Watch CBS News

Minnesota athletes talk mental health hurdles, pressures of professional sports

MINNEAPOLIS – Mental health has become OK to talk about in sports.

WCCO's Mike Max caught up with four high-level professional athletes and one doctor who specializes in performance anxiety to talk about what it means to feel the pressure, and how to deal with it in sports and beyond.

Twins pitcher Pablo López can feel it every timeout – fear of failure that creates stress. His theory: that's a good thing.

Pablo López   CBS News

"I still do, I still get very, very anxious before every single start, whether it's a day game, a night game. That anxiety is there," he said. "But that anxiety is a good thing because it means that you care. It means that you know that you can do a great job, so you want to meet those expectations."

The Timberwolves' Jaden McDaniels is working on himself. The punch landed in the wall that ended his season became infamous, so now he tries to address stress with meditation.

Jaden McDaniels CBS

"It's just learning how to control your emotions and come back to a safe space," McDaniels said.

Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson negates anxiety by telling himself he's the best on the field, even before he believed it.

T.J. Hockenson CBS News

"That's what I did when I was younger and I definitely wasn't the best guy on the field," he said. "It's one of those things, you gotta have that mindset when you walk in between the white lines. That's something that can't waver and that's just mental toughness at its finest."

As much as the spirit of competition is a character builder for kids, it is a place where anxiety and fear and stress live and sometimes flourish.

Dr. Justin Anderson works with all levels, all the way up the Minnesota Twins. What he tells the youth athletes is this: "One of the thing that we're talking to kids about it is just name what they're feeling, express what they're going through. Bring it out of the shadows and bring it out into the surface, we can do a lot more with it."

Vikings running back Alexander Mattison recently held a camp devoted in part to mental health, because when he was starring in college at Boise State, he experienced the issues of anxiety. 

Alexander Mattison CBS News

"It's about how you respond to the things that you can control," he said. "Going through my own journey, when I was seemingly at the best point that I could be. Division I football, getting on a full ride scholarship."

He's had to learn how to combat the issues of poor mental health.

"Breathing techniques, picking up habits and hobbies that can free your mind of some of the stressors that you have in your life. Whether that's reading a book, sitting out on a porch and just doing some breathing, going for a walk," Mattison said.

What we are learning is that conditioning kids' brains is a lot like conditioning their bodies.

"What we're finding is the brain's a lot like a muscle, and it actually has neurons that fire like muscle fibers do. So the more you use it, the more you train it, the better it can become," Anderson said.

Mattison is now the team's first-team running back. That does not make him immune from anxiety. It makes him aware of what he believes helps for any age.

"Letting go and letting God, and then learning. Learning a lot about mental health resources, learning about what mental health really is," Mattison said. "And how you can have positive practices to combat those days where sometimes it just feels like you're running straight into a wall."

What Anderson knows is that all of it is tied in some form to fear. And it is fear that kids, athletes and everyone have to stare down to lead to improved mental health. 

"The best thing that we can do to fear is walk towards the fear and understand it," Anderson said. "When we really step into the fear it's a lot less fearful than we imagine it to be. But most people try to avoid the fear.

Anderson adds that talking about your greatest fear as opposed to pretending it does not exist is paramount to proper confrontation of anxiety and enhacned mental health.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.