W MI mental health group prepares HS football coaches to help students


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Every high school coach in Michigan will be required to undergo mental health training at the start of each season.

For the third year in a row, the Michigan High School Athletic Association is partnering with the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan in implementing the be nice. model. 

Christy Buck, executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, explained that the program teaches coaches how to recognize when a player is struggling with mental illness and then take action to help empower the student to seek treatment.  

The MHSAA began mandating the training in 2019, using sports as an avenue to promote mental wellness.

“Athletics creates an opportunity for some relationships to be built and this is something that can be a great product of those relationships,” said MHSAA spokesman Geoff Kimmerly. 

This year’s training comes as mental health takes center stage at the Olympic games. Gymnastics superstar Simone Biles chose not to compete, citing the stress of the competition and a need to focus on her mental health.

“I’m hoping what comes out of this story right now is education to the masses of what were the risk factors that are happening in these athletes’ lives,” Buck said.  

The be nice. program created a 7-minute video to kick off this year’s coaches training. In the video, a female athlete is showing signs of depression.  

“The character in our movie is going through sadness, she’s crying, she’s not the same team member that she typically is,” Buck said.  “She then she gets angry, pushes another player down and has a panic attack.” 

In the end, the coach empowers the player to seek treatment by starting a conversation about mental health.  

Ultimately, the video will demonstrate how coaches can facilitate these conversations, using them as a tool to break the mental health stigma and prevent a future crisis.  

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