EP4: Post-Athletic Career: What and How?

In this episode of the “Sports & The New Era of Wellness” series, Valeriya Berezhynska, professional basketball athlete and certified life coach, chat with us about her personal experience as an athlete and the life beyond one’s athletic career. We talk about the importance of mental health awareness, and the financial resources for athletes to navigate the post-athletic careers.

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VALERIYA BEREZHYNSKA is a professional athlete. She is a Ukrainian basketball player who has played in the WNBA. She is a part of the WeVolv organization and helps athletes navigate their financial plans at the professional level. She has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Life Coach who focuses on mental health awareness. She is passionate about helping athletes understand what questions to ask and where to start in the financial sphere. She highlights the importance of investing as an athlete and is currently playing in Spain, while planning to move to Belgium.


Download the episode's key takeaways here.

This episode was produced by Global Thinking Foundation USA and Hangar Studios.

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View Transcript

[00:00:00] Mary: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to 'Your World, Your Money's' "Sports: New Era of Wellness" special summer series, as we continue to add depth to the conversation on sports, mental health, and finance. It's me, Mary, and today I'm back being your host again. I have the opportunity to chat with Valeriya Berezhynska. She's a professional basketball athlete and certified life coach from Ukraine. In this conversation, we will get into the mental health side of an athlete's career and what it means to be a professional athlete in an industry that conditions its commodities to associate their jobs with their entire life, associate their worth only with winning and associate their mental health with blind, perseverance, and silence.


[00:00:52] Mary: Valeriya is chatting with us on her personal experiences as an athlete, bringing us into her looking glass to see the world of sports and athletics as much more than a 'ball is life' kind of culture. And in fact, there's so much more to it than that.

[00:01:48] Mary: Valeriya Berezhynska is a 14-year professional basketball player from Ukraine. She's a self-proclaimed world citizen with love for people, cultures, and beaches - and dislikes cold-weather, loud chewing noises and questions related to height. Val has obtained a master's in industrial and organizational psychology and became a certified life coach, among a few other things.

[00:02:23] Mary: While she still plays, her goal is to help younger players with things she wishes she knew herself at their age, like taking care of your mental and physical health, navigating overseas life and the basics of - our favorite - personal financial planning.

[00:02:40] Mary: Talking about Texas - and I know you're getting ready to go to Spain... Belgium maybe... is that right?


[00:02:46] Valeriya: Yeah, I came back from Spain.


[00:02:48] Mary: You came back from Spain, headed to Belgium. So, tell us a little bit about that. Tell us about We Volv. Get us started with what you're proud of and where your life is headed.


[00:02:58] Valeriya: Oh gosh. So many different directions. So, I finished my - oh, God, thirteenth? Maybe year overseas in Spain. That was really tough. I think for many people, like COVID season was quite difficult mentally. Even if, you know, you have like one practice a day or something, and it seems like easy to manage. But mentally, it was just such a tough time for me personally. I know some other people, too. So, literally from this last season, just finishing the season I was proud of it. With just my mental health somewhat intact - did have to have a few therapy sessions after that, but overall, pretty, pretty good. And I think looking back at everything, I am not so much focused on like basketball. That was like a vehicle to all of these life, other life experiences that are valued way more than playing.


[00:03:45] Valeriya: I'm not like a 'ball is life' type of person. So, really all the travel, just opening my eyes and my mind to different cultures. And I mean, I'm from Ukraine. So, I lived there for 14 years then in The States slash traveling, playing for the other twenty-one. Just being in different places and like learning how people live, how they think, all the different ways of being, and there's no right or one way to do things that, to think a certain way. So, I think it really opened me up to all the ways that life could be lived. And I think that was really awesome to just realize like, if you don't like something, you can change it. There's just variety and people and cultures. I don't know that just - that stuff fascinates me, and I think that is something I'm most... I don't know if I'm proud of it, but it's just like happy that I got that experience. Because many people don't, and I'm not sure that I would be as like open-minded and full of these amazing experiences had I not had the chance to play overseas.


[00:04:50] Mary: Hmm, something you just mentioned... You said, you know, you're not this person that's like 'ball is life.' Like you're not that type of person. Do you think that that was just from how you grew up or do you think that came to, as you were playing? I know a lot of American athletes... their sport is their life and that's one of the things we want to like, actually talk about in this series is because that's their whole world.


