Adolescent mental health is in crisis, with more than 40% of teens struggling with depression and anxiety. As we try to find ways to support teens with mental health issues, it is essential that we work to develop ways not only to treat teens in crisis, but also to establish a solid mental health foundation by helping them recognize and manage emotion and stress. Sports have the potential to be an amazing outlet for teens, not only providing physical benefits such as cardiovascular fitness and bone density, but also serving to support teens more deeply through mentorship and community. However, many youth coaches do not have the knowledge or resources to create a supportive team culture that fosters positive emotional coping.
We’re working to fill this gap by developing an evidence-based educational tool that supports coaches in teaching youth athletes positive coping strategies to promote mental strength and catalyze success in sport and in daily life. The Mentally Strong program will provide a pathway towards developing a strong mental health foundation for youth athletes, while also convening key stakeholders, laying the groundwork for new programs, and shaping priorities for effective youth sports policy and guidelines. The program will highlight the relationship between emotional regulation and performance, motivating coaches and athletes due the relationship between effectively managing stress and achieving their athletic goals. However, we will also normalize the presence of emotions and stress, and will call out “red flags” suggesting emotional crisis and the need for professional support. Mental strength is not about being tough or pushing through challenging situations – it’s about understanding how stress and emotional reactions affect your body, and learning to cope with 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 to optimize their performance, on and off the field.
Where We Are
With recent seed funding, we completed formative work with youth coaches and athletes to understand their needs in this space. We then used this input to develop and refine a coach educational platform, working to ensure it aligns with the motivation of athletes and coaches. We have also partnered with stakeholders in this space, seeking feedback from a variety of mental health and resilience experts. We are now working to further refine the platform and test it with coaches and athletes this spring. If you would like to learn more about opportunities to participate in our youth athlete and coach advisory groups, or pilot the Mentally Strong platform at your institution, please reach out to us ([email protected]).
Additional funding will allow us to:
- Refine and optimize the Mentally Strong program including the coach educational platform and the accompanying team-based activities
- Assess the program’s efficacy for shifting key outcomes in youth athletes and coaches through local piloting with high schools and other sport organizations
- Work to develop tools to support awareness and uptake of the program, through discussions with key leaders and stakeholders in this space