Our President, Ben Ruvo, caught up with Micah Cooper to talk about mental health on and off the football field.
Explain to us your athletic career growing up until today. How did you get to where you are as a college athlete?
I grew up in Los Angeles, California. I spent the first 14 years of my life there before moving to a small town in Oklahoma called Madill. I started off way less developed than everybody else playing football. I was weaker and slower than just about every player in my position. I slowly started to improve until I was the best. I had my best season as a senior in high school, but the lack of exposure did not get me any division I opportunities. I signed to a Division II school out of high school called Henderson State. I spent three semesters there before I decided I wanted to chase my dream of playing Division I football. I transferred to NEO A&M, which is a junior college. I spent two semesters there, but things did not work out how I wanted them to. I finished my junior college career with no Division I offers and barely any interest from other schools. I decided to try to walk-on to Oklahoma State. I started out at the bottom and over the course of a semester, I worked my way up the depth chart and began earning playing time. The pinnacle of the season was scoring my first touchdown for OSU. The next semester, I earned a scholarship.
That is quite an amazing story. Explain that feeling when you were given that scholarship. What advice would you give to student-athletes chasing their dreams to play on the big stage?
It was a great feeling to earn that scholarship because it felt like a reward for all the trials and tribulations that I had been through up until that point. It always feels good to say that you’re going to do something and then follow through with it. I would say for anyone chasing their dreams to play on the big stage, just keep pushing. There are going to be a lot of downs on your journey, but it just makes you appreciate the ups that much more.
Can you give us some insight on your mental health experiences?
My mental health has been something I have been very focused on for the past few years. As an athlete, we are taught that we need to work out our bodies, but we are never taught to work out our minds. I feel that working on your mental health is beneficial to be the best athlete that you can be.
What types of “work outs” have you been working on with your mind and mental health. What are some strategies that have helped you?
I do a lot of reading. I think taking in new information is very important. There are a few different mental exercises I do depending on what’s going on in my life. I practice meditation every other day and I usually just try to visualize what I want for my life. If I’m getting ready for a game or practice, I will visualize what I need to do to have a successful performance.
How has your mental health journey impacted you as a college athlete?
I struggled the most with my mental health when I was playing at junior college. I gave up a lot when I left my first school to go chase a dream of playing Division I. When I saw things were not working out how I wanted, it started to take a toll on me. I had a few panic attacks, as well as some extreme anxiety. After it was all over, I made the decision that I never want to feel those feelings again. So, I began to take my mental health a lot more serious by talking to different people as well as reading a lot of different books.
What kinds of books? I know for myself I will read a lot of self-help books. Did you ever open up about your mental health or did you keep it inside?
I read a lot of self-help. I also read some financial books. I really enjoy biographies too because I feel that there is a lot to learn from other people’s stories. During the time of my mental health struggles, I never fully opened up about what I was going through.
How do you think we can become more aware as a society about disorders and stop the stereotypes?
I think we can start to normalize things by just being more open about what people are going through. A lot of people are dealing with mental health disorders and they don’t even know it. So, if we can make safer places for people to talk about what they are going through, I think we can begin to become more aware and end different stigmas.
Do you have any advice for people struggling with their own mental health journey right now?
I think my journey with my mental health may vary from a lot of others. I think the best advice that I can offer is to always take in new information. When you’re trapped with the same ideas and thoughts all day everyday, it’s impossible to change. I believe the answers for whatever you’re going through or feeling are out there, you just have to go find them.
What do you think schools and coaches could do to address this issue more?
I think coaches could do a better job of just checking in on the wellness of their players. Everybody is so focused on your productivity, but players can’t reach their maximum potential if they are not mentally where they need to be.
Why do you think it is so hard for athletes to open up and talk with their coaches and teammates about what they are going through?
I think as athletes, we feel that we are supposed to look and be strong all the time. It can seem weak to say how you’re feeling or tell somebody what you’re going through. But, this is not the case at all. It takes strength to acknowledge your situation and take the action that is needed.
What advice would you give to athletes struggling with a mental health battle?
I would say just open up to somebody you trust. It’s good to release that build up. If you’re not at the point where you feel comfortable opening up to somebody else, write it down. It’s another great way to release your feelings.
This is great. Thank you, Micah, for your time! Readers can follow Micah Cooper on Instagram at @coopthm and best wishes for next season!