Every Body Can Succeed
with Molly Carlson
14 Jul, 2022 · Diving
Team Canada High Diver Molly Carlson & three time NCAA All American Diver, speaks about her journey in diving, her mental health challenges and body image struggles, and her social media efforts promoting mental health awareness.
Guest: Molly Carlson
“Every Body Can Succeed”
[00:00:00]Stef: This week on the voice and sport podcast, we are excited to speak with Molly Carlson, a senior national team Canadian diver red bull, high diver, three time NCAA, all American diver and three time ACC MVP of the year. Molly holds two junior pan American championships. A two time junior world champion finalist, and seven time junior national champion.
Today, we speak with Molly about her diving career, her journey with mental health and advocacy efforts to destigmatize mental health. Molly speaks candidly about her transition into diving at a young age and the way in which her quick rise to the top of her sport impacted her mental health and mindset.
We learn about the types of comments from teammates or coaches that may impact the trajectory of positive or negative self-talk around body image, especially in aesthetic sports, like diving, Molly shares how she learns to implement methods of communication and self-reflection to shape her athletic environment into one that promotes both athletic and personal growth.
In addition to being a highly accomplished athlete. Molly also has a substantial following on social media and has built a community called the brave gang because so many young women face tremendous pressure in regards to how they look. And it has only exaggerated when social media is front and center.
Molly shares with us, the advocacy efforts. She hopes to continue to pursue in order to help other young girls and athletes feel empowered about their bodies and to love their bodies.
I love Molly's openness and honesty about her journey. And these are the types of conversations that encourage us to improve ourselves as humans, both inside and out of sport. Welcome to the voice and sport podcast, Molly.
We are so excited to have you here with us today. You have such an interesting background.
We've never had a diver before on the podcast, and you're not just a diver that went through the NCAA circuit, but you're also a Redbull athlete and you're now out in a whole other sport almost. So, I can't wait to like unpack that journey and learn a little bit about your mental health journey along the way. So welcome to the Voice in Sport podcast.
[00:02:11]Molly: Thank you. I'm so excited to be here. I love what you guys promote on this podcast, and I'm excited to chat about it.
[00:02:19]Stef: Well, let's start with your background. We know that you grew up pretty early starting diving at age seven. So, tell us about how you got into diving in the first place at such a young age? And I know you were doing other sports like gymnastics, so when did you fully commit to diving and what was it about the sport that you just absolutely loved?
[00:02:38]Molly: Yeah, I started as a gymnast. My mom kind of, you know, raised both me and my sister as a single mom, teenage mom, and she really had a passion for putting us into sports. She's like, if there's one thing I want you guys to have is like your own identity through sport, you know?
And I loved that and I immediately chose gymnastics cause I was, you know, very elegant, very into backflips and stuff. And I wanted to go into. And my sister chose swimming and I would always go and watch her practice. And I would see these divers jumping off high things. And I was like, mom, I know I'm in gymnastics, but that sport looks so exciting.
And she's like, well, you know, you got to pick one. And so when I was nine, I was like, okay, I got to make the switch. Like I'm way too into this. I did a couple summer camps. I was raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and we had a bunch of, you know, camps throughout the summer jumped off a bunch of platforms and just knew like, this was my calling.
So yeah, made this switch at nine and never looked back.
[00:03:42]Stef: Do you feel that your background also doing other sports? Like gymnastics allowed you to be really good at diving?
[00:03:49]Molly: I think any athlete that starts in gymnastics or, or just those sports that have that body awareness. Like you need to be completely head to toe aware of every muscle that you have to be able to go into certain tricks, right? From such a young age. You, you establish, okay, this is what arms do. This is what legs do.
You're so young, but you're, you're learning these, these power body like parts and how they work and how they help you. So it absolutely helped and transitioned me into a really good diver really quickly which was nice, helpful.
[00:04:24]Stef: Well, within a year of you starting to dive in 2008, you started competing at a very high level, and you landed a bronze medal in junior nationals. So What was it like competing at such a high level being so young and did this really help shape the mindset that you had going into you know, your training and your overall focus on mental health?
[00:04:45]Molly: Yeah, I started diving within a year. I was at my first nationals and landed on the podium and I was like, whoa, what, what is happening?
Like, am I on the podium at a national event? Like all of Canada's here again. I wasn't sure. I was just so in love with the sport that like the awards and stuff that were coming in, I, I was just like, oh, it's cherry on top because at the end of the day, I love showing up every day. And that really like looking back now, I've noticed switching into high diving. I feel that same energy, because it's so exciting when you start a new sport, all you want to do is be there and to train. So as you go along and things do get tougher and you don't want to go to practice every day. You just remember why you fell in love with it. And it absolutely falls in line with my mental health journey these days, for sure.
[00:05:33]Stef: Well, you know, and it's, it's funny because we start with a passion of something we love and find so much joy. Like you said, the medals don't even matter almost at the beginning, but then as our journey goes, like we often lose sight of that joy or that fun that we had in sport from the beginning.
