STUDENT PROFILE: Brett Ball, doctoral student
Brett Ball watched the time tick by as she sat on the couch of her newly assigned sports psychologist. It felt like she had lost everything. She spent her entire life preparing to be a basketball star, following a legacy of professionals in her family — both of her aunts played professionally and one went to the Olympics.
It was the start of her freshman year at the University of South Carolina. During a practice with her team, her heart rate would not slow down. Ball went to the hospital to have it checked it out. The average resting heart rate for a student athlete is 60-70; hers was well over 100. Her tests confirmed her worst fear. She had a heart condition. She would not be able to fulfill what seemed like her destiny— to play professional basketball. In fact, she could never play basketball again.
When it feels like your world is ending, what do you tell a psychologist? “I hated it. I would sit there and not say anything,” remembers Ball. She found herself depressed and anxious. She didn’t know what was happening to her emotionally. One minute she was crying on her teammates shoulder, the next minute she was laughing. How could anyone possibly understand?
What Ball didn’t know was that this was just the beginning. She kept going to her counselor and began consuming articles on mental health. “That’s me” she remembers thinking after reading about depression and anxiety. She began to wonder how many other athletes struggle with these issues, too. “I can only imagine how many student athletes go through that, but don’t know what it is, how to recognize it or know anyone who cares enough for them to even talk about it,” said Ball.
She did stay on her basketball team. But instead of playing, she began to host a behind-the-scenes web show for her team called “Ballin’ With Brett.” As she produced the show, she developed a new craft – production – and fell in love. “I learned production skills. It was an opportunity that fell in my lap,” she said.
She started to see a future for herself, one where her new passion for production and her curiosity around mental health and sports could converge. “My previous injury and my personal experience inspired me to want to find better ways to communicate mental health messages,” said Ball.
She went the University of Mississippi for her Master’s degree in Journalism and Integrated Marketing and Communications. “I took a class on consumer behavior and how we perceive messages. Reading books about brain influence and how marketers reach their consumers, I thought about how that could translate to my passion for mental health and health communication.”
She decided to pursue a Ph.D. to study how best to educate athletes, their coaches and teammates on mental health, and use her production skills to amplify those messages. She discovered that the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications was the perfect fit. “With Florida being the number one journalism school, I felt like there was opportunity to develop my research ideas in combination with what I want to do with production,” said Ball.
Ball just completed her first semester of her Ph.D. program at the College. With access to industry professionals and prominent health scholars, she is exploring ways to make her dream a reality. She is meeting with professors and other graduate students to regularly discuss how best to translate mental health messages for athletes. She is also exploring a concentration in health and human performance.
While she has just begun her new journey as a scholar, Ball sees a future for herself working in both academia and practice. She wants to study how to support the mental health of athletes, while also working in the industry.
“The best word to explain my experience is growth,” says Ball of her first semester. “On a spiritual, mental, emotional and social level. I knew that [would happen] coming in, but I didn’t realize how fast it was going to happen… I have had challenges and frustrations, but the lessons have come back to make me a stronger scholar, person and friend.”