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When the subject of mental wellness is front and center across the nation for the duration of May well, recognized as Mental Wellness Awareness Month, it is turn into a basic aspect of the year-round student-athlete expertise at Colorado-Colorado Springs.

The athletics division frequently holds social wellness events — gratitude game evening close to Thanksgiving, for instance — to bring student-athletes from distinctive teams with each other and broaden their neighborhood. Mountain Lion student-athletes run a peer-led injury help group. Coaches, employees and student-athlete leaders go by way of suicide prevention education. 

These are a couple of notable efforts to come from the Mountain Lion Robust system, one particular of 5 projects to get funding from the NCAA Innovations in Study and Practice Grant Plan in 2022. The NCAA system, which is overseen by many college representatives, awards $one hundred,000 total every single year to conduct projects made to boost college athletes’ psychosocial properly-becoming and mental wellness. 

The funding Colorado-Colorado Springs received jump-began its Mountain Lion Robust system, an notion born from the damaging influence the COVID-19 pandemic had on student-athlete mental wellness and properly-becoming. The need to have for such applications has never ever been higher, shown by the NCAA Student-Athlete Nicely-Becoming Study, which examined the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on the physical and mental properly-becoming of student-athletes for the duration of spring 2020, fall 2020 and fall 2021.

“I assume the grant’s been truly invaluable,” stated Jessica Kirby, an assistant professor in the Colorado-Colorado Springs college of nursing and wellness sciences who’s top the Mountain Lion Robust system. “The momentum distinction with the grant has been not even comparable to some issues we attempted to do ahead of.”

The Mountain Lion Robust system aims to create and pilot a extensive, proof-primarily based model that utilizes a tiered, progressive and multifaceted method to strengthen the psychological properly-becoming of student-athletes. 

The system focuses on 5 main pillars: identity improvement, physical and mental properly-becoming, purpose setting and time management, healthful relationships, and nutrition. Every single pillar was created with a 5-stage progressive method that grows with student-athletes every single year, from freshmen transitioning to college to graduating student-athletes needing a healthful transition out of sport. 

“This form of system is amazing for them to achieve the education they need to have to not only get by way of what they are having by way of as college athletes but also prepare them for life just after college athletics,” stated Dave Hajek, baseball head coach at Colorado-Colorado Springs. 

Keegan Sueltz, who plays for Hajek and assists Kirby with the Mountain Lion Robust system, stated the system has broadened his viewpoint on what private care entails as a college athlete. 

“As athletes, I assume we do not truly assume about all the issues that we could need to have. Physical wellness is an clear piece we all spend interest to, but we do not truly appear at the mental wellness or social wellness or spiritual wellness,” he stated. “I assume the program’s truly opened my eyes and produced me comprehend that there is a lot extra to becoming a student-athlete than just the physical elements of it, that we need to have to take care of ourselves extra, and there is a lot of sources out there that we can tap into to aid us do that.” 

The project group hopes the Mountain Lion Robust system becomes a resource other NCAA schools can tap into to launch related efforts on their campus. Immediately after the program’s funding period from the NCAA grant ends in July, the group will create a extensive finest-practices guide for schools. 

Nathan Gibson, director of athletics at Colorado-Colorado Springs, spoke about the Mountain Lion Robust system at a panel discussion for the duration of the 2023 NCAA Convention in San Antonio. His assistance for the other administrators and student-athletes in the area? 

“Never be afraid to start out. That was one particular of my fears rolling out a system like this, what you could uncover, what you could locate out. And what we identified out has been that we have some perform to do, but we also have some truly wonderful issues to develop on,” he stated. “In the end what we identified is that we’re supporting our students at a considerably greater level, we’re supporting our coaches at a considerably greater level and we’re constructing a system that is hopefully going to advantage locations beyond UCCS.”

Gibson added that the finest spot to start out is with the student-athletes. 

Kirby intentionally produced positive former and existing student-athletes like Sueltz and Audrey Bloomquist, a track and field athlete, had been involved with Mountain Lion Robust from the starting and have continued to be involved in its improvement. 

“They know how worthwhile this is to the future athletes coming by way of,” Kirby stated. “Seeing their investment so they can develop one thing for the athletes coming up that they did not have is truly cool to watch.”

Moreover, ahead of any curriculum and sources had been developed for Mountain Lion Robust, Kirby and her group carried out a demands assessment that integrated an electronic survey to all student-athletes, coaches and administrators. The survey was followed by a concentrate group physical exercise with members of the school’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. The demands assessment focused on understanding the group’s perceptions on the greatest perceived barriers and challenges student-athletes faced on campus, demands for help and sources, and applications and processes currently in spot that can be enhanced or elevated. 

The assessment straight led to the social wellness events and the peer-led injury help group. Other Mountain Lion Robust system offerings involve suicide prevention education, educational workshops for coaches and student-athletes, peer-led wellness sessions, talent-constructing guides and purpose tracking, a handbook with hyperlinks to sources, and peer expertise videos to normalize looking for aid and expanded mental wellness screenings. 

“To have the sources and the Mountain Lion Robust system … I assume it is really useful,” stated Tara Hittle, volleyball head coach. “I really feel pretty fortunate. I know our student-athletes have truly appreciated it. They’ve benefited from it a lot.”

Coaches have benefited, as properly. In addition to the suicide prevention education, coaches have gone by way of wellness education and education to introduce them to the info that their student-athletes would be exposed to and evaluate how they help their personal wellness. 

This aspect of the system fits a nationwide need to have, as evidenced by NCAA research’s current coach properly-becoming study. Of the practically six,000 coaches to take the survey, one particular-third of them reported they “consistently” or “most each day” skilled mental exhaustion, feelings of becoming overwhelmed by all that they had to do and sleep troubles.

“We’ve been capable to do some issues to be positive to help coaches to really feel like they have that education and tools to not only set the healthful common for the athletes but also to be capable to take care of themselves for the reason that they are not going to be capable to coach them at their finest if they are burned out,” Kirby stated. 

Coaches have also implemented group-precise workshops with Kirby, an aspect of the Mountain Lion Robust system aimed at supplementing its broader programming possibilities. These sessions variety from purpose setting to overall performance anxiousness to mental toughness and resilience, amongst other subjects. 

In the end, Hajek stated the program’s influence goes beyond wins and losses. Personally, it aligns with his mission as a coach that stems from his student-athlete expertise as a baseball player at Cal Poly Pomona below legendary Division II coach John Scolinos.

“1 of his phrases back in the ’80s was, ‘We’re not attempting to create significant league ballplayers right here. We’re attempting to create significant league guys.’ This system fits appropriate into that mold,” Hajek stated. “One thing like this system has prospective to attain out to an even broader atmosphere. Any way that we, as coaches, can aid the subsequent generation, that is what it is all about. You undoubtedly want to place a good winning atmosphere with each other that is certainly one thing that drives all of us coaches. But at the exact same time you happen to be attempting to create young leaders, young minds who are going to have a good influence on our city, our planet for the subsequent generations to come. This is the type of issue that grows at the grassroot level that can aid.”

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