Ben Zobrist

S5 E2: Ben Zobrist on Pressure and Anxiety (Part 1)

Released October 6, 2022

This episode of the Beyond Theory podcast, hosted by Dominic Lawson, delves into the topic of mental health in sports, specifically focusing on the experiences of Ben Zobrist, a two-time World Series champion and World Series MVP in Major League Baseball (MLB). The discussion aims to shed light on the often-overlooked reality of anxiety, depression, and mental health challenges faced by elite athletes, even at the pinnacle of their success.

Zobrist shares his journey from a small town in Illinois to becoming a professional baseball player, highlighting the increasing pressure he faced at each new level of competition. He discusses the concept of being “mentally tough” and pushing past fears, emotions, and pain thresholds – a mindset instilled in him from a young age. While this mentality served him well as an athlete, Zobrist acknowledges the lack of balance and understanding of one’s limits in the sports culture of his youth.

The episode explores the role of faith leaders as “frontline mental health workers,” often serving as the first point of contact for individuals struggling with mental health issues. Zobrist, who grew up in a religious household, initially turned to his pastor for guidance when he first experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety.

As Zobrist’s career progressed, he faced increasing pressure and scrutiny, culminating in the intense spotlight of Game 7 of the World Series. Despite his remarkable success and being named World Series MVP, Zobrist found himself overwhelmed by the attention and struggled with anxiety-related sleep disturbances.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression, can affect anyone, including high-performing elite athletes like Ben Zobrist.
  2. The pressure to perform at each new level of competition can take a toll on an athlete’s mental well-being, even when they are successful.
  3. The sports culture often emphasizes mental toughness and pushing past limits, but it’s crucial to strike a balance and understand one’s boundaries to maintain mental health.
  4. Faith leaders have often been the first point of contact for individuals struggling with mental health issues, but it’s important to increase awareness and access to mental health professionals.
  5. Winning and being in the spotlight, such as being named World Series MVP, can be overwhelming and lead to mental health struggles like anxiety and sleep disturbances.
  6. Breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness in sports is crucial to ensure that athletes feel comfortable seeking help and support.
  7. Sports organizations, like MLB, are starting to recognize the importance of providing mental health resources and support for their athletes.
  8. Open conversations about mental health in sports can help raise awareness, reduce stigma, and encourage athletes to prioritize their mental well-being.
  9. Mental health is just as important as physical health for peak performance in sports and life.
  10. Seeking help for mental health challenges is a sign of strength, not weakness, and can lead to improved performance and a better quality of life for athletes.

The conversation highlights the need for greater awareness and understanding of mental health issues within the sports world and society at large. It emphasizes the importance of breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness and providing athletes with the resources and support they need to maintain their mental well-being.