So how do you. I mean, I'm sure you've lost it at some point. So when you do lose it, like how do you get it back?
[00:05:56]Molly: Ooh, good question. I definitely almost quit when I was like 13 years old. All the pressure was really getting to me at a young age and I was consistently second or first in the country. And I was like, oh my gosh, how do I keep maintaining this?
You know, it's hard to be that consistent throughout your childhood and as your body changes. And you're, you're trying to do dives that you used to do so easily. And now you're a woman and you're like, what? So there was just a lot of stuff I was facing individually and every kid goes through it. You know, you, you go through changes.
And so to be able to look back and say, okay, maybe let's change my perspective, like, why am I going to practice every day? And when those times do get tough, I sometimes take a break. You know, I've taken a couple weeks off here and there throughout my career just to miss it a little. And I think it's the healthiest thing ever, because when you are going to practice and you're miserable and all you want to do is not be there, then you're not getting anything out of it, you know? So taking that one week off when you're at your lowest and saying, okay, I want to be there again is the best thing I did for myself.
[00:07:07]Stef: What if you feel like you're getting pressure from like your parents or coaches when you maybe do confront to them and say, you know what, I want to take a break, and that break might just be a couple of weeks or it might be a month, or it might not have an end date, but you, you know, you're losing some of your joy and we do think it's important to look at all aspects of your life as a human especially when you are succeeding like you were at such a young age.
So, what advice would you give to girls that might feel like one, they don't know how to have the conversation or two they're they're getting pushback or pressure.
[00:07:41]Molly: I think there's so much pressure, especially when you're talented as a very young kid. Coaches want you at every practice they want you succeeding, learning new dives. Parents are like, girl, you're first in the country. Why aren't you going to practice? You know? And, and there's just these expectations when you start to do well, like, okay, you need to be a practice everyday.
You need to be showing up, putting in the work to make that result consistent. And it can absolutely be terrifying to confront people with that. But if you have one person in any element of your life as a kid. I think there's school there's practice and there's the home life. Right? So there's those three.
And I actually connected really well with one of my counselors at school and it was just walk in, open door and I would go in and say, "Hey I'm stressed. I don't want to go to practice." And then we would just entertain those 30 minutes together and distract ourselves. So, then when we did have to go to practice or we felt that going to practice was the right thing to do. We had other like excitement to think about. So then it was nice to go to practice. So I think just finding, you know, it doesn't have to be that one person, it could be one hobby or one activity outside of your sport. That, that brings you external joy that I think will really help you just be mindful of, okay, this one day doesn't matter for my entire career.
[00:09:02]Stef: Yeah, it's hard to have that perspective. I feel like, especially when you're younger, and when you're in it, like regardless of your age, but like when you're actually in it and you're, you're succeeding and you're seeing some results, it's hard to like, take that perspective that you're talking about. So are there any like mindfulness practices that you've learned now that maybe you wish you would have known back in high school?
[00:09:23]Molly: Oh my gosh. I wish I knew so many, you know, I would really like. Just everyone. else's opinions get to me as a kid. And, oh my gosh, Molly's training like this, or she's, you know, going through this, her body's changing. Like, I would think people were thinking this way about me, but they weren't, you know, this is all what I thought they were thinking of me.
And honestly, now I write in a journal. I used to write in a journal. Now I just video vlog cause it's easier for me, I'm such a content creator now that I'm like let me check in on, you know, my video and I have a little folder that just some days I'm crying, some days I'm so happy. But if you check in with yourself and speak to yourself on what's going on that like deep emotion, that you're not figuring out what it is and that it's coming out in other ways, as a kid, you'll never be able to identify it.
If you don't talk to yourself about it or talk to someone else about it. So find a way to, you know, write it out, talk it out, figure out what's really going on and then make step towards how to make it better.
[00:10:25]Stef: I love that I love that. Well, on your website there's a section on your About Page, where you briefly mentioned some of the adversities that you faced in 12th grade. So, you mentioned facing challenges with body dysmorphia, battling an eating disorder, and struggling with anxiety. And, unfortunately, we know these are very common amongst women athletes, not just in high school, but also in college. So, that's our main community here at Voice in Sport, so very relatable topic, one in which we're trying to create the best resources and experts possible on the VIS platform, so that you don't feel like you're struggling alone, and that, you know, you have community to lean on, but we would love to hear, you know, really your experience with this and if you can kind of go back to thinking about where this started for you, how it manifested in your life, and then what have you learned from that experience, looking back on your high school self?
[00:11:21]Molly: I love this question now. I didn't love it back in the day when I was going through it, but I'm so proud of how far I've come and talking about it really makes me proud of, you know, this is what I experienced, and now I can help so many young athletes and young females like figure out who they are and make sure they don't feel alone.