[00:05:14] Mary: So, like, how did you come to that place where you could happily be like, 'this isn't my whole life. Maybe this is a job. This is just like a part of who I am?'


[00:05:20] Valeriya: Yeah. I think a part of it maybe had to do with the fact that I grew up in a basketball family. My dad played professional. He played in Ukraine most of his career, but also in Poland for a few years. So, when I was 12, I think like in sixth grade, maybe I went with him for the entire season and lived, let's say overseas. Like that was kind of cool and basketball kind of came naturally to me. I didn't necessarily have to, like, work super hard. I mean, like, I, I worked, I like training. I like working out, but it's sort of - everything developed naturally. And when I started playing professional, like, you know, we didn't really have - internet was a thing thing but not like the way it is now. So, like, I didn't see all these other things. Like, I didn't know what overseas was. I didn't know what WNBA was. It just kind of like, as it was unfolding, I was like, 'oh, cool.'


[00:06:14] Valeriya: Like, 'I got drafted today.' I don't know. Like, I had this like naive view of everything. I was just kind of like, not expecting anything, not worried about anything. So, it just, I don't want to say like, it fell into my lap as in like I never worked for year. I worked, but I didn't know what I was working for. Let's just say that. And like, things just happened. And I think because of like all the travel and everything, I value relationships and experiences, I think over everything else. And basketball allows me to have more of different relationships and different experiences. So, I don't know, maybe it's just because of my value system, that a sport is not at the top of the list, but it allows me to get things that I like, and I want.


[00:06:59] Mary: Oh, no, I think that's incredible to be able to say 'this is a means, and I have all of these values and these goals. It's a means to those.' And I think that's something that so many young athletes struggle with and young adults, let's be honest. It's like most of us get a little bit lost along the way there. So, what role did the financial world play for you growing up? So, this is kind of the role that sports played. Like what role did finances play and like your desire to, to support there?


[00:07:28] Valeriya: So, I didn't find out or realize this until much later, but one of my friends that I live with now - she's a bit older, but like she's a therapist - and she always tells me, like, I have this thing about money, like a fear of being poor. I guess, like I told you, I grew up in Ukraine, my dad played, but at that time that wasn't a lot of money. Like, it didn't bring in a lot. I think maybe when he was beginning to play, they would give out apartments. So, they just gave him an apartment and it was like, that's your pay. Like, go play. Something like that.


[00:08:03] Valeriya: I might need to clarify. I know there was an apartment involved, but it wasn't as lucrative as it is now. But my parents made it work and they actually ended up borrowing whole bunch of money. And I think at that time, this was like in the year 2000, they borrowed like $8,000 - which in Ukraine is like, it's a large sum of money - and they opened a grocery store, like a corner store, knowing nothing.


[00:08:27] Valeriya: They were just like; they've never had like traditional regular jobs. I don't know what made them even open this, but whatever, they opened this door and I saw them working super hard. We didn't see them for maybe like two years. And then I went to United States. So, like, I didn't see them for another eight years, cause I didn't come home.


[00:08:43] Valeriya: So, it was a long time that they were living there, sleeping there. They would open up at 6:00 AM close at midnight, like take a nap basically, and like wake up and do it all over again. I feel bad for them, you know, I'm like, okay, they're literally sleeping at the store. We have an apartment. So, when they send me to the states, I didn't come home for eight years because I didn't want them to spend the money.


[00:09:01] Valeriya: It was really expensive. Like a round trip ticket was, I don't know, like a few hundred, almost a thousand dollars. And I was like, oh my gosh, I can't let my parents pay for that. Like. I know some girls would go to high school or college in the states and they were like, 'I can't make it. I'm going to come home.'


[00:09:16] Valeriya: And I was like, 'Oh my God. My parents, like I've seen them like slave away at the store. So, like I have to make it work.' And I think you kind of started there and kept going. And that I was like, okay, 'I have to make a living. Like I have to make it work'. Like, you know, I'm seeing them. And like an example of just diving in my mom was like, they opened their store the first day.


[00:09:35] Valeriya: She was like, 'I was paralyzed by fear. I couldn't even go outside and say like, 'Hey, it's open. Like come in.' You know?' And later on, I just would - this whole fear of being poor...I was like, 'okay, like, how are people making money? Like, what do I need to do? I know it's not like basketball is only gonna take me so far.'


