Peyton St George’s battle with her mental health during her sophomore season at Duke, at one point led her to pack her bags and leave Durham. The first player to commit to the Blue Devils softball programme, which began in 2018, St. George has struggled to meet the high standards she has set for her career. In 2019, during her sophomore season, that doubled into a loss of identity.
Although her sophomore year wasn’t bad – 2.58 ERA, eight home rides and 45 walks allowed – it wasn’t quite up to the standards I set. The first bowler to have 50 wins in Duke softball history, St. George credits Greg Dale, Duke’s director of sports psychology, for keeping her in Durham for the remainder of her collegiate career, which ended last month in Los Angeles against UCLA Super Regionals.
“Without[Del]I probably wouldn’t be in Duke,” St. George told N&O. “I wanted to move after my sophomore year, and he convinced me to stay.”
St. George’s struggles during the sophomore season led her to finally open up about her own mental health battle. During her final season playing with the Blue Devils, and in the first year that NCAA athletes were able to cash in their name, Imagine and Like It (NIL), the bowler formed a partnership with the Durham Bulls, serving as a brand ambassador.
By making an appearance with The Bulls, St. George – who last month became the first Duke player to be inducted into a professional softball league when she was selected to Project Athletes Unlimited – has normalized conversations about mental health among athletes.
“When your academics or your social life starts to fall apart, everything else happens,” St. George said. “My sophomore year was the opposite; I think my softball fell a little more than I used to, so everything else around it collapsed. My world kind of collapsed.”
She finds herself outside of softball
As a softball player, and especially a bowler, overthinking the game during a rough patch can have a ripple effect. Dealing with the rigors of a prestigious establishment like Duke’s, combined with a grueling athletic schedule, left little room for St. George to rest and relax. Losing it more in one season (25-31 in 2019) than in four seasons (she went 63-10 at Attlee High School) while trying to build a culture from the ground up has taken its toll, too.
“If I had been in training for three hours and had a paper due that night, I would just tear myself up thinking how much work I would have to do later,” said St. George, “when, in fact, I would not be able to open the My laptop is in practice and writing a paper.”
To counteract that turbulent period, Saint George painted, read Stephen King novels, and hung out with his mates, though she admitted it would often be easier to “love in your room and be alone and feel all the feelings.”
Conversations with Dale helped her understand the importance of being on the softball court, in the classroom, and in other areas of her life. When she learned to separate who is inside the circle, her passion for softball gradually returned.
“Our sports psychologist personally hates the word grind. Stop saying grind,” St. George said. “Normalizing grinding is normalizing things that negatively affect you in the head.”
After battling with not knowing who was out of softball during her sophomore season, last summer when the NIL allowed college athletes to start making money through partnerships, it was important that St. George work with brands that could strengthen their brand.
St. George explained: “You see a lot of things on a surface level that are kind of like one-off things, and your immediate thought is, ‘How much did they pay you to do that.'”…Are people really real? Or the salary on the other side, you know, is just so good that they’d put this on their bottom line.”
In addition to its partnership with Bulls, St. George has partnerships with energy drink CELSIUS, Diamond Kinetics, which sells softball and baseball training equipment, and Bartleby, which offers things like study tools and writing instruments. The 2021 ACC All-Tournament MVP said it uses all the brands in real life.
“All season long, she’s had young children everywhere we go, looking at her and her lovers,” said Duke’s coach Marisa Young. “She makes an impact on life. She’s great on social media. Being able to use this platform to share her story and increase her visibility with the Bulls is good for everyone.”
mental health pandemic
With St. George’s confidence back, she initially wrestled with the idea of sharing her psychological struggles on social media. After witnessing in detail her struggles with mental health and body image, Victoria Garrick, a former University of Southern California volleyball player, remembered how empowered she was to learn that Garrick struggled despite “its seemingly perfect life”. As a result, she felt empowered and decided to start sharing her story.
“I didn’t realize how good the decision to open that door was until I did,” said St. George. “Just seeing the responses I’ve received and the many people who felt comfortable enough to share their experiences with me, even if they didn’t want to share it with the world.
“I can’t really get back from it. But, at the same time, I was like, ‘You know, like, who cares?’ I’m only going to be a Duke athlete for five years. I only have a year left. I might as well share my story so that if a little girl does Scrolling through Instagram as I’ve been browsing through Victoria Garrick’s stuff…if it only affects one person, that’s great. But if it’s more of an impact, it’s even better.”
Young, who gives the softball team a mental health day each semester to reset, take a break or catch up on whatever work they need to finish, said she is proud of the way St. George has used her platform.
“I think it’s really brave and courageous of her to speak the way you do because I know a lot of people are afraid of what other people will think or how you will be seen if you share that you have struggles,” young man. “I am just grateful that someone of her caliber, who has achieved the success that she has had, was not afraid to speak up and share her story.”
When it comes to Duke players really making use of their mental health days, St. George has also shown leadership.
“It’s like, ‘Who’s going to take first?'” Saint George said with a smile on her face.
This is because St. George, with the help of Dale, realized the importance of rest and prioritizing your mental health.
It’s not something we can ignore anymore, said Saint George. “At this point, it’s a pandemic. It’s a mental health pandemic. The more awareness we have, the more we are able to highlight the uncomfortable debate about mental health. Lots of small steps, but in the end, we’ll get to where we want to be.”