So, on my platforms, I really feel comfortable sharing this story. And I want to share with you guys today because it was one of those times where I felt really alone and in grade 12, I kind of started seeing my body change a lot. And I wasn't expecting that. And in the sport of diving, it really matters how you look to perform at your best, but I took it to the extent of, okay, it matters how I look skinny wise and not how I look, you know, strong wise. And, and there's a big difference between strength and thinness in sport. And I think that that's where I got caught up was I was five foot seven. All my competitors were five foot, two or under, I was just this taller athlete.
And growing up, I was like a foot taller than everyone overlooking them. I just felt like this giant on the platform. And I was like, I don't want to feel like this. You know, I'm watching all the Chinese athletes win the Olympics and diving my entire life. And I'm like, they are so much tinier than me. Like can, my body ever achieved the dives that they're achieving?
And I would just get in my head with these, you know, intrusive negative thoughts, and I'd be really hard on myself. And it ended up turning into a really toxic eating disorder. I had binge eating disorder felt extremely guilty every time I would eat something. Amazing, love food now, wish I could tell myself that back in the day that you deserve all the good food as well.
And yeah, I, I really would eat too little with the amount that I was performing and with the amount that I was training and 300 calories a day was not enough to keep up with 30 hours a week of training. And, you know, I'm, I'm getting to the point where by the time it was Friday practice, I was breaking my wrists and going to the hospital because my body was malnourished, you know, and it was really sad.
I went through times where my body was deteriorating, my hair was falling out. I want it to be this gorgeous, thin, you know, perfect diver that could make all these really big dives because I was small and it was absolutely the opposite. Not treating my body like a regular human just made me fall into this pattern of one self guilt, two, my body was breaking by the second, and three, it doesn't make you fall in love with the sport anymore. It just makes you not want to be there, and so that was my experience in grade 12. And I was like, I can't keep going like this. And nearing the end I saw a counselor psychologist actually. And she was like, you. You cannot keep going like this. And it was at that point where I was suffering alone for so long, counting my almonds and my blueberries at lunch, eating in the bathroom by myself because I was ashamed and it wasn't at all an exciting way to be living a healthy way to be living.
And I shared that with one person, my mom, I finally opened up to her in grade 12. She had been picking up on it. She'd make me these gorgeous lunches and she'd be like, yay, let's eat together and I'd yell at her. How dare you make me lunch? You know I have practice in a bathing suit. I've just show myself and she'd pick up on it, and so she actually set me up with the counselor and I couldn't be more grateful for that turning point because. As soon as I made the decision to, okay, I need to get out of this environment, I've represented Team Canada for so long. The pressure just got way too much for my mental health. And I decided to commit to Florida State University and perspectives changed, and my mental health came back so strong.
[00:15:28]Stef: Well, thank you for sharing that. I mean, it's, it's not easy to talk about some of these things, and it's women like yourself that is really going to help the next generation of girls, you know, one, make sure that they feel heard and that they know that there's a safe place to really go and talk about these things, but also know that they're just not alone.
And I thought what you said was really interesting about the sport of diving too. I just want to kind of dive a little deeper, no pun intended, but little deeper and to what you've mentioned, cause you said, you know, it matters what you look like in your sport. So what let's unpack that for girls so that they think about that in the right. context.
[00:16:10]Molly: Beautiful. Yeah. I said that immediately was like, oh, that's not a sentence I like to promote, but it is a judge sports. So, judges are critiquing the appearance of a dive out of 10. So, when I say it matters what you look like, it matters overall, how you can perform a skill. And I think that's very different, too. Okay. It matters what you personally look like versus what you as an athlete can perform on that day. So I hope that helps everyone feel confident.
[00:16:43]Stef: Yeah, I think it's so important because, that sort of comment is also translatable to several other sports that a lot of women are playing right now. And so it's really important to have your mindset and the right when you're thinking about going into your sport, that's getting judged on, on certain aspects. And I just love looking back now at your career, you've become one of the best divers in the world, and certainly in the NCAA, and that you maybe don't look exactly like a typical divers. And I just want to pause on that because, I mean, now that you have been successful, you've gone through your collegiate career and, and become a three time NCAA, All American, and gone on to do even more things after college. What message would you want to share to girls today that maybe feel like they don't fit a typical look of a specific sport? What would you tell those girls?
[00:17:39]Molly: Oh, girls I'm right there with ya, I absolutely grew up in a sport where there was an appearance that was seen all over the top divers in the world. And they had, you know, a certain shape and size that I was like, wow, do I need to look like this to be good at my sport? And as soon as I hit rock bottom in grade 12, I realized I can absolutely fall in love with this sport.
Again, I moved to Florida State University and had the best four years of my life fell in love with it every day. And what my coach mentioned to me one year was, it doesn't matter what your body looks like showing up to practice, it's the smile that you bring to practice every day and the energy that you bring to practice every day, that changes the minds of judges.
