SALT LAKE CITY — Over the next two days, Delon Wright will work with dozens of young basketball players during his camp at East High School.
The most important work the former University of Utah star and current Toronto point guard did while visiting his old college stomping grounds this week, however, might have happened Monday night in the school's library during an insightful conversation about mental wellness and youth sports that kicked off his camp.
"Hopefully," Wright said, "we can get the ball rolling and help even just one kid change his perspective on mental health."
Dr. Corey Yeager, a former Long Beach State football player who now specializes in adolescent sports engagement as a licensed psychotherapist, believes community-based discussions like this one will help get that ball rolling. It's especially helpful when influential athletes use their platform to shed light on topics that are often kept in the dark.
"I have become extremely aware of the importance of mental health in the sports world," said Yeager, who directed the conversation. "Finding ways to support students and student-athletes is extremely important."
The panel also included former Ute captain Craig Rydalch, National Basketball Wives Association president Mia Wright (Delon's sister-in-law), ex-Ute and Detroit Pistons assistant Jarred DuBois and Utah volleyball standout Allison Spurrier.
Rydalch joked that he held Steve Smith to 36 points in the NCAA second round and then shared something on a much more serious note.
"I struggled with mental health issues from adolescence to the current day," Rydalch said. "I was suicidal in high school and college. I had no one to talk to."
Rydalch also referenced how he's a survivor of a suicide attempt, something that happened in 2008 after his home construction business floundered.
"I just want to be able to help young kids understand they’re not alone and that they’re OK," Rydalch said.
DuBois believes as much, if not more, emphasis should be made on mental health as on physical health in the sports world. He suggested that coaches should create "an environment of open conversation" where student-athletes can feel safe to express their challenges, which can help the athletes and the team. He also wants athletes to recognize that content ingested — music, TV, social media, conversations with friends — can impact them.
Mia Wright, the wife of Delon's brother and pro basketball player Dorell, said that events like this along with NBA players like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan being open about their struggles shows kids that their "mental wellness is important to us as a community." It shows younger athletes that they're in good company when "non-human, invincible, unemotional" sports heroes deal with mental health issues.
That increased exposure, the panelists agreed, can help take away the negative stigma sometimes associated with mental health.
Though Rydalch mostly kept his challenges to himself — even his dad didn't believe it when his wife revealed his mental health battle when he was 28 — the former athlete tries to be aware of those around him who need help.
"You've got to be able to say, 'You know what? It’s OK,' and nobody ever told me growing up it’s OK," Rydalch said. "I thought if you show that weakness you’re a wimp, you’re not going to add up.
"And then the mind does funny things. You start spiraling to the point where you start saying things would be better if I wasn’t here, maybe others would be better if I wasn't here. It's irrational and untrue. … Don't let your mind go there. I’m there today and I’m there with my boys. We have this conversation. Not everybody has someone."
Spurrier, who's now playing beach volleyball for Team USA, liked how her team used to take about an hour a week to journal and meditate during a mental health practice.2 comments on this story
Yeager said asking good questions can be valuable. For instance, he'll ask a football player what challenges he's having with a follow-up about what he's done to overcome that problem. Then comes what he calls "the miracle question," which is aimed at finding out what signs would indicate that the issue was no longer present in their life if someone sprinkled magic dust on them while they slept and eradicated it.
"Those are solutions to the issue, simple ways in which we can engage student-athletes that lets them know they're being supported," he said. "You don’t have to get it perfect. Be listeners. Kids just want someone to hear them."