SSWSC coaches undergo youth mental health first aid training

Olympian Hall at Howelsen Hill Lodge.

Over the past year, the topics of mental health and athletics have been forcibly overlapped to the point that separating the two topics isn’t possible. Tennis player Naomi Osaka cited mental health as the reason for dropping out of the French Open in July. Gymnast Simone Biles missed most of the Summer Olympics due to her mental state later that month.

The pandemic broke down whatever dam was holding back the mental health conversation among athletes. Some of the best athletes of our time have spoken up about the topic, not only humanizing our idols, but reminding the public that nobody is immune to struggle.

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Athletic Director Dave Stewart didn’t want to dodge the tough subject, so he made it the theme of coaches training this summer. Program directors and coaches at the SSWSC recently took a Youth Mental Health First Aid class, equipping them with skills to handle the mental side of sport in addition to the physical side.

“I think it’s really valuable,” Stewart said. “I think anyone who’s working with young people should have this training.”

Fifteen of the SSWSC’s program directors and coaches took part in the eight-hour mental health first aid training.

SSWSC Freestyle program director Tony Lodico enjoyed getting together with fellow coaches and considering what their young athletes are going through, within and outside of their sports, especially through the pandemic. The training served as a great reminder that athletics are just a part of the person.

Now that mental health is being talked about, coaches have to know how to listen. Both Stewart and Lodico noted that learning how to listen was the most valuable takeaway from the training.

“To me the biggest thing and the hardest thing for all of us as humans, in my experience, is to listen nonjudgmentally,” Lodico said. “We’re just judgy, right, as humans. We like to put it against our experience and judge it. To get into that spot and say, ‘I’m just going to hear what’s happening and just take it for what it is and work through it.'”

Youth Mental Health First Aid

Grand Futures and Mind Springs Health both offer mental health first aid classes.

The U.S. Ski Team has also made mental health a point of focus. Matt Whitcomb, the head coach of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team, spoke with the SSWSC coaches a few weeks ago, as well about what U.S. Ski and Snowboard is doing to improve integration of mental health into its programming. Stewart said the U.S. Ski Team requires each athlete to work with a sports psychologist.

The SSWSC brought in Luke Brosterhous as the mental strength coach in September 2019. His position helped athletes focus on the state of mind they needed to be in to succeed. His position has since been retitled to the mindset performance coach.

“That’s something we’ve invested in the last three years, as well,” Stewart said.

Additionally, the coaches sat in for a presentation from the University of Colorado Anschutz about mental wellness for coaches and athletes.

The topics at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard annual trainings have shifted as well, according to Lodico.

“Pre-COVID, two years ago, all the topics were tracking performance, performance and performance and technique and performance,” Lodico said. “All the topics this year, there was a little bit of performance, but there were five different speeches on mental health. It’s becoming more of a topic.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.