Opening the Space: Guiding Youth Athletes

Melissa Zhang
+Impact Studio at Michigan Ross
4 min readMar 11, 2022


Pictured: Ted Burton (left) and Erik Portillo (right)

In 2020, the surprising withdrawal of the most decorated American gymnast, Simone Biles, from the Tokyo Olympics sparked a new focus on mental health for Olympians and beyond. Biles expressed that she felt inspired to make this decision after watching another star athlete, Naomi Osaka, withdraw from the Wimbledon and French Opens earlier that same year for similar reasons of needing to focus on her mental and physical well-being. Lane Johnson, the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive tackle, opened up recently about how anxiety has affected his gameplay and overall well-being, touching especially on the stigma surrounding the topic even amongst professional athletes:

“The bad news is that I think a lot more people have it than what meets the eye. I think it’s easy to put on a poker face. … I remember hearing a stat at the combine that 40–50% of people in the NFL have some sort of condition. [The game] can do a lot of things for you but a lot of times it can be detrimental.”

Inspired by the experiences of athletes like Biles and Osaka, Dualete co-founders Cindy Gu, Edward Huang, and Ronit Tiwary formed their online solution. To the Dualete team, training youth athletes’ mental strength and resourcefulness skills is just as important as their usual technical skills. They are interested in helping athletes to develop a foundation of knowledge that is holistic across all factors for their playing. Looking at Biles and Osaka, Tiwary explains that “a big part of sports is winning, and when people lose or say they’re struggling they’re always met with resistance or distaste: as a result, people don’t talk about failure as much.” In response to this, Dualete was created to address these struggles by pairing experienced college athletes with junior athletes in mentorship relationships.

Phillip Brabbs, a former kicker for Michigan football, informed Dualete’s co-founders how his son worked on the necessary skills to get into the NFL because of Brabb’s connections in the league. Not everyone has this exclusive access to the world’s professional athletes. College athletes, though, also understand these issues intimately from their own experiences, and therefore can be a valuable and more widely accessible resource for younger athletes, which Dualete works to provide.

Dualete is a platform to help youth athletes learn from college athletes and to close the gap that Brabbs spoke about. The aim is that youth athletes can log onto Dualete and search for different sports or athletes from their favorite college or university. Nutrition and diets, weight training, how to deal with injuries, and getting noticed by college recruiters are all important to an athlete’s ability to perform but may not be salient to athletes that are starting out. From mental resilience to college preparedness, which are not visible at times, Dualete strives to bring these hidden problems that athletes face to the forefront through the experience and mentorship of the college athletes working with them.

The Dualete team in a meeting (left to right): Erik Portillo, Ronit Tiwary, Edward Huang, Cindy Gu

The first trial session for Dualete exceeded the co-founders’ expectations. Held in the Fall 2021 semester, Michigan athlete and Junior in Communications Ted Burton was recruited to speak with youth athletes from the Ann Arbor A’s about baseball. Burton provided three sessions to the group over Zoom, discussing topics such as visualization of success and how to frame one’s mental state. Tiwary recalls how in one of Burton’s visualization exercises, he looked around and “almost everyone was closing their eyes, and some were taking notes.”

In partnership with Michigan athlete Erik Portillo, Dualete has been able to raise more than $1500 for the Ann Arbor Hockey Association as well as for a nonprofit and advocacy group called The Hidden Opponent, whose mission is to raise awareness for student-athlete mental health and to address the stigma within sports culture. Portillo wanted to become involved with the project because he thinks it is a cool opportunity for athletes to give back by helping the next generation of athletes. Dualete also provides an opportunity for college athletes to bring in revenue for themselves, since as recently as December 2021 they have been permitted by law to make money from their names, images, and likeness (also known as NIL marketing). Both youth athletes and college athletes are supported by Dualete’s efforts.

While Dualete is looking to scale their work for a broader audience, they are concurrently tightening their focus on just a few sports. Having worked with Portillo in hockey, Dualete is planning to start mentorship sessions with Jaedan Brown of the Michigan Women’s Tennis team, as well as with Danielle Rauch of the Michigan’s Women’s Basketball team in the near future. They are also incorporating recorded lessons and videos to their platform. It is with these plans in mind that the team will continue their work in aiding hopeful youth athletes looking for help in their next steps. Dualete wants to bring out their fullest potential.

If you are or someone you know is interested in working with Dualete, head to their website and see what they have to offer! Be sure to also check out Dualete’s upcoming tennis sessions with Jaedan Brown.