There are certain things in life that cannot be learned until you experience it yourself. This is especially true for student-athletes, who face a burden and workload that often feels like an insurmountable obstacle. So for The Zone founders Erik Poldroo and Ivan Tchatchouwo, creating a library for mental health and wellness resources was almost like a second chance.
See, Poldroo and Tchatchouwo were student-athletes themselves, the former as a division 2 baseball player and the latter a division 2 basketball player, both at Concordia College in New York. The understanding was that student-athletes deal with a lot of stress and anxiety, and there needs to be a place that can help remedy these issues.
The Zone is where wellness is preached and more importantly, acted upon. The company offers resources for universities such as Stony Brook University, Lehigh University, and Florida A&M, in addition to many others.
Follow below for a conversation with Poldroo and Tchatchouwo that traces the inspirations behind two friends’ mission, not only for the greater good of student-athletes, but also to right the wrongs they faced themselves years before.
The Zone and what it does
Kulture Hub: Can you explain in layman’s terms exactly what you and The Zone staff do? What is the day-to-day like?
Erik Poldroo: Most definitely- The Zone is a SaaS that puts wellness coaching in every athlete’s pocket, so they can feel and perform their best. By creating a library of mental health, nutrition and other wellness resources, students have the easily accessible materials that they need, when they need it in order to prioritize their well-being.
In addition, we provide an easier solution for athletes to be able to seek help by pinging a counselor/therapist, and allow for athletic program staff to better understand the morale of their teams through aggregate data sets (For example: 64% of the baseball team is feeling overwhelmed, 44% of the basketball team is feeling down etc.) in order to better service them thereafter, provided through The Zone’s mood tracker.
Our day to day consists of wearing many different hats such as servicing our current partnerships with Universities, establishing new relationships with Universities, and continuously building out our technology to further add the capabilities that we plan to add on by the fall school year. We view our company framework as such: How can we increase Awareness, then how can we educate the future generations on things they face, with the goal of having them create these habits and applying those habits consistently.
The inspiration behind wellness in The Zone
KH: What was the main factor in inspiring you and your co-founder to create The Zone? What were you seeing specifically that begged for a company like yours?
EP: We started The Zone because we personally went through mental health struggles throughout our time as student-athletes and didn’t always know who to open up to. Wellness resources were scattered, counseling services can be intimidating, and the fear of explaining how we felt came with potential repercussions (such as losing playing time).
That is why we aimed to create a one-stop-shop so athletes have a safe & brave space to open up how they feel, never have to worry about where to look ever again while allowing them to feel supported with the appropriate resources they need and allow program staff to better service them thereafter. Making sure help is efficiently accessible to them at any moment.
Student-athletes and their resources
KH: Athletes in general are often told to stick to their sports, to be grateful for their opportunity to play a game, to “shut up and dribble.” How do you think that affects student-athletes in particular who additionally have an entire course load to manage?
EP: I think with student-athletes it can be incredibly overwhelming. Division 1 student-athletes on average spend 41 hours a week on their respective sport alone. This can give little time to truly focus on academics without feeling stressed, or having to sacrifice something in between such as lack of sleep and/or performance in the classroom/on the field.
Ultimately, this takes a toll on the mind. Also with most staff programs being understaffed and overwhelmed we want to give them a way to get anonymized data on what is actually going with their programs so they can be proactive and not reactive.
Wellness in The Zone, especially as a Black man
KH: Can you talk about wanting to bring wellness and The Zone to HBCU’s in particular? What is that process like?
Ivan Tchatchouwo: Being a Black male from an African household by way of Cameroon and then being raised in the inner city I know first hand what it’s like to put mental health on the backburner and not be able to speak about it because of the stigma. So when I faced a big injury my junior year and my season was over I went through a long depression and didn’t have an outlet until things went south.
Understanding that from personal experience we realized the importance of creating a mental wellness culture at HBCU programs. With helping kids improve on their mental well-being we are helping create habits that will impact them in the workforce, as parents, as partners etc.
We thought it was paramount to instill these tools within predominantly Black institutions to help the kids improve academically, athletically, and personally as they go through their day-to-day journeys on campus.Ivan Tchatchouwo
Student-athletes deserve more
KH: How has your and your team’s past as student-athletes enabled you to be successful in your business and also see eye to eye with these current student-athletes?
EP: Being in their shoes at one time, we know exactly what student-athletes are going though. We aren’t a team who are just funneling resources their way without personally experiencing the student-athlete journey ourselves. This has enabled us to develop trust with our athletes and connect with them on a personal level to provide them with what they are looking for and enabled us to have early adoption from our users.