How to Personally Protect & Use Culture As A Weapon Against Mental Health Issues


“In case of emergency, a mask will drop from a container in the airplane ceiling. The mask, which looks like a yellow plastic cup, fits over your nose and mouth. An elastic strap goes around the back of your head, and the ends can be tugged to tighten the fit. Pull on the hose gently to begin the flow of oxygen. You are instructed to put on your mask before helping anyone sitting with you. If you are running low on oxygen, you have little chance of helping them. Supply yourself with good air and you’ll be in better condition to deal with those around you.” -Getaway USA

If you have ever flown, these are some vital instructions that are always given before takeoff in case of an emergency. They are key because every passenger is important and needs to be their best in a great time of need. One passenger cannot support another unless they have first secured their oxygen mask. This analogy is such a great parallel to our own personal, player, or team development. The idea that you must first help yourself in order to perform at a high level, to help others, or develop as a team. Better yet, to function effectively, you have to be willing to put on the mask and help yourself. This is important for your own health and longevity as well as what it takes to maximize each individual player or team. I recently spoke on connecting Mental Health to Character Development within Athletic Programs. The fact that we must first protect our own mental health in order to serve at a high level. The fact that a properly connected team and culture is a weapon against mental health issues. The power of a team resides in the power of the leader, each individual, and a “whole player” mindset.

So what are the levels of oxygen we need to help ourselves in order to help others? Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs teaches us that there are basic building blocks needed to actualize our highest level. That we have basic needs that should be met for us to experience the next level of functionality. These levels are not an absolute but are each needed in some degree for us to perform at the highest level. For example, we can’t have a sense of personal security unless we have basic needs met in a place to live, food, clothing, etc.. Or we cannot have a sense of self-esteem or status unless we first feel a sense of belonging. We are going to discuss these critical levels in our personal development and in our “Team Culture.” Remember, we have to first accept the mask, choose to put it on, and then be our best for others.

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Personally Protect:

In today’s world, we are expected to function at a high level in all aspects of life, whether it’s our occupation or being a parent. We often tend to be stubborn or prideful, believing we can do it solely alone, and avoid any honest self-evaluation. We also believe we can live any lifestyle (late hours, poor eating habits, inconsistent exercise, etc.)  and still consistently perform at a high level. We can trick ourselves into believing that we will remain functioning at the top of the pyramid forever. However, over time, with poor habits we are slowly taking bricks out from underneath us. The bricks of rest, personal security, belonging, and the feeling of worth are needed to stand for the long haul. If neglected, you will eventually crash whether you believe it and come tumbling down from the top.

Remember, no-one ever wakes up planning to be in an emergency situation and this kind of neglect can be a leading cause of depression or anxiety. People suffering from depression or anxiety is at an all time high in society and is a serious issue. Mental health issues has become known as the “Silent Epidemic.” We also need to understand that none of us are immune to this issue. As coaches we have been taught to “tough it out” or to be “mentally tough”, and many will never seek the help they need. People cannot just will their way through it and we all need an honest support system. You cannot fly through the battles of life, impact others, and maximize purpose without allowing yourself to breath value back into your life. We need to be willing to put on the mask everyday. The mask in the form of self-evaluation, faith, friends, family, colleagues, etc… You need honest self-checks, feedback, or advice on where you stand and what you need. These moments are vital for your performance and longevity. Personal decisions and relationships should act as a shield for your purpose and mental health. Remember this is not about you but your impact on others. Here are a few examples:

  • Physiological Needs: How can you feel secure and operate consistently if not rested, hungry, worried about housing, and mentally fatigued? We tend to want to grind our way to success and this is often necessary in today’s competition. How early and how late we stay at the office can become a badge of honor. However, how much of this time is used for quality work that produces value? Effective evaluation of your calendar and daily schedule is important for your mental energy. We often sacrifice our diet, exercise, and choose to think in bed instead of sleep. I always say, “If working a different schedule will change our win/loss record, then we will do it. If not then what are we really gaining.” There is a reason why pastors take sabbaticals and companies grant vacation time. If you are grinding yourself into the ground,Do you really feel good about your health or secure in your employment?” Get a vantage point, have a morning quiet time, evaluate, exercise, or recharge if necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I am addicted to work but I also know that no trophies are won for office hours. Your time is precious and longevity depends on quality use.
  • Safety Needs: Feeling secure in your health is important with the physical needs we just discussed. I want to talk about the importance of feeling secure in your  employment performance. The importance of seeking proper evaluation and evaluating your environment. Security should be found in proper communication of your performance and evaluation. Knowing where you stand, where to improve, and your opportunities are key to personal security. Often in my career, I have been driven by fear of failure. This can be a great motivator, but only pulls the bricks of security out of the pyramid over time. Leaders that consistently use fear strategies may get momentary results but ultimately keep employees from being their best. There is a difference in striking fear and challenging someone for a better performance. People will go into self-preservation mode, avoid risk, and isolate from relationships. Fear strategies over time create a perception of non-trust. Fear is a good teaching tool but it is ultimately a mechanism of defense. Is this your environment? Is so then it is toxic for the long term. A workplace must feel like a safe haven to bring great value. Seek evaluation and evaluate your environment.
  • Love and Belonging: Based on the pyramid, if your physical needs and security are being met then there is a great chance to experience belonging. It is hard to have great friendships if you are exhausted, live in fear each day, or are afraid of judgment from others. It is amazing at how one feels at home when they are secure at work and have mental energy. Evaluation of our relationships is also key to being our best. What relationships make me better? Who is an energy vampire in my life? Who reciprocates my time and energy? How can I be better at developing positive relationships? If this is not your thing, then give yourself goals… Today, I will talk to 2 people I normally do not speak with at work. Today, I will perform one random act of kindness and expect nothing in return. Before long this mindset will become a habit… A habit is nothing more than an action repeated over and over. You will be amazed at how evaluating and setting relationship goals will positively effect your feeling of belonging. There is great power in the sense of security and belonging in our environment. Take control of what you can control.
  • Esteem: If you have energy, feel secure, and have belonging; then there is a great chance to experience worth, esteem, and freedom to operate. Great relationships in your environment provide valuable and consistent communication. Real communication gives us our greatest sense of recognition, status, and value. We live in a world of virtual self-esteem and likes or retweets does not equal real worth. I hope this is not where you are basing your value? Relationships provide real esteem and lack of communication kills a sense of worth. Where there is a lack of communication, negativity fills the void. We become trapped in our thoughts and our perception becomes reality. People that care for you will genuinely communicate with you. We ultimately find our identity and esteem in being apart of something bigger than ourselves. Knowing your role and value in the organization gives a sustaining power. Rewards or fear will motivate for the short term but having significance will last for the long haul. The greatest leaders can give a verbal or non-verbal message of, “If it is important to you then it is important to me.” I love the verse, “The greatest among you will be your servant” found in Matthew 23:11. Serving for a greater cause cannot be found without a sense of belonging, and giving esteem is gaining the greatest esteem.
  • Self Actualization: When all of these levels are present, you have given yourself the best opportunity to perform. You can operate confidently, without hesitation, and with undeniable passion when you are secure and feel significant for a greater purpose! When your pyramid is strong, the foundation is not missing many bricks. You can run without fear, in faith, and confident that nothing will crumble beneath your feet. You are competing at your highest level and ready to go toe to toe with any challenge. Significance is the great eliminator of issues and bonds individual differences for a greater strength. When this is lacking people isolate, worry about themselves, and individual differences become issues. I challenge you to self-evaluate every area of your life. Remember this is not about us, but being our best for others. It is a proven fact that one will choose to work at a higher level for greater purpose than oneself. The great Coach Chuck Knoll said “The mercenaries will beat the draftees but the volunteers will crush them both.” So choose to use your time effectively, get a vantage point, seek relationships, choose to trust, put on your mask first, and always remember to stand on the foundation of faith.

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31


Team Culture Is A Weapon:

I was once asked in an interview about a serious player/coach altercation on the sideline and how I would handle that issue? Situational interview questions are often a real past event and this obviously had occurred. I answered, “I hope that would never occur, but the issue is not the incident, but the heart of the program. Our program will have a process with our personnel, accountability, organization and team culture to combat these type issues. Our program will be designed to weed out problems long before any moment of truth. The fact is we need to be at our highest level for each other and not against each other. If major issues are occurring, then our process is failing.” As a coach, you can’t be nervous and fearful about how your team is going to behave. In this situation, a relationship issue went to an extreme length to for each person to defend their personal security. That is a sad experience for players and against what a team environment can do for people. How much belonging, esteem, and significance were these players experiencing? Not a whole lot… Worry or fear of these situations is a major red flag that change is needed in approach and organization of “Team Culture.”