You know, if you're up there every single day, and you're so positive and happy to be there and working on changes and allowing yourself to fail, then those beautiful dives will come your way. And it doesn't matter how. Big, small, beautiful. All bodies are beautiful. And I think it's important to recognize that every single body is capable of amazing, talented athletic careers,
[00:18:51]Stef: Absolutely. And media has a role to play in it, right, we need to showcase that there are a variety of athletic bodies in different sports and that people can succeed. So, I really appreciate you sharing that and kind of going back and talking about it a bit deeper. It's something we're very passionate about at Voice in Sport because we talk a lot about body image and the impact social media has, and, you know, you have a huge following yourself.
So, how do you think about using social media as a tool for positivity and body positivity and mental health? How do you think about those two going hand in hand? Because we're pretty much talking every month to girls about, you know, censoring social media so that you don't feel bad about yourself after getting on it for 20 minutes.
So what have you learned, I guess over the years about how to use social media as a powerful platform, but not fall into that, like comparison trap?
[00:19:47]Molly: When I started diving and in high school, Instagram was like just getting big and it was all like models and it was all people cropping their images and editing their photos and basically just a fake platform of these fake images. And I was like, this is what I need to look like. I'm a teenager, I'm going through changes and I'm like, wow, I want to look like Kylie Jenner, you know?
And like, how do you get there? And so in your mind, you're trying to be these unrealistic, these body types that are not what they are in person. And I think it's important that when I was younger, I wish someone told me, you know, there's, there's other people to be following that show you what a natural body looks like and show you what, you know, athletes go through on a regular basis and they're not models.
We go through very intense training every single day. You're not going to be glowing after a five-hour practice. You're not going to feel amazing. You're going to be walking home limping because your legs are sore. And I think with my platform, I really blew up when COVID hit and. We had that time to kind of just be training at home.
There was no external competitions. We were all just lucky to be training. And I blew up because obviously high diving and what I do with my camera, I bring it up there and show behind the scenes of this amazing high diving sport, but as soon as that following grew, I told myself I need to be that person I needed five years ago, you know, I need to get on this platform and tell all these athletes that this body only does what it does because I love it, and I show it love every single day and no way would I jump off that platform if I wasn't mentally or physically capable. And as I told you guys in grade 12, when my body was like breaking, because I wasn't treating it with kindness and love.
There's no way any higher than 10 meters could be absolutely possible. So, I wanted to be that voice on social media and show people when I'm bloating at practice and show them when, you know, I'm in the ugliest suit of the day. And I don't feel cute in myself and I'm like, oh, here we go, got to show my body in a swimsuit today. Like It just, it changes the mindset of how people see professional athletes. And we're not just these, these idols that are untouchable. We are idols that you can talk to. And I've created this #bravegang community where now I celebrate people that, you know, celebrate their own struggles and go through their own challenges and share that with the world, because we're all in this together, and, and that's a beautiful community.
[00:22:31]Stef: I love that. And I love what you've done with your platform. I think that's incredible. And so when young women are watching your videos, what's like the top message that you hope they will take away from your content?
[00:22:43]Molly: The number one comment. Like some, the first time I posted me bloated at practice cause obviously we're in a swimsuit every single day. Not every day is going to be your tip top self, you know? So I was going through one of those bloated days and I shared it on social media and I was like, oh, I wonder how you know, my audience is going to react to me, sharing my vulnerable side.
And 50 girls in like five minutes responded. "Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for this. I'm on my way to practice. And I wasn't feeling good about myself. This helped me so much feel the confidence I needed". And I was like, oh my gosh, I'm doing this forever. Like, if I can empower girls to go to practice, even if they're not feeling the best, to be proud of the body that they show up in, absolutely. I'm going to keep doing that. So I just, I love that people are confident enough to comment even on this and say, they're going through similar experiences. It's really powerful.
[00:23:43]Stef: Well, that's amazing. It makes girls feel less alone too. So, I appreciate that you're doing that. Let's back up to, like, you had this little point in high school and you worked your way out of it, which was incredible because you asked for help and you ended up seeing a counselor and sports psychologist, leaning into your safe space, your mom, all the people around you, which I think is great.
What do you do if you're a girl who might not have. Or they don't feel like they know where to go. What would your advice be?
[00:24:13]Molly: I have actually met a lot of, you know, influencers along the way that have gone through similar. And they're very shy people in person and, you know, meeting these amazing, they can be absolutely amazing athletes, but personally they they're just very quiet individuals and they don't have that big friend group or that family that's always there for them.
And the way that they've dealt with it, I can't even remember names or not. I'm just like going through what I remember from experiences, is that people that don't have that exclusive circle or people that they know they can run to with ultimate trust and trust issues is a big thing too. When you go through anxiety, like your trust levels go down a lot, so it's hard to open up to other people, but when you don't have that confidence or don't have option in yourself to reach out and get the help that you need from other people, start with yourself. That's always what I tell people. You'll never be able to share your story with someone else until you know what you're going through personally.
