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Worlds of Sport, Mental Health & Social Change assemble to address mental wellness

April 3, 2020

On March 30 we hosted the first gathering of the Stay in the Game Network, following the success of last year’s inaugural Forum in New York City. Bringing together the worlds of sport, healthcare and social change, the Network will leverage sport to create cross-sector strategies and resources that will result in open, positive and productive narratives and action on mental health. 

And with the current global pandemic intensifying stressors, finding effective ways to cope and support those closest to us, while also strengthening the well-being of our communities is even more necessary.

With one in four people expected to be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, Stay in the Game Network Founding Members – Beyond Sport, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance), Centerstone, USA Cycling and Citrone 33 Foundation – joined together believing that diverse collaborations are much more likely to produce progressive solutions to social challenges. 

Monday’s virtual participation was strong with hundreds participating to learn more about the Network’s mission and to gather inspiration and practical programmatic and personal advice during this time of instability and distance. Representatives from the United Nations, Barça Foundation (FC Barcelona), Deloitte, Boston Bruins, Tennessee Titans, NCAA, Alliance of Sport, Kaiser Permanente, the Dodgers Foundation and Achilles International, were just a few of the wide-ranging organizations in attendance.

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Facilitated by Radha Balani, Director of Design and Facilitation for our sister company thinkBeyond, four subject matter experts encompassing public health, the media, a national governing body and a sports therapy nonprofit, spoke on how they and their organizations are adapting to the current landscape and offered suggestions that attendees could apply to their own lives and work.

Watch the Stay in the Game Network Webinar


Sport’s Role in Suicide Prevention: Colleen Carr, National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

Building on prior Beyond Sport convenings, Colleen sees the Network uniquely positioned to impact on two primary levels:

1- A network that supports the sport sector’s efforts to reduce suicide and address mental wellness within sport, but also to harness the momentum of athletes and leagues speaking up and increasing tackling the issue publicly which can expand to the larger sports world.

2-Leveraging the power and cultural influence of sport to contribute to suicide prevention and mental health efforts nationally and in communities.

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“With 162M+ Americans claiming some relationship to sport-related activities, there’s an opportunity here to bring together folks…to really infuse suicide prevention and mental health in innovative ways through community outreach efforts and community funding priorities through sport in a way that mental health can’t do on its own.”

Insight and Inspiration: Trenni Kusnierek, NBC Sports Boston Anchor & Reporter and Mental Health Advocate

Trenni shared learnings from her own story and that many people are now contacting her about their struggles with self-isolation. For many who haven’t dealt with mental health issues in the past, this is unchartered territory. She then provided useful tips from a psychologist friend, stressing that “during personal challenges, great personal growth can happen.”

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Trenni also expressed the belief that during and coming out of this, sport will be a powerful tool to bring us back to normalcy and that proactively connecting with friends and other support networks is vital.

“I do something called #mentalhealthmonday and the amount of feedback I get from people saying thank you is overwhelming, especially coming from athletes because we see them as superhuman in a way, and to hear them going through this, brings us together in a fabric community and makes you think ‘you’re literally just like me’.”

Current Landscape for Professional Sport: Kelsey Erickson, USA Cycling SafeSort Director

Kelsey opened with the important reminder that everyone is on the mental health spectrum; “we all just deal with it at different times in our lives.” She then described the free programs USA Cycling has put in place, supported by pro-bono counselors, to aid past and present athletes in dealing with trauma outside of sport and to provide structure and consistency in a time when so much is outside of our control.

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“As an athlete training physically and mentally, we recognize that mental health can impact your performance but it affects you as a person first, and you as an athlete after. USA Cycling cancelled all events, athletes whose lives have been blown up because of this crisis There is absolute strength in vulnerability and athletes can lead the way.”

Current Landscape for Grassroots Sport: David Cohen, CEO Doc Wayne Group

Doc Wayne has been fusing therapy through sport to heal and strengthen at-risk youth in schools for over a decade. With schools being closed, its clinical team employed new ways to engage with their kids, resulting in ‘tele-health’ outreach to every family that they work with (450 kids/week).

Pivoting from in person fun and games, they are now providing virtual one on one time realizing that every child has their own story and that being there to listen is critical. They have since widened outreach to all the parents and children in their network, noting that “people are happy to hear from coach.”

“If you have a variety of kids that you’ve been working with for years, doing some outreach is critical. Nothing would be more helpful now than having a coach to lean on, to talk to about whatever it may be.”

Following the presentations, the session opened up for questions with the main topics concerning adapting messages and actions to youth athletes, insights on navigating the post-COVID world and when things return to normal following the recovery phase.

To listen to the webinar in its entirety, click here.

The Stay in the Game Network is looking to build a diverse and active membership to advance a shared mission of using sport as a platform, catalyst and channel for industries to work together to change the narrative on mental health to one of hope, prevention and healing.

Download the membership benefits flyer and email [email protected] to join. 


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Part Two