Coaches Creatively Communicate With Student-Athletes Regarding Mental Health

Use Array Of Methods To “Check-In” With Athletes


Today’s student-athletes have a fuller schedule, more pressure, and the effects of social media compared to athletes of previous generations.

To begin to assist with coping with those mental health issues, high school coaches are now using an array of communication skills to help athletes handle the rigors of juggling school and sport aside from physically preparing them for practice and games.

“At Broadneck, we use a multitude of methods to stay in touch with our players,” said head girls lacrosse coach Katy Kelley. “We have the players use ‘journaling’ as a method to write down their feelings and fears throughout the week and they share those feelings with other players and coaches.”

One of the new methods that Broadneck has utilized is forming a Morgan’s Message club at the Cape St. Claire campus. Morgan’s Message Foundation was formed after a Duke lacrosse player, Morgan Rodgers, committed suicide in 2019. After a horrific knee injury sidelined her from playing, Rodgers felt that she had lost touch with her teammates and felt she was not contributing to the team, which led to severe depression. The foundation wants to expand dialogue for those who suffer in silence and support those who feel alone.

“We had 81 students attend our recent Morgan Message meeting and it’s one of the ways we are listening to the concerns and anxieties of today’s athletes,” said coach Kelley.

At Severn School, head girls lacrosse coach Kathy Rudkin uses a multitude of approaches to ensure her players have an outlet for any mental health concerns.

“I’m a big mental health advocate, and all of my coaches continuously talk to the players regarding the pressures they are facing and provide advice on how to handle those pressures that come with being a student-athlete and teenager,” Rudkin said.

Severn School’s athletes also use journaling to reflect on their feelings and concerns throughout the week as well as after games.

“We like to use instant positive reaction (IPRs) throughout practice, games and the day after the games,” Rudkin said. “We also use many team-building methods so the players have a support group within the team.”

Rudkin, who had a notable collegiate career at Syracuse and Maryland, knows the values of team chemistry and making sure the players have fun on and off the field.

The lady Admirals enjoy a bevy of fun-themed events to keep the team close-knit and make sure everyone is included. Some of those activities are team dinners, dance parties, going to universities to watch college lacrosse games, as well as adopting a community service project to do together.

“The girls love music and honestly enjoy each other’s company no matter what we are doing,” Rudkin said.

Music also strikes a note with the Broadneck team as they use music before and after practice and games to reduce stress and keep the excitement of being in a competitive environment.

“We try to have fun, but we know there’s a serious side of practice and games,” said senior midfielder Lilly Kelley.

As a senior, Kelley knows that she needs to help the younger players with the stress of playing the top teams in the region as well as making a playoff run.

“I always stay positive and tell myself and other teammates that we have done this a million times and to have confidence in yourself,” Kelley said.

Junior Susanna Moore likes to lead her teammates on a walk before the game and pray.

“You don’t have to be religious, but it’s another way to build camaraderie and support your teammates before a game,” Moore said.

Kelley also offers advice to her fellow Bruins regarding social media, and she urges her teammates to stay away from platforms like Instagram and rely on the positive messages of the coaches and players.

“We all know the pressures from school, grades, practice and games, but it’s the players who can really help reduce those stressors and continuously provide positive support,” Kelley said.

Also, the coaches and senior players know that the junior year of high school is the most challenging and that is also the year that college recruiters begin their communication with top athletes.

“There’s a lot of expectations of students getting into a university and maintaining a high grade point average (GPA), but it’s so good to have senior players give you advice as well as the coaches and how to handle recruiting on top of school and sports,” Moore said.

The Maryland legislature developed House Bill 375 this year to have the Maryland Higher Education Commission establish guidelines to train coaches and to recognize indicators of mental illness and behavioral distress in athletes.

The bill was passed by the House chambers but was in Senate hearings before this legislative session expired.

“One of the great aspects of my coaching staff is that we all are Broadneck alumni and know how important it is to have an in-house support system,” said Coach Kelley. “We have really helped our athletes who may have had concerns with low self-esteem, anxiety and depression issues.”

Severna Park High School’s varsity softball squad competed in April at the Harwood, Maryland-based Southern High School in a game that aimed to raise mental health awareness for female athletes.

Just last year, headlines of female college athletes taking their own lives scrolled across news tickers, including James Madison University softball player Lauren Bennett.

The Severna Park and Southern players said the goal of their April game was not just to compete but to also share the bond of softball and their support for each other. The squads wore matching shirts with green ribbons. Players gave each other gifts to remind them that they’re not alone.


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