Awareness surrounding mental health is on the rise in elite sports, and swimming has been no exception. Michael Phelps and Allison Schmitt, among others, have contributed by speaking about their own experiences, but the University of Michigan stands out on the collegiate level for its Athletes Connected program.
Now, program coordinator Emily Klueh is taking her talents to one of Michigan’s top club teams: Club Wolverine.
The club’s program is an “educational introduction” to the various facets of mental health. Group sessions, tailored to be appropriate for each given age group (middle-schoolers and up), might include discussion of any of the following:
- Managing relationships/teammates (with an emphasis on bullying)
- What does depression and anxiety look like, signs and symptoms. How do I help a friend? How do I open up if struggling?
- Understanding the impact of what we say to ourselves and how do we change the negative to a positive?
- Visualization and progressive muscle relaxation
- Performance anxiety
“Our goals of starting the program were to obviously provide a service to our members and the Ann Arbor community, reduce the stigma of mental health and educate the swimmers and parents, and also educate the coaches on how to improve as well,” Head Coach Gunnar Schmidt told SwimSwam. “We also wanted to bring awareness to mental health in our sport and all athletics, and lead Michigan swimming and USA Swimming in the club sense.”
Klueh doesn’t just rattle off information — she teaches athletes how to carry out strategies.
“Having these sessions more interactive is important so there are videos, conversations, questions, and smaller group break out parts. It is important that I not just teach a concept but they understand how to implement it in their lives,” she told SwimSwam. “I also try to add parts on team culture and how to use these concepts not just in their life but in creating a positive team culture.”
As of now, the program is consists of once-a-month meetings with each group. Klueh collaborates with the coaches to meet the needs of specific ages, and gives out take-home exercises that the team tries to implement in the following month of training.
Early in the season, for example, sessions might be center on social dynamics or what it means to be a team.
“It fits into our season plan now the same way a dryland program or a training phase would. When we’re planning out the year, this 4 weeks might want to stress grit or perseverance,” Shmidt said.
In-between sessions, Klueh makes a point of staying in contact with Club Wolverine‘s coaches to find out what is working and what isn’t. She can also refer individuals to outside help if needed.
“My hope is that kids learn skills that can help not only their swimming career but many other areas of their lives,” Klueh explained. “Working with Gunnar and seeing his passion for moving these kids forward is incredible. It is great to work with someone who cares and tries to provide his athletes everything they could need to be successful in and out of the water, whether it be this program, the strength and conditioning program, great coaches, and his time.”