Sports provides a great chance to celebrate excellence, learn about setbacks, and overcome diversity.
Yet sports can stress players—beyond how high they jump or how fast they run. For 15- or 16-year-old student athletes, it’s not “everyday” stress when kids don’t make the starting lineup, or lose the game because of a missed field goal.
Players can invest a lot of their personal identity in their performance, and emotionally this can be very impactful on youths. Coaches and other adults need to be attentive to psychological stressors that are common in student athletes—and youth overall.
Consider this: On your middle school football team of thirty 7th and 8th graders, 7 of them have likely had thoughts of suicide during the past 12 months, 4 of them have made a plan about how they would attempt suicide, and 2 have actually attempted suicide. (SOURCE: 2007 National Youth Behavior Risk Survey (latest year data are available))
Certainly we’re not naive enough to think that our student athletes are immune to a torn knee ligament or other physical injury on the playing field or in training. But we are naive if we think these same kids are immune to struggles with depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. When—not if—the expected mental health crisis arises, kids need the very best support, referrals, and understanding of coach and teammates we can deliver.
This is our call to action, and it’s one that can mean life or death for the vulnerable youth on our teams and in our communities.