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MHSAA to Train Coaches to ID Athletes' Inner Struggles

Paul Steinbach

The Michigan High School Athletic Association is partnering with a mental health foundation — called "be nice." — to train coaches to recognize inner struggles in athletes, including pressure to perform.

"The last year has been at least a little taxing mentally for all of us," MHSAA communications director Geoff Kimmerly told CBS affiliate WNEM in Bay City. "That's probably the understatement of the year."

The foundation uses training modules to help people spot potential trouble signs and to deal with them. These include behavioral, physical and psychological indicators and may encompass everything from quitting a sports team to exhibiting weight fluctuations to aggressively acting out.

According to its website, "be nice. is a program with a four-step action plan that's proven to save lives. Under the leadership of executive director Christy Buck, the foundation enlisted Grand Valley State University researchers to conduct an evidence-based study to prove the effectiveness of the program. Results concluded the be nice. program creates a positive culture, increases mental health referrals, and increases behaviors that prevent suicide.

"When used effectively, the be nice. action plan - to notice, invite, challenge, and empower - encourages individuals to challenge themselves and others to seek appropriate professional help when they notice mental health changes or concerns. This program equips individuals in schools, businesses, faith institutions, and communities with the knowledge and confidence to take action when it comes to mental health and suicide prevention."

"For them to say, just like Simone Biles, let's have this focus be on our kids and their mental health and make sure no matter what happens, we're safe and we're able to communicate when we're having challenges and changes, that is, number one, so awesome," Kat Lanting, program director at be nice. told WNEM.

Lanting said the responses the foundation gets are overwhelmingly positive. It is helping bridge the gap on a formerly taboo topic.

"I see the changes that they go through," Kevin Marshall, head varsity football and basketball coach at Bridgeport High School, said of his athletes. "I just think a program like this will be helpful for all of us coaches that are dealing with mental health or not, so they can know what these kids are going through and why we see such a rollercoaster with kids' behavior."

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