So, write it out, talk to yourself, tell yourself that, okay, this is what I'm struggling with. As soon as you voiced that you have a problem, you're one step closer to getting the help that you need, you know, and I think that telling yourself that, and going through that, it's, you're going to cry. You're going to be in your bed, talking to your mirror in front of you saying I have, you know, anxiety and you're going to cry it out and it's going to feel nice after, you know, and so that was something I also used when I did think I was alone and I would talk to myself in my mirror and just say, okay, I don't want to see this crying face ever again. So let's go get the help that we need.
[00:25:55]Stef: Well, you ended up getting help and a big part of your decision. I think, to go to Florida State University, where you had this, like this impressive career as a seven-time ACC medalist, a three-time ACC MVP diver of the year, and a three time NCAA, All American, it's kind of a mouthful. It's a lot like but you, you ended up going there, but a big part of your decision, I think at the time was your relationship you had with the program and your coach, John Proctor.
So can you share with us what made your time at FSU so special, and, you know, what aspects of the program contributed to a healthy relationship with your sport? So that for the girls out there that are in college today or ones that are about to go and they're trying to decide where to go, maybe have this in mind from your own experience .
[00:26:42]Molly: So there was a lot of pressure actually, because once like a good athlete decides they want to go to the States from Canada, all of Canada puts on this pressure of, okay, these are the top three diving colleges that are going to actually help you succeed. And I was like, I don't want to go somewhere that diamond Canada is still putting that pressure on me. I need to escape. I need to find my own life. And for me it was going on recruitment trips and finding the environment that helped me feel like I had a family away from home, and my safest people where my sister and my mom growing up, I could tell them everything, you know, and I wanted that same feeling when I went to the US, and when I went to Florida State University, there was two Canadians on the team already, and they were like my older brothers growing up. They were divers from Canada and they were like, we'll take care of you and telling my mom that she has a place, you know, even if you don't have, you know, people on the team that you already know, just feeling that familial feeling and having a coach that respects you as a person is really important. If they come to you and they just want, you know, okay, you're successful at diving or swimming or whatever your sport may be. Obviously it's benefiting the school. You're going to do amazing. They're going to help you, you know, grow, but finding that connection with a coach that sees you for you and wants to grow you as a person was such a game changer.
And I think I had been with amazing coaches my whole life, and they saw my potential in my talent, but I wasn't my healthiest self until I met John Proctor and he supported me from the person I was, as well as the athlete that I was.
[00:28:27]Stef: I love that so much, because so often you hear about like the negative stories of like coaching relationships with women athletes, but yours is a really strong, positive one, which also needs to be celebrated. Because those coaching relationships can be so special and so dynamic. So if any coach or parent is listening to this, what can we maybe call out about that relationship that you feel like was so great for you, especially coming from a place of, you did have challenges with body dysmorphia and disordered eating, and so I'm wondering did you have a really open dialogue with him about that when you got there or was it just that the way that he coached you and thought about you as a holistic human set you up for a really good four years there?
[00:29:11]Molly: I think to any coaches listening, the best thing that you can provide to your athlete is just presence, you know, and ultimate support and what John Proctor never did was comment on my body. And I think that's really, really important to my self care because even the days I feel amazing, I hear one comment from a coach. "Oh, you look great today. Let's keep going". That makes me like, oh, it's because I didn't eat today. Let me continue that. You know? And so even these little comments of either you look great really, really targeted how I felt emotionally growing up.
And as soon as I went to the states, it was more of, oh, you look happy today. Fill me in. Or, oh, you know, you look a bit tired or sad, like what's going on and more, just a conversation about the mood and the personality and athlete brings to the table rather than appearance, because we all can look amazing some days and we can all look awful some days, but it's at the end of the day, you're trying to figure out what's going on inside.
Right. So who cares, what someone looks like? Let's, let's dive into what's going on personally. So I think that is my biggest advice to all coaches and parents too. Like. You know, my mom learned the hard way that, you know, she also struggles with body dysmorphia and anxiety. So me hearing it often just kind of made me look at myself a certain way, so, we had a really tough chat about, okay, when we're together, we're giving positive because there's no more of this cause when you say that or when I say it, then we look at ourselves a certain way. And just being around people that are also struggling can make yourself pick up some behaviors that you didn't want to impact your healthy journey. And I think surrounding myself with athletes that wanted to be at practice every day that wanted to, you know, were so confident in themselves, helped me so much at Florida State University and never in my life did I think I'd be training in a bikini, but by month three, I was out there shining my very ginger self out in the sun, burning every day, but it was nice.
I could wear my bikini proud, I was so not in tune with how my body looked, but more of my personality. And that was the biggest stretch to success for sure.
[00:31:27]Stef: I think what you said about your mom and I'm sure. she's amazing. I also had a body of body dysmorphia issues, and I think that, you know, when you are surrounded by people who are also constantly talking about themselves or that they need to lose this amount of weight or this that, that has an impact on you then thinking about things all the time.
