TOPCARE focuses on athletes’ mental health

TOPCARE Psychological Skills Coaching session with WKU Soccer via zoom.

Nick Kieser

Waffle House napkins were where the first drafts of TOPCARE were laid out.

Mike Gaddie, director for Sports Medicine and Athletic Training, and sports psychologist Dr. Joey Case met there on Russellville Road every week in 2019 laying out the program plans and website design.

For 11 months the pair have adjusted to working at WKU amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We want to be comforting,” Gaddie said. “We want to provide health care, we want to provide great health care. But some of this is so unknown, and it was changing so fast, that it really, really made it hard for our staff to be able to be who we want to be.”

Case has reached the athletes he’s worked with through posting tips to @WKU_TOPCARE on Twitter and Instagram and meeting one-on-one for telehealth sessions.

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU TOPCARE” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">TOPCARE Coordinator Dr. Case discusses tips for setting <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NewYear?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NewYear</a> resolutions. <a href="https://t.co/TpbHSaTlrn">https://t.co/TpbHSaTlrn</a></p>— WKU TOPCARE (@WKU_TOPCARE) <a href="https://twitter.com/WKU_TOPCARE/status/1344769661704019970?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 31, 2020</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/WKU_TOPCARE/status/1344769661704019970″ type=”twitter”}}

“We’ve tried to have that constant presence there,” Case said. “Whether it is making telehealth sessions available, making team meetings available or even just resources [students] can use to study while they’re home.”

Early on, Gaddie and his staff were part of the initial return-to-campus plan. According to the Big Red Restart Plan, June 8 marked the partial return for the football program.

“Personally, I was at the front door almost every morning, early, when we were coming in,” Gaddie said. “We were coming in doing screenings when we started this brand new process of temperature checks and symptom checks.”

Gaddie said an important key to early success was educating everyone as much as possible once staff and athletes came back for training.

“What our staff has had to do is kind of remain patient, kind of be the calm person in a time that can be very alarming,” Gaddie said. “The pace of a pandemic and the pace of athletics are never intact.” 

On the other side, Case is someone on staff who helps athletes practice their mental toughness. He uses the acronym C.U.S.A. M.V.P. for control, universal experience, support, accept, monitor, values and process.

Case said his motivation working with these athletes stems from seeing their success — exactly why he does what he does at WKU.

“It’s a fantastic feeling to see and to walk alongside somebody who is hurting or going through something, and to see them get to where they want to go and be part of that process,” Case said. “It’s very humbling for me to have that opportunity.”

Beginning the spring semester this week, Gaddie and Case expressed their hopes for athletes playing their respective sports.

“[What] I’m hoping to keep driving home with my athletes is just living in the moment, let’s not worry about what might happen,” Case said. “I’m really trying to drive the point home of let’s just really hone in this present moment awareness, and focus on where we are right now.”

Gaddie said the biggest thing about sports returning this spring is most programs are returning at the same time.

“What will happen for the [athletes] is it’ll be more testing,” Gaddie said. “Because they’re gonna be home and away, coming in at 3 a.m. and have to test at 6 a.m.”

Sports Editor Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected] Follow Nick on Twitter at @KieserNick.