Marco Capozzoli, Former NFL and AFL Athlete on Mental Health for Athletes and in Professional Sports

Name: Marco Capozzoli
Title: Senior Sales Executive at Unmind
Based in: New Jersey

I am a humble, hard-working, curious, passionate, and results oriented individual who is relentless about breaking the stigma around mental health in Corporate America and Professional Sports. I am a family man who loves hard, laughs harder, and is always available with a listening ear & extending a hand to help.

What are some mental health habits you can share with us that you actively lean into during the week to take care of yourself? 

I start every morning with a 60 second “Daily Boost” powered by “Unmind”. 

In addition to this morning ritual, I have created a list of descriptive words that I want to be remembered by, and have it taped to my bathroom mirror to read every morning and every night. 

I also have an alarm set for 12 noon every day to “Check-In” on the Unmind platform. This is a feature that allows me to track and understand my moods and emotions over a period of time, and the different factors that are impacting my mental wellbeing. 

Finally, I train with a mental coach (therapist) once a month to help get an outside, unbiased perspective, and tips on how to navigate the often choppy waters of this thing called “LIFE”! 

What’s your mental health story?

Growing up in a traditional, old school Italian family, this wasn’t something my family spoke openly about, or something we covered throughout my Catholic School education.

Growing up, I was ignorant to the fact that similar to physical and dental health, we ALL have mental health, ALL of the time. In complete transparency, I didn’t even know what Mental Health really meant. My earliest memories of what Mental Health meant was just a label for those who were “different”. 

It was not until I retired from professional sports, and transitioned into Corporate America in 2014, that I myself first experienced poor mental health; for seven, lonely, dark months, I struggled in silence with the thought that “my best days were behind me”, and that I would never again have the influence/impact on others as I had the last four years as a professional athlete. This developed into severe depression and overwhelming anxiety. 

When did you decide to seek help and how was the process of seeking community support and clinical help? Were you able to find a professional that could understand your experience as a professional athlete and how that affected your mental health? 

For seven months, I struggled in silence hoping that “time heals all”, and that this was simply just a funk that I would bounce back from. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. For the first time in my life, I dropped my ego and raised the white flag to ask for help. Luckily, I had an amazing leader and team around me at the time, and each of them supported me in their own way. That, coupled with the fact that I no longer had to hide behind this  mask I had been wearing for so long was all I needed with taking a first step towards seeking help.

Unfortunately, my employer at the time was not able to offer anything other than a leave of absence so I can “figure things out on my own”. I searched another month for a psychiatrist that was in-network and accepting new patient, and spent an additional three months and hundreds of dollars trying to find a psychiatrist I could relate with, and someone whose first instinct was not to just put me on heavy doses of medication, disconnect, and check back in six months. 

Twelve months had passed since I started seeking the right form help, and I had fallen deeper into depression. By the grace of God, I found Dr. Tomer Levin and Mental Coach/Therapist David Schaublin who together helped me make sense of all that was going on, and get back to my best self. They both saved my life, 

You had a career in the NFL and the AFL. In any professional sport, there’s a heightened level of pressure to succeed and perform and that weighs on anyone’s mental health; yet, there’s so much stigma against talking about mental health in locker rooms and on fields. Has that gotten any better in these communities? Are there any coaches that have actively taken a part in changing the narrative?

I like to look at it like this: Many forward thinking organizations, both in Corporate America and Professional Sports have taken the turn toward Mental Health Awareness and support for their employees and athletes alike, and the rest of the organizations out there have just recently put on their blinker. Thankfully, I do not think there is an organization out there that is still blind to the importance of acknowledging and addressing mental health, and how not addressing it is directly impacting their cultures and bottom lines.

With more and more A-list celebrities such as Lebron James, Michael Phelps, Justin Beiber, Dak Prescott, Demi Lovato, Theo Fleury, and many others using their celebrity power and social networks to break the stigma around mental health, I believe we are at the precipice of a new world where acceptance, transparency, and mental health support are no longer considered optional, but necessary. 

Two professional sports franchises that are leading the way in mental health support for their employees and athletes are: 

1. The Wolverhampton Wanderers of the English Premier League who rolled out the Unmind Platform to every Athlete and Front-Office staff, and 

2. The Philadelphia Phillies of the MLB who have several departments entirely dedicated to supporting the mental health of its people

How do you equip athletes from a young age to talk about mental health with their mates and coaches? What language or conversations have you been having?

One thing I tell every person I coach or mentor, no matter their age, is that no matter what you are going through, personally or professionally, you are not the first, and will not be the last! As hard as it may be to admit your struggles, doing so will immediately lift the weight off your shoulders and bring you one step closer to overcoming it.

I also make sure they have my number saved in their phone, and have them know they can reach out at any time, no matter what. 

For your followers, my personal cell phone is 973-941-6682. I am available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for ANYONE who may be struggling or needs someone to talk to. 

