Why mental health is just as important as physical health when it comes to training featuring Philadelphia Phillies Mental Skills Coach Hannah Huesman

Tristan: Alright, welcome in everyone. We have with us, on the line, a very special guest. She is Hannah Huesman. She's the Mental Skills Coach for the Philadelphia Phillies. You heard me right there, the Mental Skills Coach, and obviously we want to get into that right off the bat, but first off, how are we doing tonight, Hannah?

Hannah: Hey, we are doing great. Excited to be with you guys tonight.

Tristan: Absolutely excited to have you. Let's get right into it. We want to hear about your background. How does one get to be a mental skills coach for a professional sports team? Give us a little background there.

Hannah: Yeah. So I grew up playing all the sports. So I have a younger brother and he is about two years younger than me. And so we grew up really, really competitive. And, my parents didn't even have to push, and we were in every sport we could possibly get our hands on. So I knew from a pretty young age that sports is where my passion lies and where my enthusiasm grows and flourishes. And so, I actually went to play softball at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, which is a small Division One school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And then I was about to graduate and I was like, what the heck am I about to do in this thing called the real world?

And, started doing a lot of research and I thought I was actually going to be a strength and conditioning coach for awhile. Thought I was going to be just a regular softball coach and was excited about that. And then just really like found that nothing was really lighting that fire, that enthusiasm that I knew was inside me. And so, my mom actually has her master's degree in clinical psychology, and she was like, "You know, you've always been really good with people and talking with people and listening with people and what do you think about psychology?" And I was like, "Mom, I have to work in sports. That's what I want to do."

And then I was introduced to this beautiful world of sports psychology. I actually took a class my senior year of my undergrad in intro to sports psychology, like 101 Sports Psych and fell in love with it and was like, "What the heck is this and why have I never heard anything about it? And how can I learn everything there is to learn about this?" And so did some research, found a lot of awesome grad school programs and ended up going and applying and getting into the University of Tennessee, which was right up the road in Knoxville, Tennessee, and got my masters from there. And then while I was there, I did a couple internships. And right as I graduated, there was a really big internship available and that was an internship with the Pittsburgh Pirates' major league baseball team. I was pretty nervous, but I ended up applying and going for it and being bold, which is one of the mottos that you'll probably hear a few times tonight is being bold, and went for it. And then ended up having a couple interviews, drove to Nashville to have an interview and ended up getting that internship and so that's kind of what got me into the baseball world. And it was an incredible experience and they ended up not hiring full time, and I was at the point in my life where I was like, "I have to start making money and hopefully I can make money doing something I love."

And so I ended up moving to New York City actually, and worked for a private practice for almost a year and a half. And then loved it. Like got to work with all different kinds of performers, like doing the same mental performance coaching. And I got to work with firefighters and actors and actresses and surgeons and VPs of companies. And it was amazing. And I also recognized that I really missed sports and I really missed the team aspect of something bigger than me. And so I kinda started looking back into the baseball world and had a couple of interviews and landed the gig with the Phillies and I just finished my second season with the Phillies and we are planning for season number three right now.

Tristan: I mean, first off, what are your duties? And second, when you were applying, was it the "mental skills coach internship" of the Pittsburgh Pirates? How do they phrase that to you?

Hannah: Yup. I love that question because nobody ever asks me about the internships. They skip right over the internships and go straight into the job. So I love that. But, so the first internship I ever did was actually a mental skills intern for the International Junior Golf Academy, which was in Hilton Head, South Carolina. And I worked with junior pro golfers from the ages of literally 9-18. And who are all trying to get into college and go pro. And they were at this Academy, which was one of those schools that's like all encompassing. Sport and academics. So like from 8am-12pm they did academics, and from like 12pm-6pm, they did golf and it was incredible. And so I was a mental skills intern there and got to oversee our group workshops and did a few individual one-on-one sessions with those people and those performers. And I also learned how to play golf there, which is really freaking cool. And then the Pittsburgh Pirates internship was almost the same thing. It was a mental skills coach internship. People don't really understand the breakdown of professional baseball. It's not just the one professional team. You know, most teams have anywhere from six to nine minor league teams. And so, as the full time mental skills coaches were traveling, I was based in our Bradenton, Florida, they called it "Pirate City" back then. And so I kind of manned or womanned the fort down there and made sure everybody was taken care of down there. So a lot of my duties were with the younger guys and with the rehab players. So all the injured guys who are down in Bradenton for the whole season like that was predominantly who I would work with there.

Craig: So Hannah, one thing that you mentioned before was the stint that you had outside of the sports world. And I wanted to hear a little bit about what's similar, because I'm sure there's a lot of similarities between performance management and performance coaching in professionals like physicians or lawyers or other leaders in business compared to. performance coaching and mental performance in athletics. Can you tell us a little bit about those similarities?

Hannah: Yeah, I think everyone is a performer, right? And I think sometimes we think of athletes as the extreme performers, but if you are alive and if you are a human being, if you are a mom, a dad, a daughter, a son. If you're working, whatever you're doing, you are performing on a daily basis. And so all of the skills that we teach high performance athletes are very applicable to your everyday human being. Like whoever's listening to this, whether you're a kid, an adult, a teenager, whatever you are, like whatever you're doing. Any kind of performance skills and mental skills apply to you. And I think the reason they apply to you is because it's so much more than just performance. It's life. It's learning how to, not only be successful in life, but reach your full potential in life, right? It's so much more than just goal setting and mindfulness, and imagery and self-talk and all of those.

But it's like we're not just trying to make better baseball players. We're trying to make better people, and that's something I'm constantly saying with our guys. It's like if you can grasp this concept, you're going to be a better dad, you're going to be a better husband, you're going to be a better everything, a better person just by grasping, for example, being in the present moment more. And so the skills are interchangeable with whatever you're doing. If you're a mom and your single purpose on this world is to take care of your kids, chances are you can practice performance skills and enhancing your mental skills. So the transfer is always there and constantly the same for sure.

Craig: Yeah. It applies across, every area, every aspect of life. So you mentioned being present. Being present in the moment, and developing that type of skill. Here at Hustle, we're always, talking with various coaches, various trainers about some of the drills that they run. Is there anything, any kind of wisdom, you can impart on us for our listeners about how we can practice being more in the moment?

Hannah: Yeah. So if I had to give you guys one thing to take away, it would definitely be to practice mindfulness. So I'm not sure how familiar it is. You know, in the psychology world, mindfulness is kind of a buzz word right now, right? Everyone's talking about it. A lot of people know what it is, but not a lot of people know how to actually do it or why they're doing it. And so mindfulness is basically a technique where you are fully aware in the present moment non-judgmentally. You're not necessarily trying to direct your thoughts to do something, you're just like, "Hmm, what am I thinking about right here? Like right here, right now, in this very moment, where am I at? Am I happy? Am I sad? Am I hurting? Am I healthy? Am I actually hungry or is my brain playing tricks on me?" All kinds of things. And one of the best examples is driving. When you're driving, are you actually paying attention to what you're doing? Or are you so consumed with something in the past or something in the future that you're not in this present moment right now? Are you actually enjoying the moment with your kids when you're playing? Are you actually, like, they've talked about mindfulness while you're washing the dishes, right? Are you aware where your feet are, right? Which is a common saying in sports psychology is "Be where your feet are."

And so the best practice I would ever recommend to anybody, at least right now is definitely the practice of mindfulness and being fully in the present moment. Because, two things. One, you have to be aware, first of all, that you're not in the present moment, which is a skill in and of itself. Awareness is a skill in and of itself. And then the second thing is you have to make the decision and almost train your brain to come back to this very moment. Whatever is going on, even if you have to like describe, "Okay. This is how I feel sitting in this chair. My hands are on my legs. Like this drink is in my hand. I'm watching this on TV, right? Walking your body through what you're actually experiencing is a very real technique of how to pull yourself in the present moment, but that's like... Yeah, I could go on for days about mindfulness because it's an incredible skill and it sounds so simple, like, "Oh, just be in the present moment," but it's actually very, very difficult to actually implement especially when you're under a lot of stress or high pressure situation. And so my recommendation is to start really small. There's like Headspace and Calm apps like that you can download and try. And that's like a phenomenal starting spot.

Tristan: Never really thought about that as a mental drill, just think about where you are and sort of talk your way into it. Talk your way through it to make sure you're present. So that's just one example of maybe something that you've done with some of your players there with the Phillies. Give us a day in the life for Hannah Huesman of the Philadelphia Phillies. What are we doing? Who are we talking to? Are we clocking in? Are we clocking out? Give us a day in the life.

Hannah: That is a very common question and a very hard question to answer. It is crazy. The day in life is crazy and it looks different every single day. So, basically, if I'm in Clearwater, Florida, which is our home base, and where our spring training is, I get up, we usually have a staff meeting at about 6:30am, so I'm up pretty early, 5:00, 5:30. And head in about 6:00 for a 6:30 staff meeting. Get there, have a staff meeting, plan out the whole day, and then that ends about 7:00, 7:30. And then I'll have some individual sessions in the morning. So maybe with position players or hitters or pitchers or whoever's available. And then they'll go into like their group teamwork. And then sometimes we'll do classroom sessions. And so, that varies in what group we're talking to, but sometimes we'll do group workshops, but it's either... For us, for mental skills coaches, it's either one-on-one work or group work. And it can be small, small groups, or it can be the whole team group It just kinda depends on what the schedule is and what the day holds. And then they go about their whole day, and then they have typically a game in the afternoon. And during the games we'll try to grab some players, too, for their one-on-ones. So it's like kind of continuously trying to figure out where we fit into the schedule, where we can get these one-on-one guys and have these sessions with. But it's crazy. It's all over the place. It's a lot of scheduling and a lot of schedule changing and going with the flow. And I was like, "I'm super type-A, so I love things laid out." And in my first year I learned very quickly that the best thing I can do as a type-A is, "Okay, we don't have a plan today. Well, whoever we meet with, great. Whoever we don't, that's okay too." So, it's really being able to stay flexible, and then basically if I go to an affiliate outside of Clearwater, it's virtually that same schedule, but pushed back about five hours. So like the day starts at noon and ends at like 11:00pm. Just because you know, at the affiliates, the games are at 7:00 at night, instead of noon or one in our Clearwater facility.

Tristan: Sure. I mean, that's a mental skill in itself, just being flexible and sort of going with the flow a little bit. Do you find your time is split evenly between MLB and each of the minor league teams that you work with? Does one get more attention to the other?

Hannah: We have a team actually. So we have a team of now four mental skills coaches. So we try to divide it up pretty evenly to make sure everybody has the same coverage from our Major League Baseball team to our two Dominican league teams, who are actually in the Dominican Republic. So, we have one full time who stays in the Dominican Republic. Then we have myself and Francis, who stay in predominantly the minor leagues. And then we have my boss, who's Jeff, and he works with our big league team and fluctuates into the minor leagues a little bit too. Because we try to create that fluidity throughout our system and making sure that players feel comfortable as they continue to grow and move up throughout our organization. So luckily we have a team of four instead of just one of us, because even I don't even think four is enough. So it's, there's a lot of guys and a lot of support systems, but we're in constant communication and that's why every day looks different because most of the time, every day we're in a different place so...

Craig: Yeah, everyday changes and the needs of the players obviously change at the same time. So a question that I was thinking about, you know, we know that there's great athletes out there with incredible physical talent, but obviously mental talent is a big aspect of the total package. Is there kind of something that you see from a mental skills standpoint of the elite players? The best of the best that really separates them, not just from a physical and athletic capability, but also that mental game.

Hannah: Yeah. I think, I think it's a two parter. Okay. I think the first part of that question is the most solid, like mentally solid athletes in the highest realm, the most incredibly important thing for them is their routines. Because no matter what circumstances you're in, whether it's game seven of the World Series or the first game of the year, right? They're always doing the same routine.

And they're constantly figuring out, this is the second part, right? Continuously growing no matter what. They're constantly figuring out how to make that routine even better. So they're not just like, well, this is how I've always done it. This is what works for me. It's more of like a this is what's worked for me in the past. If something needs to be adjusted, let's adjust, let's grow. Let's continue to always try to find the edge or the next best thing or whatever. Whatever is going to excel me even further.

And so I think it's a two parter. I think it's believing in your routine, whatever that is. Making sure my body and my mind and my emotions and everything are as ready as they can possibly be. And that comes from trial and error, right? In our performances and learning like, "Hey, I went to bed at 10:00 and I woke up groggy. That didn't work. Last night, I went to bed at 9:45 and I feel great today. Note to self, go to sleep at 9:45." Right? Or I wake up at the same time every day and that works really well for me. Make sure I wake up every day at 7:00 or whatever time I have to wake up. And just creating that consistency for them throughout their minor league, that's kind of what we're doing, right? You're going through the minor leagues to get to the big leagues, and while you're doing that, you're creating this menu to figure out what you need and what pieces you need to include in order to set yourself up for the best success.

But then it's also making sure you keep that open mindedness of, "If I need to make an adjustment, I'm going to make an adjustment, right? If I'm not, if I'm feeling a little off, I'm not going to panic. I'm going to try it a couple times, and then if it's still off, then we're going to find something new." We're going to continue to grow because I think the most elite performers are the ones who are constantly trying to evolve no matter how good they get, they're always still trying to get better.

Craig: That's really, really interesting. It points out the amount of discipline that you have to have in order to become elite, like from a mental skills standpoint. What I'd really like to hear about is a particular success story. Can you think of one where you had a big evolution that really paid off for them on the field? You don't have to say who the player was or anything, but, I'd love to hear a particular success story of someone you've worked with.

Hannah: Yeah, I think, I think one of the main success stories that I always go back to is... She was kind of a younger athlete and when we first started meeting, she was super serious, and almost to the point of mad. And we started working on that. And like at the beginning she was like, "If I'm having fun, I'm not getting better."

And one of the things we really worked on hard with her was about how to find enjoyment and how that when you enjoy something, you actually are better at it instead of always being mad or super hard or that perfectionistic mindset. And so we worked really, really hard on how do you enjoy the sport while also knowing that you're getting better and that you're seeing positive results and that you're growing on a daily basis without being so hard on yourself. Or I have to be perfect or I'm not getting better. And she ended up like really, really embracing that and it took a long time. Like it takes a long time to switch that mindset, that perfectionistic mindset to like, let it go. Let's see what happens. I really harp on this, "Laugh, smile right now. Let's try to smile while we're performing." And a lot of times, you know, we have coaches who are like, "Why are they smiling?" And you're like, "No, we're working on something. Hold on, let's see if it works." And like we have a guy strike somebody out and they're like, "Why is he smiling?" And I'm like, "Don't worry, we're working on something. I just want to see if it works."

So I think a huge part of the game that is lost from a professional standpoint to even the freaking youngest standpoint is that it's not supposed to be fun. Like this is serious. Work hard. What are you doing? And then I think that's a huge, huge flaw in our world right now is that if you're not enjoying it, there's no chance you're going to be your absolute best. And I think that's super interesting because when you enjoy something, you're better at it. And if you enjoy doing podcasts, you're going to be better at it. If I enjoy being a mental skills coach, I'm going to be a better mental skills coach. And if these players and these athletes and all of you performers are enjoying what you're doing, you're going to be better at it.

So ask yourself everyday like, "Am I enjoying what I'm doing and if I'm not, how can I learn to enjoy it more?" Because enjoyment is a practice. And so to see her go through that and eventually like believe in it and I think she's like 15 or 16 now and she's a stud and getting ready to go to college and really embracing making sure that every day I try to implement something fun. Even if you kind of have to force it a little bit, that's okay too. But making sure that that's one of her main priorities. I think that's one of my, probably one of my proudest, and one of the things that I think about a lot and super often is like basically teaching somebody how to enjoy the game that they once loved so much.

Tristan: Sure. That's definitely something that you take home with you, you know? That's going to put a smile on your face at the end of the day and make you enjoy your job just that much better. No doubt.

Hannah: For sure, for sure.

Tristan: Transitioning a little bit, you know, at Hustle we love utilizing and incorporating technology into physical training. Obviously, still working on the mental side of it. Maybe you can help us out there on that end, but do you utilize any technology today in any of your mental skills training?

Hannah: Yeah. So as far as technology, we do a lot of Skyping and FaceTiming, right? Because we can't be everywhere at once. So we use that a lot. We use a lot of audio and screen recordings to create like different imagery scripts and stuff like that. We have a couple apps that we use like a couple of mind game apps, and like I said, the mindfulness app stuff.

