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Local sports counselor hopes to help students through struggles during coronavirus pandemic

Local sports counselor hopes to help students through struggles during coronavirus pandemic

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For decades, Greg Warburton has specialized in helping athletes overcome psychological hurdles.

Whether it be a high school volleyball player who can’t keep their serve in play, or a star college pitcher who is desperate to keep their fastball down, Warburton, a Corvallis-based sport performance mental and emotional fitness trainer, has been there to help with a series of mental training techniques. 

Now, Warburton wants to use those same techniques to help local athletes work through the emotional struggle created by the coronavirus pandemic. He is offering virtual consultation to students who are finding it difficult to cope with an unprecedented situation that has put their academic and athletic careers in limbo. 

“It’s never called this, but there’s a lot of traumatic emotional experience that occurs for young people in their attempts to enter the sport world,” Warburton said. “Think of trauma in terms of something that is so upsetting that you can’t stop thinking about it or can’t stop feeling it. So we need methods and the good news is that there are methods, practices, techniques to address the trapped emotional energy that ends up in the body.”

Through Warburton’s practice — which combines the therapeutic practice of Emotional Freedom Technique (EMT) with Energy Psychology (EP) — he works to provide the “how” for athletes who have always been told by their coaches to be mentally strong, but never given any idea of how to do so. 

An in-depth explanation of Warburton’s techniques can be found at his website, gregwarburton.com, and he contributed a video for this story to provide readers with an idea of what a typical session with him looks like. That can be found at youtube.com/gregwarburton.  

Simply put, though, Warburton aims to help patients put negative thoughts behind them and free their minds up to focus on achieving their goals. 

One aspect of Warburton’s practice known as “tapping” gained wide attention in 2007, when Oregon State star pitcher Jorge Reyes was seen using it during a national broadcast of the College World Series. 

The method of physically tapping different acupuncture points on the body is intended to keep natural energy flowing through the body. Numerous Oregon State baseball players, such as Andrew Moore and Ben Wetzler, have incorporated tapping into their routines over the years while working with Warburton.

While much of his work has taken shape in the world of athletics, Warburton says the skill set for overcoming other types of emotional struggle is often very similar. It starts with building awareness and acknowledging troubling thoughts.

“It takes courage to sustain a look inside yourself,” Warburton said. “That’s part of what’s critical for managing times like this pandemic, to notice how you’re thinking and feeling and admit it so that you can do something about it, rather than staying upset and agitated like things are spinning out of control.”

Warburton recently retired from clinical mental health counseling after 35 years — the last 12 of which were spent at the ABC House, a children’s advocacy center for abused and neglected children. His work with the Beavers and other college athletes helped spread his techniques to the general public, but his work with local students has been just as significant.

Word of Warburton’s work with Oregon State eventually spread to former Corvallis High School baseball coach Eric Dazey. When he heard about a seminar Warburton was holding in Corvallis, Dazey showed up, listened and immediately knew Warburton’s methods were something that could benefit his athletes. 

“College baseball is, in so many ways right on the cutting edge of what baseball can do,” Dazey said. “I think there’s a lot more innovation in college baseball than there might be in professional baseball. I think the Beavers do it better than anybody. So if this was something that they were incorporating, that was more than enough validation for me to want to explore.”

Out of that meeting, the two developed a working relationship, and Warburton spoke to Dazey’s teams every couple of years. At the start of each season, Warburton would introduce the concepts to players and coaches, and Dazey would work with individual players to help hone the skills throughout the season. 

“The impact of his work infiltrated what we did with players from the first time that we met,” Dazey said. “I think it enriched what we had to offer players in our program. I think it enriched the quality and consistency of our play.”

Dazey, who still teaches at CHS, believes that now, more than ever, the skills that Warbuton teaches can be extremely beneficial for young people. 

“I know that a great number of kids in our community are struggling with everything from isolation, to loss, to anxiousness related to our health,” Dazey said. “You add to that the very practical loss of structure... The different things that Greg can bring as it relates to tools and strategies and concepts, if we can get those in the hands of kids and families, I think that gives them something to employ in the weeks ahead. To not only position them to better-manage this time, but also to come out of it better equipped to move on with their lives.”

For Sebbie Law, Warburton’s techniques were helpful as a child while he was battling general anxiousness. When Law reached high school he quickly became a standout sprinter for the CHS track and field team and reached the 5A state finals in the 200 and 400 meter events as a sophomore.

But the more success he found on the track, the more Law realized his feelings of anxiousness were beginning to resurface.

“I was getting a lot more anxious,” Law said. “Having the standard that I had to be at was a lot more nerve-wracking compared to my freshman year.”

Law learned from his parents that Warburton could help with the exact problem he was facing. He began seeing him at the start of each track season, and the two worked to help Law develop a routine that calmed him down during big meets.

About 45 minutes before each race, Law starts doing tapping exercises to get his mind ready and calm. When he is getting into his blocks just before the start of a race, he goes through a series of explosive breathing exercises. 

“It was pretty immediate for me,” Law said. “I definitely noticed a change. I just felt more calm and it just felt good to have something to rely on in the times I needed something to de-stress me.”

During his junior season, Law finished second in the 400 at the state meet and ran his fastest time ever. This fall, he will head to Seattle University to begin his collegiate track career. 

He hopes his experience working through his own struggles can help others find relief as well.

“I think it’s definitely something that affects a lot more people than a lot of people realize,” Law said. “I think just not closing yourself off from others and trying to find something that can potentially help fix the problem, or help make it more bearable, is definitely something that people should do more, rather than just seal themselves off and hope it gets better.”

Greg Warburton can be reached at: greg.sportseft@gmail.com 

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