So why is whole player development and team culture so important? A well organized program and connected team gives personal significance, belonging, lifelong skills, and is a weapon against mental health issues. NCAA statistics show that 1 out of every 4 student-athletes show clinical symptoms of depression. The “Silent Epidemic” could literally be affecting at least 25% of your team. We teach our players to be “Mentally Tough”, so we can be our best in competition. However this mindset will make it difficult for the majority to open up in discussion and needs. How are they supposed to function at an expected level if they are missing basic needs, security within the program, and lack a feeling of significance? We expect our teams and players to function at a high level regardless of circumstances, that excuses are not an option. We need to have a program culture that encourages open discussion, a program mindset that meets player needs, and a program process that creates habits of excellence in all areas. 

We try to focus on running a great program over a great team. If the whole player is important, then every area of his life is important and every possible person that impacts him is important. On a daily basis, players will spend time in other activities and with lots of different people. If your program only values athletic performance, then that is the only area they will connect with significance. If your program values academics, community involvement, character/leadership development, etc… then players have a broadened chance to find a connection. Players have many different qualities and can find these values in many areas if they are made valuable. This mindset also helps you understand the challenges they are facing and how to better serve their needs. The program is the oxygen and we need to give them every opportunity to receive it. Help from coaches or support staff, nutrition, relationship opportunities, finding significance, building trust, etc… can provide the critical oxygen levels.  If players are willing to accept what the program offers, then I have no doubt the value we can bring them. I encourage you have an honest evaluation of your program in whole player development and relationships. Before they can be their best, we need to really know what oxygen they are receiving and what they need… Do you want to be better in the end? Then you better have a consistent process of team development that allows consistent team growth. Here are a few examples to help them reach self-actualization:

  • Physiological Needs: This is a basic and critical area that coaches or support staff need to gain a connection to know what is needed. Are players lacking sleep? Do they have a place to stay? Are they lacking nutrition? Are they wearing the same clothes daily? Etc….  How can a player consistently have focus or perform if this is an issue? This is why a simple item such as team workout gear is important. Every player looks the same and no one feels inferior based on what they can wear. This is why providing snacks, meals, or post workout nutrition is an asset. The program can meet some basic needs and help fuel them for a successful day.  Staff to player relationships are key to gaining in house information and how you can provide specifically. However, parents, faculty, and friends can be your most valuable resource for information. They collectively spend more time with them than the coaching staff. I encourage you to be open, seek to engage them, and find ways to help. A holistic program approach can provide so many valuable resources to help players meet basic needs. That is why every person that touches a player’s life is equally important. Seek to know where they stand and remember that sometimes the most impactful things are the most simple things. 
  • Safety Needs: Feeling personally secure and self-confident is really difficult if basic life needs are lacking. As discussed before, we need to do the best job we can in identifying these issues before they walk into the locker room. Once in the locker room or building, it must become a safe haven for them. This is why discipline, structure, and program accountability are important. These values gives a sense of security, a wall of safety, and limits chaos in your environment. No player or person wants to live in chaos. Asking the simple questions of… How do the older players treat the younger players? What are the leaders saying about team issues? What is my process to teach being a great teammate?  If they don’t feel secure in the locker room, how will they ever be secure in the huddle? When they leave the locker room they also cannot be in fear of failure. Although fear can be a motivator, it ultimately will keep one from consistently being their best. Fear will create a timid player that is afraid to make mistakes. We tell them 3 things for practice: Give your best effort, do not be afraid to fail, and have a teachable spirit if you do fail. Seek to coach the purpose of the team environment and the heart of a competitor.
  • Love and Belonging: Having basic needs met and personal security gives them the best chance to truly feel like they belong and are loved. Players ultimately want to know how you feel about them and where they stand on the team. Every player needs a Y.E.A.R., (Your Evaluation, Assistance, & Reinforcement). Your Evaluation– Players want an opinion and assessment. Assistance– want to be taught, plan to improve, and a chance to prove. Reinforcement-need affirmation, personal value, and rewards. Everyone is searching for something bigger than themselves and the greatest need is to belong. That is why kids want to wear your program shirt or there is such passion by a fanbase. A personal role gives a player an even bigger piece or identity in that greater purpose. This is why communication is so important to knowing our role within the team. Every piece of the puzzle makes the picture whole and all players have a piece in a complete program. They don’t need to find their belonging based on ability alone but on the traits of a becoming an elite competitor and a great teammate. Ability will subside over time, but being a competitor and teammate will last a lifetime. We put a great premium on evaluating and giving feedback on controllable character and competitive traits. Remember every player is born to be special, find their value, and connect them with significance.
  • Esteem: The previous three levels helps lead to operating freely, confidently, and with great esteem. This is where great team relationships are born and created. Genuine relationships within the team are going to provide the greatest level of recognition, status, and personal strength to be themselves. I went to three different high schools and can remember to this day who accepted me, who judged me, and who made me feel like an outsider. Being All-state, All-American or even the fear of being punished does not sustain you; it is a sense of significance and a team connection that sustains long term. Championships or awards may validate and provide more opportunities, but it is not the greatest motivating factor. Think about it… Why do people play pick up basketball ball at age 70? They just don’t play for the exercise but to have the feeling of team significance on the court. As we age, we have an even greater search for significance in our work or in our family. However, we learn this early in life in a team setting. Great team relationships are the key to the team growing as a whole. We tell our team; “What you do together off the field is way more important than what you do on the field.” If this area is such a major key, my question is; How many opportunities is the program providing to build these connections? What is your daily, periodic, and yearly approach?  We can all plan for 12 months in an Athletic Cycle, but we need to have this same 12 month mindset in Team Development. Whether it is teaching simple things like how to high five to having daily competitions, group discussions, leadership teams, team meals, or even weekend retreats. To be a consistent team, their greatest esteem cannot be totally result driven, but found in the purpose in competing for their teammates. People say that, “You will always have your Family”, well your experience in sports should say, “You will always have your Team.”
  • Self Actualization: When all these levels of oxygen are present, your team has a great chance to perform at their highest level. Think about the Special Forces and how there is such a deep sense of belonging and commitment to their teammates. All these elements combine and help build us a mountain of possibility for our purpose. We tell our team, “To train the two greatest muscles, the brain and the heart… what you think and what you believe… And no matter what it is at the moment, there is more in you than you think.” That identity to be a part of something bigger, over achieving, and seeking your core values is a sustaining motivator and hope for tomorrow. Remember the strength of the team is found in each individual. When everyone has on the mask, everyone is empowered to be the best teammate, relationship builder, leader, and perform at their highest level on the field. With our team, I may not guarantee the scoreboard but I will guarantee that we will compete for each other, for the entire game, and at our highest level. Our greatest hope is that players will leave with a great value system. Players walking self-confident, respectful, servant minded, and ready to be a fierce competitor in this world.

Lastly, we have to be willing to help others. We are not meant to take in all the resources and sit back to watch others struggle. On the airplane, the mask is meant to save you, so you can save others. You can be a difference maker in this world and use your experiences to breath life into people. Your program can effect generations to come and be a platform to impact an entire community. Regardless of what we may think, God does not lead us through the storms for survival only. There are other people beyond the dark clouds that need our help. I have learned that nothing we experience is ever solely for personal benefit. I hope that running a great program will help create a cycle of difference makers for generations, one player at time. I strongly encourage your leadership to evaluate everything you are doing to develop players or people. Find the blind spots in each program area and bring new light. Maslow just gives us an organized thought process of core values we seek and the needed levels of oxygen to actualize this vision. What ever resource and gift you have been given in this life. Evaluate, prepare, and execute a plan to serve others at your highest level.

” If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”  Romans 12:8 (NLT)

Reference: McLeod, S. A. (2018, May 21). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology.

Airplane Oxygen Pressure

One thought on “How to Personally Protect & Use Culture As A Weapon Against Mental Health Issues

  1. What great insight into self esteem , teamwork and leadership. All of these attributes of quality people , helping others to go higher and further than they ever have before.
    Great job Coach Winegarden!


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