Last season, on the day Kansas State women’s basketball’s first exhibition game arrived — a home contest against Fort Hays State — the team was finishing its pregame shootaround. Guard Chrissy Carr, then a freshman, felt fairly comfortable with the routine to that point.
Then, she heard head coach Jeff Mittie call out instructions: “It’s time for Vision Pursue,” he told the team.
Carr was confused. She didn’t know what was going on. As the team made its way onto the court at Bramlage Coliseum, Carr remained perplexed.
Former guard Kayla Goth turned to Carr and tried to explain.
“We’re just going to listen to this lady talk,” Goth told Carr.
“Where’s the lady?” she asked.
As it turned out, there was no lady, at least not physically.
That’s because the team was about to listen to a recorded narration and participate in what Mittie has implemented into K-State’s pregame routine: Vision Pursue, a program that helps team members relax, focus and prepare for potentially stressful scenarios by walking through five-minute sessions.
On the afternoon of each home game, K-State players and coaches trot onto the court, ready to take part in the “walking meditation” program. They’ll take individual paths around the floor, some up and down the stairs, silently listening to different narrations. Sometimes, the sessions include a voiceover that encourages players to forget about their busy lives and focus on different things: Their feet, their hands, but most of all, the now.
Other times, the narrator is Martin Luther King Jr., reciting speeches like “Street Sweeper” and “Levels of Love.”
“I love listening to anything that he says,” K-State forward Peyton Williams said, “because he was brilliant. I think it’s a good practice, and I have enjoyed it, for sure.”
K-State makes this a routine on the day of every game, no matter the venue. At home, the Wildcats participate at Bramlage, where the Jumbotron displays what Mittie calls a “vision board,” complete with a clock with the word “now” in place of the usual numbers. On the road, they do so in hotels, usually in a conference room. Then, they’ll pray and eat their pregame meal.
The goal of each session, no matter the setting, is to help players free their minds of distractions. During the day, they likely have their minds on a lot: Schoolwork, friends, family, the like. Their multifaceted lives can become stressful.
That’s where Vision Pursue comes in. The periods may only last five minutes, but for players, the effects last much longer.
“Focus is not our strong suit. It really isn’t,” Williams said with a chuckle. “So I think it’s helpful for our team. I don’t think anyone dislikes it. I think everyone sees the value in it.”
That reality applies more directly to some players than others.
Take it from Carr. She has anxiety, which can flare up before games. If it does, she remembers advice from her therapist, who tells Carr to do the following: Look at five things. Touch four things. Smell three things. And on down the list of senses.
“It helps me ground myself so I don’t have an anxiety attack,” Carr said. “I feel like that (Vision Pursue) stuff is the same thing, just on a different standpoint. Kind of a longer thing. I feel like it does help a lot.”
Everyone on the team agrees, Carr said, which makes the experience more enjoyable. Lee wants to enter the sports psychology business, so she’s partial to the sessions. Williams likes them, too, in part because the narrator “realizes it’s dealing with humans.”
Said Williams: “It’s kind of built in to the system to say, ‘Hey, it’s fine if you struggle with focusing, but try your best to work on it and get back to what we’re doing.’”
How the program made its way to Manhattan is another story altogether.
Shortly after Mittie was hired prior to the 2014-15 season, Russ Rausch, the program’s founder, and Jon McGraw, a former K-State football safety who went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL, told the Wildcats’ new head coach about about the program.
Mittie had tried yoga. Meditation, too. He was familiar with the push for mental wellness, especially in sports, and he liked what he heard.
So he brought it to K-State.
“I have found that the student-athlete is more stressed than ever with their schedule,” Mittie said. “I felt like our goal was to help them — not just basketball, in their day-to-day lives of, ‘How could this help them?’ I was intrigued by it when Jon first brought it to us, and Russ. These are things that I’m constantly talking about, and ‘How could I message that better?’ This is a great way for me to message that better.”
Since Mittie implemented the program back then, though, he and his staff have changed how they administer it.
At first, coaches left it up to the players to participate through the app on a daily basis.
Players still have access to the app, but back then, it didn’t take long before coaches realized something.
“What we found is they weren’t doing it,” Mittie said. “They weren’t doing as much.”
Later, the team started using Vision Pursue’s meditation program before every practice.
That didn’t stick, though, so now the Wildcats participate before every game.
They’ve kept it that way since, mostly because games demand the most out of players and coaches.
“Certainly on game day,” Mittie said, “they’re coming from class, they’re coming from their world out there, and I think for them to go through our walk-through, and then to have that five minutes of the walking meditation …”
Mittie trailed off for a moment.
Then, he added this: “I like it, because I’m able to forget about everything else. I’m able to just, for five minutes, shut the brain down a little bit and focus here.”
Gauging whether these sessions is difficult in practice.
But players said they appreciate a renewed sense of focus.
“There’s always going to be a lot of stuff going on,” Lee said. “School and family and all that stuff. But on game day, it’s about the game.”
For her part, though, it took some time for Carr on what path to walk during the sessions.
At first — back when she didn’t know what in the world Vision Pursue was — she was guessing. She had to make some U-turns, she said, to head back to half court when sessions ended.
Now, it’s set: Around the stadium once, around the outside of the court, then along each 3-point line.
She does like to shoot 3s, after all, which she figured into the math.
It’s all beginning to make sense now.
“I think it helps, personally. Our team has caught on to it,” Carr said. “At first, when I first got here, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is kind of weird. I don’t really know what to do.’ The more we’ve done it, the more I’ve loved it.”