[00:09:51] Valeriya: So, I started, like, researching. But as far as like investing and all of that, I knew some ways that people in the United States do it. But you know, I'm a foreigner. In Ukraine, that's not an option because we don't - like banks aren't secure. So, like I had no money there. Everything was in the States. But in The States, I can't do anything cause I'm not American.


[00:10:12] Valeriya: So, it took me a really, really long time. And then finally, when I turned 30, I think I was like, 'okay dude, like you gotta, like, plunge. Like you boutta to retire. What are you going to do?' And I saw so many examples of my teammates who have retired and went to being a secretary, not knowing what to do. Just went to coach high school, even though they didn't want to.


[00:10:34] Valeriya: And I was like, 'oh my gosh, I can't be in this position.' So, I started researching more and then realized how like really easy everything is. And especially if you start way younger. And I was like, oh my gosh. Like, so I ended up buying a house here in Houston. And then I realized that years ago when my mom was telling me to buy it, it was half the price.


[00:10:55] Valeriya: So, I was kind of mad at myself. And then I opened like investment accounts. And I was like, oh my God, this is all possible and doable for a foreigner. So, I was like, 'well, wait a minute. Are my American friends, are they doing this?' And I started like, you know, bringing stuff up. Cause I'm trying to learn myself. I'm like, 'okay. I feel like I'm behind a little bit. So, like, let me learn.' And I started asking people and a lot of them were just not educated in basic finances. Like I've taught a 36-year-old basketball player - one of my guy friends - how to use a credit card. He was like, 'oh, I just charged it up $500 and I'm paying off minimum'.


[00:11:32] Valeriya: And I was like, 'WHAT?' So, I started having these conversations and realizing that many people don't know the basics. And although I am not a, by any means a financial professional or anything... But I feel like I know enough to be able to guide people in the very basics to get them started, to make it not sound scary because it's unknown. It's a lot of terminology that's kind of like, 'what the heck is this? This is like, I'm never going to get it.' So, yeah, that has become kind of one of my interests in, in addition to all of my life coaching and psychology, which I'm sure we'll touch on. But I feel like it's super important and we have so many opportunities as athletes to like set ourselves up for our next career after we retire from sport.


[00:12:15] Valeriya: And it's so easy. And I'm just like thinking back on all the like, money I've - not wasted - but you know, I could have reallocated a differently, let's just say.


[00:12:25] Mary: All the compound interest you missed out on


[00:12:27] Valeriya: Yes, that's a good way to put it. Yeah... and luckily for me, like when I spend it's really on like, food, fitness related things and travel. And I don't regret any of that at all, but obviously, like I could have made better investment decisions earlier on. And I'm just like, 'okay, well, you didn't. Like help others.' So, now every time, whatever team I'm on, I'm like - with the young players I'm like, 'do you have an investment account? Do you have plans? What's your plan? What are you doing after? Get your degree while you're playing, you don't have anything else to do, like research, read a book.' Like, so I'm trying to like help them out and guide them because I definitely didn't have that, and I feel like I would have been in this so much better position now.


[00:13:06] Mary: And as you were describing that, for your fellow athletes, when you're chatting with them about this and kind of getting to understand where their head is financially, are you seeing it as a lack of education? Like maybe they never received that, or is it a lot of the athletic culture that's like, you have to kind of live up to the standard? Like, how do you experience that with your fellow athletes?


[00:13:29] Valeriya: I think both of those things that you've mentioned, the like living up to some kind of standard and also lack of education. They're not necessarily intertwined. That's like two separate things and some people fall victim to both. But I think it is lack of education and the few people that I've talked to they're like, 'well, my parents never taught me that they don't know it.'


[00:13:51] Valeriya: We as friends, like maybe you're not sitting there talking about finances, which now I do. But before that, when I didn't know that that's a thing I should be talking about, like, I didn't even know what questions to ask. So, I think it's just that part of it. Like not being a part of your everyday conversation.


[00:14:06] Valeriya: Lack of like, yeah. Knowledge education. Cause even now when I talked to some people like who are, you know, in their thirties, they're still intimidated by the terminology by like starting it all and understanding like, what are these stocks? It's going up. It's going down. Am I selling today? Like, there’s a lot that goes into it.


