Consider the issue of mental health awareness trends that indicate an increase in all walks of life. Sports is no exception and former welterweight champion Danny Garcia, in a ring last July at the Barclays Center after a comeback win addressed a world wide audience about his battle.
“I did take a break, going through mental things,” Garcia said. “I went through some anxiety and depression. I was just trying my best to stay strong. It was the pressure of life, the pressure of boxing, being a good dad. I’m just letting it out right now because it was stuck inside.”
His compelling message resonated with the emotion of tears from Garcia. Yet, he is not alone as many athletes on all levels of competitive sports confront adversity and struggle to seek help. Resources are not available or that personal one-on-one interaction is difficult to confront.
Erik Poldroo, though a 30-year old former scholastic athlete at Concordia College, a Division II school located in Bronxville, New York, understood the obstacles of mental health awareness. The outstanding outfielder and hitter confronted injuries and personal issues.
“For me my issues compounded, got worse over time and stress became more and more unbearable,” he says. “If we’re not talking about it, how many more athletes are not talking about the same thing?”
It was difficult, then, for Poldroo to seek the necessary guidance on campus or from outside sources. Back then, and prior to the pandemic mental health awareness was known, stories from high school, amateur, pro and college athletes along with Garcia have increased the awareness.
Now, Poldroo and a team of former student athletes are making a difference with the Zone, a premiere mental platform available on their website (itsthezone.com). In two years, they are making strides meeting with NCAA athletic conference officials, visiting campuses, providing symposiums and getting the support to expand. A co-founder and CEO, he linked with Ivan Tchatchouwo and Janaya Reid, also former student athletes that confronted similar instances of struggle and seeking the desired help.
“We created the Zone and wanted to create a better way,” said Poldroo who has managed to maintain his composure and relay a message of hope with resources that are available. “Creating more access to support a lot of athletic programs. We help solve the issues to give them access to personal support without physically going one-one-one.”
To date over 5000 student-athletes have been serviced for support. Many professionals on campus that deal with mental health are overwhelmed, or the student-athlete is hesitant about that impersonal relationship of a campus professional for one reason or another.
Regardless, the platform has become another outlet and more college conferences are jumping on the bandwagon. Already, the Zone has partnered with Big East conference schools Georgetown University, Marquette and St. John’s. Others include Lehigh, UNC Asheville, Alabama A&M, and Seton Hall. In the next few weeks the Atlantic 10 Conference, Patriot League, Mountain West and Mac Conferences could be jumping on board.
Added to an upcoming NCAA audit in which schools must adhere to mental health awareness protocols. They must be in place by August 2024, or else penalties and hefty fines will be the outcome. Scholarships and bans of participating in post season tournaments would also be a repercussion, so losing revenue is not on their agenda.
The resources provided are from a medical team, two psychiatrist, and a nutritionist. One psychiatrist is a former Stanford University scholastic-athlete and creates the day-to-day resources when in contact.
“We go to campus and tell our stories,” Poldroo explained. ”Their student advisory committees and hosting experiences during the year. Our medical professionals host events for them. We do presentations a lot of women female student -athletes are more tuned in. Men are excited with this platform.”
According to Poldroo, the male student-athletes involved are getting the space they need. It has become more of a personal setting, not being stigmatized and seen in counseling centers that are overwhelmed. He says they finally have the support they need with outstanding success with retention and word of mouth recruitment.
“Technology helped provide that access to them,” said Poldroo. “Ultimately our goal is to understand their schedule and support their journey. Just trying to get their platform to amplify.”
Perhaps, and down the line, the outreach will expand to professional sports leagues and athletes. In the meantime college scholastic-athletes are getting the support and that’s what the ultimate goal was when the Zone was established.
For information: www.itsthezone.com
Rich Mancuso: X (Formerly Twitter @Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso