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New Stay in the Game Network Will Advance Mental Wellness

June 14, 2019

On Tuesday, June 11 more than 100 leaders gathered in New York for the inaugural Stay in the Game Forum - Beyond Sport’s first-ever convening of leaders from across the US sport, healthcare, social change, business, academia and development sectors to explore sport’s potential as a platform and a catalyst to promote mental wellness.

Hosted at MLB's offices and held alongside Headline Partners, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance) and Centerstone, Official Partners, the Citrone 33 Foundation and USA Cycling, and Beyond Sport’s Founding US Major League Supporters  -- MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL, NHL and the WNBA -- the new initiative prioritizes a public health issue that affects over 40 million Americans.

“Mental wellness is something that touches all our lives and sport has an opportunity to lead - through the athletes that speak openly, through creating the right environment for openness and through the benefits of participation. To bring the leagues together with such knowledgeable partners means we have the opportunity to grow a valuable network that allows us to break down barriers and encourage positive change within the industry around this vital issue," said Nick Keller, Founder and President of Beyond Sport.

Building on themes of collaboration, inspiration and education, the Forum opened with remarks from the Action Alliance to set the context, followed by an expert panel on ‘Sport’s Opportunity’ to address mental health issues featuring representatives from the Citrone 33 Foundation, MLB, Everton in the Community, the Positive Coaching Alliance and the NFL.

Some descriptionAttendees were then inspired by a powerful talk from Beyond Sport Ambassador, NFL Hall of Famer and Impact Foundation President, Brian Dawkins, who shared his own experiences and challenged the room to make sure the conversations went beyond the day.

“Pressure builds in silence when you allow it. Collaborative forums like Stay in the Game are what we need to be doing going forward, but we have to make sure to take the discussions out of the room.  We need to challenge ourselves to think outside the box and figure out the actionable things we can do with the expertise of the partners we have. I refuse to settle. Our cerebral wellness is worth it,” he stated.

To increase the collective knowledge base and to stimulate ideas for other organizations, researcher, league and team case studies from The New School, the NBA and the Vancouver Canucks were presented to showcase national and international best practice examples of how sport has been used to address mental health.

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Centerstone then introduced a call to action on ‘Sport’s Future’ that led into roundtable discussions where attendees chose from diverse issue areas  in the space -- working with veterans, mental health in the workplace, bullying, LGBTQ and Trans-Gender in Sport, supporting athletes, brand relevance and more -- facilitated by a range of leading organizations.

Following, Nate Boyer (Former NFL Player and Green Beret), Corey Hirsch (Former NHL Player) and Jessica Howard (Former US Gymnast) took the stage. By sharing their reflections and personal experiences, they brought to life what’s needed to best address the obstacles to promoting mental wellness and to positively affect the largest number of young people and adults possible.

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The day culminated with the launch of the Stay in the Game Network - a new year round platform that will leverage sport to help change the national conversation on mental health and wellness for the better. Nick Keller led representatives of the Network’s founding member organizations -- Colleen Carr (Action Alliance), Becky Stoll (Centerstone), Cindy Citrone (Citrone 33 Foundation) and Scott Schnitzspahn (USA Cycling) -- in a discussion on gaps identified by attendees where sport could better maximize its ability to drive collective impact, challenging everyone in the room to work together for solutions.

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Going forward the remit and focus of the Network will be decided on by its members, but immediately coming out of the day’s discussions was a plan of action that will:

• Expedite analysis of the challenges and corresponding solutions, findings of which will be released in a report next month.

• Implement a mapping of how sport is being used to promote and address mental health across the country.

• Circulate best practices in how sport is being used to promote and address mental health both within organizations and to the general public.

• Develop a toolkit of resources using the expertise of all Network members to provide support to any organizations looking to better address mental health through sport.

• Hold convenings that address specific issues within the larger topic

Though there is still a long way to go, the potential to move the dial exponentially through collaboration was strongly evidenced through the attendees insightful contributions and the strong determination felt in the room to break the stigma and silence on mental health.

Corey Hirsch, who hid his pain for years before being diagnosed with OCD stated, “When I was laying in my bed, when I couldn’t even make it to practice, I couldn’t even dream of a day like thank you all for being here.”

If you are interested in joining the Stay in the Game Network, please email [email protected] with your name and organization, and we will be in touch.