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Kyle Whittingham, Larry Kyrstowiak Talk Making Mental Health Priority For The Utes

(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham and head basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak – like most people – have stressful jobs. The two shared how they manage stress and take care of their mental health on the Crimson Corner podcast.

It’s not easy being a Division I head coach – especially during a pandemic. Even when things were normal, the job is stressful. They have to recruit players, help student-athletes transition from high school to college and build a winning program all while facing near-constant criticism.

So, under all of that pressure – how do they take care of their own and their players’ mental health?

Working Out & Family Time Keep Whittingham, Krystowiak On The Right Track

You probably know about Whittingham’s love for skiing in the winter and hitting the golf course during the warmer months. Also, it’s a long-standing joke that Whittingham hasn’t missed a workout in years.

“Fortunately, I love to workout and exercise and that really is my outlet, and probably more for the mental part of it than the physical part,” said Whittingham. “It seems to clear my mind and is a stress reliever.”

Krystkowiak enjoys working out as well and the Utah head basketball coach has been getting into hot yoga recently.

“Back when I played, I don’t think there was a lot of awareness, you just kind of grinded your way through things and not a lot of resources or discussion considering your mental well being, it was all just focused on the physical,” said Krystkowiak. “My Savior has been working out, trying to get a workout at least five days a week. I’ve kind of got hooked here on some yoga, hot yoga.”

Another important aspect of Kyrstkowiak’s mental health is his family support system.

“Finding a balance between the job and the family is always key,” Krystkowiak added. “I’ve got a terrific family. You don’t want to get those things crossed up. Even if you have the challenging day at work … the family has been real powerful for me and typically is grounding and been a focus.”

Each Player Has Unique Mindset & Different Mental Health Needs

It takes a lot of work to coach young men in college. They experience a whole new life when they leave home and go to college. Whittingham and his staff have to coach over 100 players, all with unique mindsets. It’s different now than it was 20 years ago, according to the Utah football head coach.

“Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, people would just say, ‘hey, suck it up, get tough and fight through it.’ Now we’re very tuned into that.” Whittingham stated, “We have full-time mental health coaches on staff here, obviously, with degrees in that area. They’re available and at the player’s disposal and our players utilize them.”

While Krystkowiak doesn’t have over 100 players on his roster, he still has to help his players transition to the real world while still trying to win basketball games in the Pac-12. The mental health of his players is a focal point in his program.

“We have a great staff here with us that gives all of our student-athletes an opportunity. The staff takes things independent from their coaches, independent from basketball and tries to help a lot of our kids sort some things out and navigate some trying times. You throw the COVID pandemic in the midst of all of it and I think a lot of those people are working overtime and are earning every bit of it.” Krystowiak mentioned, “Life’s a challenge for everybody and becoming a student-athlete at college is extremely challenging … The mental health is certainly at the top of a lot of people’s list right now.”

Advice For Taking Care Of Your Mental Health

Whittingham mentioned that while having a positive outlook surely won’t solve every problem, it is a powerful tool to keep your mind right.

“There’s so much going on right now it could very easily beat you up and put you in a tailspin but I just try to see the positive, keep moving forward, keep trying to find a better way to do things. We’re in a weird time right now, we’re in uncharted territory, football-wise. We’ve never had a year even remotely close to what we’re going through. It’s all been a learning experience and I think we’ve made the best of a tough situation. For me, like I said, it’s just maintaining that positive outlook”

Through Krystkowiak’s own experiences, he believes knowing you will get through dark times is essential but most importantly finding someone you trust and feel comfortable with to talk to when you are struggling or just need support is essential.

“Just my own experiences, there are some rough days, whether it’s athletics or not, trying to sort out a lot of different pressures and things can pile up at times, or you have a variety of things that are coexisting at the same time,” Krystkowiak mentioned. “Sometimes it is as simple as having to move or a job change. I know, there was a period in my life where I think my wife and I talked about it, I think we checked five of the six boxes for areas that create the most stress in a person’s life.”

Kyrstkowiak took the time to remind listeners that it is important to remember there is always a better day ahead using a basketball analogy.

“You just have to get through it. You have to give it an opportunity to pass. You have to open up and ask for help and share your feelings with people,” added Krystkowiak. “It’s difficult, but it’s like a lot of games you play. There is the next game you can get to the next point. So I would just encourage people and I know things are tough right now with the economy and losing jobs and people are losing loved ones with corona(virus). Just stay as optimistic as possible and make sure you reach out if you reach that breaking point.”

Join KSL Sports during the month of November as we put a special focus on mental health. We will have stories from athletes, tips from experts and more. For more information on protecting your mental health visit the Healthy Mind Matters page on ksltv.com.

If you or someone you know needs help, it’s always available at 300-273-8255 or here online with the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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