Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 3, 2020 | °F in Baltimore

LeBron makes an impact with his Calm app series

By KATY WILNER | March 5, 2020

Although I don’t know much about professional sports, I have enough L.A. pride to know that LeBron James has had an incredible impact on the world of basketball. 

Aside from the fame and impressive salary, being regarded as one of the world’s best players comes with a certain amount of social responsibility. 

It’s always nice when people with power, wealth and legacy take the time to better the world around them. 

However, doing things to look good for the press is one thing and honest humanity is another.

Perhaps that’s why I was so shocked when I recently logged into the Calm app and noticed that one of the featured meditations was a series called “Train Your Mind,” written and narrated by LeBron James. 

The Calm app, which is an app that is available to all Hopkins affiliates for free, is a platform for guided meditations, ASMR, calming soundscapes, breathing exercises and sleep stories. 

I had no idea how LeBron James fit in with any one of these genres, but it was clear that he cared enough about mental health to create his own program, so I decided to give his series a go.

The first session, titled “Managing Emotions,” began with James recounting the 2015 National Basketball Association playoffs game in Chicago. 

He doesn’t tell the story the way it was undoubtedly told by fans and sports broadcasters — with 1.5 seconds left on the clock, LeBron James shoots and scores, barely beating the buzzer.

Instead, as he describes what is happening, he asks the reader to pause the playback as he’s mid-pull up jump shot. 

James — who in our minds is frozen in mid-air — asks us to think about what’s happening in that specific moment. 

He asks the listener to think about the pressure coming from the 20,000 people in the stadium, his teammates, the defender, his kids, his friends and everyone all over the country choosing to watch on television.

Then, he stops talking about basketball entirely and turns the conversation to the importance of emotional health. 

He explained that, without being in control of your emotions, being in control of your body can be entirely impossible.

“As human beings, we’re going to have emotions,” he recites in a practiced, meditative voice. 

“Getting angry, getting frustrated, getting anxious, it’s all a part of what we experience in life. And so are experiences like comfort, excitement and happiness.”

James explains how to control emotions in three simple steps. First, he takes a deep breath. 

To James, if his body is a machine, deep breathing is a power source, a way to tell his mind and body that everything is okay. 

Second, he says to “put on blinders” — like those on a racehorse — to focus solely on one goal and to eliminate distractions. 

Last, he tunes out the noise, which in this story is the noise of the stadium, but it’s also the internal noise, self-doubt and self-consciousness.

He resumes the 2015 playoff story, which frankly, I don’t care too much about. 

But I thought that his message to listeners, although pretty overt, was tender and honest. 

James continues by saying, “We all face pressure. We all have big moments. The one thing that’s true about all human beings is that we all have hopes and dreams. And we all have doubts and fears. Everyone has insecurities that they might take the shot and miss. If no one has told you yet, I’ll tell you. You got it.”

It’s cheesy, I know. But it’s not any different than what everybody else in the mental health industry is saying. 

The idea of being mindful about your actions, tuning out the things you can’t control and building confidence are the staples of every therapist’s spiel.

The only difference is that “Train Your Mind” is being narrated by someone who has achieved overwhelming success in his industry, unlike most therapists out there. 

It’s humbling, but he addresses the fact that some people believe that he was destined for greatness. 

He defiantly opposes this kind of thinking and relays that nothing in life is purely the consequence of fate and luck. 

Everything that James has accomplished, he says, was the end result of him coming into his own.

As the weirdest meditation I’ve ever done in my life came to an end, I was left with a lot of questions. First of all, why? Of course, LeBron James has enough clout to dictate a self-help program, but why did he create an entire meditation series?

I love the Calm app and use it religiously. So when I went online to figure out James’ mental health history, I was touched by what he said when announcing his partnership with the app.

He said his wife introduced him to the Calm app about a year ago and that since then he has used it every night before he goes to sleep. One could argue that this is simply a huge endorsement for an app that costs $299.99 for a lifetime subscription. That is usually my first thought whenever a celebrity gives such a glowing review of a product.

And this kind of blind and blatant stamp of approval is prevalent within the professional sports community, where players can make millions of dollars by signing with a company, regardless of their personal thoughts on the product. 

For example, it’s somewhat obvious that the athletes in Gatorade commercials would not be maintaining their peak physical condition if they actually drank as much of the sugary sports drink as they claim to.

But James isn’t doing that. First, this partnership isn’t really with him directly. Instead, it’s with the I Promise School, a public elementary school in Ohio for at-risk children, supported by the LeBron James Family Foundation. 

James, who has been vocal about social issues in the past, has made the school a personal passion project. As he said in a 2019 Nike ad, James is hoping to one day see a world with “no more humble beginnings.”

As a part of his deal with Calm, all students and staff at the school will have access to this overpriced and very effective app.

LeBron James is one of the most recognizable athletes in America right now. With his massive bully pulpit, James is choosing to speak out about the importance of mental health. 

Just as significantly, he is letting his fans experience his personal anxieties, bringing a God-like idol back down to earth. Opening up as he is doing can contribute to breaking down the stigmas associated with talking about mental health issues. 

I can’t say with confidence that I’ve ever actually watched him play in a basketball game, but maybe it’s not just his physical abilities, but his mental abilities, that make him such a remarkable player.

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