Be The Person You Needed When You Were Younger
May 11, 2021
BJ Armstead Short Story
I am originally from Atlanta, Ga.
Sports has been my life since I was 4 years old. I come from an athletic background. For my family, it was pretty much a requirement to be an athlete. If you were not an athlete (or at least athletic in some sort of way), you were instantly labeled as “weird” or “different”. However, because I come from a family of African American people who lived in a low income neighborhood in the City of Atlanta, they only knew the world of competitive sports and nothing else. As I was growing up from the time I was 4 years old to the time that I was about 13 years old, I dominated in any sport I played. Whether it was soccer, football, basketball, or baseball, I was always the best! I also achieved many great things when I was 14. I start at Shortstop and hit leadoff for my high school’s JV team even though I was only an eighth grader still in Middle school. I even won rookie of the year. As I turned 15, things started getting a bit fuzzy. I was still doing pretty well. I earned the starting Shortstop job as a freshman in high school over 3 seniors and was well on my way to achieving my ultimate goal of getting drafted as a senior in 2014. Everything I did before the age of 22 revolved around baseball. Every person I talked to had some sort of connection to baseball. Since I lived my life this way, basically every single thing I did was centered around COMPETITIVE baseball. For example, when I was in middle school, my best friend (who is now playing Major League Baseball) would be in class with me and we would care about school, but in actuality what we really cared about was working out together after school for 4 hours everyday. Not to mention that I hung around Major League Baseball players all the time. I was cool enough with a lot of them to travel up to the cities of their team and eat dinner with them after the game, go grocery shopping with them, and spend the night at their apartments even though they had a game the next day. So at 15 years old my life was TOTALLY consumed with the sport with extreme expectations of greatness. I was like the young kid who is next up. In the city of Atlanta (& surrounding cities), you are required to go out and play at East Cobb and be seen by college coaches and pro scouts. So that’s what I did. I left my current team and went to play at East Cobb. Great opportunity for great young player. The only bad thing was that I was the only player of color on my team. I was called a “Nigger” almost every day and was constantly picked at and talked about behind my back by my own teammates. I couldn’t go to my friends and express how I was feeling because everyone knew me as “BJ the baseball player.” I couldn’t go to my parents because they only wanted me to put up numbers. I couldn’t go to my coach because his son was the main one calling me names and talking about me. After researching and reading lots of books on Sports Psychology, I now know why my level of play began to decrease that summer. It was because of what was emotionally and psychologically happening to me. I couldn’t even throw the ball 20 feet from second base to first base. The ball would get get stuck in my hand and my arm would lock up as I tried so hard not make a bad throw. A phenomena I would later learned to be known as the “Yips.” Since I couldn’t go outward and express myself, I went inward. I attempted suicide three times. On the fourth attempt, I thought pf grabbing a gun, but was able to stop myself. I finished out the rest of the summer. After the season, I had went back to school and started my junior year of high school. I wanted to know more about what the heck that was that I had just went through. So I start reading books on mental toughness, imagery, playing under pressure, and everything else that could give me answers about how to mentally increase my play on the field. I read literally every day and trained my mind. My body followed as I became extremely hungry and obsessed with Improvement. I start working out 5 times a day. I would sneak into the batting cages in the dark at 5 o’clock in the morning to workout before school started. I would even skip lunch to workout and didn’t care if I ate all day. As long as I outworked everyone, I was happy. By my senior year, I had offers from about 5 division 1 schools to play baseball and had made the MLB draft list for the state of Georgia. I accepted a division 1 scholarship to play baseball at Grambling State University. It was here that I ran into some great people (teammates and coaches) that really cemented the importance of the mental side of sports to me. I instantly fell in love with all things Sports Psychology because I was looking at my 16 year old self. I even began to cry as I studied at times because I realized that had I known these things before, I wouldn’t have went through all of the pain and anger. After a year at Grambling State, I went back home and enrolled at Morehouse College. At Morehouse, I played baseball for two years and continued to help out my community by going back and talking with kids to ensure that they understood certain aspects of mental toughness, teamwork, imagery/meditation and not allowing emotions to take over. I became the person that I wish I had when was the kids’ age. I majored in Spanish and lived downtown of the capital city of Costa Rica while going to school out there for a month upon graduation from Morehouse. Currently, I own my non-profit organization, “Apollo Sports Counseling, Inc.” where we combine the elements of mental side to the physical side of sports as well as educate athletes on the importance of mental health and provide a safe space for them to express their emotions. I have people from Football, Baseball, Basketball, Track, Golf, and Soccer on staff as we going into the schools and various teams to give presentations, do workshops/clinics, and also provide individual counseling sessions and mentorship for athletes. So far we have worked with 8 high schools and 4 colleges and over 100 athletes.”