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Leaving the comfortable confines of football for a moment; there’s a stigma in the world, especially in sports, about mental health these days. Lately, the topic has been discussed more in all professions, all education levels, with all types of human beings. Finally, there seems to have been a normalization of “it’s ok to not be ok.”
Mental health, especially in young athletes in this day and age, is something that includes more factors than years or decades past. With a world that’s become a web of instant information, critique and criticism, mental health has never been playing defense harder.
Social media can be a cruel world, as is the inner workings of the business of football, and many forms of daily-grind work across the globe. Dealing with everyday issues in the workplace, locker room, field or court can be grueling or taxing enough. Imagine getting home after a rough day in the office, trying to escape to some entertainment or personal time, and yet all that’s seen is criticism of your trials and tribulations from your day or weekend.
Sure, for athletes making the money they make, things like social media ribbing, and criticism from fans and talking heads should be occupational hazards, looked off as just part of the job. In some cases, yes, that’s true and fair.
However, social media and the world we live in today have created a duality when looking at the positives and negatives of things like Twitter, YouTube, Reddit and other areas of open talk and ideas. The catch-22 here is that while athletes, content creators and businesses can get their thoughts, highlights, messages and ads across to the masses in seconds, criticism and hate come with the territory.
The brain, not so much a muscle as it is an organ, is vital for the professional health of anyone, whether it’s an executive, a lawyer, a teacher, a salesperson or a quarterback. When athletes have issues with muscles, bones and ligaments, in most cases, these injuries can be visible to others from afar and with no communication or specific knowledge of what’s wrong or bothering them.
If a player has a boot on their foot, it’s obvious that they have some sort of foot injury. A sling could potentially be a sign of a shoulder issue, collarbone, etc. A cast, well, you get it.
There’s no sign from one yard or one mile, of what’s inside an athlete’s or human being’s mind. Injuries slight and severe, in a mental sense, could be dormant or include the daily battle of blocking and avoiding the rush of negative thoughts.
The degree of a person’s mental health and strength of course varies, much like arm strength, vertical and bench press ability. Coaches, teachers and bosses make decisions regarding how to motivate and get the best out of their people every day. Obviously, an individual’s effort, work habits and overall upbringing are factors in this equation that can help avoid the blitz of a “horrible boss” or potentially concede mentally and take the sack.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has become somewhat of a case study in this topic, which, ironically, shares a connection to the quarterback’s success this season. Let’s put a pin in this for a few bit.
The addition of Mike McDaniel as Miami’s head coach has been the antithesis of Tagovailoa’s previous managerial situation at his place of employment. During this past Sunday’s win against the Houston Texans, CBS sideline reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala discussed the stark contrast between what Tagovailoa dealt with in his first two seasons, opposed to now.
In almost a heart-wrenching envisioning of what Kinkhabwala was reporting, she said that multiple times during the year last season, Tagovailoa looked at himself in the mirror and asked himself, “Do I Suck?”
He was a national championship-winning quarterback and a first-round draft pick.
Kinkhabwala added that Tagovailoa even genuinely believed he didn’t belong in the NFL. She said he was “so beleaguered by both the fan base and his coaches.”
Enter McDaniel, who she said put together a 700-play video mash-up, detailing just how great his quarterback is. The night-and-day difference has been seen on the field, in Tagovailoa’s dance moves, his confidence and the stat sheet. Most importantly, it can be seen in his team’s record.
Additionally, to this outstanding piece, CBS play-by-play man Spero Dedes added how Tagovailoa’s “inner confidence” has been strengthened, and it’s a direct correlation to what McDaniel says is “non-negotiable in his world; is that a player knows how great he is.”
Post-game, Tagovailoa told South Florida media the importance of how confidence and belief in a person are of paramount importance.
“I think anyone here can attest to someone believing in them and how that changes how they see themself, but also things around them; so, perspective,” he said.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill, acquired in an offseason trade, is clearly part of the on-field success and a catalyst for Tagovailoa’s season. Hill, a champion of the topic himself, spreads his message through his Foundation, which amplifies awareness of mental health and fights things like bullying in young people.
Back on the field, the proof of positive reinforcement is in the production, and all Tagovailoa is doing is leading the first-place Dolphins to a potential home playoff game and, hopefully, even more. In addition to team success, Tagovailoa is on a short-list for NFL MVP and leads the league in passer rating.
Former NFL punter and social media podcaster Pat McAfee even said, “Tua’s mental toughness might be the best in the history of the NFL.”
It’s that toughness that has gotten this Dolphin through the tough waters of his freshman and sophomore seasons as a pro. You can say he limped through, or hid his limp even, powering through adversity. Not all can say they have that ability, and it’s a testament to Tagovailoa and provide motivation to all individuals in sports and life alike.
McDaniel and Tagovailoa’s boss-employee relationship is something that can eventually be turned into a playbook or workplace handbook. Not just a coach to the quarterback. It could be a principal to a teacher, a sales manager to a sales rep, an editor to a writer or a partner in a law firm to a paralegal. Leadership matters.
Perhaps their strategies could be communicated in board rooms, offices and on social media, in addition to the field and locker room.
This perfect formula for a successful coach-player or employer-employee relationship is still being written, but what McDaniel has done is awoken the confidence that’s always been in Tagovailoa. And, he just may have put the demons, critics and doubters to sleep for good.