Last week, TrueSport, the youth sports and wellness arm of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), held their first-ever discussion on Mental Wellness & The Young Athlete.
Dr. Jennifer Royer, TrueSport’s education director, opened the day by making it clear how severe the mental health situation is among young athletes.
“We are seeing challenges for people’s health, people’s mental wellbeing, that is on a scale we have never seen before,” she said. “We have an opportunity as leaders in this space to take a step forward….we are willing to say to young people—it is OK to raise your hand and say, ‘I am struggling with this.’”
The timing couldn’t be more appropriate. On December 7th, 2021, the Surgeon General of the United States issued a statement calling for the “swift and coordinated response to this [mental health] crisis as the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides recommendations that individuals, families, community organizations, technology companies, governments, and others can take to improve the mental health of children, adolescents, and young adults.”
The day consisted of four panels on different areas of youth mental health and a Q&A session with 100 teen athletes from the Colorado Springs area. The teens had a chance to ask questions of elite athletes Noah & Josephus Lyles, founders of The Lyles Brothers Sports Foundation.
Athletes Speak Up
The first panel discussion included world-renowned Olympians Noah Lyles and Gracie Gold and Paralympian Deja Young-Craddock. Lyles shared his experience using antidepressants and how they helped him through troubling times while competing; Gold discussed her struggles with anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder after the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games; and Young-Craddock shared stories of continuing challenges at the 2020 Tokyo Games, even as she excelled.
A Coach's Perspective
The second panel took on youth mental wellness from the coach's perspective. Dr. Kevin Chapman, founder of Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, and his panel of experts discussed how coaches, team managers, and support staff can help provide a safe and positive environment to thrive.
Parents & the Community
Session three focused on community and family, outlining how parents can help build a positive youth sports experience. Moderated by Olympic medalist David Plummer, this panel shared their thoughts on how an athletes' surrounding environment and the people in it can affect mental well-being.
Skills for Athletes and their Parents
The day concluded with actionable practices that athletes and their parents can employ when stressful situations arise. Dr. Deborah Gilboa, founder of AskDoctorG.com and a Today Show regular, was joined by Dr. Jennifer Harstein and Coach Chris Curd, former Arena Football League (AFL) athlete to discuss specific practices and techniques that attendees could use today to better athletes' mental well-being.