So, that is a huge, I think, trigger for anyone listening to this podcast to just like, recognize like who are the people you have around you and how are they talking about their body? And it's kind of hard as a human to not be impacted that. I mean, you know, we all are empathetic. And so you, want to be really aware, I think, of, of that surrounding. And so that leads me into kind of creating a really positive team environment.
When you take a look about your experience at Florida, what are the characteristics of your team? You know that dynamic of your team that helped you become a great version of yourself, both at diving, but also out of diving.
[00:32:28]Molly: Yeah. What I loved to about the NCAA life was you were on a team. Like I was so used to just competing for myself and representing, you know, myself at every diving competition, but when I went down to the US, I was now on a swimming and diving team. And I was like, wait, I'm adding points to the swimmers that are doing laps over there, and my coach is like, yup. So it wasn't any more pressure. It was almost more fun because now I get to do my Austin dives and be, you know, this new person that I'm becoming, and contribute to a team that was so positive. And we had team captains that were very, very enthusiastic about, you know, who we were as people like the whole environment at Florida State University was growing yourself and going through four years of college to become the best athlete and version of you that you could be, and I think that being on a team that supported those values was really confident boasting to who I became
[00:33:31]Stef: How did you guys deal with the balance? Cause I feel like a lot of the women in our community at least, and I see this across also the men athletes, we work with.
That they are constantly battling so many different things that usually the last thing that they focus on is their mental health. So, reflecting back on your time in college, like what are some practical things that, you know, these athletes can think about to put mental health first and not have it be the, oh, well, you know, that'll be like the last thing on my list.
[00:34:02]Molly: Right. And it always was the last thing on the list. It's like you have school to attend, you have practice to attend, you have weights to attend, and you have a social life. You know, you're trying to be this, this new person you want to hang out with all your new friends at college and all of a sudden your mental health is like not being considered.
And I think that for me, what we kind of brought up by year two was okay, can we obviously don't have time to fit it too much in our schedules individually. So, we talked to our coach and he actually made it a part of the curriculum, in our program. And so every week we'd have group counseling, which was interesting. You know, you learn a lot, obviously individual counseling for first specific disorders is really recommended. I was going every two weeks for the second year when I kind of hit, you know, more pressure, I became ACC champion and MVP diver of the year. And I was like, oh, I'm feeling that pressure again, like performance anxiety is back.
And so I got back into counseling for me, personally, but it was helpful to have that tough conversation with our coach and say, we want to prioritize this. And this is something that we're all lacking. And I think having that performance, anxiety, psychologist there and sports psychologist to kind of help us get through these competitions because there was so many every weekend in college.
So, you're competing lots. You're going through, you know, changes and new, new stuff happening all the time in college. So, to have it a part of our program was really important. Obviously not every collab is going to have the finances or the, the opportunities to have sports psychologists joining your program, but maybe reaching out and having just a group session together that builds teamwork, something other than the sport, or just talking about how you guys can be mentally strong together and find that way to include mental health as a part of your sports schedule.
[00:36:00]Stef: I love that. Well, that's, that is exactly why we created this platform so we can help more, more athletes have those conversations. I think it's so important. And obviously you're super passionate about it because you studied psychology. you graduated with a degree in psychology, and now you are onto your master's in counseling psychology.
So congratulations cause it's a much needed field for more women to be getting into, especially when it comes to sport. So, what really drew you to, you know, going deeper, I guess, into counseling and psychology.
[00:36:36]Molly: Thank you for that hype. First of all, yeah, I, I really thought I was going to go into business and be this business woman and go like, that was my immediate thought. And as soon as I got there, I was like, I'm changing my major. I want to dive deeper into 'cause I knew I wanted to change my perspective and see diving as this whole new life and get out of that really rock bottom I experienced in high school, and I was like, what better to do than to explore myself through, through counseling and psychology as my degree, you know? And I was so interested in the mind and the body connection, and it's so important in sport and like for so long, it wasn't appreciated as much as physical performance.
And I think learning about how much the mind has to do with, with the body and the performance was really, really interesting. So every class I was taking, I was like, oh my God, this is me. Oh my God, I'm going through this. And so it was like motivating to go to class because it was something I was so passionate about.
And after I graduated, I was like, I'm not done. Like there's so much more. I want to know. And I went into my masters. I'm about two courses away from finishing all my coursework and I'm doing my masters in counseling psychology, and now I'm learning on how to actually, you know, help clients and individuals see what they're going through and talk it out and learn more about, you know, this is, this is your experience, let's figure out what's, what's the root of it, you know? And it's just really, really motivating every single day. It gives me an external source, kind of what I was talking about in in grade school, find that other passion that you can bring into your athletics, because if you're happy and in other fields of your life, you're going to be extremely happy going to practice every day.
[00:38:30]Stef: So exciting and I love that you followed your passion and, and now you're going to turn it. I'm sure after you're done diving into something incredible. So that's really cool. So after, you know, even though you're still studying, you did graduate college and you contacted Team Canada, they excitingly welcomed you into their training program and you moved your life back to Quebec to train. So, what was that transition like for you and, you know, was it harder, easier. What were the things that you really recognized from moving from that sort of NCAA collegiate experience to being a professional athlete with Team Canada?