[00:14:23] Valeriya: And then, I mean the lifestyle, I think that is as well. I mean, that's more of like maybe, I don't know, psychology thing. I feel like people that maybe come from certain backgrounds, whether it's really like low income or really high, and they're trying to keep up with that overly low and they're trying to make up for their youth that they didn't have, whatever. So, I think that's more of a, it's a bit different. It's not like education, it's more like a psychology thing, but definitely lack of education.


[00:14:52] Mary: Yeah. I think everybody listening will commiserate that money and psychological issues go hand in hand. Like we've all got some form of them, but I love that you mentioned intimidation because I think that that's such a big part of it. It's like there's almost this fear in asking those questions because we actually talk about money all the time, even when we don't realize it. It's taking that extra step to say, 'oh, am I fearless enough today to be vulnerable and be like, so I don't have a retirement account.' 'I've heard those are important.' And so, I love that you mentioned intimidation there.


[00:15:29] Valeriya: And I think also... maybe when you talk to professionals or people that are really like knowledgeable about the subject, they start using terminology that is common to financial advising. But they're not realizing that just regular people like that have never been exposed to this. They have no fricking idea, like, you know, when they're like 'Roth IRA.' 'Oh, cool. What?' What do you do with that? Where do you go? You know, like, 'oh, buy stocks.' One of my friends asked me when I was like,' listen, open an account, I'll explain everything to you. I signed up for this service. They like recommend stocks and they literally have hour interviews or like newsletters. And they explain why you should buy each stock. Why you shouldn't. And you make your decision.' and he was like, 'oh, I have the stock app on my iPhone. Like do I buy from there?' And I was like, 'uh, if you want to gamble with your life, you can.'


[00:16:21] Valeriya: But I was like, it's a stock app. You just look - it's the same as looking up the weather. That's not... But I was like, 'okay, he doesn't know, explain it'. So, I was like, 'okay, let me break it down.' And now he's like, 'oh, I made like $4,000 last week on the trade.' And I was like, well, damn it teach me now.'


[00:16:38] Mary: It's like, wait, what?


[00:16:39] Valeriya: There's a lot of gambling going on there, but that was like one lucky... Lucky streak he had. But but it's just explaining it in simpler terms. And now it's 'oh, now this is easy.', you know, like you explained it to me in simple terminology and like, related to me, not with these financial, you know, whatever professional terms that even I have a hard time understanding.


[00:17:00] Mary: Yeah. It's taking it out of that, like financial clinic and making it more accessible. Absolutely. So, I want to take us back a step or two, cause I want people to know about We Volv. So, tell us about this.


[00:17:11] Valeriya: Yeah. So, We Volv - I got connected with Jory and Julie, who are two girls. They played in Spain -yeah, well they've played everywhere - but, um, I met them in Spain, and they started We Volv. So, it's a - they're building it. It's an entire...Oh my gosh. Ecosystem. There's so many things. But it's a community for athletes, ex-athletes, to connect, to grow... there's many facets and areas that they touch on, which is like, if you want to go into certain - I don't know, marketing and clothing design, I don't know. You can do that. Do you have agent help or like, if you don't want an agent, how do you do it yourself? And just connecting with other athletes because we have a lot of resources, a lot of knowledge. But we don't necessarily have that community. What do you go to find all of the athletes together? Cause we also have the same struggles that you can share and help each other.


[00:18:04] Valeriya: So, they are in the process of creating this entire ecosystem and I got plugged in with them. So, my next career, if you will, I would like to focus on mental and physical wellness at work. Let's start with athletes and, you know, I had a lot of highs and lows in my career. And I was just like, there has to be a better way. Like, how do you enjoy this? How do you make the best of it? That's how I got into a life coaching program. So, I took like a year finished that and then I was like, okay, like, I kind of liked this. And I ended up last summer. I got my master’s in industrial organizational psychology and I'm just kind of, acquiring education as I'm playing to later on kind of like tie it all together. And I would like to start helping like athletes, mental, physical health, and also touch on these basics of like financial education, because I think it's much needed.


[00:19:02] Mary: Tell us why, from your perspective or like the athlete's perspective, why is that so incredibly crucial and important? And I know that might sound like a silly question, but I think so much about just the person that works in the tech sector, or we can pick any sector, and their experience with balance and mental health is something so incredibly different from an athlete's.


[00:19:26] Mary: So just tell us why that's so important and crucial and looking forward, why that's something you're so excited to make a change and difference in?


