Play Where Your Feet Are

Atlanta-native, Cameron Dobbs, was born into a “high-achieving” family of five. She has two older siblings who both played college sports, and she herself earned full scholarships to several schools, ultimately deciding to start her college volleyball career at the University of Miami in 2017. However, Dobbs has a unique college athletics story that has led her to a career of motivational speaking and reporting on college athletics. Dobbs sat down with Sack the Stigma to share her experiences as a college athlete and the influences her story has had on her inspiring work with mental health in athletics today.

Brooke Woodrum, Sack the Stigma: What was your experience like playing volleyball at the University of Miami?

Cameron Dobbs: It was absolutely one of the best experiences of my life, but my career was anything but ordinary. I came in my freshman year as the only freshman, and we had a best-in-program team, so I was riding the high of being in college sports. I was starting some, sitting the bench some, and I was fighting every single day to be on the court. My sophomore year came around, and it was the complete opposite. We had six seniors graduate and we did not do well that season because of our different chemistry. 

In September 2018, I got my first concussion. I ended up having three brain injuries within twelve months. The third one caused my entire career to end. I had every known concussion symptom and I battled it severely for four months with no improvement. I ended up dropping out of school for a time period to rest and I moved home and essentially went off the grid. I wore sunglasses, earplugs, hats, and headphones everywhere I went for four months straight, inside or outside, to block out any stimuli. 

On top of that, understandably, I suffered from anxiety and depression. That was kind of the first time that mental health entered my story. Looking back on my story, I likely had anxiety in high school, too, just because of all the pressure I had on me, especially from myself for wanting to be a “perfectionist” and for being a “workaholic.” When I’m not getting things done, it’s hard on my identity. After this third concussion, though, was the first time I started going to therapy and seeing a sports psychologist. 

It was very much a love-hate relationship, as I was a cynic about mental health. I didn’t really think it was legit. I grew up in a Christian home and I always thought, ‘Hey, if you’re struggling with depression and anxiety you should just pray a little harder and go to church more often and God will heal you, and you’re good.’ When I experienced it myself, I realized it was different. Not that God can’t heal you and that prayer doesn’t work, but mental illness is a sickness just like anything else. Part of the reason I started going to therapy was because I lost my whole identity of playing volleyball in the blink of an eye with just one injury. When you have everything ripped away from you, you start to ask, ‘Who am I really?’ Volleyball was something I loved and something I did, but it isn’t who I am. 

STS: What has been your biggest takeaway in your time playing and working in college athletics?

Dobbs: “Play Where Your Feet Are” has been my biggest takeaway, just knowing that every position you hold has impact and purpose. It means to do your best no matter what, no matter where. A big thing I learned from my experiences with anxiety and depression is that your best one day can look a lot different from your best another day. I’ve faced a lot of comparison struggles with other people, but also from myself, with not performing at the level I used to as an athlete. I’ve started realizing that it doesn’t matter if my best doesn’t look like what it did six years ago when I was playing volleyball, because it’s still my best. Learning to give yourself grace is a huge aid in helping prevent mental health struggles, and it’s been a big help for me. There’s no such thing as failure, as long as you learn from it. 

After everything I’ve gone through, mental health has really changed the way I view things as a sports journalist. Beforehand, I was really focused on showcasing the most popular athletes with the best stats. After everything I went through, I realized there is so much more to athletes than just being athletes. Now, my job as a journalist is to highlight those athletes’ lives and to showcase their passions. This sets a great precedent for athletics to put the glory into who athletes are, and not just in what they do. I learned a lot in college and it’s shaped what I do now, because I learned who I am. Since my identity was repurposed, I’m working to do that for every single athlete in the NCAA. I’m looking forward to continuing to showcase how athletes are more than just athletes and doing whatever I can as a broadcast journalist to put those stories first and in the forefront. 

STS: You have a podcast and book titled, “Play Where Your Feet Are”? Why did you choose this title and what does it mean to you?

Dobbs: “Play Where Your Feet Are” is a phrase my mom used to tell me growing up. My parents were always giving those ‘parental pep talks,’ and at the moment I didn’t want to hear it. Fast forward a few years later when I had my career-ending concussion, I ended up really having to play where my feet were in every position. After my story of medically retiring started to spread in the community of Miami, I started hopping on various podcasts to talk about it. On one of them, at the end, I shared that my best advice was to play where your feet are, to do your best and be your best, no matter what, no matter where. It’s about knowing that any position you’re in has purpose. 

From there, it was this crazy snowball effect spreading to other podcasts, and my mom who was and is, to this day, my “momager”, said that I could really make this a thing if I wanted to. At that time, I had already been writing a book with a completely different name and vibe, but I started thinking more about it and how it tied into various stories in my life. In thinking about this, I realized that “play where your feet are” actually goes perfectly with what I had written so far. The podcast technically came out first, though the book was the first thought. Following that, there came merch, public speaking in colleges to athletes, and more. The reason why we touch all these areas with “Play Where Your Feet Are” is because if you’re supposed to play where your feet are no matter what and no matter where, then we as a company need to show up for you no matter what and no matter where. 

