By: Emma Glasgow

Today is Bell Let’s Talk day. A day to send a text or a tweet, or make a phone call, or post a picture to Facebook, to start the conversation about mental health and end the stigma. Mental health issues effect 1 in 5 Canadians at some point in their lives and effect 10-20% of Canadian youth. Suicide is among the leading cause of death for young Canadians and only 1 in 5 children who require mental health services receive the help they need (Canadian Mental Health Association).

As coaches, it can be easy to excuse ourselves from talking about difficult issues like mental health. It is easy to absolve the responsibility to the parents and teachers of our athletes. But 96% of children surveyed, list coaches as a greater influence than parents or teachers. And like it or not, your athletes will feel compelled to come to you when they need to talk. This responsibility may make you uncomfortable, it may even scare you. Offering your athletes an understanding ear rather than trivializing their feelings, is the BEST thing you can offer them.

Mental health is something we all have and all need to work on. Like our bodies need to be actively worked on to remain healthy, our brains require the same effort. It is important that kids understand that everyone has mental health, and everyone works to stay mentally healthy.

This may seem like a daunting topic and difficult to work into an already packed practice schedule, but according to Bell Let’s Talk there are 5 simple ways to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness all of which require very little time only your attention.


Words can help..but they can also hurt. Pay attention to the words and language you use. Children are especially keen to mimic the language around them and are also particularly sensitive to the words they hear. You may not intend harm but using words like “physcho” or “nuts” but without thinking could be harmful to those around you and may perpetuate the usage of such terms by your athletes.

How can you help?

Explain to your athletes, parents and coaches who use words like “physcho” or “nut” that they may be hurtful and provide an alternative view. Deeming those words as inappropriate in your company will send a powerful message and help change the language used by your team.


Myths exist about mental illness that contribute to stigma. Learn the facts so you can provide your athletes with the proper information and dispel myths from the outset. The earlier children understand the facts, the earlier they can take that knowledge out in the world.

How can you help?

Learn more, know more. Be knowledgeable and help fight stigma with facts. If you don’t know, don’t guess. Be honest and say “Let me look into that and I will let you know next practice!” It’s helpful for young athletes to know you don’t know everything, but that you care enough to find the truth.


Small acts of kindness speak volumes. This is particularly true for coaches as we often spend a limited amount of time with our athletes. Being kind and understanding in the little moments can be extremely reassuring and supportive for your athletes.

How can you help?

If you notice someone being labelled or bullied, don’t stand by. Ignoring instances of bullying symbolizes support for that behaviour and can further askew the already unbalanced level of power. A zero tolerance policy for instances of bullying and labels, creates a safer environment for everyone. Secondly, treat a person who has a mental illness whether it be a parent, fellow coach, athlete or spectator, with the kindness and care you give to people with other illness. Friendly smiles, a helping hand, a phone call or quick visit can go a long way!


Sometimes it’s best to just listen. Offering your athlete an understanding ear can be incredibly supportive.

How can you help?

Don’t trivialize someone’s illness. This can be particularly important for youth. We often minimize their feelings to that of regular childhood struggles, a perspective they cannot understand and one that often comes across as patronizing. Instead say, “I’m sorry to hear that, it must be a difficult time. Is there anything I can do to help?” By listening and asking, you are starting the conversation and letting your athlete know that this is a safe, supportive space.


Start a dialogue not a debate. Don’t argue with how your athlete is feeling, talk about it. Work to understand how they feel and why they are feeling that way.

How can you help?

Break the silence. Talk about how mental illness touches us all in some way directly or through a friend, family member or colleague. Stories of lived experiences are the best way to help eradicate stigma. Offering your perspective or experience, helps normalize your athlete’s feelings and lets them know they are not alone. If there are mental health and anti-stigma programs in your community, support them! They often have excellent resources you can pass along to parents and kids, and may even be interested in checking out your practice.

The sporting experience can be a stressful environment for all youth, but particularly those suffering from mental health issues. Physical activity remains one of the best ways to manage mental health. As a coach, you have a responsibility to creating and sustaining a physically, mentally and emotionally safe and supportive environment for your athletes. Be attentive to the language you use, educating yourself on the facts of mental health, being kind, listening and asking, and talking about mental health are five simple ways you can help end the stigma. The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, imparting in them the ability to talk about mental health in a factual, kind and supportive manner is the best step to ending the stigma of mental illness. Coaches, go forward and use your influence to produce mentally healthy athletes and youth!


Bell Let’s Talk-End the Stigma:

Canadian Mental Health Association- Fast Facts About Mental Illness:

Additional Resources:

Canadian Mental Health Alliance (CMHA)- Parenting Resources:

Do it for Daron-Transforming Youth Mental Health:

Kid’s Help Phone- 1-800-668-6868-

The Canadian Alliance for Mental Illness and Mental Health:

The Jack Project- Young Leaders Transforming the Way we Think About Mental Illness :

Source: Steve Nash Youth Basketball Blog
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