Athletes need to stay in “Emotional Shape”
Emily Perhats (TheLorian)
Loras student athletes spend a lot of time trying to keep their bodies in top form. They are often thought of as being stronger and tougher than their non-athletic counterparts. But what about their “emotional shape?” In the past student athletes were sometimes under the false impression that seeking counseling would be seen as a sign of weakness.
“I don’t think that is the case anymore. Student athletes around the world have done a great job breaking this stigma,” Jill Leibforth, the sport wellness advisor at Loras College said. “I think student-athletes are much more aware of their brain health and the connection within athletics.”
Leibforth, who started as an assistant soccer coach at Loras in 2016, realized the need to address emotional well-being and the awareness with student-athletes on campus. She went to Loras Athletic Director, Denise Udelhofen, and together they created the new position: Sport Wellness Advisor.
In the last several years there has been a great deal of focus on preventing and treating head injuries among athletes. Concussion protocols have been instituted in athletic programs from little league baseball all the way to the National Football League. But when it comes to emotional “injury,” athletes of all ages are often expected to just “tough it out.”
As a member of the Loras College soccer team from 2011 to 2015, Leibforth suffered a series of career-threatening injuries. She said rehabbing the physical injury also requires a level of emotional rehabilitation as well.
“In my time at Loras College, I tore my ACL three times, in addition to other small injuries,” Leibforth said. “What people don’t tell you is the mental health fatigue and exhaustion that comes with being a student-athlete, (especially) an injured student-athlete.”
While Loras has an excellent counselling center to help any student who is struggling, Leibforth said athletes have some very specific anxieties that require more specific counseling. Being able to talk about things such as; performance anxiety, anger management, visualization, communication, and academic eligibility can help an athlete both on and off the field.
“In counseling, we often use the term rapport, or a sense of trust, when working with clients,” Liebforth said. “Rapport between client-clinician is one of the most crucial elements of successful counseling.”
As a former athlete and current coach, Liebforth shares the connection of being a student-athlete and is able to build rapport right from the start. She says she is able to build trust and make an athlete feel comfortable when they come to her. Student athletes who seek her help, she says, often simply want an outlet – an emotional release valve. They really need someone they can relate to. And she is earning the proper professional credentials as well.
Leibforth finished her Master’s in Clinical/Counseling Psychology in 2020 at Loras College. She plans to obtain her Ph.D. in sport psychology, eventually earning her Certified Mental Performance Consultant Licensure, or CMPC, in order to assist student-athletes at an even higher level than she does now.
“Obtaining my CMPC demonstrates to clients, colleagues, and the public that I have met the highest standards of professional practice,” Leibforth said, “including completing a combination of educational and work requirements, and successfully passing a certification exam.”
Once she completes the Ph.D. and passes the CMPC exam, Leibforth will have the educational and industry qualifications necessary to help her as a professional counselor. But, she says, her role as a former college soccer player may be what counts the most when she works with an athlete who seeks her help.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we really crave as human beings, connection and relation to one another.”