Bhrett McCabe

Clinical psychologist Bhrett McCabe, a former Catholic High and LSU pitcher

It was an urban parable athletes never thought could or would come true. Along came the coronavirus pandemic, which has wiped away sports for a still undetermined amount of time.

Games and seasons, gone in an instant. Athletes and coaches left in seemingly a powerless void.

Is there something athletes and coaches can do? Clinical psychologist Bhrett McCabe, a former Catholic High and LSU pitcher, has some ideas.

“As athletes, we’re always told to respect the game because it can be taken away at any moment,” McCabe said. “And you know what … it happened. There is so much involved. It takes a physical and a mental toll. What we have to do is find ways to turn this around.”

More than 600 athletes from all walks of life logged on to McCabe’s webinar, “Locked Out: How Athletes Can Manage the Chaos of Covid-19 and Raise Their Game,” Sunday night. McCabe provides a blueprint that athletes can follow. He did the same for coaches in another webinar last week. A link to the athletes' podcast version can be found at thecatalystschool.com/podcasts.

“This is unprecedented for all of us in many ways,” McCabe said. “If you take 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, you know they were major events that changed our society and how we think and live. But they were events that happened and once they were over you could start to rebuild.

“One of the reasons we feel so helpless is that is not a singular event … it is ongoing and there seems to be more bad news every hour. We don’t know when it will end or how it will end.

“Because we are so connected, we see in real time what is going on. There is fear and apprehension. We don’t know who these people (with Covid-19) are, or whether or not they are recovering. We take on the burden and the stress and it goes across every facet of what we do. Social media is brilliant and we should continue to use it, but the bottom line is we’ve got way too much information in our hands to process.”

Have a plan

McCabe is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama. He got interested in psychology and counseling psychology as an LSU baseball player. He worked in the pharmaceutical industry for eight years and gradually built up a practice. Though he serves as the sports psychologist for the University of Alabama, McCabe also counsels multiple professional athletes.

Golfer Billy Horschel, winner of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in 2013 and 2018, is among his clients. Horschel took part in the webinar and discussed his down time since the PGA suspended The Players Championship two nearly two weeks ago.

Horschel stressed taking care of things he can control, like caring for his family. His fitness regimen includes Peleton competitions for rival Rory McIlroy.

McCabe stresses structure for athletes and coaches. He told athletes participating in the webinar to set a daily schedule and keep a detailed training log.

Ideally, McCabe said athletes should get up no later than 7:30 a.m. and make their bed. Then they should adhere to a schedule that starts with school and course work. Household chores should be completed.

No practice or private tutors? No problem. McCabe says to think out of the box. Try bodyweight-based exercises and new things. Check out youtube workout videos for your sport.

Focus on a skill, such as ball-handling for basketball players or a swing as a baseball/softball player. Video yourself and then review it. There is time for this to work since there are no games in the immediate future. Set goals and include those in the journal. For example, Horschel told the group his goal is to gain physical strength and improve endurance.

Instead of live-streaming or playing video games, McCabe says athletes should read a book, including those designed to improve an athlete’s mental game.

McCabe told coaches to review film and check out new strategies. He also implores them to stay connected to their players in ways other than just texts or group chats. He told coaches to write personal notes to their players, particularly their seniors.

Diet concerns? McCabe says athletes should not feel guilty if they have to eat a bacon sandwich or a peanut butter and jelly. No guilt, he said.

Face feelings, stay connected

Acknowledging emotions and staying engaged with others, even during social distancing, is also crucial.

“Loss and grief are real emotions,” McCabe said. “Some college and high school athletes are losing their senior seasons. No senior day, no last competition. It’s hard to get excited with no competition or game to look forward to.

“You have to feel it, acknowledge it and move on. Don’t blame the government or the group that canceled your games. Move past the regret emotion. Tap into the fire emotion. Channel emotions. Ride the waves of emotion and turn it into something positive.”


Email Robin Fambrough at rfambrough@theadvocate.com