[00:39:08]Molly: Yeah, this was a tough one. I will admit, I obviously went to the states because I wanted that, you know, step back from representing Team Canada, take off a little bit of pressure and just be better to myself. And I worked on it for four years and really found who I was and was proud of all the, the strength that I've put into discovering the best version of myself.
And then, when COVID hit, I didn't get a, a final NCAAs. So my senior year was kind of cut short and I felt like I was missing something. My original plan was to just go through college and retire from, from diving at the end of four years and be proud of myself, but I'm a competitor and I knew deep down that it wasn't the end for me, but I didn't want to go back and be a regular diver because of, I know obviously the divers that were training really intensely for the Olympics, they're killing it. I would never get to that level just quite yet, but I was like, nobody's in high diving. It's terrifying. But like John Proctor, my coach was like, Mol. If there's anything you would run the show in, it would be Redbull cliff diving.
And so. I put on my story in, in college. And I said, okay, at the end of my diving career, should I do red bull cliff diving? And 99% of my following said yes, except for my mum. She was the 1%. But everyone out of the blue was like, Mol, you're gonna be a cliff diver. And I was like, I didn't believe it in myself.
Right. So I reached out to team Canada and they were so excited for me. They're like, oh my gosh. Yes, you have so much like diving talent. That if you flip this over to your feet, you're going to be extremely, extremely talented. And there was initial excitement for sure. But as soon as I got back to that environment and training around, you know, the same people that I was comparing myself to my entire life. So now I was training next to these Olympians that were going to the Olympics. And I was just out here trying to be a high diver. And it was this, this a weird feeling again. And I did go through a slight relapse of body dysmorphia and comparing myself because when you do go back to those environments that you haven't challenged and you haven't faced when you were at your lowest, it becomes one of those places that can just suck you right back in. And so it, honestly, I hadn't been avoiding it for four years and going back to the place that kind of made me struggle the most took a lot of work, but now I can say, I showed up to the pool, confident in myself, every single time. And the people look at me like, I'm crazy, I'm jumping off the roof. They're like Molly, we can never do what you're doing. So why are you jealous of us when you're doing these crazy things? You know? So I just had this new sense of self and this new accomplishment that it was really interesting to go through, you know, my first relapse and to go through something that I wasn't expecting to struggle with again.
And it's, I think it's important to share with young kids, it's always going to be something you have to work on, and if you've gone through something that you've struggled with before, it's going to be in the back of your head and, and working on it will last throughout your lifetime, but it's worth working on.
[00:42:30]Stef: Absolutely. I mean, it's also very common, right? It's estimated that over 35% of athletes face mental health challenges, and that can be in many different forms, right? It can come through the form of depression or anxiety or burnout or body dysmorphia. It can come in a lot of different forms. And I think that, you know, even women athletes in particular, in the NCAA, we know that rate is even that percentage is even higher.
And, and that's really why we built this platform is to support those women. But if you feel like if you're a woman athlete out there who does go to a team, whether it's a professional team like you did, or their own college team and they walk in the door and they feel that way now, you know, and they feel their mental health deteriorating, what are some things that they can do as individuals, you know, to really get themselves into a better place. Like what would your advice be if that maybe they didn't have a prior experience. But they're just like they're seeing and noticing now that they're, they're feeling great.
[00:43:32]Molly: I think if you've made it to that point. And you're like on these teams that are, you know, very up there, like number one, be proud of yourself, no matter what stage these sports are at, like you're attaining something that not very many people do and you're pushing yourself to the limits and you're, you're taking your body through this journey that not very many women go through, you know, You're out here being an athlete and it comes with a lot of, you know, pressure on the body pressure on the mind and just being, you know, changing that mindset.
What I'm working on right now is a lot of positive self-talk. A lot of my anxiety comes from my own negative thoughts and I make up stories about what other people think of me, even though they're absolutely not thinking of that. And it just starts to get in your head and run, run its course and really make you anxious.
And so for me, working on waking up every day, I read my sticky notes on my mirror. I write out what I want to tell myself just to feel that little bit of confidence before walking into somewhere that I may not feel the most, you know, it's not my favorite environment to be on. Standing up on that 20 meter with 60 people looking at me every day, because I'm about to jump from the roof, but I'm not even thinking about the dive I'm thinking about, oh, what are they looking at? You know, do I, do I look bloated today? And so, it's interesting when your mind isn't focused on the sport anymore, it becomes dangerous, right? So you need to really be there for yourself. Be positive before you show up to an environment that you are going to push your body to the limits and try to get out of your head so that you can be 100% available to do the sport that you came to do. Because if your mind is elsewhere, trust me, you will not perform to the level you want to perform.
