To celebrate Mental Health Month, our team hosted the first ever Hidden Opponent event –an online #ProPerspective talk with sport professionals April Ross, Festus Ezeli, and Dr. Michael Gervais. On May 7th, the event streamed on YouTube with over 3,000 viewers tuning in live from around the globe. President/CEO Ben Ruvo and Founder Victoria Garrick moderated the chat with our pros, tackling topics such as mental wellness, physical activity, and healthy habits during this unusual time of quarantine. Though the event was free to the public, The Hidden Opponent also raised money to donate to The Kevin Love Fund –an NBA player’s campaign that fights the stigma of mental health. If you missed the event, you can watch the video recording on Victoria Garrick’s YouTube and read below for a recap of advice from our pros!
2x Olympic Beach Volleyball Medalist, World Champion, Tokyo Olympics hopeful
“I’ve been through my fair share of challenging experiences in life. Nothing worthwhile that you’re trying to accomplish is without adversity… it just shows up in different forms”
First up, we heard from April Ross –one of the best American volleyball players to compete both on the court and in the sand. Ross first came into the spotlight as an indoor player at USC, winning an NCAA championship and becoming an All-American, among other honors. She transitioned to beach volleyball later in her career, but is now one of the most respected players in the game. Ross has been training for the last four years in order to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but obviously, those plans went awry with the COVID-19 crisis. The Tokyo Olympics are now set to occur in Summer 2021 and Ross hopes to be there. Victoria and April Ross discussed training, intuitive eating, and personal growth while in quarantine.
Tips & Takeaways from April Ross:
On physical fitness:
Ross puts on her running shoes every morning to signal to herself that she’s ready to attack the day –whether it includes a body-weight workout, going for a run, or just walking her dog
For physical workouts, Ross has been conditioning, lifting, and doing plyometrics –though she realizes it’s likely “impossible to do training perfectly” during this time
For viewers wanting to stay fit, Ross says “make a plan for yourself, stick with it” and “if you feel like pushing yourself, push yourself. If you don’t, it’s okay.”
On healthy eating:
Ross is trying to “focus on eating good healthy foods.” She said, “I try to limit the amount of snacks I have in my house.” She also always keeps fruit on the counter where it’s easy to reach!
Ross shared that she’s gained a bit of weight during quarantine, saying “I think it’s inevitable during this time that you’re going to gain a little weight,” though she knows she will be ready to compete when the time comes
Ross told Victoria, “I know you are super big on intuitive eating which has actually influenced me a lot” 🙂
On mental wellness:
Ross has been journaling more lately. On difficult emotions, she says, “I feel like writing them down makes them more organized… it gives me perspective”
Ross is also trying to practice meditation more! She said, “I think it’s important during this time to take the time to relax and refresh mentally and physically”
During quarantine, Ross has been “pursuing different passions” and has “picked up some hobbies again,” like woodworking, sewing, and reading. She recommends the book Mind Gym, which includes tips on visualization, positive self-talk, and more.
Overall, Ross says she’s been “finding different ways to explore and maximize who I am.” She’s suggested to any viewer that you“take this time right now to really dive deep… and figure out who you are” outside of any one sport or activity
former Golden State Warrior, 2015 NBA Champion, founder “Rebuilding The Beast”
“I’ve noticed that I can make change in my environment just by being positive”
Festus Ezeli joined our live-stream next, bringing with him an infectious smile and positive attitude. Ezeli lived in Nigeria throughout his childhood, but moved to the United States at the age of fourteen having never played basketball before. Ezeli struggled early on to learn the rules and master the skills. In junior college, he served as the team cameraman. He eventually attended Vanderbilt University, where he grew immensely in his abilities. In 2012, The Golden State Warriors selected Ezeli with a first-round draft pick. Ezeli played for The Warriors through 2016 and won the NBA Championship in 2015. After multiple knee injuries, he retired from professional basketball, but still remains active today. Ezeli has recently created a platform called Rebuilding the Beast, which shares stories of perseverance in sports and life. In our chat with him, Ezeli touched on sources of motivation, rebounding from setbacks, and spreading positivity –even in quarantine.
Tips & Takeaways from Festus Ezeli:
On working out:
Working out gives Ezeli a sense of routine and helps him stay positive. He said, “after you’re done working out, you just feel good.”
He encourages everyone to try to stay active during quarantine: “Do something where you’re moving… I don’t care what it is, you can just dance around your kitchen… as long as you do something!”
