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Episode 46 | Are Sports Too Tough on Our Children?

“The earlier we can learn these skills and tools, the more beneficial it will be for us as individuals as well as a part of society, so why not start teaching our kids as early as possible!?” - Danielle

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Podcast Transcript

Episode 46: Are Sports Too Tough on Our Children?

Developing Coping Strategies/Skills to Protect Our Children


[00:00:00] ​

[00:00:14] Amy: Hello, and welcome back to the Holistic Health Show. As always, thank you so much for joining me today. Today on the show, we're talking to Danielle McDonough. She's a mental skills coach, and today our topic is developing coping strategies and skills in our youth. We've never had this topic on the show before, Danielle, so thank you very much for joining and sharing your expertise.

[00:00:36] Amy: To get started, I would just love it if you dive right in and tell us a little bit about what you do and maybe why you do it.

[00:00:44] Danielle McDonough: Sure. Thank you so much for having me, Amy. I'm really excited to be here today. So when people ask me this question, I feel like giving a little bit of a longer bio on myself is important because it kind of leads into why I do what I do and how I got here. I'll try to make it as quick as possible, but I am born and raised in Anaheim.

[00:01:06] Danielle McDonough: California, Southern California, two Canadian parents. Being Canadian, they got us involved in hockey very young. When I say us, my brother and me, he was about four. I was maybe five or six.

[00:01:16] Danielle McDonough: And I played with soccer. Boys until I was 18 because that's all that we had here. That was the only option for me was to play boys hockey. When I was about 12, two coaches developed an all girls team. So they essentially went throughout the entire state of [00:01:30] California and found all the girls that were like me playing on an all boys team.

[00:01:34] Danielle McDonough: And they brought us together and they made one team. It was a 19 U team. So I was 12 playing on this 19 U team, which is. It's a big age difference, but we played together. We would get together once a month for practice and then our sole purpose was to go to the east coast and play in tournaments so that we could be put in front of college scouts to hopefully be recruited and play at the collegiate level. So I'm forever grateful for those two coaches for doing that, because I was recruited by a lot of schools as were a lot of my teammates, actually, and , I ended up choosing Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, which is a division one school. So I received a full scholarship to play college hockey there.

[00:02:11] Danielle McDonough: I was there for 4 years. I was captain my senior year after that, I moved up to Oakville, Ontario, Canada, and I played in the NWHL, the National Women's Hockey League, which has now become the PWHL, which is really exciting. I was there for two years. And then after that, I moved to Lugano, Switzerland, and I played professionally there for two years before finally retiring, moving back home to Southern California and going back to school to get my master's degree in sport and exercise psychology.

[00:02:39] Danielle McDonough: And so I've been working with athletes. It's now on the mental side of performance since about 2010. And it's a really kind of come full circle moment for me, which is why I kind of share my whole life story because all of the things that I experienced myself as an elite athlete playing youth hockey, high school hockey, collegiate hockey, professional hockey, all those invisible [00:03:00] barriers that I faced that couldn't be solved with doing extra sprints or practicing my slap shot in the garage for another hour a day.

[00:03:08] Danielle McDonough: I now get to help. Our youth athletes figure out number one, figure out what's going on faster and give them the tangible tools that they need to be able to move through those invisible barriers much quicker as well. And so it's, it's a, it's a really special thing for me. I absolutely love what I do.

[00:03:25] Danielle McDonough: I see myself in pretty much every single athlete I work with. I always tell them like, there is nothing that I can't do. You have gone through or will go through that. I haven't already been through myself. So so you're in good company here. I also am an author.

[00:03:37] Danielle McDonough: I wrote the empowered athlete to also help athletes and extend my reach a little bit to them.

[00:03:44] Amy: That's an impressive background and so wonderful that you've been able to, bring that into your career now in helping current and, future and aspiring athletes. Thank you for that work. I'd love to hear a little bit more about the work that you're doing. Are you getting any resistance or are you finding that they're really open to this sort of a journey?

[00:04:07] Danielle McDonough: I think that we've evolved a lot since I started and finished with my master's degree and even since then too. So I graduated in 2012. And at that time, I don't want to say it was totally unheard of. But it was really on the down low. People didn't talk about it as much.

