Mental health a new point of emphasis for high school coaches

All coaches required to take course on topic

Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
With the new mental health initiative voted into effect by the CHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee last week, coaches will have to take classes on the subject to further their awareness of the signs and possible helping actions.

The Colorado High School Activities Association is aiming to shed some light on mental health with student athletes and coaches by requiring all high school coaches to take a course centered on mental health starting this summer.

The change, which was approved by the Board of Directors last week, requires all coaches to take a course on the subject. A course is offered through the NHFS Learning Center, or coaches can participate in district-led mental health training to complete the requirement, according to CHSAA.

Helping spur the move was the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for CHSAA, headed by CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Jenn Roberts-Uhlig and includes a panel of doctors, trainers, school personnel and more.

“We come together about three times a year,” Roberts-Uhlig said. “Mental health is one thing that has been at the forefront for us lately. We continue to see (high school students) struggle with the mental health side of things.”

“We want to have our coaches embrace knowing about the side effects,” Roberts-Uhlig said. “They are the first person in line for the athletes who are struggling. They have the outside entity and get to know these kids at another level. We want to give them the tools and support to see those symptoms and to provide the resources and needs in the athletic department to help.”

The Sports Medicine Advisory Committee has looked at a variety of topics over the years, including taking a close look into concussions previously, but mental health was a subject the committee continued to discuss in meetings. Recent trends suggest that the topic could be one continually monitored and addressed, Robert-Uhlig added.

“Mental health will be an important topic of conversation,” Roberts-Uhlig said. “We are looking to do different things to educate and continue throughout the year.”

In addition to the course for coaches, Roberts-Uhlig says that CHSAA will promote a “Mental Health Monday” campaign a couple of times a month with resources for student-athletes, coaches and others to have.

With the latest addition, coaches are now required to be trained in CPR and first aid and must go through a course or lesson on concussions in addition to the mental health course.

The move to add a mental health course for coaches came with positive feedback from Boulder Valley School District athletic director Michele DeBerry and Chase McBride, the director of athletics, activities and fine arts for the St. Vrain Valley School District.

“I don’t want to keep adding things to our coaches’ plates, but the relevancy behind this outweighs not being educated on mental health,” McBride said. “I’m in support of mental health. It’s a lingering effect and the new concern today. We want to make sure we are well prepared, educated and have the knowledge and tools to help when necessary.”

DeBerry said that mental health is already a subject the Boulder Valley School District has addressed with the creation of mental health classes through Medicaid funds for faculty to take starting five years ago and continues today. It’s a subject that is personal and important to her for the school district to look into.

“This is good training for the people that are going to be around our kids,” DeBerry said. “We are seeing more and more incidents in youth and adults struggling with mental health. It is good for society to invest in it and pay attention to the warning signs.”

One of the reasons surrounding the creation of the mental health program was to bridge the gap between coaches who teach at the school and are in an environment with students and those coaches that work outside the school.

“We are all on different spectrums,” DeBerry said. “There are people who went to school to get a degree and wanted to work with children and can coach as well. Then there’s non-teacher coaches who love to coach and train on how to teach children. We have to bridge that gap with everyone.”

While the class for coaches is the first step to look more closely into mental health, all parties suggest it will be just the start of looking into it for high school athletics moving forward.

“(Roberts-Uhlig) and the committee came to the commissioner and said that they thought this was something important, maybe as important as anything we can do,” CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Bert Borgmann said. “We wanted to really focus in on it. You’re seeing mental health piece as a major topic across the country.”