So, we're not super on the technology side. I've worked with some biomechanic technology stuff, some heart rate rhythm stuff, some M-wave stuff to measure difference in between each heart rate. There's a lot of stuff out right now, and we're kinda testing out some things, and trying to figure out what we think is actually beneficial. We don't really want to, you know, spend a lot of money and it just be like a waste of time. So, we really do think that the number one connection for us is listening. And no tool will help us do that, but our own self, but we're not against it at all. We're super open to it actually, but we just, we really don't utilize a ton of technology as of right now, but we're open to it and we're testing a few things out. So who's to say that that won't change in the next year or so?

Tristan: Right. Exactly. Like, I mean, I feel like the position you're in, maybe that wasn't a position 5, 10, 15 years ago. So I'm sure it's always advancing. Well, Hannah, really appreciate your time tonight. Very insightful, very different interview than some interviews we've done in the past. No doubt, but definitely got something from it. We're going to close out with you here with something we do with all of our coaches, all of our trainers. It's a little rapid fire round. We're just gonna throw some questions at you.

Hannah: Ok.

Tristan: Stay on your feet. Stay flexible. Throw back the first thing that comes to your mind, sound good?

Hannah: Perfect.

Tristan: All right, so we'll make it easy. Go easy on you here. First thing's first, favorite sports movie of all time.

Hannah: Oh, Remember the Titans.

Tristan: Love it.

Craig: Yep. That's a good one. So a question that I have is, from a mental skills coach standpoint, who's somebody out there today that you've learned a lot from or that's really inspired you that you kind of look up to?

Hannah: Like who's in our field or just anyone?

Craig: Right. Yeah. Someone in the field.

Hannah: I would say Bernie Holiday. He's the Director of Mental Conditioning for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was my first internship. He was the first real role model I had in the field of baseball. And I was just like a sponge there and soaking up everything he had. So I would say he was definitely the biggest impact on my career so far. He was awesome.

Tristan: Wonderful. Let me ask you, I don't know how much this plays into, mental skills or if it's just a routine type of thing... Best pregame music that you would listen to when you were playing sports.

Hannah: Timber was my walkout song, so I'm going to have to say that.

Tristan: Love it.

Craig: Is that Kesha?

Hannah: Yeah. I think it was, yeah. Going down, I'm yelling timber, yeah. That was me.

Craig: That's great. Very cool. What about YouTube channels that you'd recommend where people can learn more about this field?

Hannah: YouTube channels. Ah, that's a really good question. I don't watch a lot of YouTube. I listen to podcasts more or Instagram stuff or Twitter. There's a lot of really good mental skills coaches. Justin Su'a is an awesome guy who's on Instagram. I would recommend him for sure.

Craig: Okay, great.

Tristan: Awesome. Awesome. Well, I think that just about does it here. Before we let you go, we want to let you plug a little bit, your own Instagram handle @hannahhuesman there on Instagram. I know you do a little #MentalSweatMonday. Every Monday, you're releasing a video trying to help those folks out there with their own mental skills. Give us a little background on that real quick.

Hannah: Yeah. So Mental Sweat Monday is, like you said, it's a one minute, little short video that goes out every Monday. And it's basically my way of trying to not only educate, but create awareness to all performers, right? Every human being who sees it to make sure they're checking in on their mental game and their mental health and their mental performance.

Because I think this world is so wrapped up in physical performance and physical appearance that we forget the most important part is inside. And so to me, the only way to equate mental health and mental performance is to compare it to physical health and physical performance. So instead of making sure you get the physical sweat in, make sure you get the mental sweat in too, and so that's where that came about.

Tristan: I love that. We'll be checking those out going forward here. I've watched a couple this past week, just in prep here. Just like we like the physical drills, mental drills are just as necessary. So Hannah, appreciate your time here again tonight. We're going to let you go here. Maybe we can check in with you down the line here once the season gets going. Once you get a little more time under your belt, I don't know when that's going to come up, but we'll definitely check in with you and again, appreciate the time. One more time.

Hannah: Sounds great. Thanks for having me, guys.