Dr. Angel Brutus: Helping Athletes Perform Their Best from The Inside Out

Dr. Angel Brutus, clinical and sports performance consultant out of Atlanta, Georgia joins Sistas in Sports to talk the importance of stabilizing and maintaining the identity and mental health of athletes. 

Tells us about your business Synergistic Solutions, LLC and the services you provide. What was your inspiration to connect with the sports side of psychology compared to other specialties?

Synergistic Solutions is my private practice based in Atlanta, GA where I provide both clinical and sports performance consulting services to athletes, performers and executives.  All of these individuals are expected to perform in high-pressure situations where the ability to adjust to unpredictable circumstances in real-time is critical.  I often address mental health concerns by providing counseling, but I also provide performance enhancement services that are not clinically-based.  These services are individualized to assist clients with pursuing performance excellence.  

I have always been immersed in the athlete culture throughout my high school and collegiate career.  Many of my close friends are elite-level athletes who attained success in and out of sport and they really encouraged me to continue in my work, specifically targeting the athletic population, as there are specialized needs that are often overlooked despite experiencing sport-related success.  Having specialized training as both a licensed practitioner and sport-performance psychology consultant truly provides a robust opportunity to address my clientele’s needs from a holistic perspective.  The other sub-specialties of psychology just don’t offer the expertise that sport psychology does with regard to the mental and physiologic requirements necessary for optimal performance in and out of sport.

You were recently a guest panelist for the 2017 Black Athlete Summit. In an article from Blavity.com, you mentioned you work alongside athletic coaches with their athletes and are able to connect with the players in a different way than their coach. What is your approach that allows you to connect differently?

In the world of sport, there is a hierarchical system.  Coaches and athletes are often in relationships where there is a power-differential.  As an “outsider” of the system, it provides great opportunity to observe and gather intel from a helicopter view while also being immersed in the system to gain more of a contextual understanding of the environment the athlete navigates.  It takes time to truly understand the individual athlete’s needs alongside the culture of expectation developed within their respective organizations.  Having a strong relationship with the coaching staff, allied staff, and the athlete requires a systems approach.  The type of connection developed with the individual athlete is based on the establishment of trust.  Often times the athletic population faces issues involving trust because it is not uncommon for people to desire connection in order to be popular-by-association.  Living in a “fishbowl”, there will be many spectators with opinions about what they perceive to be going on.  My role is to assist the athlete with filtering the many messages they’re exposed to and begin to develop their own messages that filter toxicity while also remaining coachable.  It’s about developing and maintaining a self-identity that remains stable in the midst of the chaotic environment that sport culture can present in any given moment.  That’s a powerful journey that affords the type of connection necessary to do the work I’ve been fortunate enough to do on a daily basis.

With many conversations in news about concussions and mental health of athletes, many parents struggle with involving their kids in contact sports because of the possible long-term effects. What would be your advice to parents that want to put their children in contact sports but have this concern?

Sport-participation provides a lot of great developmental opportunities for kids that transcend sport.  Life skills learned through sport can involve: conflict-resolution, decision-making, self-perception, navigating difficult situations, flexibility, coping styles, communication, perseverance, and much more.  With regard to the concussion conversation, it is a real concern for many parents. Most concern lies with sports that are collision sports, however, contact whether full or semi- is bound to occur.  In fact, sport-participation guarantees some form of experiencing injury.  When discussing the decision to allow youth to participate in sport, the decision cannot be based on fear.  The more opportunities a child has to participate in multiple sports, actually increases the diversification of motor development, hence the initiative to decrease early specialization in youth sport.  There is a direct correlation to motor development and perception to the ability to make real-time adjustments during sport-related activities.

There are many conversations about athletes playing sports can affect their long-term mental and physical health, mostly when they are no longer playing. As a sports performance consultant, how do your training and therapies help with athletes’ mental health issues while they are still playing and expected to perform at a high level?

Researchers continue to replicate studies that unequivocally suggest physical activity directly influences mental health in a positive manner.  Given the amount of physical activity and exertion experienced in sport, there is actually an opportunity to capitalize off of its benefits.  For those who are still in their athletic careers, if it’s a clinical issue, then there are multiple interventions available to address mental health stability.  If it’s non-clinical, but more sport-related, I assist the athlete with developing formal and informal supports to better facilitate change that benefits their attainment of desired performance goals.  This also provides the opportunity to develop strategies to cope with the impending transition into life after sport.

The terms "self-care" and  "unplug" have become buzzwords for people in valuing more of their personal time. What are some strategies you recommend that individuals can take to find the balance in day to day hustle, work, family life, taking the time for self?

I always encourage my clientele to take inventory.  Take inventory of your respective values and rank their priority level based on where you are in your current season of life.  Be flexible enough to understand that these ranking can change and are not static.  Giving yourself permission to put self-first feels counter intuitive and selfish.  However, it is impossible to give from an empty cup.

Tell us about the Grant D. Knowledge Foundation (GDK) and your involvement with the organization.

GDK is a 501c3 tax-exempt organization that was established to support the philanthropic efforts of retired NFL Super Bowl champion Deon Grant. Over the years, the organization has provided a number of services and hosted events to include: Back to School celebrations with supplies, holiday giveaways, academic scholarships, book stipends, sponsorship for youth and high school teams to defray the cost of participation, motivational speaking and provided support to other community-based organizations.  I serve as a volunteer executive director for the organization which fulfills the role of serving as an ambassador for the organization in the community, identifying partnerships, developing relationships with donors, identifying and applying for grants/funding, and managing the administrative functions of the organization.

What lessons have you learned personally and professionally working in this business?

Personally, I have evolved as a parent as a direct result of working in this field.  Many of the sport psychology principles apply to personal development, parenting, and marriage.  Professionally, the lessons I’ve learned are many.  The moment you think you know everything is the moment you are no longer growing.  The skill sets and strategies I use with my clientele are very much woven into the fabric of which I  have been purposeful in developing my brand.

How can people stay connected with you on social media with your business and the GDK Foundation?

Follow me on social media at @angelbrutus1 or visit www.sportpsychsynergy.com

You may also follow GDK at @gdkfoundation or visit www.grantdknowledge.org (the website is currently being revised).

Photo Credit: Ryan O' Neal