Health

New Ohio law requires coaches to get mental health training to help student athletes: ‘Support our kids’

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This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

A new law in Ohio, which took effect on July 4, requires school sports coaches to undergo training in student mental health support.

Included in House Bill 33, the provision states that all coaches must complete the training before they can apply for or renew their pupil-activity program permit. (The permit is required for any staff member who directs a student activity program involving athletics.)

The training course must be approved by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the law states.

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Ohio is the first and only state with a law requiring coaches to get mental health training, confirmed Ron Zambrano, a partner attorney at West Coast Employment Lawyers in Long Beach, California.

“Maryland has a bill currently working its way through the legislature, but it hasn’t passed yet, and no other states have a similar law on the books,” he told Fox News Digital.

Depressed female athlete

Today’s student-athletes face mounting pressures that can jeopardize their mental health, experts warn. “If a coach doesn’t pass the required tests, it appears based on the law that they wouldn’t be allowed to coach,” an attorney told Fox News Digital.  (iStock)

“A prospective coach must pass one of these pre-approved programs, and they would need to complete the training again each time they apply to participate in a different school activity,” Zambrano said. 

“If a coach doesn’t pass the required tests, it appears based on the law that they wouldn’t be allowed to coach.”

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Many administrators — including Richard Bryant, director of athletics for Loveland City Schools near Cincinnati, Ohio — believe the requirement is long overdue. 

Bryant’s district had been implementing mental health measures well before the new mandate.

“I have incorporated mental health and suicide prevention training with my coaches for the past five years,” he told Fox News Digital. “At the end of the day, the safety and well-being of our student-athletes must be at the forefront of every decision we make.”

He added, “If implemented correctly, this platform can save lives.”

Coach comforting player

While many coaches already may be actively supporting their players’ mental health, the new law aims to give them the tools they need to better identify young people who may be struggling.  (iStock)

In the five years that Bryant has been training coaches, he is aware of two “saves.”

“A ‘save’ refers to helping an individual who had a plan to end their life and would have followed through with their plan had someone not intervened,” he said. 

While many coaches already may be actively supporting their players’ mental health, the new law aims to give them the tools they need to better identify young people who are struggling. 

“We need our coaches to look out for our children — not only as athletes, but also as people.”

Andrea Bryant, Richard’s wife, is a school counselor at Lakota East High School, also near Cincinnati. 

“Teens who are struggling with mental health will typically reach out to a trusted adult or friend,” she told Fox News Digital. 

“Providing training to coaches is another layer to help adults and kids. The more people we can train for mental health, the more guidance we will have to support youth.”

At Lakota East, the coaches, teachers and school staff were already completing mental health and suicide training prior to the new law.

Coach with teen players

“The more people we can train for mental health, the more guidance we will have to support youth,” one Ohio parent told Fox News Digital. (iStock)

“The coaches, athletic trainers, athletic office staff, school administration and school counselors all stay connected to identify student-athlete struggles and support our kids,” Bryant said.

Amanda Boehmer, an Ohio mother whose 16-year-old daughter plays volleyball at Loveland High School and also on a club team, is supportive of the new law as well.

“Sports have been associated with lower rates of stress, anxiety, depression and suicidal behavior — but I’m not so sure if that is 100% true anymore,” she told Fox News Digital.

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While Boehmer believes physical activity can have a “profound and positive impact” on children’s well-being, and that being part of a team can teach valuable life lessons, she also recognizes that studentathletes face significant challenges — and that coaches have a unique opportunity to help.

“I believe some coaches are in touch with their players on this level, but not all of them,” she told Fox News Digital. “Some may not know what to do if an athlete comes to them with an issue or a problem.”

She added, “We need our coaches to look out for our children — not only as athletes, but also as people.”

Ohio law

A new law in Ohio, which took effect on July 4, requires school sports coaches to undergo training in student mental health support. (iStock)

California attorney Zambrano expects that other states will follow suit with their own mental health training mandates.

“We could see similar laws being expanded into the workplace, including for managers and others in positions of authority, similar to the sexual harassment training that many companies already require,” he predicted.

Pressures facing studentathletes

Today’s student-athletes face mounting pressures that can jeopardize their mental health, experts warn.

“There is the internal or individual pressure, as the student-athlete worries about not being good enough, letting their parents down or disappointing their coaches or teammates,” Rich Bryant said.

“We could see similar laws being expanded into the workplace,” an attorney said.