[00:04:25] Danielle McDonough: And even before that, when I was growing up and playing youth sports and in high school and [00:04:30] college, it wasn't talked about at all. There were sports psychologists working with Olympians, maybe some professional athletes, but again, very hush, hush. There was this Stigma around it, like, you know, Oh, there's something wrong with you.

[00:04:43] Danielle McDonough: Can I trust you? Are you, you know, that sort of thing, coaches might not play their athletes or teammates might not trust their, you know, if they're, they found out that they were seeing a quote unquote sports psychologist. But I think that we've come a long way in that regard with more Olympians, more athletes speaking out about.

[00:05:00] Danielle McDonough: You know, what's going on with youth sports , and all the way up into the professional level. And it doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you. These are actual tangible tools that help people move past whatever they're experiencing in that moment. And that could be a slump. A rut having trouble moving past a mistake and, and, and deeper things like perfectionism and fear of failure and, and so on and so forth.

[00:05:24] Danielle McDonough: And so I think now the athletes that come to me, they are very open to it. Even the, the youth athletes. The parents sometimes need a little bit of convincing, but the athletes themselves, when I meet them and talk with them, they're like, Oh my God. Yes. I, my person, I found my person. Yes. I want to work with you.

[00:05:42] Danielle McDonough: Because they can see the light at the end of that tunnel.

[00:05:44] Amy: And I hear a lot and you know, it's changing ever so slightly maybe more slowly than I would like and perhaps you can agree and With, in sports, in particular hockey, you know, I'm Canadian, I grew up watching hockey and when I was younger in [00:06:00] particular, it was very tough. It was very, you know, there were lots of fights and they were permitted and it was, it was a rough sport and there are many sports that are quite rough and the athlete is expected to be rough and tough and get back up, dust yourself off, try again, don't complain.

[00:06:17] Amy: Do you see that changing in the sports industry now or not enough?

[00:06:23] Danielle McDonough: Well, speaking of hockey, I mean, they have pulled back a lot from that. My cousin played in the NHL actually. And he was, that was his job. He was an enforcer, which means that he was the person they sent out to fight someone. And that job is pretty much non existent now. I actually liked watching that part of the game.

[00:06:40] Danielle McDonough: I like the physical contact. I like that stuff. So I think, yeah, I think in the grand scheme of things, it is changing a little bit. But when it comes to, you know, the, the mental side of things as athletes, we are really good at putting up this wall, right? So we put up this wall that Yeah. to the outside world, everything looks fine.

[00:07:04] Danielle McDonough: I'm okay. Yes. I'm doing all of the things. Give me more. I can handle it. It's no problem. But inside we're, we're, we're crumbling. It's, it's really hard. We're drowning and we don't know how to get ourselves out. And I think that we need to allow athletes to, to let that wall down. Because , it's those athletes that keep that wall up and don't talk about what they're going through that really, really struggle in the long run.

[00:07:29] Danielle McDonough: And this is [00:07:30] a very sad statistic, but the suicide rates amongst college student athletes has doubled. I think since covid, really, it's now the second leading cause of death for collegiate student athletes behind accidents only and that's, I mean, that's telling right there. The kids are growing up playing their sport, and they're, they're not developing these coping strategies to be able to work through these adversities that are coming at them, and they're putting up that wall and not letting anybody in to let them know that they might be struggling.

[00:08:03] Danielle McDonough: And they don't, want anyone to know they're just, you know, I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. So that is just a really tough combination. And then they're getting to college where the transition into college is hard enough as it is for a regular student. And then you add all the things with the student athletes coming in, and they just cannot.

[00:08:20] Danielle McDonough: They cannot function, they cannot manage to where they think that that's their only way out. And that's it. It's very, very tragic. So I think, you know, we need to, we need to make a change. , we need to do better.

[00:08:30] Amy: It can be really hard to ask for help, even when you know it's available to you, or you have someone you trust. Even then, it's a big challenge to, I don't know, is it, accept defeat? I don't know what words to put there, but it's just, . So sad that society still makes that.

[00:08:49] Amy: A huge challenge and a huge no no. Shameful. It's really disappointing. Do you know why the statistic in particular has increased since [00:09:00] COVID?

[00:09:00] Danielle McDonough: I don't know the why behind it. I would say that, you know, a lot of things changed with COVID. I saw with my work with high school athletes, things got really, really hard for them. It was essentially, When athletes retire, they, they can go through this really dark, depressive time where their identity, they're trying to find out, okay, who am I without this sport?