[00:19:35] Valeriya: Yeah. So, one of the things is that in professional sports - I don't know how it is for others. Women's basketball I know pretty well is we don't have any help with that. You are required, you know, to leave your home like a 22 or whatever. When you graduate, you go to another country, you don't speak the language. They throw you in there. Like, Hey practices. You've never done two a days, but all of a sudden, you're like two a days. At 11 at night, they text you in a group chat and they're like, 'Hey tomorrow, I know we said you have off, but now you don't,' You know, you want to ask like, when is the next, like, I don't know, Christmas break or something.



[00:20:13] Valeriya: So, you can book your tickets to go home and they're like, 'well, it depends. If you win, then you'll go home. If not, we'll practice.' So just things like that that really affect your wellbeing. And, you know, for you being away... for me, for example, seeing my friends and being able to travel, that's one of the enjoyable things of being overseas. And I'm not able to do that because the coaches like decided they're going to tell me my practice schedule day by day. And I don't even think that's like an ethical thing to do. So, when I was doing my masters, for example, I noticed there are all these like unions and rules and regulations for regular employee to, you know, they have to have like days off for certain things. Like you have to pay them overtime, whatever, whatever. We have none of that. And I talked to one of my coaches about that. He was like, 'well, you have a great life. You have a great career. So, like, why are you even complaining?' And I was like, 'well, just because I do what I do. And you think it's a great career and it's maybe like, it seems more fun than being a clerk or something that doesn't mean that you get to treat me any kind of way.'


[00:21:16] Valeriya: And I think it's just as, I - I've always been kind of like - I wouldn't say rebellious - but maybe a little bit, like, because I've left home when I was 14, I lived with a host family. So, I never really had like my mom next to me. So, I had to fend for myself a little bit. So, it kind of helped me build this little edge, I guess. And I was like ‘no, I have rights, too, and they should be respected.' And as I was getting older, I was like, 'okay, why is no one pushing this or talking about this?' Like, it is affecting me personally, because like I said, for me, basketball is not my life. It's a huge part of my life. But for me, like relationships, experiences, are more important. And that was being... kind of not allowed to, like, I couldn't experience it because of basketball, and you know, what they were deciding... like decided that's what they wanted me to do. Like come to three practices per day or something crazy. So, I was trying to figure out, I'm like, 'okay, how do we make this better? Like, how do I make this experience better?' And this is how I started my life coaching and organizational psychology and all that. Because I think the requirement for professional athlete to be there, like, mentally is so high. But they are providing almost no help to deal with all the stressors of today. Because, and I'm talking like this performing, like, I haven't even mentioned like the on-court performance. You mentally have to be ready. It doesn't matter. I remember one of my friends, her mom was going through chemotherapy, and they just found out she had stage three or four cancer. Like she was... she passed away eventually, but they wouldn't let her go home. They were like, 'you're just going to be there for emotional support. And you're not actually going to like, do anything. Provide any help to her.'


[00:23:02] Valeriya: And I just could not freaking believe it. So, she didn't go home. And it was just, it was crazy. You know, I've had guy friends, one of them had a kid, didn't meet his daughter till she was like four or five months old. It's just certain things. And I'm like, 'how are you expecting us to perform at the high physical and mental level, but we have no help. It's almost like you are throwing even more obstacles our way than already exists by the fact that we are away from home.'


[00:23:32] Mary: Yeah. And, and something that you mentioned in there that immediately I thought of is when you take these times off, whether it's to see, you know, like, 'let me meet my child', or 'I'd love to say goodbye to my mother', you know, like massive things like that. When we take time off to do that, of course it is for the other person and their enrichment, but it's also for our own mental health and our own ability to have balance and to reconcile whatever that would be for us. Because as you were speaking, something that I thought of, is we talk a lot about the psychological effects of money.


[00:24:06] Mary: So, if your parents argue about money, then when you grow up, you're going to associate, you know, money with anger and violence, and tension. Like that's just how you're going to associate it. And so, we talk about that a lot. And what you were mentioning with this kind of structure that exists for athletes, that same kind of psychological association has been created. That's what I was hearing when you were like, 'oh, you don't ask about holidays because then they'll just tell you, you can go if you win'. Well, that psychological association is just like money. You're being trained to say, 'okay, if I win, I can have this opportunity. If I don't, that opportunity is not there' and that must be massively detrimental on a psychological level.