We chose the words “play where your feet are” very intentionally, because it’s not “be where your feet are.” I don’t want to just be present in the moment, I want to play. I want the joy and the competitive spirit that comes with playing. I also don’t want to just “stay where my feet are.” We hear the phrase “it’s okay to not be okay” a lot, and it 100% is, but let’s not stay there. If you’re not okay, it’s okay, but let’s figure out how to get you the help and resources to be okay. Our wording is very intentional, because that’s what playing where your feet are is all about–being intentional. 

STS: Your book “Play Where Your Feet Are” includes personal experiences regarding perseverance and overcoming adversity. How did these experiences inspire you to write a book? How do you hope that your personal experiences help others?

Dobbs: I think I always subconsciously wanted to write a book, but I actually started writing as a freshman in college. My parents and I joke that my book is the most expensive therapy session of my life. I am a big processor, it takes me days to process things. It was so good for me to process the things I learned from what I faced by writing. I realized that some of the things I faced weren’t as a big of a deal as I initially thought they were. I hope that my story is able to inspire and entertain others, but most of all, I hope they take action because of it. “Play where your feet are” is an action, so if they just put the book back on the shelf or listen to the podcast and then go on with their day, no change will ever happen and I didn’t make any impact. 

My aim with this is to see an intentional impact and change in this world, and I don’t think that’s too big of an ask. When you realize that every single position you’re in has impact and purpose, it’s really empowering. If I’m just going to get coffee for someone as an intern but I’m thinking, ‘I’m about to do the best coffee run of my life,’ you can empower yourself in that. One of my mentors in broadcasting always says, ‘Treat everything like your Super Bowl.’ I hope that “Play Where Your Feet Are” makes a change in people’s lives, and though this is my life motto, I hope they can make it their own. It’s all about you in the sense that it’s all on you. I could write a million books but if you don’t change anything in your own life, no change is going to happen. Don’t wait to change. Life is a vapor, and it can be gone in an instant. Take advantage and don’t waste today waiting for tomorrow. 

STS: Your podcast “Play Where Your Feet Are” celebrated 2 years in September. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen with mental health in athletics over those past 2 years?

Dobbs: Whenever you enter a space, you find out that you’re not alone. In working with mental health, I realized that there are a lot of other people that care about mental health, too, so I thought ‘this is great, we’re going to make so much change in the world and everybody knows about the importance of mental health.’ Then, when I step out of that circle, I realize there actually is still so much room for growth, though there has been so much progress and improvement. If you look at college athletics now, there are so many sports psychologists that are there in-house. When I started my volleyball career at the University of Miami, we had no sports psychologists. Now, we have two sports psychologists, a third counselor who's connected to campus, an intern, mental health ambassadors, and even more people to help. At the ACC meeting this spring, they pitched that for every 50 athletes you have to have 1 sports psychologist in-house. 

So, there is legislation in place for college athletics, which is great, so yes, there is a lot of change being made. At the same time, there is so much more to go. Just like with anything, you always want to improve. I host a show called “Canes All Access” for the Miami Hurricanes, and I recently had a football player on there, Michael Redding III, who was part of the pitch at that ACC meeting for mental health resources for college athletes. He’s getting his masters degree in counseling and he’s very passionate about mental health, so I asked him who his role model is. He paused and said though there are some athletes who have come forward about their mental health, he doesn’t really have a role model and he hopes to be that role model for other people. At the end of the day, some athletes have come forward with brief stories and we slap slogans on bracelets, but there’s still a long way to go. We need one athlete at a time to share their story and know that they’re not alone. Mental health is something we learn from. So often we think of mental health as just something negative, but your mind can be mentally healthy, too! I think anyone and everyone should learn about mental health to become mentally healthy. 

STS: Why do you think it is important to Sack the Stigma?

Dobbs: I think it’s important because you are going to save lives doing that. If you want to be completely serious, that’s the gist. The suicide rate in college athletics is at an extreme high, so by letting athletes know that they’re not alone in struggling and that there are resources available to help them, you can save lives. The more awareness we have around mental health, the better. There are too many lives that have been lost to mental health issues, so if we want to make real change, it’s not just throwing out a hashtag or sharing an Instagram story when a tragedy happens, it’s about sharing every single day. It’s talking openly, it’s encouraging your friends, it’s sharing your own story if you feel comfortable with it. Sacking the Stigma is literally life or death.

STS: How do you Sack the Stigma?

Dobbs: I personally Sack the Stigma by taking advantage of the platform I’m given and the narrative that I can shape as a journalist in sports. I control who I invite on my shows, I control the stories I tell on the ACC Network, and I am able to use that platform for a purpose. I do this by playing where my feet are. I am able to Sack the Stigma by being a trendsetter in sports journalism through talking about mental health freely on air and encouraging athletes to share their stories, too. I am thankful for the experiences I had because I am now able to highlight others’ stories and reshape my entire career around Sacking the Stigma. 

Comparing ourselves to others or to our past selves is a mental struggle that most people can relate to. As an athlete, when your identity is tied to your performance or to your position on a team, it’s easy to fall victim to the lie that we are unworthy or less than, in comparison to others or our past selves. In using Cameron Dobbs’ motto, “Play Where Your Feet Are.” There is great importance in discovering your true identity, as it is not your sport or your performance compared to others. No matter what position you’re in, you have intention and purpose, so do your best no matter what, no matter where. 



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