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The Need To Add More Mental Health Supports To School And Sport Programs

We have a had a very busy fall meeting many new exciting clients with challenging clinical needs. This has led to a lot of contact with different school systems as many of these clients clinical needs overlap with their educational needs. Unfortunately, meeting both sets of needs simultaneously is often hard to do. At the same time, we are excited to announce a new relationship with the Boston Imperials Hockey Club as Peak Mental Performance Coaching will be acting as their new Mental Skills Performance Coach. While this is exciting for us to be able to share our expertise with this program, and more importantly that they have recognized the importance of mental skills training to performance. At the time, our experience is that many programs either do not believe this to be a need, and do not embrace the idea of adding this type of training to their programs.

Thankfully there is a growing recognition that mental health support can add to success in both schools and sports. In schools, there is often the school guidance counselor or social worker. Schools have been good on addressing the risks of drugs and alcohol through programs such as the DARE program. Often schools, at least in younger kids, talk about feelings and friendships. Finally, many of the students had Individualized Educational Plans that address both educational and emotional needs. The problem with all of this that schools are already stretched thin, as their is a high demand for support services. Also, programs tend to address mostly younger kids, overlooking the needs of teenagers, where the mental health risks are the highest. Finally, there is a need for more training and understanding in teachers and administrators on the overlap, as they at times get stuck thinking what they see is just behavioral and not an emotional or psychological need overlapping with an educational need.

Sports are even further behind the curve than school, as at least every school there is someone on staff with a knowledge of mental health and impact on academic performance. Many sports programs, do not necessarily have this. Recently, multiple professional athletes have come out to note various personal mental health challenges, affecting them both on and off the field or court. Professional organizations are slowly recognizing this fact and adding mental health support to work with their players, the same way they have trainers working with the players physically. However, this work is still slow, and impacted by the stigma of mental health, but it is a start. At the same time colleges, high schools, and even leagues for younger kids do not embrace adding a mental skills coach to their program. Multiple times in my career I have been told, ''We do not have any right now who would benefit from your work'', which is ironic as everyone benefits. This is particularly true given the ever increasing overlap between life challenges and sports challenges, especially as more intensive sport performance is dropping to younger and younger ages. It is essential that there is someone who can support the players, families, and coaches to understand the complexity in the overlap between development, life challenges, performance, and mental health..

So although there is a growing recognition of the need to increase mental health support in athletics and schools, there is so much more that needs to be done, and the faster the better given the ever increasing need in both areas. Obviously, more funding in both areas would be nice, this is often difficult to accomplish, so what else needs to be or can be done?

In schools, there is certainly a need to expand curriculum's for mental health supports. This includes more social skills training and relationship building in children of all ages based on their developmental needs. In health classes, we can add more supports about understanding how mental health challenges can manifest themselves, but an emphasis on general mental health self care. Sorry teenagers, but more work on sleep, diet, and self care is needed and can be taught. Technology and apps may be helpful since teenagers themselves can be finicky around ''therapy''. Schools can also help by really making sure their academic demands to not add to additional mental health challenges, which is unfortunately I see too often. Schools should be willing to consult with mental health professionals on this fact on a regular basis, and be open to fully understanding this fact, letting go of their ego on how things should be done. This includes more training for all teachers on the overlap between educational and mental heath needs They do not need to become therapists themselves, but some training for them, and eventually even parents will be helpful.

The need for mental health support for athletes may be even greater. The pros are starting to do a nice job adding the mental health professionals as part of the ''team''. College students are unique as they are adjusting to a new life transition and elite athletic performance, as well as ever growing mental health needs. While many college have college counseling centers, it is becoming more essential to have someone as part of the athletic and counseling department that understands the overlap of both worlds. Even younger elite programs would benefit from at least having someone available to consult or support the program. Coaches have asked me about how to manage challenging players, teamwork dynamics, and even difficult parents. They are not trained on how to do this, but having someone who can consult for them, it is something that can be easily taught. Trust me, having this will make parents very happy as I often can parents noting their concerns from coaches, even well intentioned ones. At the same time, parents will benefit from the support as well. I frequently see athletes who are in conflicts with parents over performance, effort, motivation, even parts of the recruiting process. A mental health professional can really help families navigate these complexities as well. Finally, let's not forget about the athletes themselves who are facing new life stressors in life. As we said, what happens on the field impacts life, and life impacts what happens on the field.

These are just a few recommendations to start with school and sports programs. Most importantly, we need to start by removing the stigma of mental health. We all know the support benefits everyone. We have started, but there is a long way to go. Hopefully, we can continue to move forward, continue to dialogue, and provide more mental health supports for students and athletes of all ages.

Peak Mental Performance Coaching, LLC is ready to help with this process. If you are a client or organization looking for support we are ready meet your needs. Contact us today to get the process moving.

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