[00:24:50] Mary: So, I definitely want to hear your response in there, but I also would love to hear, like how you see that coming up for women as well, particularly women athletes.


[00:24:59] Valeriya: Yeah. Well, definitely sewing the instance where, you know, your wins or losses, like get rewarded or you get punished. It's kind of like, I get it. I'm here to work, but also you are placing. Like my value is now in my performance and it's not in the fact that I'm a human and I, I should have those days off. They're in my contract. Much less, you know? So, like, I - that's my right. That's not something for you to decide whether I deserve it or not. So, to me, that's also kind of like an insult to you as a person and it's unethical.


[00:25:33] Valeriya: I, I don't know. I'm very outspoken about stuff like that. As far as for women. I mean, I don't know how it's different from men. I have not talked to too many guys, but I know one of my friends. He is 'ball is life' type of person, but I brought some of these things up and I was like, 'well, do you think that these emotional or mental obstacles, struggles that we encounter, like in addition to our performance, do you think that's normal, or you think you just got used to them?'


[00:26:05] Valeriya: And he paused and kind of was like, 'well, no, like we're athletes, we're supposed to like fight. Doesn't matter what I'm going to persevere.' And I was like, 'I get that. But at the same time should like the coach and the club not make it everything outside of basketball, easier for you and provide help because playing the sport already is so taxing mentally and physically, you're barely getting to recover physically from practices and games'.


[00:26:30] Valeriya: And now you have the mental thing. And I think because it's not seen, like you can't just easily pinpoint like, oh, 'hey, this, you know, your leg is broken.' It's kind of like, 'well, deal with it.' 'You just come prepared. It doesn't matter.' You know? And so, I think a lot of us just don't even, we don't even think about it, men, women, what?


[00:26:51] Valeriya: I mean, maybe, I don't know. I mean, for women, I think girls are... Well, I've noticed at least, a bit closer to their families. Maybe some that have like kids, they're a little more stern about their, like how they spend their time. And they're more likely to bring up the fact that like, 'Hey, I need to go. Or like, you need to help me out here.' But guys, maybe not so much, but I'm not going to say that.


[00:27:17] Valeriya: I know for sure. Cause I don't think I talked to you guys about this.


[00:27:22] Mary: Hmm. No, I, I appreciate that perspective and something we were talking about very recently that I think is going to resonate really strongly with We Volv and what you're talking about. How can we shift whether it's culture, whether it's expectation or its voices coming forward, but how do we shift so that the athletic industry as it is for athletes looks more like every other industry in the 21st century, that would be its' equivalent?


[00:27:53] Valeriya: Right. I think that's, it's a long road. Probably. It is very, I feel like, I don't know. What's a good word for that. I won't say like unregulated, but. You know, like in other jobs, you kind of know what you can expect to like get paid. For us not so much, like my salary - I'm the same player I'm playing the same position, doing the same thing. My salary can vary, like within $20,000 range, literally from moving a city over like an hour away and it's like different salary. So, and there's no governing body. I know in France, I played majority like all my career for nine years in France and they, they do have a players union.


[00:28:33] Valeriya: Um, but I think it's mainly for men now. Like men are a bit more like involved, but they're trying to do it. Involve women. Trying to pull us with the men to address things like that. And France is a bit more like, you know, salaries are protected. You are treated as an employee, just like everybody else. So that's a bit better in terms of like the salary thing.


[00:28:55] Valeriya: You know, if like, if you get pregnant or something or you get injured, they do take care of that. Whereas in other countries you are pregnant, or you are going to be out for too long. They can just cut the contract and say you broke some rules. So, the contract is void. So, it's just so much unregulated stuff that it's hard. Like who are you going to complain to? Whereas other jobs you have like rules, laws, some governing bodies. We don't have that in basketball. And then you have the issue of each country has its own thing. There's FIBA, but let's be real. They don't really do anything in regards to that. So, it's just stuff like that.


