Numerous studies have shown the lifelong importance of exercise and sports for young children. Physically active children are often happy children. Children involved in team play develop lifelong friendships and develop a work ethic that stays with them until adulthood. But sometimes, the pressure to perform can have a negative effect on children.
Challenges arise when sports become a source of concern for children. Ideally, sports provide a fun activity for children to move their body and relieve some stress. They also offer a safe place for children where they are supported by instructors who are trusted adults who can lean for counseling and guidance if they encounter mental health problems.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a few examples of young people reaching out to coaches while battling mental health issues. And, unfortunately, we have seen tragic examples of young people who were unable to access the support they needed.
How can coaches create a culture that encourages open conversation about the mental health of their players? There’s a lot more to the line, and it’s bigger than a win or a loss.
Creating a culture that enables children to move forward when they need help
Trainers are faithful adults in a child’s life. They play an important role in setting team rules and creating a culture that encourages children to seek help or to seek help for their peers. As soon as a coach starts interacting with the players, an open culture begins to develop.
Coaches must reinforce the positive benefits of the sporting experience, which varies from sport to sport, but always includes the basics of working together as a team, growing up as individuals and caring for each other. As they discuss the last point, coaches should be vocal that they are available whenever a child struggles or worries for a friend. This message needs to be repeated in a non-judgmental and accessible way. And often.
It is also important to remember that children pay more attention to your actions than to your words. As a trainer, you need to set the environment for open, communicative and difficult conversations if they are needed.