CLEARMONT — A couple years ago, the coaches within the Arvada-Clearmont High School boys and girls basketball programs brainstormed on how they could gain an edge over other 1A teams. That’s how the idea of a mental health day came about.
“We thought, what can we do different from other places when we are limited on numbers, limited on size, limited on speed because we pull from such a small group of kids,” AC girls basketball head coach Sarah Walker said. “What part of the game are we not taking advantage of that we can take advantage of?”
The Panthers and Lady Panthers met for 45 minutes Thursday for this week’s mental health day. Each individual wrote down characteristics that make someone either a bad or good teammate.
Once those lists from each player were transcribed on a dry-erase board in the front of the classroom, the team and coaches had an open discussion.
In the next couple of the weeks, AC will go over team and individual goals and more team-building exercises before a transition into conference play.
During the latter half of January and into February, the Panthers will spend many of their mental health days critiquing film and improving on the Xs and Os portion of the game.
Many of the older players in AC’s program are used to some of the uncomfortable and vulnerable aspects of mental health days, having gone through it for a couple years, while others still need time to fully acclimate.
“I think it puts our kids in a vulnerable position where they have to open up and really let their teammates see who they are as a person,” Walker said. “They have to look in the mirror and say, ‘I am that person coach is saying I am, and the person my teammates say I am.’”
Senior Kristin Klaahsen has seen the effects of mental health firsthand. She played on the team a few years ago when there were no mental health days and now looks forward to them every week.
“I definitely think it has helped,” she said. “Our mental game has improved leaps and bounds from where it was at the beginning of the season last year.”
Klaahsen and many of her teammates have openly discussed how their mental game somewhat failed them in last year’s regional tournament where the top-seeded Lady Panthers didn’t win a single game. They had all the talent necessary to advance past the regional tournament and contend at state, but the mental side of the sport tripped them up.
“We have all the skill and all the players, it’s just the mental side that held us back,” McKenna Auzqui said. “I think that [mental health days] have actually helped a lot in self confidence and team confidence.”
And it works for both ends of the spectrum. Where the Lady Panthers were the top dog in the conference, the boys struggled through a disappointing year and had to lean on their mental strength to keep pushing forward.
Most coaches, in all sports, experiment and implement things to give their team an edge. Not all catch on, sometimes because the team does not embrace it and sometimes because the concept doesn’t help like the coach envisioned.
But mental health days at AC have fared well, and the positive effects will continue to show as the season wears on.