The San Francisco 49ers may have another MVP in their midst, but she hasn’t yet played on the field in any of their games.
When the 49ers claimed a (so far) undefeated season, one of the players, Solomon Thomas, attributed the wins to their emotional support dog, Zoë.
Here’s what you should know about Zoë, the French Bulldog who’s helping one of the best teams in the NFL achieve victory.
Zoë The Frenchie Helps Players De-stress
Athletes can suffer from extreme stress and anxiety before the game or even during practice. 49ers players stumbled upon the solution of getting an emotional support dog when one of the employees brought over a French bulldog who caught their attention.
The team looked for an emotional support dog who could help de-stress the players in both practice and pregames, which led them to Zoë.
Now, all of the teammates have their own ways of de-stressing and relaxing with her. Thomas, who has had his share of mental health struggles, feels relaxed and uplifted even after just ten minutes of playing with Zoë. “That just kind of resets my day and lets me put everything back into perspective,” he said in an interview.
Joe Staley even created a routine before games, where he holds Zoë with two arms over his head. Other players routinely hang out with Zoë. She even has her own bean bag chair behind the scenes.
“In player engagement, one of our main pillars is total wellness–mental health, physical health, emotional health. Zoë’s been a great addition for us, and we’re seeing some positive results from it,” says Austin Moss, player engagement director for the 49ers.
An Athlete’s Mental Match
Zoë may be the first canine to help the 49ers with mental and emotional health, but she’s not the first dog to help athletes. Dogs have been part of the success for many athletes who’ve looked to improve their mental game.
Dogs’ unconditional love goes a long way when it comes to helping athletes, especially when compared to spending pregame times with people who may inadvertently and unwittingly transfer stressful expectations and energy to the athlete.
The organizers of the 2016 Swimming Olympic Trials tried this approach to relieve the anxiety of the young swimmers. They invited 30 therapy dogs to be present at the trials. According to Triathlete, it had an astounding effect on them.
“Most people don’t really appreciate the level of intensity and level of stress that athletes undergo pre-performance. Anything that can help them break through that–as long as it doesn’t disrupt their routine in a negative sense–is good,” says Jeff Troesch who works as a mental performance specialist in San Luis Obispo.
Troesch saw this trend work with MLB and NBA teams. Some teams even make it part of their overall routine pregame. More than relieving anxiety, support dogs tend to have positive physical benefits, including decreased heart rate and blood pressure.
What do you think of emotional support dogs helping athletes with their mental game? Do you think Zoë is helping her 49er teammates win? Let us know in the comments below!