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It’s common to see families gathering at local fields, gyms, or tracks to watch and support their children while they play sports each week. Sports have countless physical benefits, but they also provide a great setting for youth to foster important life skills and values including leadership, dedication, problem solving, and personal growth. Many may be unaware that participating in sports also has immense mental health benefits.

Athletic participation has shown to be a protective factor against depression and suicide by reducing substance use, boosting self-esteem, improving body image, and most importantly, increasing social and interpersonal support. Spending hours practicing and competing as a team fosters deep bonds that last even after the last play has been made. And it’s true, those who participate in sports not only feel more connected to their peers, but also to the adults in their lives; their coaches, parents, and members of the community. It’s this sense of connectedness that builds resilience and mitigates the risk of experiencing depression and suicide.

It’s important to note that these relationships stay with teammates throughout their lives. As a former athlete, John Trautwein is no stranger to the influence athletics have on a developing teen, and the important role that teammates play throughout life. When his 15-year-old son, Will, took his own life, it was his former coaches and teammates, or “Life Teammates”, that supported his family. John has devoted his time to sharing his story and teaching student-athletes the important role they play in one another’s lives.

Coaches who strive to create a socially responsible and stigma-free environment enable youth to learn and grow. By having open discussions with their athletes about mental health, and teaching them an easy-to-remember acronym, ACT®, they’re teaching them the action steps to take if they’re concerned about a friend or teammate–on or off the field. ACT teaches youth to:

Acknowledge that you’re seeing signs of depression and suicide in a friend, and that it is serious.

Care – show your friend that you care

Tell a trusted adult that you’re concerned about yourself or a friend.

Both coaches and teammates are in an unique position to look out for the health and well-being of everyone on their team. These bonds are influential while youth are in school, and can continue later on in life, as you progress through life. Remember, it’s never too late to start looking out for one another. As John Trautwein would say, “Love ya, man.”

“Although good teams may win, great teams love each other!”

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