Wiley stresses to players that things like focus, confidence and anxiety management are actual skills they can possess.
“The good thing about when something is a skill is if you can identify your area of improvement and develop a process to get better, then things can improve over time,” Wiley said. “So I help guys first identify what are some of the mental challenges they may be having, whether it be performance anxiety, dealing with focus or concentration on the field, [and then] developing routines that help them prepare when they’re off the field, whether it be study time, memorizing plays, learning how to think about certain situations. I provide guys with tangible processes that they can use to actually get better in those areas.”
Another key member of the Bears organization who provides valuable mental health support is team clinician Carla Suber. She conducts individual and group sessions with players and also provides referrals for their family members.
Suber, who was hired by the Bears on a full-time basis in 2020, revealed that she helps players “get centered and get grounded and manage their internal engines because they’re so used to going, going, going, but then sometimes it can kind of spiral. So helping them be grounded, helping them meditate, helping them be mindful and be in the present.”
“They have such a long litany of things to do during the day, so let’s break this down into manageable tasks,” she said. “And then when things do get overwhelming, we’ll work on strategies on how to manage that overwhelming sense that they may have.
“We spend a lot of time helping them just kind of be able to slow things down. Coaches try to help them slow things down on the football field so they can just kind of attack it. I try to do that for them to life.”
Suber also stresses the important of sleep and its impact on mental health.
“My whole mantra for them is as much as I love football and as much as I want us to win a Super Bowl,” she said, “I really just want you all to be happy, healthy, whole humans, to be able to be good husbands, good fathers, good brothers, good teammates, just good humans and just be able to live the life that you want to live.”
As part of their push to provide mental health support and resources, the Bears understand the importance of trying to destigmatize mental health issues.
“Just make it as normal as possible,” Poles said. “Coach Eberflus has done a really nice job making it part of his meetings and making it wide open and talking about them openly. The other piece that we talk about a lot is just modeling behavior. I felt like I’ve been pretty open. Biweekly I meet with [a doctor]. I’ve got to talk about the things that I have on my chest that come with this job, and I’m open about that and I hope that that can affect if it’s just one or two or three players or staff members to be comfortable seeking help and just talking to someone if they’re going through anything.”
“It’s just the culture,” Eberflus added. “And then you just bring it to life. You set it on the table and let them know that the services are there and it’s OK to get help and use those services. To me, it’s about the attitude and the culture that you’re bringing about as a whole football team that Ryan and I are doing and it is OK. Everybody’s been touched by mental health issues; it could be a sister or brother, it could be an aunt or uncle, whatever that is. Everybody’s been touched by it. You have to be supportive in that area.”