HEADSTRONG

Headstrong: Andrew Joy helping Blackhawks deal with mental challenges on and off the ice

Headstrong: Andrew Joy helping Blackhawks deal with mental challenges on and off the ice

Andrew Joy joined the Blackhawks as Mental Skills Coach in 2014 and his dreams of winning a Stanley Cup quickly came true, even though it didn’t come as a player.

“As a young hockey player you always want to win the Stanley Cup,” Joy said. "You never think you’re going to do it working through psychology.”

Joy’s focus is on helping Blackhawks get through certain problems they are facing. Those problems aren’t always on-ice issues. He said sometimes they will come to him to talk through personal problems, family issues or whatever they may be going through.

“From my experience working with athletes, a lot of guys like to keep it hush hush, especially because as an athlete at that level you’re up on this pedestal and you’re not really supposed to have chinks in your armor,” Joy said. “It’s really great when guys are able to pull you aside and say ‘Hey, can I talk to you?’ and ‘Can you help me work through this?’”

Joy was on the ice for the 2015 Stanley Cup win. His work off the ice with the players may have been just as important as the work that was being done on it. Shortly after that season, Joy quickly expanded and transitioned his work to helping youth and college students cope with the pressure and expectations of sports and performance. His company “The Mental Difference” partners with clients to gain greater personal insight and understanding of thoughts, feelings and actions.

See more from Joy in the video above.

This is all part of a larger message and project from the NBC Sports Regional Networks. Religion of Sports — the media company founded by Tom Brady, Michael Strahan and Gotham Chopra — has partnered with NBC Sports regional networks for a new one-hour documentary addressing the issue of mental health in sports. “HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports” is executive produced by six-time NFL Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall.

“Mental health issues have been pushed to the forefront of our national conversation,” Ted Griggs, president, Group Leader and Strategic Production & Programming, NBC Sports Regional Networks, added. “Thanks to athletes like Brandon Marshall, Kevin Love, Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin, and executives such as NBA commissioner Adam Silver, we know that our sports heroes face mental health challenges, just like so many others. We hope this project will advance that conversation and show people that resources and assistance are available to everyone.”

Headstrong: Torri Stuckey turns a dark experience into a positive for others

Headstrong: Torri Stuckey turns a dark experience into a positive for others

Torri Stuckey was in a dark place the summer before his senior season with Northwestern football.

He began his career with the Wildcats as a running back and was sporadically used in two years at the position. He then moved to safety. Entering his senior season in 2003, he felt he was ready for his breakthrough, but it wasn't coming easy.

“Northwestern, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Stuckey said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best so that kind of culminated in some dark moments.”

Stuckey wrote a letter addressed to his mom that was going to be a suicide note if things didn’t go his way.

“Going into my senior year I really felt like I had done everything to earn that role, but me and my head coach didn’t really see eye-to-eye on a lot of things,” Stuckey said. “I really felt like at that moment when I was in camp, after everything that I had done, that I was just not being given an opportunity to start. I felt like there was nothing I could do at that point. That triggered something in me that I’ve never felt since. I honestly feel like I snapped.”

In the letter, he wrote “I made a pact with myself, I’m either leaving this camp as a starter or not leaving at all. I guess it was the latter.”

He did end up winning the starting job and helped Northwestern make a bowl game for the first time in three seasons. Things ended positively at Northwestern for Stuckey, but he never forgot how he felt that summer.

“I wrote the letter because, looking at it in retrospect, I was suffering from a deep state of depression,” Stuckey said.

Stuckey has since used that feeling as fuel to make a positive influence on others. He now works with teenagers and kids at self-help workshops and speaks at schools. He wrote a self-help book for teenagers and young adults, Impoverished State of Mind: Thinking Outside da Block.

“My efforts and my mission is really just to uplift people, to encourage them and to hopefully use myself as an example to say, ‘Hey if I can do it, I’m nobody special,’ so can you,” Stuckey said.

See more of Stuckey’s story in the video above.

This is all part of a larger message and project from the NBC Sports Regional Networks. Religion of Sports — the media company founded by Tom Brady, Michael Strahan and Gotham Chopra — has partnered with NBC Sports regional networks for a new one-hour documentary addressing the issue of mental health in sports. “HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports” is executive produced by six-time NFL Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall.

“Mental health issues have been pushed to the forefront of our national conversation,” Ted Griggs, president, Group Leader and Strategic Production & Programming, NBC Sports Regional Networks, added. “Thanks to athletes like Brandon Marshall, Kevin Love, Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin, and executives such as NBA commissioner Adam Silver, we know that our sports heroes face mental health challenges, just like so many others. We hope this project will advance that conversation and show people that resources and assistance are available to everyone.”

Headstrong: Emphasizing mental health in the physical world of professional fighting

Headstrong: Emphasizing mental health in the physical world of professional fighting

MMA fighter Jose Torres has had a controversial career, but he maintains that mental health is a big part of the success and failure of the sport.

“It’s crazy because I never thought mental health was an important thing in sports,” Torres said. “The reason why I say that is because it’s a physical sport. I’m punching you in the head, I’m punching you here, elbow, kicking you, whatever the case may be.”

Though dominant at times in the ring, Torres would fight his own terror and demons outside of it. He had to learn how to manage the stress of performance and expectation before the competition.  

He said nerves never left him before a fight and that’s something that should never go away.

“If you’re not mentally prepared for anything, you’re going to go in there and freeze,” Torres said. “Every single first fight that I had, I was terrified. I was nervous.”

Now, Torres tries to spread the message of the importance of mental health as a mental coach for other fighters. See more from Torres in the video above.

This is all part of a larger message and project from the NBC Sports Regional Networks. Religion of Sports — the media company founded by Tom Brady, Michael Strahan and Gotham Chopra — has partnered with NBC Sports regional networks for a new one-hour documentary addressing the issue of mental health in sports. “HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports” is executive produced by six-time NFL Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall.

“Mental health issues have been pushed to the forefront of our national conversation,” Ted Griggs, president, Group Leader and Strategic Production & Programming, NBC Sports Regional Networks, added. “Thanks to athletes like Brandon Marshall, Kevin Love, Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin, and executives such as NBA commissioner Adam Silver, we know that our sports heroes face mental health challenges, just like so many others. We hope this project will advance that conversation and show people that resources and assistance are available to everyone.”