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How to Proceed with Caution with our Young Student Athletes Mental Health During this Unprecedented Time.
The world has flipped upside down in the last 6 months. As adults we have lived it. Let's explore how we can help our student athletes cope and come out stronger.
This week we look at the impact of all this craziness on the mental health of our young ones and what we can do about it.
We also share a couple of stories around staying humble, empathy, and perspective in the world of sports.
If the great sneak up of the smartphone taught us anything, then it should be to monitor carefully how change can impact the next generation.
Stay with me for a minute.
What is the great sneak up of the smartphone?
There was a time when young children did not have a smartphone. Not that long ago. The expectation was that the smartphone was for those older. Perhaps high school years. Our standards changed, it seemed very quickly, and those younger and younger were getting smartphones.
There were lots of “good reasons”, right parents?
Needed to keep in touch if an emergency and need to keep tabs of location were 2 of the common ones. Then there is the famous “all their friends have one”. The old “keep up with the joneses”, right?
Those Joneses are something! Always setting the pace!!
Kind of snuck up on us didn’t it?
Did we, as parents, coaches and educators truly understand the impact of the smartphone on our youth? In our classrooms and playing fields?
Literally at the click of a button our young ones were exposed to information that they should not have been. Smartphones also created another distraction for their attention. Then there was the creep in of social media. Social media took cyber bullying to another level.
Very simply, very few standards seen to have been set on expectations around usage. Back in the day, the television had a similar effect, right ? The plug in drug, yes?
Television, then video games, now smartphones. And smartphones on on their person.
At ALL times.
I am not convinced that parents, youth sports organizations and school boards have yet to address the impact of smartphones on the health of our younger generations. The impact will be felt for years around physical and mental health as well as attention deficit to name only a couple of areas.
What does this have to do with the pandemic?
Thanks for staying with me.
Do you see a parallel?
Going on 6 months our schedules have been put upside down. Us grownups have pivoted to various degrees of success. It is taking everything we got to keep our grown up life on the rails with these changes.
Our jobs have changed. Our social life has changed. Our everything has changed.
What about our youth?
What’s changed for them? In short: everything.
School, social life, arts and sports have all changed. For many, that is all or a big part of their lives.
The impact of the pandemic on our young people’s mental health is starting to be documented.
These are just 2 of the articles shared around some of the impact.
The first article discusses how mental health problems affect one in six children, and rates go up during community crises. Specifically, a higher number of children develop anxiety, depression, disruptive behavior problems, sleep disorders, substance use disorders and suicidal symptoms at this time.
This makes sense. Many of these issues develop in adults, so why would that not happen in children and teenagers?
The 2nd article talks about the importance of support in helping children adapt well to the uncertainty of the pandemic.
It is an article with a message that is a hopeful one. Given some basic support and protection, it emphasizes that our children have remarkable strength and hardiness.
With this in mind, let’s go through some of the tools shared recently by leaders in the field of sports and fitness around this support.
For parents, coaches and educators this perspective and approach is a critical one is helping our young people navigate this unprecedented time.
Our friend and Fit Soccer Queen Erica Suter uses a 7 point audit she uses with her athletes that helps self-assess how they are feeling around the topics of their health and performance.
• The physical self.
• Relationships and friendships
• Community and contribution
• Why : why are you participating.
This is fantastic in so many ways. As coaches and educators, we think of helping our athletes with their physical skills yes?
But what about the rest?
Simply discussing these topics provides a layer of support. As leaders we need to take the time and have a tool to get to these topics and connect.
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Our friend Matt Young of Quality Sport Hub presents a full development model and guideline for coaches and educators. Similar to Erica’s model, it itemizes all the components of development and provides guidance on how to monitor and support. The physical components of development in Matt’s model is less that 20% of the overall pie. His program provide the tools to coaches and officials to foster TOTAL DEVELOPMENT.
Here is a sample of his work done with Canada Soccer establishing the baseline and criteria in a full development model.
Coach Alwyn Cosgrove recently had a great Facebook post around “Controlling the Controllables.
This has a huge impact for all of us and how we can support our kids and teenagers, and even set an example ourselves!
Here is the post:
My job is to CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLES.
In the May 2019 issue of “Journal of Sport & Health Science,” the article titled, “The Compelling Link Between Physical Activity & the Body’s Defense System” had some important takeaways.
Here are the highlights:
• Exercise is an immune system adjuvant that improves immune defense activity and metabolic health.
• Data supports a clear conclusion: moderate exercise reduces risk of illness.
• Exercise training reduces inflammation in a variety of ways.
• Regular exercise improves immune regulation
So I am going to continue to train.
I am going to fuel my body with healthy food.
I am going to take my supplements
I am going to stay hydrated
I am going to commit to getting deep quality sleep.
And I am NOT going to stress.
Here is the article: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31193280/
Control The Controllables. Thanks Coach Cosgrove for this perspective.
· Ben Fanelli’s program with Heroic Minds talks about developing the skill of implementing healthy strategies:
“One of the key issues with today’s view of mental wellness is that people will spend most of their time gathering knowledge about how to perform better without developing the skill of implementing those strategies. This turns out to be far more important than good information.”
With this in mind, here are some steps on implementing some best practices to help our young student athletes during this crazy time:
· Initiating discussions on how hard the changes are on young athletes of all ages.
· Facilitating opportunities for development.
· Integrating regular activity into our daily lives. This starts with the role modelling of our leaders and carries over to our young people
· Dealing with setbacks, and change is part of physical activity and sports. Providing our young student athletes with this perspective is not only relevant now, but a great life lesson. The only constant in this world is change.
As our friend Coach Lee Taft refers to, our roll as coach is to set the tone, and let the arthlete guide and discover the process. This applies here.
Setting The Bar High
Very often youth sports can get blown out of perspective.
It can seem more important than it really is.
If you have a young athlete at home and sometimes needs a reminder about the role of humility, perspective and empathy in sports, you will want to check out these 2 stories.