Players learn about mental health at Hank Aaron Invitational

July 30th, 2023

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Yogi Berra once coined one of the most famous quotes related to baseball.  

"Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical,” he said.  

When Berra first said that, it was about the mental capacity it takes to play the game. But now, a player's mental health and well-being on and off the field is more important than ever.  

Dr. Kensa Gunter, a licensed clinical and sports psychologist based out of Atlanta, spoke to players last week at the Hank Aaron Invitational about the importance of mental health and how they can take better care of themselves.  

“Success includes failure,“ Gunter said. “Success includes disappointment. The success journey includes setbacks, hard work, disappointments, that’s going to happen. Baseball is a game of failure but it’s not just a game of sitting in failure, it’s a game of learning and continuing to grow because it’s also a game of success. It’s also a game of accomplishment. Failure is not a bad thing unless you don’t learn from it.” 

Gunter has been a licensed clinical and sports psychologist for 16 years, and she was also a competitive swimmer and basketball player growing up. An injury led to her thinking of ways she could support athletes off the field. 

For young athletes to improve their mental health, she emphasized the importance of communication, developing health habits like breathing exercises, meditation, listing their strengths and continuing to have fun.  

“Write down all the things that you feel positive about in yourself and in your life,” Gunter said. “Encouraging kids to think more holistically about their world and to acknowledge that are present in their world can be really helpful.” 

Jerry Manuel played in the Major Leagues for five years (1975, 1976, 1980-1982) and was a manager for the Chicago White Sox (1998-2003) and New York Mets (2008-2010). He said he wishes mental health was more of a focal point for baseball players of his generation. 

“When I came up, it was something that wasn’t spoken about openly or publicly,” Manuel said. “It was something that was pretty much kept under wraps, but the individual dealing with it obviously has some struggles. I think it’s good that’s being addressed now at a very young age, especially when these kids are maturing into adulthood. 

“This is very critical for them to probably answer some of those questions that they don’t have answers for.” 

Jadyn Fielder, the son of longtime big leaguer, six-time All Star and former MVP Prince Fielder, said he had a lightbulb in his mind go off when Gunter spoke about being intrinsically motivated. The importance of rest, spending time with family and communicating also resonated with Jadyn.  

“Usually when I think of motivation, I think of it being something needs to happen in order to be motivated,” Jadyn said. “She told me that it actually is internal. There’s an internal motivation meaning since I want to be in the Major Leagues, that’s an internal motivation. I wake up every day knowing that whatever I do that day will get me to my end goal.” 

For players to improve their mental health, Gunter put the onus on them along with their coaches and parents. 

“We can think about how we are educating coaches about mental health and mental health literacy so they may be able to notice if a child is struggling or they may be able to offer support,” she said. “Educating our coaches, educating our parents about the roles they play in creating the sport system that our children are participating in is really important.” 

Few things feel better than success in sports. While Gunter talked about success being the main thing other people see, she also stressed the other aspects that people don’t see.  

Being resilient and overcoming adversity are things that all athletes have to do on their path to becoming successful. In a game of failure, obtaining success is the furthest thing from a straight line, and Gunter urged the players to not let that deter them.  

“You’ve got to keep going,” she said. “There is no perfection in this game of baseball. There is no perfection in this game of life. The goal is to keep trying to learn, to grow, to have some fun, to surround yourself with people to keep trying. Success is not a straight path. A lot of people think and have this idea that success just means I go from point A to point B. Success is filled with twists and turns, ups and downs and lefts and rights, and detours that you don’t expect.”