Today’s #SameHere🤙Hero: Kasey Chambers, a two-time Ivy League Champion w UPenn Women’s Basketball!
You first read Kasey’s account of anxiety on the basketball court, & might think – big deal, anxiety while playing a sport. But that’s the power of diving deeper into topics, & vulnerable story telling. Think about how anxiety can attack something we love, then our identity, then our self worth. It’s a snowball effect. Even after feeling “better” Kasey talks about practitioners she still needed to find to work with, to help her keep the anxiety under control. This is her first public story share, so please help us welcome & encourage her for her candor!
“I have grown up immersed in basketball. I remember the first court I ever played on. It was in the backyard of my childhood home: a cement block, about ten square feet. Just after I learned to walk, my mother would take me out back & use chalk to mark the correct footwork for a layup. By my second grade career day, my dream job was to play in the WNBA.
As the years went on, I traveled all across the country for different games & tournaments. I’ve missed a lot of family functions, parties, & other social events because of my passion for the game. When I got to high school, I had one goal in mind: earn a Division I scholarship for basketball. I trained every day towards that goal, eventually committing to play at a small DI school in New Jersey. I was beyond excited.
However, when I got there, everything changed. All of a sudden the game I loved became the thing I dreaded. I was not at the right school for me. I didn’t fit into the coaches’ system & I slowly started to struggle to perform.
I remember when my performance anxiety began. I was playing at Duke University (a big deal as a freshman to be playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium) & I was completely outmatched & my confidence quickly diminished. I couldn’t make a basket & I was humiliated when their point guard stripped me of the ball while I was dribbling down the court. As the game went on, it felt like I could no longer see. I could physically see everything in front of me, but I didn’t have my vision; I was living a nightmare. The game couldn’t have ended faster. We lost by almost 40 points, & yet I was just relieved that I no longer had to play. This would happen game after game.
The next game we travelled to was Mount St. Mary’s. When I stepped onto the court to defend their point guard, the muscles in my legs tightened so hard that when I tried to slide, I tripped & fell in the open court. The game after that, we played Wagner University. I was called into the game & again I tried to guard their point guard. Not only did my legs fail me, but also I could no longer breathe. My mouth completely dried out & after three minutes on the court, I felt completely exhausted. I asked for a substitution. When I came out, my coach asked, ‘Why did you need to come out?’ I replied, ‘I couldn’t breathe.’ And so it went for the rest of the season. Basketball was no longer my safe place, but rather the place of my biggest anxiety.
I knew I couldn’t sustain this for much longer. I decided to seek help from a mental health professional, though not a sports psychologist at the time. There were things I was struggling with off the court as well & I thought maybe the two were related. And it helped, for a bit anyway. I finished my freshman & sophomore yrs, but not how I would have liked. I made it through the games, but I was not at peak performance. As I mentioned earlier, this was not the right place for me so I decided to transfer to the University of Pennsylvania.
Because of NCAA Division I transfer rules, I had to sit out from playing for an entire season. This year was really critical for me because it allowed me to fall back in love with the game of basketball. I was finally at the right school for me, with an amazing coaching staff that would be there to support me, & I didn’t have to worry about performing. I could just practice & remember what it felt like to feel connected to the game. As critical as that year was, I still never addressed the anxiety I would feel while playing. Because of that, when the next season began, & games were about to start, I could feel myself going back to that place where I physically couldn’t function on the court. However, this time I wanted so badly to play well, for my teammates, my coaches, & myself that I decided to seek the help of a sports psychologist.
Fortunately for me, Joseph Dowling, MS, LPC had just been hired at Penn. He met with me the day after I asked for help. He calls his technique, Zonefulness & describes it as ‘the integration of mindfulness meditation, peak performance zone exercises, & positive psychology.’ Essentially, he helps student-athletes ‘get in the zone’ while playing through those various techniques. I am eternally grateful for him. I was struggling to find success on my own & he helped me take my anxiety from controlling me to acknowledging it & finding ways through it.
Through our therapy sessions I was able to find my zone & my confidence in order to succeed at a really high level on the court. During my first season playing at Penn, we met a couple times each week in between games to reflect & navigate my worries of an upcoming game. As the season progressed, I found myself heading into games more & more comfortable; I could finally step onto the court during a real game & not just breathe, but also compete! I continued to have sessions with him throughout that season & the next because though my ability to navigate my anxiety got easier the more I worked on it, there were times that were harder than others. However, my sessions with him allowed me to get back to peak performance level. I ended my collegiate playing career with two Ivy League Championships & two trips to the NCAA Tournament & I couldn’t be more proud.
This will be the first time I’ve told this story publicly. My parents know this #SameHere🤙 story, as do my coaches, a few teammates, & a few close friends, but not many others. I was not ready to tell my story before because I was still fighting through it. Now I am ready to share. I am not sure how people will react, but I hope that my story can help someone else either find comfort in not being alone or find confidence in seeking help because #SameHere!”