When We Go One, We Go All

Laila Phelia, third-year guard on the University of Michigan Women’s Basketball Team, has been surrounded by basketball all her life. Phelia grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio with two older brothers who played growing up, and a father who played at Northern Kentucky University. In the sixth grade, Phelia started her own career in basketball on an AAU club team, and the rest was history. Phelia sat down with Sack the Stigma to discuss how she practices mental wellness while staying engaged in collegiate basketball. 

Brooke Woodrum, Sack the Stigma: How has your experience been with the Michigan Women’s Basketball Team?

Laila Phelia: It’s been great, especially with growing on and off the court and playing under Coach Arico, who has helped me a lot with player development. I love the coaching staff here, each and every one of them takes the time to build into us. It’s amazing to get to play basketball while also getting a Michigan Education. As a communications major, I always try to learn all that I can and use my resources. 

STS: What strategies do you use to mentally prepare for practices & games? How do these strategies translate to other parts of your life?

Phelia: My biggest thing is coming into practices and games relaxed, which starts the night before. I always make sure I’m hydrating, and I also like to read which really calms me down and takes my mind to a different place. Going into a game day, I usually take my pre-game nap before our shootaround so after our pre-game meal I’m locked in and getting shots up. I always try to stay calm, and when gametime comes, I work to get everyone hyped up and ready. It really translates to my experience in school. I’ve learned that getting up early in the morning is important for getting my school work done, especially if I have an exam to prepare for, since basketball takes up my whole afternoon. 

STS: How does stress affect your performance on the court? What do you do to relieve stress?

Phelia: Stress definitely affects me on the court. If I have a stressful week studying for exams or something, it affects me in a way where I’m not able to focus and I feel like I don’t enjoy basketball. Anytime I do feel stressed, I try to catch it on the front end so I can relax. I like to watch Kobe Bryant’s motivational videos, I’ll read motivational quotes, and I also like to talk to my family a lot just to remember that basketball is an outlet. Basketball is an exercise, it’s a workout, so I don’t want it to overlap with my personal stress. Whenever I do get stressed out, basketball can feel overwhelming, so it’s important to catch it early so I can calm myself down. 

STS: On the court, it’s important to be mentally focused so you can ensure you’re performing at the top of your game without distractions, but how does this apply to the whole team? How does team mental focus and a positive team atmosphere impact your performance?

Phelia: Whenever things get stressful on the court or we aren’t clicking how we should be, the team does a really good job of getting together outside of the gym. Sometimes we get together at someone’s apartment or have a movie night just to remember that we’re all in this together and to enjoy each other’s company. The biggest thing for us is getting to know each other and being able to talk to each other outside of basketball about other things. We also are able to come together on the court, as well. Whenever the team makes a run, we have faith in all the work we have put in. 

STS: This past season, the team’s roster has changed significantly with transfers and freshman signings. How do roster transitions impact the mentality of the team? 

Phelia: Definitely leadership and being able to learn each other on and off the court, which has been a big step. Our roster has changed tremendously, and so it’s important for us to understand that this is a new team and everyone needs to step it up and communicate with each other so we can all be on the same page. I feel like everyone has grown, whether that’s on or off the court, in terms of being a leader and being able to take others under their wing. Sometimes it may be a situation where I have to take Lauren, a fifth year, under my wing because when teammates are new to our program we need to show them our culture, just like Naz and all the alumni that came before us did for us. 

STS: What are your team’s core values? How do you integrate new members of your team into the atmosphere & get them acclimated to these values?

Phelia: Unity is one. We always say, when we go one we go all. Anytime there is an event or anyone going to a game, everyone always shoots a text in our group chat, “Hey, I’m going to eat or I’m going to this game, does anyone want to come?” I feel like showing new members our values through leading by example is the biggest thing. We work a lot on competitive greatness like being able to dive on the floor for a ball, being able to take a charge, just showing them that this is what we do here at the University of Michigan and emphasizing it in everything that we do so they understand who we are. Integrity is another big one, like off the court, making sure you’re going to class, making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, which is all part of being an athlete at the University of Michigan.

STS: Why is it important to Sack the Stigma?

Phelia: When I look back at my freshman year when people ask for advice on going into college, the biggest thing is that it’s more mental than physical. I have always known that mental health is serious, especially through looking at my sister who deals with it a lot, but I never actually experienced it growing up until college hit and I realized how crazy and serious it is. One thing I can say is that you should take time for yourself, as much as you need. Don’t let others affect how you feel or what you’re doing. Sometimes people can take it the wrong way if you don’t want to go somewhere or do something, but you have to put yourself first. You have to put yourself first in everything and also talk to others. Everyone goes through it in a way, so you have to be there for each other. Whenever I do get really stressed out, I always wake up early in the morning and take in the outdoors on my walk to class to allow myself to really be in the moment. Sometimes I’ll also wake up early and just read to take time for myself, I really like reading self help books. It’s really important to take time for your mental health and I think that athletes and people in general should not be afraid to put themselves first and reach out if needed. 

STS: How do you Sack the Stigma?

Phelia: I try my best to let people know that they’re not alone. For instance, with our new teammates this year, sometimes they can be quieter and keep to themselves and I can tell that maybe practice was a little hard for them that day. I try to go out of my way to talk to them, sometimes telling them about my struggles to remind them that they’re not alone and to show them that you have to put yourself first. Everyone goes through it, so we’re all in this together. I talk to a lot of young teens and I always preach to them to ask questions when they need help or when they’re frustrated, and to not hesitate to reach out, because the game is more mental than it is physical. 

Just like basketball, mental health is a team effort. Having people in your corner who you can share mutual trust and vulnerability with is so important in working through mental struggles. These important people are just like teammates on the court–they pick you up when you’re down, and they celebrate your victories, too. So, the next time you’re checking in on your own mental health, make sure you’re checking in on your teammates, too. In the words of Laila Phelia and Michigan Women’s Basketball, “When we go one, we go all.”

Back to blog