During the pandemic, one in four youth reported depressive symptoms and one in five experienced anxiety.
Participating in sports can lead not only to physical benefits such as cardiovascular fitness and greater bone density, but has the potential to support youth more deeply through mentorship and peer support, leading to improved social connectedness, decreased anxiety and heightened mood. However, sports participation can also create stress due to the pressure to compete and the challenges of managing failure and injury, and these types of pressure can negatively impact youth development and emotional health. Compounding these issues, the culture of sport has traditionally made it challenging to seek help for mental health issues.
We’re working to fill this gap by developing an evidence-based educational tool for coaches to help youth athletes learn positive coping strategies to promote mental strength and catalyze success in sport and in daily life. This project will provide crucial information regarding standardized means for measuring youth athlete mental health and well-being, laying the groundwork to inform new programs, convene key stakeholders, and shape priorities for effective youth sports policy and guidelines, locally and nationally. It will also highlight “red flags” of a mental health struggle in youth athletes, which will allow coaches to be proactive in providing support.
Mental strength is not about being “tough” – it’s the ability to understand emotions and cope with negative feelings and stress in a healthy way. Our goal is to work with youth sport coaches to create a culture where emotion and stress are recognized as an inherent part of sport, and youth are empowered to use coping skills and social supports to get through the ups and downs of sport participation and achieve their goals, both on the field and off.
Where We Are
With recent seed funding, we’re beginning formative work with youth coaches and athletes to understand their greatest needs in this space. This will inform the development of the tool, as well as promotion and delivery upon completion. We’ve also begun identifying potential partners and stakeholders to amplify the need for intervention in athlete mental health and the tool’s value.
Additional funding will allow us to:
- Complete tool development and deploy locally
- Assess tool’s efficacy for shifting key outcomes in youth athletes and coaches through local pilots with diverse teams and sports.
- Work with a coalition of collegiate, Olympic and professional athletes to launch an awareness campaign.