ellegraceconsulting.com.

Professional Development

Chicago Blackhawks Partner with Business Operations ‘Incubator’ to Provide Development Opportunities for Employees

The hockey MBA program focuses on professional development and seeks more NHL partnerships to help boost the economic results of professional organizations.

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The Business of Hockey Institute continues to establish itself as a premier organization for professional development in the sport.

The BHI recently announced a partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks, which includes a designated number of class registrations for Blackhawk employees within the institute’s curriculum.

Founded in 2015, the BHI partnered with Edmonton’s Athabasca University to offer the first MBA in hockey management as well as the standalone Certified Hockey Professional education program.

“The CHP is designed to be the ideal professional development program for business employees in hockey organizations,” said Brian Burke, BHI co-founder. “It would definitely benefit a lot of people working for NHL franchises. We are proud to have the Chicago Blackhawks as our first academic partner and look forward to working with their valued employees.”

SEE MORE: William Hill and Devils Bring Sports Lounge to the Prudential Center

The organization also awards honorary CHPs to established hockey executives, including the first presented to Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough.

“We approached Mr. McDonough with a proposal to provide professional development opportunities to their employees and he was on board with it,” BHI Managing Director Manav Deol said.

The Blackhawks partnership has broadened the institute’s mission to include more professional development, and BHI intends on seeking out more NHL partnerships, Deol said. There’s also hope Blackhawks employees will impart peer-to-peer real-world experience and knowledge to other BHI students, as well as networking opportunities.

“BHI continues to innovate and grow the business side of hockey by providing professional development opportunities for those that are both currently working in hockey and those who strive to join this competitive industry,” McDonough said.

Students and hockey professionals alike can enroll in the CHP (for CAD $50,000) or take part in the entire MBA in hockey management (for CAD $80,000). Terms of the Blackhawks partnership were not disclosed.

SEE MORE: How the Golden Knights Landed Their Sportsbook Partnership With William Hill

“The costs can be flexible, depending on if a team enrolls an employee or employees enrolls on their own,” Deol said.

In Canada, hockey organization employees enrolled by teams can see the costs reduced to a third, thanks to the Canada Job Grant program. The BHI also offers scholarships starting at $5,000.

Courses at the BHI include Business of Hockey, Marketing Hockey Strategically, Integrated Marketing Communications for Hockey, Game Day Management & Marketing, Managing Franchises Strategically, and Hockey Operations. The courses are taught by sports management academics from universities across North America.

While most of the courses focus on the business side of hockey, Deol said it is important for many hockey organization employees to hold a foundational understanding of what goes on in hockey operations.

SEE MORE: Executive Buy-In Helps Propel Dallas Stars’ Digital Strategy 

Burke and Ritch Winter, a player agent, started BHI when they realized few sports management programs across the continent focused exclusively on hockey.

“We want to be the organization that the best hockey teams in the world come to train their business employees,” Deol said. “We also want to be the incubator that teams look to when they are searching for qualified candidates to join their business operations.”

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Professional Development

Former NBA Training Coach Making Difference in the Business World

Alan Stein Jr. is proof that basketball and business are very similar.

Aaron Blake

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If you have ever thought about transitioning career paths, you are not the only one.

Alan Stein Jr. spent nearly 20 years as a professional basketball performance coach before deciding to enter into the corporate world. Now, instead of helping world-class athletes improve their performance, Stein helps corporate leaders and individuals improve their collective and individual performances.

In basketball, Stein worked with highly magnified NBA superstars like Kevin Durant, Victor Oladipo and Markelle Fultz when they were in high school and events with Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, and LeBron James. Now he works with clients like American Express and Pepsi.

Stein believes the tenants of achieving success in sports and business are vastly similar, thus allowing him to position himself as an expert in a new industry.

As a corporate keynote speaker, Stein now dedicates his time to instilling organizational performance, cohesion, and accountability, per his dominating interests.

“I found myself studying, observing and learning everything I could on leadership, team cohesion, culture and accountability since those were the topics that consumed me,” Stein said. As he was approaching burnout in his basketball career, Stein knew if he was not 100 percent committed as a coach should be, then he needed to develop a new passion.

“Making a pivot from on-court basketball performance to corporate leadership, sales and organizational performance was a seamless transition,” said Stein.

SEE MORE: Athlete Brand Building and Its Importance 

The two careers are very similar in that Stein takes fundamentals from basketball and meshes them with the business world, leaving positivity and results in the wake.

Varsity Partners Principal Tim Rebich has worked with Stein in the past in branding. Rebich knows Stein’s passion and excitement can inspire any audience, and his success pays to it. When transitioning careers like Stein, Rebich puts it simply: “The personal brand needs to always be consistent, while the audience changes.”

As much as inspiration is important, Rebich knows perception is just as important.

“As humans, we make assumptions based on first impressions. It is important to align these assumptions with your brand vision,” said Rebich.

