Yes, There Is Something We Can Do In Support Of Young Athlete’s Mental Health.
While the results of a recent survey on Canadian youth hockey players mental health during the pandemic are alarming, the narrative around these results are an even bigger concern.
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The impact of our young athletes losing opportunities to play their favorite game during this pandemic is a concern for many, as was highlighted by a recent Hockey Canada parents survey. From the recent survey, 45% of parents worried about the mental health of their children, the effect of being without organized hockey during this unprecedented time.
While the results of the survey are alarming, as 45% of parents represents approx. 280 000 families, the narrative around this becomes even more alarming.
In the below article from the Toronto Sun*, the head of Hockey Canada Tom Renney had the following to say: “I think it’s a very real problem, when you get to a certain age, and you’re pursuing a dream, and that dream is put on hold, that’s a problem. It doesn’t matter the sport. The questions are the same: How are they doing? How are they handling life with their dreams or with their activities on hold? What are they doing?”.
While no one can dispute the impact of removing something so important, the viewpoint that these sporting opportunities are what defines them may be the biggest reason for concern. It is well documented that participating in youth sports at a competitive level takes a big commitment, however are we doing a disservice when this commitment comes at the expense of developing other interests?
A common perspective seems to be that this is a “lost” year and that is indeed at the root of the issue.
The reality is that there are some things out of our control, like the pandemic.
How we teach our kids HOW to deal with repercussions from the pandemic IS under our control.
First, lets briefly examine these repercussions. They have been real rough on many, and our youth are no exception. They are one of the demographics hit hard from this pandemic. Their sporting and life plans have been changed drastically. Colleges and universities are online, high schools are also virtual. Activities cancelled. Their structure changed, their social interaction altered, the demands on their time massively impacted. Their physical and mental outlets have been removed. They are left without the structure and benefits they became so used to enjoying. In many cases, their identity has been changed. Almost from one day to the next.
This is not to be minimized.
However, this impact is much more significant if playing sports defines their identity, as opposed to being a conduit for their development.
Our friend Ben Fanelli of Heroic Minds understands what it feels like when your passion and pursuit is taken away. The Physical Movement documented Ben’s story here.
Ben has an unique and interesting take of the narrative of having your identity taken away when your sport stops. He lived it and now studies it at the University of Waterloo. Ben’s perspective revolves around defining the purpose and meaning behind what we do. His view is that this opportunity is a time where we can help our youth define the deeper reasons for their enjoyment and participation.
This is in direct contrast to the perspective that our identity has been taken away because of a lack of opportunity to play.
This then would be the ideal time to address, yes?
Ben brings up the term “identity foreclosure” in a recent interview on the topic (posted below). Identity foreclosure is a stage of self-identity discovery in which an individual has an identity but hasn't explored other options or ideas.
The pandemic presents a great opportunity to focus on developing other interests, and outlets as well as explore the deeper purpose behind their participation. This deeper purpose can fuel a stronger return to play and a better foundation for life in general.
Coach Nick Saban, the winningest coach in college football history feels there is an illusions of choice in what is required to be good at a skill. Having a strong purpose drives the focus and discipline required to pursue excellence.
We have examples of how sport participation develops skills that can be transferred to other interests and pursuits.
Examples of youth sport supporting the developmental journey, not defining it:
The Physical Movement has documented multiple individuals who have used their experience playing a sport as young athletes to fuel a career of contribution and purpose.
These include profiles of Erica Suter (Soccer), Frank Fascia (Baseball), Jerry Weinstein (Baseball), Lee Taft (Basketball), Olga Hrycak (Basketball), Guy Brown (Football), Matt Young (Football), Wayne Burke (Lacrosse), Trevor Nyp (Baseball), Ben Fanelli (Hockey), Marcus Knecht (Baseball), Sean Plouffe (Baseball).
Higher profile examples:
Super Bowl winner Laurent Duvernay Tardif of Montreal, who has taken a year off to serve as an MD in Montreal during the pandemic. Steve Nash,Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan. Ken Dryden. Larry Fitzgerald, Chris Long are a few higher profile examples of the same.
These cases have the common link of each having a deeper identity than the sports they played. They used sport an outlet and foundation to either finding other roles supporting the sport they love, and/or in the business world and/or volunteerism and charitable giving.
Fanelli makes another great point in his interview of using this time with athletes to guide and proactively discuss how to deal with some of the bumps in the road they will face. Sports provides an outlet to deal with adversity, so does a pandemic!
Finding other outlets for our physical and mental health, trying new things and using the time to develop other interests, as well as prepare for the challenges coming. This is where parents and coaches as role models, and finding silver linings to difficult situations come into play.
This would be a proactive and positive approach to a challenging time.
PLAY. LEAD. BE.
Additional resources to support our journey.
Ben Fanelli interview this past week on the above article findings and implications:
Nick Saban: The Illusion of Choice:
More on Nick Saban:
“Big Nick, the son of Croatian immigrants, also had a sense of fairness unusual for the place and the times. He took heat from some locals for treating black customers the same as whites at his Dairy Queen.
And when he learned that an African-American player on the Black Diamonds named Kerry Marbury didn’t have a father around, Big Nick took him in. Marbury, who went on to become a star running back at West Virginia, says he was accepted so completely by the Sabans that he was effectively shielded from racism as a child. “I was very confused when I got out in the world and found out how much prejudice there really was,” he tells me.”
Saban and Marbury stayed close friends, each being the best man at each other's weddings. In the 1980s, Marbury was arrested for drugs, and he served a prison sentence for two and a half years for violating his probation. After he got out of jail, Saban sent him money to help get him back on his feet.
Marbury went on to get his master’s degree and now serves as an administrator of public safety at a small West Virginia university. “I got where I am all as a result of him caring about me when no one else did,” he says.
As much as Saban cared about football, he cared about the people playing it more.