In 2011, Brandon Marshall spent three life-changing months in an outpatient program McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA. He had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and with that diagnosis came answers into why he had been experiencing the emotions that had led to so many incidents in life. Better yet, he was provided techniques that were central in addressing and handling those emotions.

When Brandon Marshall went public with his diagnosis, he did so against the wishes of some people he had trusted the most. The announcement wasn’t just about him. He thought about the everyday people who he sat in a circle with during group therapy sessions at McLean while they shared their struggles. He thought about how many others, including fellow athletes, were suffering in silence and what would it take to bridge the gap to making these conversations comfortable.

Brandon Marshall has continued his advocacy for mental health after his NFL days with him and his wife [Michi’s] Project 375 Foundation, the I Am Athlete media agency and just recently the House of Athlete facilities in Weston and Tampa, FL. They’re the first of many Brandon Marshall wants to build in the cities professional athletes live and train in the offseason. House of Athlete focuses on five foundational pillars: Train, Fuel, Recover, Tribe, and Mental Fitness. The goal is to transform each athlete who walks through their facilities and not only help them reach peak performance but to lead an overall healthier lifestyle.

Brandon Marshall spoke with M&F on the belief system for athletes needing to change for continued success after their sports career are over. He also dived into the origin of House of Athlete and his vision on bringing the resources from the world’s most elite athletes to the masses. The former NFL star, who played 13 seasons in the NFL, and is a top-20 all-time leader in receptions (970), also shares some insight on the brand’s new app, HOA+. 

Former NFL player Brandon Marshall standing in the House of Athlete gym facility
House of Athletes

Brandon Marshall Wants to Change the Athlete Belief System

I think the first challenge for athletes is mindset. There’s no reason why we can’t climb up a second mountain, but a lot of us don’t think that we have a second or third mountain. So, the peak for a lot of our athletes—even just prominent men and women in business or other areas—they just think, “This is my prime.” If you go to some areas in China and Japan, they believe in multiple primes. I think what we’re doing here is we’re right in the valley in between the first and second mountain, and the second mountain is always greater. It all starts with mindset, and we have to get our athletes to think bigger than just the sport they play.

You have to think, our belief system begins to form around two to three years of age. So, it’s not about the athlete—it’s more about environment, which means it starts with the parents. The parents look at these kids and say, “You’re going to be an athlete.” They support them, put them in a position, and what they tell them is that they’re an athlete. Now you have the LeBron James’ of the world saying they’re more than an athlete. Then you have us on the I Am Athlete side saying, “If this is what an athlete is today, this is how you define what an athlete is.” It starts at that age and as you grow and start to make decisions for yourself, I think you have to understand that you can love the sport and it’s what you do, but it’s not who you are.

We hear athletes say it all the time. Back in the day, we thought this is why God created us and we just focused on that. But we’re not tapping into the creative side, the business side, or even nature. There are so many other aspects to life, a lot of us are struggling post career because we don’t take the time to explore those other pieces of us and we don’t know those things. So, when the game is taken away, your identity is taken away.

The Building Blocks of House of Athlete

It started in 2011 at McLean Hospital. With always performing at a high level on the field—I still felt like there was untapped potential that was there. There was more meat on the bone, and I had to get my mind right. I was in this outpatient program, and I looked at the success that I was having and I started asking why am I having this success so fast. There were people in the group that were having the same level of success from a recovery standpoint but there were people that had been there for six months, six years, left and came back.

What I looked at was my entire lifestyle. I wasn’t there just training my mind and developing my brain. I was also approaching things a certain way. With nutrition, I wouldn’t say I had a strict diet. I just knew the foods that were inflammatory to my system. I trained every day. I would go to McClean Hospital, be there from nine to five, and since I was a Reebok athlete, I would go train at their headquarters [in Boston]. I was getting ready for the season, and I was taking care of myself physically and spiritually as well with reading and praying. I also had a team around me, so I wasn’t in Waltham, MA, by myself. I had two videographers and my trainer there. It just gave me a sense of peace that at the end of the day, I had a few friends I could go to dinner with, talk to and that understood what was going on.

That’s what led up to the five pillars that make the foundation of House of Athlete. We need to have a plan with how we approach the plate. One is mental fitness—new movements equal new language. There’s so much stigma around mental health, so the language we use is mental fitness. You have a plan when it comes to impairment, whether you’re dealing with borderline personality disorder, anxiety, depression, or substance abuse. You also have a plan when it comes to performance. I’m a high-powered CEO and I have these huge goals. I want more out of my brain and more out of my body. Then you have recovery. It’s important to recover and sleep. We lean into the fundamentals at House of Athlete and a lot of people miss this. Can we see healthier people if we’re averaging seven to eight hours of sleep? Can we see a healthier world if people are hydrated? Performance decreases by 25% when we don’t consume enough water. The body is made up of 70% water. Literally, the brain detaches from the skull when you’re dehydrated. The last pillar is Tribe. I’ve never seen a professional athlete make it to the top without a team.

