Published by: Holly Ruvo
Interviewed by: Ben Ruvo
From Rosemount Minnesota, Erin Slinde is a recent graduate Setter for the West Virginia University Women’s Volleyball Team. She was Academic All-Big 12 First Team for all four years of her career, and has very impressive career stats. Offensively, she accumulated 312 kills, 1815 assists, 36 aces and 436 points. Defensively, she had 343 digs, 5 solo blocks, 168 assisted blocks and 173 total blocks.
Ben: Can you explain to us your athletic career growing up until today? How did you get to where you are as a college athlete?
Erin: I was always super athletic growing up. My parents put me in every sport. I was always a competitor too. I won every mile and 1/2 mile in elementary school and at the time it was what i really prided myself on. In 6th grade, I ran a 5:20 mile which was pretty insane. I was playing three traveling sports at the time, volleyball, basketball and swimming. By my eighth grade year I narrowed it down to the one I loved most, volleyball. My mom coached a team of 17 year olds when I was a 7th grader and I would go practice with them when I wasn’t busy. I played on the varsity volleyball team my eighth grade year and that’s when I started getting recruited my colleges. By my freshman year, I was taking visits and looking at schools. I ended up committing to a college my sophomore year of high school. Unfortunately, a year later I did not think this college was where I wanted to go, so I de-committed and had to go through the recruiting process again. At this time, the schools I would have considered had already committed players in my position, so it was hard to find coaches that would even consider me. Luckily, I was able to commit to West Virginia University. I graduated high school early and went to WVU in the spring of 2016.
Ben: Wow, that is a very impressive sports resume! How old were you when you graduated?
Erin: I was 18 when I graduated. My high school was on trimesters so I graduated after the first trimester of my senior year. So, after thanksgiving I didn’t go to school. I waited until the next January to start at WVU and when the spring semester ended, I came back and walked with my class.
Ben: Can you please give us some insight on your mental health experiences?
Erin: Because I graduated high school early, I felt a lot of pressure going to college early. I was excited, but I felt that the other players were expecting me to be extremely good. Unfortunately, my high school season ended at the end of October and so I had little playing time until I came to WVU in January. So, I was a little rusty and a little uncomfortable with my performance going in. Having this pressure to perform and fit in with a new team and start taking college classes all at the same time did not help my mental health. Also, going into off-season workouts and getting up every morning at 5:15 did not help either. I had a rough freshman season trying to find my rhythm, but still ended up being named to the Big 12 Freshman team. I felt like my coach really believed I could be a great player which helped my confidence, until he brought in another player in my same position that had played at a much better school. This player didn’t end up making it, but it definitely hurt my confidence. After that, my mental health really struggled. Even though I was always positive and always worked hard, it was hard for me to get through the days. There were days where I just thought about quitting thinking that going through it wasn’t worth it. It was a lot of up and down until the middle of my senior season. I finally was able to find the confidence to go out and play my best.
Ben: How were you able to go out there your senior season and let go of all your previous fears and anxieties?
Erin: I think I just came to terms with my experience and all I could do was just go out there and do my best. There was no more time for me to wait to see if things would get better. It was either I was going to take my experience into my own hands, or I was just going to continue to live through all of the things that I was dealing with at the time.
Ben: How has your mental health journey impacted you as a college athlete?
Erin: I feel like it was really hard for me to compete with all the pressure I felt as an athlete. I always felt like if I didn’t have my coaches approval, then I wasn’t worth anything. If he didn’t believe in me, then I didn’t either. It took a lot of work and a lot of hard conversations with myself and my coach to find a way that I could mentally be the strongest I could be and perform at my best.
Ben: How was your coach when you were going through these tough times? What is your advice to athletes who are scared to have that conversation with their coaches?
Erin: My coach really didn’t have a lot of experience dealing with athletes that struggled with their mental health. He didn’t really care much about it unless it was affecting your performance. Until I told him he really had no idea that my mentality about how I felt as an athlete because of what I thought he thought of me was affecting my performance. If I would have never told him, he would have just kept assuming that I was just choosing to not play at my best.
Ben: How do you think we can become more aware as a society about disorders and stop the stereotypes?
Erin: My junior year, I was one of the co-president’s of my schools Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, SAAC. That year, the NCAA wanted us to focus on what we could do on our school’s campus to spread mental health awareness. I took initiative and started the Mental Health Awareness games for each WVU sport. SAAC would hand out green wristbands to fans and other student-athletes to help spread student-athlete mental health awareness.
Ben: How has WVU continued to spread mental health awareness since your graduation. Is the initiative still growing?
Erin: I think the NCAA and WVU has really done a lot to improve the mental health awareness on campuses around the nation and our own. We hired a full time sports psychiatrist and a graduate assistant to help athletes and teams become mentally stronger. You should see more and more schools adding these full time positions to their staff and potentially adding more than one in the upcoming years.
Ben: Do you have any advice for people struggling with their own mental health journey right now?
Erin: My advice is that you can’t rush your mental health. It took me a long time how to learn how to deal with the pressure and emotions I was feeling and your mental health is something that won’t be fixed over time. It comes with practice, support and good self-talk. There will be good days and bad days, but what is most important is to know that you’re not going through it alone. What really helped me was talking to my teammates about how I was feeling and asking them how they were feeling because it made me feel better that I wasn’t going through it alone.
Ben: What do you think schools and coaches could do to address this issue more?
Erin: I think it is hard for a lot of coaches to address the mental health of their players because they never had coaches that would address it. They were trained a certain way and have a hard time changing their ways or the way they approach different situations. I think what helped me was asking my coach how he felt about me as a player and what I could do to be better. That way he knew that I cared and was willing to work to be the best player I could be. This also gives you the opportunity to let you coach or coaches know what you may be going through or struggling with so they understand and are able to coach you in a way that is going to help you succeed.
Ben: Why do you think it is so hard for athletes to open up and talk with their coaches and teammates about what they are going through?
Erin: I think it is hard because simply it is hard. Having the confidence to go in and be criticized is tough and not easy. Some athletes don’t want to talk to their coaches because they are afraid of what they might say. The most important thing is to remember that your coach only wants to make you better, so if you go in with an open mind and ask what you can do they are going to be more receptive towards how you are feeling and what they can do to help. It can be scary, but I know it changed my mentality completely and without that talk I would have never gotten over that hump.