Varsity Coaches

It’s much more than just the specific sport; it’s about reinforcing positive attitude and lessons for life.

How to talk to your athlete about their mental health?

Start by explaining that when athletes are mentally and physically focused, they will perform better. When they are distracted by personal problems and stressors, they will not be at the top of their game.

When explaining about how a mental illness affects a person, it may be helpful to make a comparison to a physical illness. For example, many people get sick with a cold or the flu, but only a few get really sick with something serious like pneumonia. People who have a cold are usually able to do their normal activities. However, if they get pneumonia, they will have to take medicine and may have to go to the hospital. Similarly, feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, irritability, or sleep problems are common for most people. However, when these feelings get very intense, last for a long period of time and begin to interfere with school, sport, relationships, it may be a sign of a mental illness that requires treatment.

Considering there points will help any child to be more relaxed and understand more of the conversation.

Pre-School Age Children

Young children need less information and fewer details because of their more limited ability to understand. Preschool children focus primarily on things they can see, for example, they may have questions about a person who has an unusual physical appearance, or is behaving strangely. They would also be very aware of people who are crying and obviously sad, or yelling and angry.

School-Age Children

Older children may want more specifics. They may ask more questions, especially about friends or family with emotional or behavioral problems. Their concerns and questions are usually very straightforward. “Why is that person crying? Why does Daddy drink and get so mad? Why is that person talking to herself?” They may worry about their safety or the safety of their family and friends. It is important to answer their questions directly and honestly and to reassure them about their concerns and feelings.


Teenagers are generally capable of handling much more information and asking more specific and difficult questions. Teenagers often talk more openly with their friends and peers than with their parents. As a result, some teens may have already have misinformation about mental illnesses. Teenagers respond more positively to an open dialogue which includes give and take. They are not as open or responsive when a conversation feels one-sided or like a lecture.

If you are worried about their moods or behaviours, talk to them about it. You might say something like:

“I’ve noticed lately that _____, and I’m worried because that’s not normal for you.”
“How are you doing?”
“How have you been feeling? You seem really down lately.”
“What’s been bugging you these days?”
“What’s been stressing you out these days?

Watching your language.

Instead of saying, “John is schizophrenic”, say “John has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.” This helps us see the person first, rather than just labeling people by their illness.
Avoid calling people names like “mental”, “crazy”, “stupid”, “nuts” or “psycho”.

If you are dealing with behaviour, express your feelings honestly, but focus on the behaviour, not the child. For
example, you might say things like:

“I felt really upset when you…”
“I’m not happy with the choices that you’re making.”

Listening and offering support.

Ask how you can help. “Thanks for telling me how you’ve been feeling. I’m here for you. How can I be helpful?”

To promote mental health in athletes, you can:

Be positive role models. They need to see you express your feelings, talk over a problem with a parent or assistant coach, or see things from someone else’s point of view.

Promote a healthy lifestyle. Give healthy food, encourage them to get enough sleep and exercise.

Ask how their day went. Let them know when they’ve done something well (like trying hard, or getting better at something). Focus on the effort, not always the result. If something is bothering or stressing them, ask if they need help to solve the problem.

Ask them how they’re feeling about things. Some athletes may not know how to express themselves. Help them with language to ‘name’ and express feelings (“Oh that must have been frustrating to have missed that goal”). Help them see things from another’s point of view. They need to see adults do this (“My boss was in a really bad mood today, but she’s been going through a rough time caring for her mother”)

Teach them how to reach out to others when they need help and support.

Always take their concerns and worries seriously. They may believe their feelings don’t matter if we dismiss their feelings.

Help them face stress, and cope with it in a positive way.

Have appropriate expectations, limits and consequences for behaviour.

Expand the Reach is a web based resource for coaches, athletes of all levels, parents and community organizations to support Mental Wellness, and early intervention for better performance in sport & life. 

Contact us for more information