What are some online resources or community groups athletes reading this can go to if they’re looking to take care of their mental health as athletes, or learn more? 

Some online resources that helped me through my dark days, and continue to help me on an ongoing basis are: 

The Players Tribune – Users can search depression, suicide, or mental health to access stories, and first hand accounts of Athletes and their personal struggles with ill-mental health. 

Start Today Podcast with Chris Cavallini: A personal friend and mentor of mine who went from foster care and being locked up 17 times before his 18th birthday to founding, owning, and operating Nutrition Solutions: a multi million dollar food prep company with a global presence (Language advisory) 

Athletes Founder Malcolm Lemmons, a former professional athlete and author built a media platform at the intersection of athletes and mental health. 

The Playbook Podcast with David Meltzer: David Meltzer, a current mentor of mine was the former CEO of Lee Steinberg Sports (Jimmy Mcguire was based off his firm), and is the co-owner of Sports 1 Marketing alongside hall of famer Warren Moon. David is full of advice, guidance, and support to help his followers find and navigate their “consistent, persistent, pursuit of their highest potential.” 

Unmind: A proactive mental health platform that provides its users with clinically validated tools and technology to measure and manage their mental health, anytime, anywhere, on any device, in complete confidentiality. 

#MentalSweatMonday on Instagram (@Hannahhuesman):  This is a 1 minute video, posted every Monday, of tips & tricks to help you work on your mental game. Hannah is a Mental Performance Coach in the Philadelphia Phillies Organization. She also travels for speaking engagements on how training your mental skills can help ANY performer. Hannah has worked with the FDNY, MLB, Business executives, actors, and athletes of all ages. (also on Linkedin as Gilad Karni) A former professional athlete on a mission to help former athletes pursue the greater good, awaken to their ultimate potential, purpose & leadership, and live their life with joy, peace, and freedom. 

You’re now working at Unmind, a company based out of the UK that helps companies such as Uber, British Airways, and WeWork and their employees manage their mental health. How effective have features like “expressions of gratitude” been in improving the wellbeing of the company and employees? What kind of data and feedback are you seeing?

Unmind’s Praise function is the social aspect of the platform. Studies show that not only does receiving praise and recognition boost our oxytocin levels and overall well being, but that sending praise and recognition to others has an even more substantial impact on them

as well. Taking these findings, Unmind has empowered its users to share both praise and recognition to internal and external colleagues of their organization through this feature. The Praise function is one of our most utilized features on the platform, and we see 35%-40% monthly active engagement consistently. This comes right behind our (2) clinically validated Measurement Tools, and Bite-Sized Learning and Development Series that help employees not only know exactly where they sit on the mental health spectrum (Measurement Feature), but also provides a diverse and inclusive variety of content (Tools and Series Feature) to address the specific areas of opportunity. The top 3 Praises sent in 2020 were Listening, Empathy, and Leadership! 

What’s working at a mental health company like? Specifically what’s its wellness-mental health policy for its employees? 

So many thoughts came to my head when I thought of my response for this question, but think of it like this: You’re standing in front of the most beautiful place on earth. The only thing between you and paradise is a large iron gate with a master lock attached. There is a set of 5 keys hanging from the gate with a sign that says “Come In”. You try all of them, but unfortunately none open the lock. Disappointed, you hang your head, and turn around to leave. After a few steps you spot a golden key half buried in the dirt. You give it a shot, and WA LA! Paradise! 

In short, hand to God, if an NFL General Manager called me tonight to re-sign, I would respectfully decline and continue on this journey with Unmind- my new Family! 

Not only does Unmind practice what they preach, but they make it crystal clear that we- their employees are, without question, their most valuable asset! From a leadership team that prioritizes the mental health and wellbeing of its employees above all else, to a team of colleagues around the globe who are always willing to lend a helping hand, we, together, have built a culture of transparency, support, radical candor, and fun! We are all on the same mission to help improve the mental wellbeing of 10 million people within organizations around the world, and it is without hesitation that I guarantee we will not only hit 10 million, but far exceed it when all is said and done. 

Letters to My Younger Self: If you had any advice to give your younger self, what would it be? 

● Do the things you want to, not what others expect of you! 

● Have Fun! 

● Make Mistakes! 

● Admit when you are wrong! 

● Put yourself around people you want to be like! 

● Don’t complain, just work harder! 

● Ask for help! 

● Do one more rep! 

● Accept responsibility! 

● Win and lose with integrity and sportsmanship!

● Help others! 

● Be curious! 

● Create a goal but enjoy the journey! 

● Don’t sweat the small stuff! 

● If you can’t change it, don’t waste your energy thinking about it! ● Control your controllables! 

● Never give up! 

● Keep Pounding!

Interview and edited by Susan Yoomin Im

For more on Unmind, click here.

For additional wellness resources, check out this resource page or get help through mental health advocacy and education non-profit Made of Millions’s resources directory here.

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