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Head In The Game Coaches Training Series Targets Youth Mental Wellbeing in the US

December 1, 2023 

Last week, we successfully concluded our 2023 Head In The Game (HITG) Coaches Training series focused on addressing the needs of youth in the United States who identify as Black, Indigenous or a Person of Color (BIPOC) and/or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning (LGBTQ+). While mental wellbeing challenges exist for all youth demographics, two of the most vulnerable populations are young people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+. 

Beyond Sport facilitated the free, expert-led series as part of the capacity-building focus area of our Head In The Game program powered by the Z Zurich Foundation in collaboration with Zurich North America to improve mental wellbeing outcomes for teens across the country. According to the Aspen Institute 2023 Project Play report, children see sports as a way to improve their mental health. However, in a National Coach Survey, a large number of coaches said that they lack the tools, knowledge and confidence to deal with the mental aspects of sports; 67% stated that they would like to take part in training on mental health.  

Beginning in late September and running through mid-November, over a thousand coaches attended in-person training in the target program states of California, Illinois, Minnesota and New York, as well as virtual sessions open nationwide. Sessions were led by the Center for Healing and Justice through Sport (CHJS) and Doc Wayne, both leading experts on helping coaches develop athlete-focused mental wellbeing programs. Participants took part in six hours of training, split between each of the providers over the course of a day, that provided proven methods, resources, activities and tips to better enable them to support positive mental health among the youth they work with. Collectively, the coaches reach more than 170,000 13-19-year-olds each year.   

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Programming covered how to recognize signs of stressors, create stigma-free spaces and empower youth to find their inner strength and cope with daily pressures. Coaches were encouraged to ask questions based on their real-life experiences and to engage with the others in attendance. We were please to see them embrace the collaborative aspect of the training, sharing best practices and learning from each other and as a group.  

Training was delivered by the experts separately and had two focuses. Workshops led by Doc Wayne – an award-winning non-profit that provides sport-based mental health therapy centered on youth – explored how to create LGBTQIA+ affirming athletic spaces. Curated by LGBTQIA+-identifying youth development professionals, the sessions taught intervention techniques addressing discriminatory behavior in sports. It included practical applications on how to better support current and future LGBTQIA+ athletes and shared the importance of LGBTQIA+ terminology to build trust and an affirming space. Programming also addressed systemic oppression and microaggressions such as verbal, non-verbal and environmental insults, whether intentional or unintentional, and their contribution to overall poor mental health.   

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CHJS’s – a non-profit on a mission to make sport healing for all youth through training, consulting and movement building – programming focused on healing-centered approaches that address systemic injustice. The trainers covered how to navigate through grief, trauma, loss and heartbreaking situations through movement. They also spoke on the importance of language and how it can impact people, as well as providing tools to strengthen relational connections and honor lived experiences. Through movement and sport-based activities, coaches learned the significance of personal space when taking care of self and others, and how grief and emotions can take a toll on your body so it’s better to embrace them than to move on. 

"I had the privilege to see the in-person sessions in action and meet hundreds of coaches in St. Paul, Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles and the Bronx. It was incredible to see the coaches' growth over the span of just six hours. Imagine the transformative impact they will then have on the youth they work with over the course of a season," said Claudia Larrea, Grants and Programs Manager at Beyond Sport. 

The coaches left with an increased ability to recognize signs of mental wellbeing challenges and learned how to have mental health conversations with young people. Most importantly, they gained knowledge of protective and preventative tools that will better equip them to support their participants’ mental wellbeing.  

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“The coaches training provided KEEN Coaches with valuable insight into the mental health challenges faced by many teens in our community. It gave us great suggestions about how to approach kids and parents when discussing topics like pronouns as well as how to handle situations where inappropriate language is used,” shared Suzanne Phillips, Executive Director of KEEN Los Angeles

“The training gave us useful tips around the types of issues kids are facing (anxiety, depression, etc.) and how to help kids talk about their feelings, which we are passing along to our community and incorporating into our programming. By adding this extra layer onto our existing programming, we will be able to do a better job of supporting our athletes' mental wellbeing.” 

We anticipate that we will hold additional sessions in 2024 in order to reach more youth coaches across the US. Please also stay tuned for information on our Learning Community – the final component of HITG – which will bring together key stakeholders from across sport, mental wellbeing and youth development. The virtual platform will give community members the opportunity to share best practice and resources, seek support on specific challenges from their peers, access development opportunities and celebrate progress together. 

We are extremely grateful to CHJS and Doc Wayne for their dedication and partnership. Learn more about our HITG Program and explore the HITG Campaign – the awareness component of the program – which offers teen-focused educational resources to support, empower and create a safe space for young people to learn more and engage freely about mental wellbeing.  


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