[00:09:21] Danielle McDonough: Right. I went through that and I saw that happening with these high school and junior high kids when all of a sudden they weren't allowed to play their sport anymore. So I think that COVID increased a lot of these issues that we're having, but ultimately I think it's starting younger and younger.

[00:09:37] Danielle McDonough: There's, You know, overtraining early specialization , the pressures to be the best and to get that college scholarship. And, you know, at a very, very young age and also what you mentioned earlier, athletes are tough. Be tough, , tough it out. You've got this. Come on, let's just go.

[00:09:54] Danielle McDonough: And I think that all of that combined, we're just not preparing our kids for the, the challenges, the real life, real world challenges that, that inevitably come at some point. And when they don't have these tools to be able to work through these things on their own, we have disaster.

[00:10:12] Amy: Yeah. And I'm, as you're talking, I'm thinking about the challenges of. You know, just being a student. Forget about then adding in all the training and the practice and the demands there. So I would imagine that, exponentially that stress and that worry can [00:10:30] grow when they're not getting the support that they need.

[00:10:32] Amy: What age is it that you start to work with these athletes?

[00:10:37] Danielle McDonough: So I've worked with as young as seven and as old as 55 but my programs are really catered to ages 11 to 20 ish. But as far as learning the skill sets and the tools, I mean, I, I'm a huge believer that it should be as early as possible., I have two children and I started teaching them some of these tools, you know, diaphragmatic breathing, for instance, which I call like the gateway tool calms the mind and body in as little as three to five breaths.

[00:11:07] Danielle McDonough: I started teaching them that as soon as they could understand taking a deep breath to smell a flower or something that they like, and then blowing out birthday candles. So, you know, I really think the earlier that we can get these tools into these children's hands, the better off that they're, they're going to be.

[00:11:25] Danielle McDonough: And then as they grow, we can adjust the way that we, we teach and obviously make things a little bit more in depth as they get older, but as far as my programs are concerned, yes, around 11 is when I start to have them come in.

[00:11:39] Amy: It's really about, you know, increasing the tools that you have in the toolbox and also building these habits, , these healthy habits to managing stress or overwhelm or anxiety or any of the, any of the big emotions, you know, even excitement, you know, kind of how to navigate that. Cause that can be really challenging too, even though it's a really happy, fun emotion, it's, [00:12:00] it's big.

[00:12:01] Danielle McDonough: It is, and it can be just as debilitating as anxiety if not properly channeled. So I'm glad that you mentioned that because that is very, that's a very real thing. Yep.

[00:12:10] Amy: Yeah. Absolutely. And you mentioned your book can you tell us what, what's your book about?

[00:12:15] Danielle McDonough: I wrote it for athletes, but I have heard that it's really helpful for parents as well and coaches. I have coaches using it with their teams. I have parents reading it for themselves or parents and athletes reading it together. Or just individuals reading it who, , want to learn what the tools are and learn how to use them.

[00:12:34] Danielle McDonough: Essentially. It's basically a step by step. self paced guide to propel your performance, and I use air quotes because performance can mean a lot of things to the next level. You know, we're performing right now, right? Performance is this, performance is sport, performance is heart surgery, it's whatever, it's whatever that is to you.

[00:12:52] Danielle McDonough: And so it, it has , so many goodies in there to teach you, About certain situations, and then also tangible tools to be able to start using immediately. There's space to write in there. So you can track your progress and it's really to kind of help you with those identifying what the invisible barriers are number 1 and then number 2, the tools to be able to work through them.

[00:13:13] Danielle McDonough: You know, from now until the end of time,

[00:13:15] Amy: Yeah, that sounds great because you can always go back and reference as well as you're learning to build these habits and use these tools. And then when it comes to your program and when you're, you're there to help support someone, what does that look like is, you know, how long are people [00:13:30] signing up to work with you?

[00:13:32] Danielle McDonough: my athlete program is a 4 month program with the option to carry on afterwards, but it's essentially a virtual. Program that I use to teach them things and then I coach them once a week on what they're learning and implementing. And so I do the program is 3 months, the virtual piece, and then an extra month of implementation.