[00:45:23]Stef: And use your voice, right? If you, if you feel like now, after leaving, listening to this conversation, that, that, oh, there's some triggers out there. And that triggers coming from either my teammates or my coaches, or, you know, the environment or my own self-talk like, what are those triggers out there that you can identify.
and address. I think is so important, especially if you have a coach or somebody on your team who's commenting constantly on your body, right? Ask them kindly to comment on your performance. Like there's, there's a switch right there, that could go a really really long way.
And unfortunately we've seen it even in the media at the highest levels in the Olympics with some of the broadcasters. Right. And it just breaks my heart, but like this is what we've got to do for each other, is really like use our voice, stick up for each other and like call stuff out that isn't going to help your teammates, including yourself.
[00:46:14]Molly: I love that. I think it's obviously so scary to voice your opinion and to face someone, especially like if you're on a national team and you go up to the Federation and say, I don't like how this is being done, but it's going to help my mental health if you do change it. Obviously, they're going to be like, there's one route they'll kick you off. Right. Or there's another route where you can absolutely work together. And nine out of 10 times, they're not going to kick you out. Most of the time, they're going to listen to you. They're going to be like, oh, we can't lose an athlete because she's going through something let's work on it. You know? And I think it's so important to to not be shy because if you, if you just be quiet and you go through these things on your own, you're going to just crawl into that hole of not feeling like you have anyone to talk to and your workplace needs to be a safe place. Yes, athletics is a workplace going to your sport is a workplace that you need to consider as an environment that needs to be healthy for you, for your teammates, for your coaches, and if they're not providing that for you. I think it's a necessity to speak up, you know,
[00:47:24]Stef: If they kick you out, you just come to me and Molly and we will use both of our channels and platforms to kick make sure we, yeah, we'll catch kick 'em out. I love that.
Well, this has been such an amazing conversation. Molly. I would like to end on our two questions we ask all of our guests And this is really important because at the end of the day, what we're trying to do with Voice in Sport is keep girls in sport, make sure they have a healthier, journey, but also, you know, change the game, like let's make things better. for women and women in sports. So, what is one thing that you would like to see changed for the future of women's sports?
[00:47:58]Molly: I would like to see confidence grow to skyrocket, to be just as confident as men's sports. I think we all deserve to be up there proud of our accomplishments and not letting it go to other people, you know, these are your accomplishments, you, your body, your mind, you've got to that point and it deserves to be celebrated.
So, I think finally finding that confidence. The sport to celebrate achievements on that high level. And, and don't be afraid of how far you've come
[00:48:30]Stef: I love that. And I'll just add to it. And also let's invest in women's sports
[00:48:35]Molly: Yes, equal equal pay.
[00:48:38]Stef: Drop some money into that also.
[00:48:40]Molly: They just made up my first year, rebel cliff diving was the first year men and women had equal pay. And so many more cliff divers on the women's side started showing up, right? Because it, it became financially an opportunity to be a professional sport that could fund your life. And I think having those opportunities in sport change and become equal is something so powerful because so many more women are going to see athletics as a, as a full-time a full-time job, a full-time career that they can put that 100% into. And I think it's, it's so exciting.
[00:49:15]Stef: Absolutely well, way to go. Redbull. What is One single piece of advice that you would like to share with a younger girl in sport?
[00:49:23]Molly: One piece of advice I would give to any young girl in sport is to not let your appearance decide how you're going to perform and be proud of the body you show up in because everybody is capable. Have amazing athletic careers and talents and accomplishments and yeah, be the best version of you.
[00:49:47]Stef: Love it. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I'm excited to see what the future holds for you and really appreciate the work that you do, the voice that you have within the community of women's sports. So, keep it up and it's a pleasure of getting to know you today.
[00:50:02]Molly: Thank you for having me. I can't wait to see who this reaches.
[00:50:08]Stef: This week's episode was produced and edited by vis creator, Elizabeth Martin, a soccer player from Emory university. Molly's journey encourages all of us to take our mental health journeys into our own hands. She reminds us that. All women athletes are beautiful and they deserve to be celebrated and to feel confident in one's body.
We wanna thank Molly for taking the time to speak honestly, about her experience with an eating disorder and anxiety. Her story reminds us that we are not alone in our mental health challenges, and we have tons of resources and people that care about us. If you're willing to ask for help, it's so important to remember.
That change starts with oneself accepting and seeking out help is the first huge step in healing. Eventually through developing relationships with coaches, teammates, and fostering, a supportive community will accomplish anything. You can follow Molly on Instagram at @Mollycarlson1 , or check out her TikTok at Molly Carlson.
Send this podcast to a friend who you think might enjoy the conversation and to hear more about women athletes, overcoming body image, anxiety, and comparison, head to episode 76 with Hailey Swirbul. "Reframing what motivates you". See you next week on the voice and sport podcast.
Team Canada High Diver Molly Carlson & three time NCAA All American Diver, speaks about her journey in diving, her mental health challenges and body image struggles, and her social media efforts promoting mental health awareness.