Leadership, according to Stein, is a choice and not a title — a choice everyone makes in an organization.

“Everyone has the choice to intentionally have a positive influence over someone else,” said Stein. “I now take the lessons I’ve learned and translate those into actionable strategies for businesses to implement.”

SEE MORE: Former NFL Star’s Players Philanthropy Fund Is Bigger Than Sports

By educating, empowering and engaging with his clients, Stein is able to facilitate a “game plan” as he calls it to lead others

“He provides a realistic look into teamwork and different mindsets that allow you to grow not only as a professional but as a person,” said Rebich.

Through his performance measuring metrics, analytics, and praise-filled testimonials, this new career gleans of immediate success, but Stein knows building brand recognition in a new industry was the biggest challenge.

“I went from a space where I was fairly well known and respected to a space where I was virtually unknown,” said Stein. “But nearly every skill set and intangible quality I learned through basketball is applicable in business.”

Coaches, CEOs and managers, players and colleagues, and teams and organizations all share the same traits and Stein treats these roles similarly.

SEE MORE: Personal Branding Tips for Sports Business Professionals 

Stein knows he has found a unique niche in the business world carrying learned skills and attributes from sports to deadlines, sales, and organizations, all while espousing wisdom.

“Companies that have authentic cohesion, vertical and horizontal accountability, and an unparalleled culture will outperform those that don’t,” said Stein. “This will not only result in higher profits, but a more fulfilling workplace, higher satisfaction, and lower attrition.”

If anything, Stein is actually still a performance coach, engaging a different audience, but still bringing out professional performance qualities in today’s business and innovation leaders.

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Professional Development

Athlete Brand Building and Its Importance

When it comes to building an athlete’s brand, the CEO of Firestarter wants athletes to know it’s about sticking to their laurels and who they are.

Blake Yagman

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Your reputation is the basis for your brand. Your brand is how your reputation is projected to the world.

With respect to athletes, how they brand themselves is imperative to the individual’s overall success; it helps them convince their current — and future — employer(s) that they are a good fit for the organization. Meanwhile, it also persuades potential endorsers that the athlete is a great spokesperson for their product, and it allows them to create enough public goodwill to start and maintain their own philanthropic organizations.

Frances Reimers, the founder and CEO of Firestarter, helps athletes, coaches, and executives develop, manage, enhance, and protect their key professional asset: their personal brands. Firestarter, which is a personal consultancy located in Alexandria, Virginia, also provides integrated marketing services, crisis communications, and public relations consulting, analysis, and strategy, in addition to day-to-day brand management for clients such as former Ravens kicker Matt Stover and his Players Philanthropy Fund.

SEE MORE: Former NFL Star’s Players Philanthropy Fund Is Bigger Than Sports

Reimers has eclectic experience, which helps her to navigate any kind of public relations or marketing challenges. Prior to launching Firestarter in 2016, Reimers spent more than 15 years leading integrated marketing and public relations campaigns around the world for many corporate, non-profit, and government clients.

So, what goes into building a brand? Some of the key questions that Reimers offers when evaluating or constructing a brand include:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What do they need from you?
  • Where do they need to hear from you?
  • What kind of corporate sponsors are you trying to engage?
  • What type of person are these corporations looking for?
  • What charities, companies or products do you plan to launch in the future?
  • What kind of paid, earned, owned or shared media will help support these objectives?

“Above all else, your brand narrative needs to be authentic. This term is becoming slightly cliché, but it’s importance can’t be overestimated.”

Additionally, Reimers stressed:

“Authenticity is vital for two fundamental reasons. One, athletes want to ensure that the persona that appears online, in advertising, etc. is the person they are in real life. Few things kill a brand faster than the discovery that it’s not genuine. Two, remaining authentic allows for differentiation. In the crowded sea of successful professional and amateur athletes, the development of presenting your authentic self helps an athlete find a way to stand out.”

How important is brand strategy to an athlete?

“You don’t play a game without a plan. Managing your brand is no different. Regardless of whether you’re deploying your content through individual social media platforms or using an all-inclusive platform, there has to be an objective before a single piece of content is created.”

SEE MORE: Carolina Hurricanes Put Local Emphasis on New Marketing Initiatives

When it comes to athletes who want to manage their own brand, Reimers advised sitting down with a professional or attending a training session to learn some basic tips and tricks or to get assistance on how best to draft their personal narrative and build a long-term strategy.

Just like with legal and financial matters, there are times when it’s best to leave a person’s brand creation and development in the hands of a professional.

At the end of the day, “an athlete’s brand isn’t and shouldn’t work in isolation,” Reimers said. “It should always remain top-of-mind as the athlete makes any career, legal, family, business, philanthropic, or financial decisions. Ideally, I enjoy being considered an integral part of an athlete’s entire support system, along with his or her spouse, agent, attorney, etc. When everyone is working in concert, the athlete truly derives the most benefit.”

Everyone – not just athletes – should consider the advice that Reimers gives on personal branding.

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