Less than 24 hours before the biggest streak of the season for her team kicks off, Patti Jasu slipped into a quiet room in her house and clicked to open the Zoom link.
She wasn’t talking about strategy with assistants or watching a movie about opponents.
She was serving as a committee member on mental health in athletics.
OU hosted the webinar called “Coaches + Mental Health: Creating Mentally Good Spaces in College Athletics”. It was administered by people from the Office of Psychological Resources in the Sports Department.
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Season canceled:JMU Soft Team cancels remainder of season after death of Lauren Burnett
But it was Jasu who pushed him for it.
“I was shaken,” said the European University softball coach. “I was shaken, and I thought, What if I was the coach on the other side? What can I do for this coach? Do they need help? Do they get help?”
“There are a lot of questions I have.”
With so many focused on what happens inside the lines at Marita Hynes Field during the Bedlam Series, many in the college softball world focus on what’s going on in the hearts and minds of players across the country. The suicide of James Madison hunter Lauren Burnett sparked the sport. Last season, she was part of the Dukes’ magical race to the College World Series, capturing superstar Odicci Alexander, but this season, Burnett has had her own success.
On Sunday, April 24, it ended a brutal weekend, going 4 for 4 with Homer and two doubles in the series finale against Drexel. She hit the .778 and drove in seven runs during the three-game set.
On Monday, April 25, she was named Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week.
On Tuesday, April 26th, I went.
It was her last attack on her own land.
“Really sad,” said Ohio State University coach Kenny Jagowski earlier this week as tears welled up in his eyes. “It’s sad because it has become so normal. That is the sad part.”
Burnett is the third A-list athlete to commit suicide in less than two months. Initially Katie Meyer was the goalkeeper for Stanford Football Club on March 1. Then came Wisconsin runner Sarah Schulz on April 13. Then, Burnett.
Will it be the last?
We hope so, but unfortunately, the evidence suggests that it probably won’t. It is difficult to obtain data on suicides on campus. However, the Jed Foundation, a national nonprofit that works to prevent suicides and improve the emotional health of young people, notes that mental health challenges have grown steadily among college students over the past five years.
College athletes are not immune.
Frankly, their mental health challenges can be exacerbated because they are athletes.
“I think these student athletes get pushed and pushed, and they have a lot of plates turning around and trying to balance everything,” Jasso said.
This was something Gasso knew before the events of recent weeks, but in the wake of Burnett’s suicide, she asked OU psychologist Dolores Christensen to interview the team. She led the Sooners in an activity where they broke into small groups and shared how they were feeling.
Next, Christensen asked if any of the players wanted to part with everyone else.
An emotion hit Jasu hard.
“Sometimes, I feel like I can’t breathe.”
This made Gasso think about the daily routines of her players. I wake up. work out. Eating breakfast. Can. Go to class. All food. Can. Go to practice. look at the video. Take to the field. He trained for three hours. Go to a night class or do homework.
“It’s over and over and over and over again,” Gasso said. “As much as they’re trying to do all the right things, as coaches, we think we’re also, by, ‘This is how you win. “
But as she listened to her players talking during Christensen’s session with them, Jasu realized.
“This is not how you win,” I thought. “We have to find better ways to do things.”
Last weekend, Jasu asked players to write letters to their parents and guardians, expressing what these adults mean to them. But since the Sooners were on their last wild ride in the regular season, Gasso also wanted there to be some fun for the seniors and seniors.
“They’re playing, laughing, and laughing so loudly that security comes into the room,” Jasu said.
“It was fun watching them have fun, it has nothing to do with softball. They enjoy winning – they love to win – but it was fun to see them having fun in another space. … It filled my heart, and I know I have to do more things to make this more. The humanity of the robot.”
Gajewski strives to make that happen, too. The Cowgirls coach has an open door policy around the clock.
“My phone never works,” he said.
But he doesn’t wait for players to connect with him. Gajewski is proactive in interacting and communicating with players. Communication with his players is one of the things he loves most about training, so he always chooses them, as he calls it.
“I think they get frustrated early on,” he said. “When I choose you about your love life or your family or your school or whatever, I’m not trying to be in your business more than you want me to. I want to know, when things don’t look so good, what does that look like?”
Like Jasso, Gajewski asked a psychologist in the sports department to speak to his team recently. Trevor Richardson met the Cowgirls earlier this week after they returned from a road trip in Florida.
“We are not alone,” said OSU defensive player Shane Factor. “Access to just anyone.”
Self-care is crucial, too.
Factor finds time to simply sit on her sofa and decompress for a while each day during the season. Tiare Jennings, OU’s second baseman, goes on long trips with her windows closed and her music playing.
“I think it’s just finding fun in the little things and the little things,” said Kelly Maxwell of Ohio State University. “We don’t have much time throughout the day…but we can celebrate the joyful things and the little things.”
Oftentimes, this has nothing to do with softball.
Find a good parking space on campus.
Seeing your roommate has been washing the dishes.
But sometimes players get to the point where the command doesn’t move the needle. Their mental health is poor, and their outlook is bleak. They need professional help. require intervention.
This may be something the coach cannot provide, but the coach can step in if he knows how.
That’s why Jasu wanted to have that webinar on Wednesday night. Yes, this week has been big for her and her speed. Surely, she could have left such matters to another coach or at another time.
But she felt called to action.
“It is very heartbreaking and very disturbing to see what is happening across the country,” she said. “It’s just screaming for help.”
Jasu hopes she will do everything in her power to respond.
We have to hope that everyone is in athletics.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, you may call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) anytime day or night. Crisis Text Line also provides free 24/7 confidential texting support for people in crisis when calling 741741.