Competitive programs often have performance-based expectations that can place a heavy burden on young athletes, he added — on top of potential pressure at home to earn scholarships and succeed academically.

“There’s also the pressure to ‘do all the things’ — stay in shape, work on skills, weight train, travel, play in tournaments, go to clinics and more,” Bryant said. “Students have to become very adept at time management.”

However, he said that “in many cases, there are simply not enough hours in the day.”

Stressed teen

“Students have to become very adept at time management,” said Rich Bryant, an Ohio athletic director. Yet “in many cases, there are simply not enough hours in the day.” (iStock)

On top of that are the typical adolescent challenges of peer pressure, personal relationships and physical and emotional development.

Student counselor Andrea Bryant pointed out that social media only serves to heighten stress levels for student-athletes. 

“Today’s world is much more connected than the smaller communities that adults grew up in 20 to 30 years ago,” she told Fox News Digital. 

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“Students’ connection to the world through social media creates added pressure for them to perform better on their field of play, because not only are the fans in the stand watching, but someone is likely recording [the activity] and will post about the athletic event.” 

“Students’ connection to the world through social media creates added pressure for them to perform better on their field of play.”

Boehmer has experienced firsthand how this pressure to perform can impact student-athletes.

“The sports season, coupled with school work, demands that kids juggle late nights at games, homework, studying and adequate sleep, all while worrying about getting playing time and winning,” she said. 

“All of it can be fun and rewarding, but also stressful.”

Volleyball tournament

Amanda Boehmer, an Ohio mother whose teenage daughter plays volleyball, believes that athletes whose identities are strongly tied to their sports are at higher risk of developing mental health concerns. (Amanda Boehmer)

Things can become even more strained when players experience a sidelining injury or lack confidence in their abilities, Boehmer added.

“In my opinion, an athlete whose identity is strongly tied to their sport is at a higher risk for developing mental health concerns, especially after experiencing an injury,” she said. 

“They may feel they have lost their primary sense of self, and that they have wasted their parents’ time and money and have disappointed them.”

How parents can help 

Dr. Zachary Ginder, a psychological consultant in Riverside, California, stressed the need for parents to feel comfortable discussing mental health and well-being concerns with their children.

“Maintaining mental well-being and addressing concerns as soon as they arise is an important part of performing optimally, both in life and in sports,” he told Fox News Digital. 

“Parents can help de-stigmatize concerns by having open conversations with their children.”

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Parents of athletes can often get swept up in the high-pressure, high-performance culture of sports, Ginder said.

“While it’s admirable for parents to support their kids’ sports endeavors, it could potentially overshadow other aspects of their children’s identity, interests and overall well-being,” he said.

“Having open conversations about interests and actvities outside of sports may also be beneficial.”

Coach with player

Parents or caregivers should encourage student-athletes to find a healthy balance between their sport and other areas of their lives, one mental health expert said.  (iStock)

Parents or caregivers should also encourage student-athletes to find a healthy balance between their sport and other areas of their lives, Ginder said.

“Quality and adequate sleep, balanced nutrition, relaxation with friends and family, and other activities that promote mental well-being will ultimately support a more balanced and effective student-athlete and promote overall mental health,” he said.

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It’s also critical for parents to recognize when a child needs professional help, Ginder said.

Some telltale warning signs among young people include trouble focusing on academics, lacking overall life enjoyment, drifting away from social relationships or having trouble taking care of themselves, he said.

Other red flags include excessive rumination, anxiety, substance use, sleeping or eating too much or too little, or other emotional or physiological changes that are out of the ordinary.

Mother with athlete

It’s crtiical for parents to recognize when a child needs professional help, a psychologist said. (iStock)

“If a student-athlete is considering harming themselves or others, it is time to seek immediate help from a licensed professional,” Ginder said. 

The national rate for suicide between the ages of 10-14 is 1.69 per 100,000 children, with Ohio slightly above that at 1.78, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

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Among those age 15 to 24, the national suicide rate is 11.39 per 100,000 people, while Ohio’s rate is 11.27.

For emergency help, dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or text “Hello” to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.

Coach with sad athlete

Ohio is the first and only state with a law requiring coaches to get mental health training. (iStock)

Above all, Rich Bryant said parents should be their children’s biggest advocate.

“Be their champion while holding them accountable to the family’s standards and beliefs,” he recommended. 

“Kids have to know, every time they lay their head on a pillow to go to sleep, that their parents love and support them, regardless of the outcome of a game or an individual statistical performance.”

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