[00:29:34] Valeriya: But I don't even know. Where would you begin? I mean, I think like individual responsibility is like the first step, but we have to like band together. And that's why, like, I love what Julie and Jory are doing with We Volv. Kind of giving the power of information to the players, knowing how they can navigate, what they can do. And just like giving you confidence to stand up for yourself. And also question like these practices. Cause I think a lot of us also got used to them that we don't question it. If they're all like, 'well, if you want to leave, we'll get somebody else.' But then when more people start doing it and demanding some kind of a rational treatment, maybe things we'll get better. I'm definitely not a, not an expert on that, but I feel like it starts, you know, with you, whether you accept it or not, right? No certain things. I'm like, well, 'you signed the contract, you agreed to these stupid rules'. Like I think in Turkey or something, they had something where you can't post a picture of yourself in a bikini on your Instagram.


[00:30:35] Valeriya: This was years ago when my friends played in the city, you can't leave the city. To go anywhere. You have to stay in, like, you can't go out. It's really ridiculous, but I'm like, okay, you're going there. I understand they promising you the sun and the moon and the stars, but you are agreeing to this. So, it starts with you. Don't sign it don't agree. Find another team., Or if, you know, if you are fine with not posting bikini, pictures are like, what? What's next? You know, it's like, it starts with one little thing. I remember we live in Turkey and this like compound, I guess. It was for women that are running away from like domestic violence. So, it was like two buildings.


[00:31:12] Valeriya: One was for them when it was for us, but we couldn't have men on property. We had to be home by 10:30. They monitored when we left, when we came back, I mean, it was a nuthouse. I'm glad I was there only 10 weeks, but it was, it was a very long 10 weeks. But yeah, I think it just starts with personal responsibility and then supporting organizations and groups like We Volv.


[00:31:32] Valeriya: And I'm sure there are others that I do not know of... And kind of spreading the awareness, knowing that you have, you have the power, you have the choice, you need to use your word.


[00:31:42] Mary: Bringing mental health and balance to athletes and making it something that is at the front of their mind. That's probably the first step towards empowerment. If you actually have a semblance of balance and what you stand for, it's going to be so much easier to stand up and say, 'no, actually I don't stand for this one thing that you promised me, but you're peer pressuring me not to take. That's actually not okay.' And so just to kind of bring it back to you and like what you do. I think mental health and working through whatever it is we have holding us back from having balance is going to be absolutely crucial in taking those first steps individually, as athletes taking them.


[00:32:23] Valeriya: Right. Right. And well, what you said is totally correct. When you know what you stand for, meaning you have to know yourself, like it's not even about, you know, I don't know, meditating and being in nature, which are super important. But when you know who you are and you are confident in yourself, 'I know my values, I know who I am. You are not going to destroy it and you're not gonna build it either. Like I am in charge of myself.'


[00:32:48] Valeriya: So, I think like when you have that confidence, when you have the true understanding of who you are, you are able to make decisions that align with that. Because then you'd be like, 'okay, well this decision doesn't align with who I am. So why am I pursuing it?' And then, you analyze it. 'Okay. Well, I'm fearful of this. I'm, I'm insecure about that.' Let's deal with those things. And I think that's how... that's the base of mental health. It's just knowing who you are, so that you, you pursue things that help build you up and not tear you down. You know, if you're just chasing things that you're not - unsure of who you are, what you want, where you want to be. Then you just end up grabbing all these random things that can possibly harm you, you know?


[00:33:29] Valeriya: And then you don't stand up for yourself. For me now it would be more detrimental, I think, to get like a quote unquote, good thing, you know, like, or a higher salary or whatever, but compromise my values. Then just being like, 'okay, well I make less, but I'm happy because I've gotten everything I asked for and everything that I feel is respectable.'


[00:33:50] Valeriya: Everything I deserve everything, you know. This is the way I want my life to go and I'm at peace with, without, you know...


[00:33:57] Mary: Yeah, and for all of our listeners and the athletes coming in, just to kind of give that permission that you're alluding to, and that you're creating the space for in this balance and mental health awareness, even if knowing yourself means, you know that like you're a work in progress in that moment or that you don't know what you want yet. Even that knowledge in and of itself is incredibly powerful. So, to just to just kind of give that permission out there to the world. Whoever's listening, because I hear you alluding to it and what you're coming to from mental health. And I was like, I want to give everybody that space to say, 'yeah, knowing yourself and knowing that you are a work in progress in this moment is absolutely perfect.'