Brandon Marshall Focuses on Mental Fitness

About 80% of sports is mental. Being at McLean Hospital, I saw a lot of us struggle with a lot of things. I was there for three months, but at the halfway mark, I had this breakthrough and transformation. I never would’ve thought I could get here. I never even knew there were people who thought like me or dealt with some of the things I dealt with. That’s when I really leaned into mental health and mental fitness and started putting this plan together that turned into House of Athlete. On Aug. 4, 2011, I shared with the sports world what I had dealt with in being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and what I wanted to do moving forward. People looked at me like I was crazy—and they called me crazy. My publicist at the time told me don’t do it because it would be career suicide. Now you fast-forward 10 years later and we have a phenomenal company, and it starts with a team.

Someone who told me that this is diminished capacity and I’m less then. I’ve taken that and have built a company around it that is helping thousands of people, and one day, millions of people. House of Athlete is not about training. It’s about a lifestyle, and my entire experience when I was at McLean Hospital. I’m a feel guy, so I go off of how does this make me feel, how does this product and brand make me feel? What we want is for people to walk into House of Athlete and leave transformed. The way to do that is you just can’t focus on working out and lifting weights. On Wednesdays, there is no training, and we have mental health practitioners on site. We have recovery rituals, whether that’s hot tub, cold tub, contrast, steam, sauna, vinyasa flow using yoga, guided mediation, the same group therapy that I was taking at McLean Hospital, and this is on our schedule weekly and it’s branded as mental fitness. Our athletes can book a class to join a group to just talk and that’s what self-assessment is, which to me was the most profound and impactful therapy that I’ve been through—just sitting in a circle and talking.

Brandon Marshall
House of Athlete

Brandon Marshall Now Trains Smarter Not Harder

I have skipped a beat and that’s why I love the term mental fitness because when you think of that, you think about the ebbs and flows, and you have to embrace that. As an athlete, I work to get to get to peak shape every single year. I don’t start, end or stay there. The reality is that a lot of people are discouraged because they’re not where they want to be and they feel like there’s no way for them to get there. As an athlete that was paid to work out and train, I know if I dedicate myself for three to four weeks, I’m going to feel some type of change in my body and mentally to where it’s going to keep me going until a breakthrough six weeks later. Then I finally start seeing and feeling it a little bit more. For me, it’s about routine and that’s how I stay in shape.

I don’t need to jump high or run fast anymore. There are times where I train with some of our pros, and I go out there and have fun. I’ll jump in some of our classes. Our Wednesday yoga class that we call Flow. Our Monday, Tuesday sculpt class and it’s pretty cool. Every time I’m in the classes, our coaches go 10 times harder, and they kick my ass. They make me hold my planks longer, run an extra lap and I’ll have to look at the coach like “Ok, enough.” Even the members or athletes, they challenge me. It’s pretty cool being a part of the tribe. I spend more time taking our adult athlete classes than I do working out with the pro and college athletes.

Brandon Marshall’s Vision For House of Athlete

We’ll have 20 facilities globally. We’re launching HOA+. Over the next five years, we’ll probably be approaching one million subscribers through our subscription plan. We will be a thought leader when it comes to wellness. Obviously, we know this is a massive space. Athletes are the healthiest people on the planet, so why aren’t we leading or participating in the conversation globally in a major way? We’ll have facilities in key markets starting with the markets where athletes live and train in during the offseason. It’s been important for us for our pro athletes to be early adopters in embracing our philosophies and methodologies first before we start scaling to our adult and youth athletes. We’ve been able to accomplish that these first few years. HOA+ is critical because we’re not going to be able to be everywhere, but everyone deserves to have access or should have access to the resources we’ve had for decades. We also want to show up when it comes to the conversation on how to live a healthier more efficient life.

The reality is we all want to feel better. A lot of us want to look better. The reality is pro, collegiate, and even youth athletes are the healthiest people on the planet. There’s a certain way we eat, workout and there’s a lot of people out there that just want the information. There’s a lot of people that want to just show up and follow a coach, routine, a nutritional plan, have access to someone that they can talk to in real time. It’s a very competitive landscape. There’s a lot of bit players in the space, coaches, influencers, and a lot of stuff out there. Some things are good and some things are trendy and more fad. What we’re giving is this is what the healthiest people in the world do in black and white. When you think of the Serena Williams’ and LeBron James’ of the world, there’s a certain way they approach their fitness, lifestyle, and wellness plan, and that’s what the app is going to provide.

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