[00:13:50] Danielle McDonough: And then however long they want to remain after that. These are skills that just like with physical skills. You learn them and you practice them and then you keep doing them right. If you stop doing them, they fall off. So it's the same thing with mindset tools and skills as well. I try to make sure to emphasize that.

[00:14:10] Danielle McDonough: I also have a brand new family program. What I've been seeing as I've been doing this since 2010 is. There's, there's not a lot of support for parents in supporting their athletes. And one of the, the most common things I get from parents is how do I, how do I best support my athlete in this?

[00:14:27] Danielle McDonough: And so I finally, it took me, you know, however long to put the pieces together, but I've created a family membership essentially to where I'm empowering the athletes with the tools that they need to be successful. To be successful in whatever situation they encounter using sport as the vehicle to teach them because that's what they're interested in.

[00:14:45] Danielle McDonough: And then also empowering the parents with the tools and education that they need to be able to best support their athletes as, as a family, they navigate this sports journey. And so I'm very excited [00:15:00] for that. It's about to launch in a little bit here.

[00:15:02] Amy: I can see that being really valuable even if, the parents of these athletes were athletes themselves. You know, they grew up at a different time and the world is changing and we're, you know, we're trying to make it better. But in many cases as well, parents of athletes weren't, aren't athletes and it's a brand new world for them as well.

[00:15:19] Amy: I mean, parenting itself is, you know, a challenge and it's all new and it's all learning. So to have that extra support must be a relief to those parents.

[00:15:30] Danielle McDonough: Yes, I hope so. And that's funny that you say all those things, because I just some of the content I just created was, you know, unfortunately, we're not sent home from the hospital with a how to raise your student athlete playbook or just a how to raise your child playbook. Wouldn't that be nice? , so I'm hoping that that this can help in in that way, whether or not they were athletes before, because, you know, those each bring different challenges in and of themselves.

[00:15:57] Danielle McDonough: Those. Parents who were athletes before, like you said, it was a completely different time. We did things differently back then. They struggle now navigating this new sports world and culture. And also obviously parents who have never played sports before. They, you know, a lot, oftentimes are, are lost feeling their way in the dark.

[00:16:15] Danielle McDonough: And so I'm hoping to be able to help everyone with this.

[00:16:19] Amy: And what's great about, , the book and the work that you do is you're actually offering a free ebook so that people can have a little look, get some more [00:16:30] information. What I would love to do is I'll share a link to that. In the show notes of the episode.

[00:16:37] Amy: Whether you're watching on YouTube or you're listening on whatever podcasting platform it is you enjoy, you can have a look at the description and I'll share that link. I'll also share, Danielle, a link to your website and I'd love it if, you know, the listeners could get in touch with you, ask some questions and find out how they could work with you.

[00:16:56] Amy: I wonder, are you working only with clients in the States? I know you're online, so does that expand a little bit?

[00:17:03] Danielle McDonough: , actually, that was one of the good things that came out of COVID is it brought us all into this virtual world. So yeah, so I, I do work with athletes and families all over.

[00:17:13] Danielle McDonough: And so and there's recordings also. , so yes, I am worldwide.

[00:17:17] Danielle McDonough: , if I could give one tip to everyone out there, something that you can start doing immediately, no matter if you're a parent, you're not a parent, you're an athlete, you're not an athlete, whoever you are, we all experience stress. So I would like to introduce box breathing.

[00:17:31] Danielle McDonough: It may be something that you've heard of before. It may not be, but it's essentially, if you think of a box in your mind and I'll kind of draw it out as, you know, on the video here, but you're going to inhale for four. Slowly hold for four, exhale for four, hold for four, and then repeat. If you do that a couple times, it's a natural calming mechanism for the mind and body.

[00:17:53] Danielle McDonough: So whatever situation that you're encountering, whatever you're experiencing in doing the breathing and also allowing [00:18:00] your mind to focus on the counting piece, that gives your mind something neutral to think about while you're breathing, which is what allows the breath to do its job to calm you down.

[00:18:08] Danielle McDonough: Find that if you start to practice that and implement that in times of stress you'll feel, a change.

[00:18:14] Amy: Danielle, I really want to thank you for the work that you do, and for joining me on the show and sharing your work

[00:18:19] Danielle McDonough: thank you so much for having me on and giving me the opportunity to pour into your audience. This was awesome. Thank you, Amy.



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