A & E, Campus, In The Spotlight

Clark Health Professor Discusses Her Recent Book on Wellness in Athletics

Dr. Cara Cocchiarella, health professor at Clark College and a coach consultant, co-wrote “Winning Well: Maximizing Coach and Athlete Wellness” with fellow educator and friend Camille Adana. Written as a guide for coaches to a holistic approach in sports, the book focuses on the eight different aspects of wellness: emotional, intellectual, environmental, spiritual, occupational, social, financial and physical.

Professor Cocchiarella instructs students on how to properly set while playing volleyball during one of her health classes. Her book illustrates the holistic approach to wellness that she incorporates into her curriculum. (Photo by Sean Campbell/The Indy)

Each wellness aspect is one spoke in the metaphorical “Wellness Wheel,” a multi-dimensional model that works as a self-assessment tool to evaluate different areas of wellness in one’s life and how they interact with one another. The Indy sat down with Cocchiarella to discuss the book and her own wellness journey.

The Indy: So, what inspired you to write on the subject of wellness within coaching?

Cocchiarella: So, I have to be completely honest. My friend, Camille Adana, who I wrote the book with, it was her idea initially to write a coaching book in general. She and I are very different people, and so she had asked for a couple years, and I kept saying no, just because I thought it’s gonna be way too hard for us to write a book together. The more I thought about it, and the more I worked with coaches in my consulting work, the more obvious it became to me that there really was a need for coaches to understand a lot of what I teach in the classroom. I teach health and PE, and I approach it with a very holistic wellness emphasis or focus.

Cocchiarella said she went back to Adana and made a proposition. 

I was like, Hey, we’re both health educators. We’re both coaches. Why don’t we write a coaching book through a wellness lens? And we decided that we could write to the coaches to be able to support themselves and also address how they can help support athlete wellness.

What sports did you play growing up?

I played basically anything that was inexpensive, and played a lot in my backyard and neighborhood with my brother or friends. I played soccer, basketball and softball mostly growing up, and when I got to high school I did basketball, volleyball and track. And then in college, I played basketball.

Who were some of your most influential coaches? What stuck out to you from your experiences with them?

“Winning Well: Maximizing Coach and Athlete Wellness” is currently available on Amazon.com or Kindle for the ebook version.

The ones that stand out the most to me are my high school volleyball coach and my college basketball coach. In retrospect, after reading this book and thinking about it, I think they both really did a fantastic job of making me feel supported as a person. I always felt like I mattered. And they invested in me as more than just an athlete. 

I think a vast majority of my coaches, I definitely walked away from my experience playing with them knowing that they cared about me. I also think what happened with both of those coaches is they did a really good job of pushing me to be the best that I could. I think they challenged me at a level that was very appropriate for my capacity at the time. They challenged me in ways that I was constantly getting better but it was like where they wanted me to be was just right there.

In the book’s “Intellectual Wellness” section, Cocchiarella provides a personal account of how the wisdom gained through her coaches helped guide her in her battle against cancer. 

I really think that the athletic mindset that I developed played a huge role in my survivorship, or me becoming a cancer survivor. I’ve learned from everybody and teachers, but those coaches in particular played a big role in helping me to really appreciate a challenge.

So when consulting, what are some examples of how you teach coaches to implement wellness?

A lot of it is just increasing awareness. Because like I said before, not very many people have a very clear picture on what wellness is and what it entails. And so, even just presenting the ideas to coaches and talking about them and being able to kind of assess their own wellness or consider their own wellness and then to consider or think about the wellness of their players, even just in that process, there’s a lot that can come out of that.

I really, truly believe that wellness provides a good framework for people to live their best life, and for people to be able to thrive. And I think ultimately, in sports, that’s something that coaches are going for, they want their athletes to thrive, they want them to be at their best.

Of all the dimensions of wellness on the wheel, is there one that you feel needs the most help in?

The area that I think that we probably need the most help in is emotional wellness, and particularly in sports. You know, the whole there’s no crying in baseball concept.

I think it’s kind of incredibly counterintuitive, that that’s what we’ve taught people in sport, because it is an emotion that often drives people to want to try as hard as they can. So, we don’t get to be selective about the emotions that we let in or don’t let in. We can either let emotions in the sport and use them and have them be a part of it or we can not and I think we all know that we want the emotions in it. Sports have a way of magnifying a lot of this. 

So I think we need to keep in mind all of the humans that are playing sports, and their full experiences with it. And supporting emotional expression and trying to help them to try to help everyone to do it in a way that’s productive and healthy for everybody.

Would you say that there’s an area of wellness that you are focusing on personally?

Personally, for me I always have a few things that I work on because I think it’s fun. I’ve been trying to make some wellness enhancing behaviors permanent for myself, so I’m trying to do things that my doctors have told me will help to prevent cancer in the future. Because that’s just such a recent thing for me, that’s something that I’m working on, trying to make sure that my behaviors are as preventative as possible. With that, sleep is a huge one. So I’m constantly working on my sleep, and I really am not the best at that. 

Yeah, and to move a little bit and to just lighten the day a little and live. I think we get so caught up and just like go go go go go that I really want to be living all of my moments. 

Where would you recommend someone start on their wellness journey?

It really kind of doesn’t matter. You could start anywhere. There are a lot of different ways that it can go. And what’s cool about wellness, is that typically, when we improve one dimension of wellness, we see kind of a snowball effect on the others that can be really uplifting and motivating. And positive. One change in our behavior in terms of our wellness can really impact the others.

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