Mental coaches give South-Doyle football a unique advantage

By Steve Williams

South-Doyle is believed to be the only high school in Knox County to have “mental performance coaches” as part of its football staff.

And last week, Head Coach Clark Duncan really needed them.

After senior quarterback Mason Brang went down with a serious leg injury late in the second quarter of the Gibbs game on Sept. 6, the mood in the Cherokees’ dressing room at halftime caused some concern.

“There was a wide range of emotions because Mason has been their quarterback since he was knee high, and they’re all great friends,” recalled the veteran coach.

Duncan said his players’ emotions got “to the point I wasn’t sure where we were going. Guys were crying. Guys were sad. Guys were mad – just a wide range of emotions.”

Duncan needed his “mental coach” to be at Sunday’s staff meeting. Not to talk about Mason, but about all the other players and their needs in the days ahead.

“I wanted to talk about the team and things (the mental coaches) could look for and how they could help,” said Duncan.

In football terms, Lindsey Miossi could be called South-Doyle’s mental performance coordinator and Latrice Lewis and Victor Rodriguez her assistants.

Technically, Miossi is a PhD student at UT in the Sport Psychology and Motor Behavior program. Lewis and Rodriguez are her two co-consultants and master’s students in the same field.

Miossi said the South-Doyle team had been prepared for adversity.

“The team was, of course, emotional,” she said. “However, they fought hard and strong through that adversity and did so beautifully. As consultants, during halftime, we made sure to let the team know that it is expected and okay to be emotional and to remember when they step onto that field W.I.N. (what’s important now).

“W.I.N. has become a consistent mantra/phrase we have used with the team to remind them to narrow their focus to what’s important for their performance at any given moment. They were able to reach that focus despite the incident and have a great win that night.”

Miossi and her assistants also had a “game plan” for the week ahead.

“It was of utmost importance to our consulting team that we were available for the team in any way they needed,” she said.

Coach Duncan asked her to join him for his talk with the team Monday.

“I then stayed for practice that day and I talked with different players to informally assess where they were at and how they were feeling,” said Miossi, who attended practice again Tuesday. “Overall, they appeared to be doing well, were still working very hard, and putting in a lot of effort each day.”

The topic of Thursday’s weekly session with the team was on leadership.

“They have a great mindset and culture that they have built which is full of encouragement for one another,” Miossi has observed. “If there is anything about this team, they are a brotherhood that fought together on Friday and are still fighting together to be the best they can be.”

Duncan has had “mental coaches” for four years now. The connection with UT started in 2016 with a student working on a doctorate in sports psychology, and then other students following as they worked on their master’s in that field.

“I pay them,” said Coach Duncan, “but I don’t pay them what they’re worth.”

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