Ezeli uses his family for motivation: “On days when I can’t go anymore… I think about my brother. When he hits that wall, I want him to know he can do one more rep”
A little known fact: Ezeli admitted he scored his first ever basket against his own team! He said he feels it’s important to talk about the imperfections because, “That’s what greatness is… working through the imperfections”
Ezeli knows that he has the power to help others through his positivity. He said, “I showed up everyday with a big smile on my face… even when I didn’t want to, I still faked it… and people started gravitating towards me. People around me were… affected by the energy that I had”
Ezeli believes “there are things we can do during this time to control how we feel.” He’s been focusing on eating right, exercising, and meditating!
Victoria inspires Ezeli: “To be honest, what you do is so inspiring to me because I love the fact that you’re so real.. You don’t know how many people you’re inspiring”
On his injury & recovery:
Ezeli admitted that he “cried a lot” through his recovery. He normalized crying by saying, “for anybody out there who hits adversity or hits a wall… it’s okay to cry”
Ezeli knows that sports often tether to an athlete’s identity: “You lose the thing that you love, the thing that you feel gives you identity… you feel lonely, you feel betrayed”
But, Ezeli also stresses the importance of controlling the controllables during a setback: “you grieve, and then you figure out what you can control… all you can do is all you can do”
Ezeli sees the beauty in adversity: “You realize that you’re much stronger than you think. That adversity is actually your friend… those tough times will lead you to your championship… to your end goal”
Rebuilding the Beast was inspired by Ezeli’s recovery –a time when he looked to other’s for encouragement. Rebuilding the Beast “is a platform where I want to share stories… of people who are facing difficult situations and are showing faith and are just being positive… you’ll get a lot of inspiration from these people”
Dr. Michael Gervais
Performance Psychologist, Host “Finding Mastery” Podcast, Co-Founder “Compete to Create”
Finally, we were joined by Dr. Michael Gervais –a high performance psychologist with clients that include Olympians, artists, musicians, sport MVPs, Fortune 100 CEOs and more. He is a published, peer-reviewed author and recognized speaker on optimal human performance. Dr. Gervais completed his Ph.D. at San Diego University under Dr. Bruce Ogilvie, the father of American applied sport psychology. In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks brought Dr. Gervais onto the team to develop the mental game of their players. Through this, he met Coach Pete Carroll and the two later co-founded Compete to Create, a digital platform for mindset training. Dr. Gervais is also the host of Finding Mastery, a podcast that explores how he trains minds to be at their very best. Finding Mastery streams on all major podcast services. Dr. Gervais talked to our viewers about life in quarantine, mental health, and the athlete identity.
Tips & Takeaways from Dr. Michael Gervais:
Dr. Gervais recognized quarantine as a difficult time because “Any time there’s a forced upon adjustment, it’s hard. Changing and figuring out a new normal, it’s just hard. Our body likes well grooved patterns.”
He also helped define anxiety for us by saying, “Anxiety is born out of this inability to know if you have what it takes to meet the demands of the future.”
However, Dr. Gervais sees some good in this situation: “Every person I know is going through the exact same condition, the exact same type of experience, where there’s a forced upon newness and… a reminding of… things that are most important in life, which is health… safety and security”
Dr. Gervais encourages us to use this time wisely: “Now’s the time to invest in the inner self. Get some self-discovery going. It’s one of the most powerful competitive advantages you can ever have… to know yourself, to know who you are”
On mental health:
Dr. Gervais summed up the importance of mental health in sport by saying, “There are three things that we can train as humans. You can train your craft, you can train your body, and you can train your mind. And if you’re only going to train two of those, you’re leaving one of them up to chance”
Dr. Gervais listed three ways to find your inner self: “Have conversations with wise men and women, meditation, journaling. Those are three ways to really get after a true self-discovery process”
Dr. Gervais suggests that we look “upstream” of setting goals and turn instead, to finding our purpose. When asked to define purpose, he said, “Purpose is your reason why you are here…it matters to you… it’s bigger than you”
Dr. Gervais recognizes the gap in mental health awareness and care. He said, “we don’t value the mental part of the world yet. We don’t have the language to say ‘I see you. I feel what you might be feeling.’ It’s this taboo thing, but it’s changing. People like [Victoria] are helping change it”
On the athlete identity:
Dr. Gervais called the uni-dimensional athlete identity “very dangerous.” He said, “If you say this sentence to yourself… ‘I am an athlete,’ I think you’re running into a dangerous future… you are so much more than an athlete.”
He continued, “The thing that we do can never really define the human that we are. It’s not until you decouple who you are from what you do, do you find the ultimate freedoms in life”
Dr. Gervais recognizes that we “like to think of ourselves in roles,” which makes this decoupling process difficult. He suggests that you start by asking yourself the simple, but difficult question of “Who am I?” without self “judgement or critique”
Finally, Dr. Gervais said, “Once you know who you are… nothing can take that away from you”