Legette-Jack and McCallie are not just concerned about the mental well-being of the players. They want coaches to start paying more attention to their own health. Being a healthier coach is being a better coach and better role model for players.
“I tell my assistants if they take time off to be with their families or friends, don’t even think about recruiting. We got it, and when you come back we’ll give it back to you,” Legette-Jack said. “I have to stay connected. That is just who I am. But that is what makes us such a great staff and what makes us such a great team. We are different. It’s not easy, but I hope they feel that I allow them to be a human by working for me. It wasn’t like that when I coached at Hofstra in the early years. It was grind, grind, grind. That wasn’t healthy.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” McCallie said. “As a mother who went right back to work literally one day after having my first child, that was a mistake I made. That was back at Maine when I was 29 years old. There is a work-life balance that affects all genders and races. Mental health comes across every possible human. It does not discriminate and should be treated more aggressively. It’s diagnosed at a more rapid rate than help is available for. We need to change that for everyone.”
Although she’s passionate about coaching and developing “phenomenal women,” Legette-Jack is like nearly every working mom and has conflicting emotions when pulled away from their children.
“My son is on a basketball team. I love what I do, but it would be cool to see him play three or four games out of a season. That is not happening. I have to watch on Synergy and watch on tape,” she said. “How much has that impacted his life? I don’t know. He says, ‘Mom, it’s no big deal.’ I watched all his high school games, and now all of a sudden it’s not a big deal? I don’t know. That is a tough thing and I would love for us to talk about it and for me to hear him talk about how it’s impacting him and maybe help him understand. It’s not just me working and not caring about what he is doing. It’s trying to figure out a plan where we can do everything.”
McCallie wants involve all students at Duke in her program’s mental health crusade. She wants to help at the conference and national level as much as possible as well.
“The ACC is having a forum in 2019 on mental health and I called to say they need to have a coach on there. There needs to be a coach on these committees, even at the NCAA level because we are on the front lines,” she said. “The NCAA Task Force, for example, has a tremendous amount of doctors and PhD’s, but we are kind of at the grassroots level and around the athletes almost every day.”
Legette-Jack has an open-door policy at Buffalo that extends beyond her own players.
“It is a village. I am asking people to help me raise my players and they have to be willing to do the same,” she said. “Sometimes a male athlete is raised by a single mother and I am a mother and a woman and I know sometimes I can say the same things a male coach might say that might resonate differently. The football players hug me. Even if they don’t know my name, I am going to hug them and be there for them.”
Legette-Jack believes making sports more inclusive at all levels can go a long way in alleviating some of the mental health issues certain athletes face.
“I want everybody to be comfortable with whoever they are. If they are gay, OK. If you are straight, OK. If you don’t identify at all, that’s OK. It’s OK to be OK with who you are,” she said. “I am here for 15 players, but I also have time for any other athlete at the university. If a young person needs my time, I am here to communicate. They need to know it’s OK to be OK with whoever you are.”
As they departed the restaurant after their dinner in Atlanta, McCallie and Legette-Jack felt more inspired than before. They pledged do everything they could to help advance the conversation around mental health and play a role in changing the narrative.
Admitting to having mental health issues shouldn’t viewed as a weakness. Rather, it should be hailed as an incredible strength.
“This is what we need to do to help our kids. If they have a problem, I can try to help by talking about it and be open to hearing,” Legette-Jack said. “We can’t fix it all, but if we can save one or two kids that is pretty damn important.”