Coaching Association of Canada says first year of mental health online hub a success

Retired Canadian national soccer goalie Stephanie Labbe and Coaching Association of Canada CEO Lorraine Lafreniere were visiting a school in Richmond, B.C., to talk about improving mental health supports for youth athletes.

After they finished their presentation they opened the floor up to the students and Lafreniere was taken aback at the vulnerability and insight of their questions.

What do you do when you don't feel like you fit in?

How do you handle failure?

How do I get my head back in the game when I'm not playing well?

The school visit was part of CAC's Mental Health and Sport project that encourages coaches and athletes to talk about mental health issues. That campaign included the promotion of its Mental Health and Sport Resource Hub, a free online portal that provides coaches with the tools and information to support themselves and their athletes.

CAC reports that over its first year of existence that hub has been accessed by over 200,000 coaches and had over 10 million impressions. Lafreniere will always remember that small gathering of teenagers, however.

"Yes, I can tell you about the hundreds of thousands of users. Yes, I can tell you about the over 10 million impressions. Yes, I can tell you about the success of the school tour and the 36 coach spokespeople from across the country who resonated with individuals," said Lafreniere on Tuesday.

"But I can also tell you about the very powerful moment when I sat in a room with 15 16-year-olds who talked to an Olympic gold medallist, who just blew them away with her vulnerability and her answers having been on the top of the world but also talking about the fragility of life."

The CAC reports that since the hub was launched a year ago it has been accessed by over 208,284 coaches and members of the sport community. Made possible by financial contributions from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the hub has been frequently updated and expanded with new resources and languages, including Arabic, Chinese (Traditional), Denesuline (Chipewyan), English, Farsi, French, Inuktitut (South Baffin), Plains Cree, Punjabi, and Tagalog, to increase accessibility and inclusivity.

Lafreniere said that the CAC is continuing its call for expertise and resources to continue building the hub, ideally with topics pressing to Canada's youth.

"We want to find resources around the financial insecurity that people are feeling right now and the way it's affecting their lives," said Lafreniere, listing off some of the topics she'd like to see added to the hub. "We continue, obviously, to address safety in sports, and the dignity of the person.

"We obviously have a lot of training in anti-racism, we try to empower preventive knowledge like Rule of Two, bystander empowerment, those are examples."

Other initiatives in the CAC's Mental Health and Sport project include a calendar on the hub for upcoming free events on mental health and National Coaching Certification Program workshops, a mobile app, and on-site activations at sport community events like the Arctic Winter Games, Canada Winter Games, North American Indigenous Games, Indigenous Hockey Championships, and the Canadian Boccia Championships.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2024.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press