[00:34:38] Valeriya: Absolutely. And knowing yourself, it doesn't mean that you have it all together or you like proud of every part of yourself. Like I know there are things like I'm working on. But I'm like, you know what, they're better than they were last year and that's all I can ask for and that's okay. Like I don't have to feel, I don't feel bad about it. I'm like, okay, I'm working on it. Maybe something's not as important to me, but it also takes confidence to acknowledge, 'you know what, that's not on my priority list. I got some of that stuff going on, so it's okay'. Wherever you are is okay. As long as you know, you're building, you're working towards something like it's just being okay with yourself and being able to like, maybe explain yourself as well.


[00:35:17] Valeriya: It helps because then when, once others understand, they're kind of like, Okay. Like the guard goes a little bit down, you know, and a lot of us, we don't even have the language to describe some of this stuff.


[00:35:30] Mary: Absolutely. Our last question, we're asking everybody this, because we want to give this space to open up the athletic industry even more. So, in your dream world, blue sky, you're running through daisies. What other conversations are happening? What other conversations are we saying, 'we need to talk about this so that we can change it.'


[00:35:56] Valeriya: Oh gosh. Wait, does it have to be related to sport?


[00:35:59] Mary: Doesn't have to, no. If it does, cool. But otherwise -


[00:36:03] Valeriya: One specific one, just, I mean, whatever... June just ended and there was the LGBTQ awareness month and whatnot. So, I've had many conversations actually this past month, last few months about - some of my friends would ask about like, I mean, obviously I have a lot of gay friends, male, female, whoever, and I'm not. To me that that's a part of sports world, I guess. So, like, to me, it's kind of like, oh, okay. Like, whatever somebody is gay, but.


[00:36:32] Valeriya: I think not being afraid to ask about quote unquote others, whether it's like their sexuality, religion, their background. One of my, of my roommates. I love her to death. Oh my gosh. She's from Minnesota. I just went there to visit last week, and I was like, oh gosh, you guys have never seen like a black and Asian, any person.


[00:36:53] Valeriya: 'I totally understand. I get it. I get it. Okay. This is all new to you.' Meanwhile, I'm bringing her around with all of my like international, all kind of mixed pot of friends from different backgrounds and sexualities and interests, and she's just, 'oh, wow. Like I've been living a lie my whole life.' And it was awesome.


[00:37:15] Valeriya: And I think - but she's, she has this timidity to like ask questions and I'm like, no, like 'ask him' because once something you remove that unknown, the fear. It just becomes this normal, regular thing that exists. And I feel like if we would all just like take more interest in others outside of like our little bubble, other people would be less scary, less intimidating. We would understand them better that like, hey, you're just, you liked a different food. You have different custom for this, that, and the other. I dunno, just asking people, questions, I think is so powerful because it's just brings you together and you're like, you see yourself in others and we all just start to look more like one big family.


[00:38:01] Valeriya: This is very like idealistic. I mean, but I think just,


[00:38:04] Mary: we love a good meta question here. Don't worry. We do it all the time.


[00:38:07] Valeriya: Just, I don't know, just asking questions if you don't understand the, like the dislike of something I feel like comes from the unknown and the assumptions because all of us are really the same. Like we have so much variety. Like that's why I love traveling and meeting different people. I'm like, oh wow. You do things this way. Like tell me why. Sometimes I'm like, oh, not my cup of tea. I'm not going to do that. But cool. There are other people that do things a certain way or whatever, they participants some kind of other activities, but it's still, it's cool to know.


[00:38:37] Valeriya: And like the world is just so like amazing and wide and there's so many opportunities and I feel like that's how you create your identity. Like, you see that there are all these other possibilities, and you just start questioning like maybe the doctrine that you've been raised with and, and just start to create your own little hodgepodge of a life. And I think that's awesome.


[00:39:01] Mary: Absolutely. And I think that's a beautiful place to end on. I like that. I'll take it. Oh, thank you so much.


[00:39:10] Valeriya: Thank you so much, guys. This is really awesome. Invite me back.


[00:39:14] Mary: As always, we hope you learn and grow with us. And we hope you're enjoying seeing the world of athletics through a new light and lens.


[00:39:23] Mary: Next week, we will have our last episode of the "Sports: New Era of Wellness Summer Series". But our work doesn't end there. Next week, we'll be sharing the next step in our finance and athletics journey. Releasing Friday, the 27th, something we've worked long and hard on just to bring to all of you. You can head over to the Global Thinking Foundation USA's Instagram for updates. Until then stay safe and we'll chat next week.