CHESTER, Pa. (October 10, 2023) – The Philadelphia Union Foundation, in collaboration with Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) and Independence Blue Cross, today announced the launch of HeadFirst, a groundbreaking initiative focused on the provision of mental health resources for youth soccer players, parents and coaches. The new program will begin with select youth soccer teams in Delaware County.
Nearly 15% of youth worldwide, between the ages of 10-19, experience a mental health disorder, and a federal study showed that between 2016 and 2020, the number of children diagnosed with depression increased 27%. Additionally, another study showed about 91% of high school athletes polled experience some level of stress due to their sports, and 58% reported moderate to an extreme amount of stress. HeadFirst, powered by programming and content from PCOM psychology faculty, emphasizes the importance of mental health awareness and the resources available using educational material developed for youth soccer players, parents, and coaches.
“In recent years, several prominent elite athletes have helped destigmatize the conversation around the importance of maintaining good mental health. However, the youth mental health crisis remains a real and prominent issue, and the Philadelphia Union Foundation felt a responsibility to their community to be a part of the solution,” said Paul Howard, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Union Foundation. “With our partners at Independence Blue Cross and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, we have developed a proactive approach to well-being to raise awareness of, and reduce the stigma around, mental health issues. Sport has the power to change the world and we intend to use the beautiful game of soccer as the magnet to reach thousands of youth players, parents, and coaches throughout the Philadelphia region.”
- ‘A Happier U’ positive psychology programming: Developed and led by Dr. Scott Glassman, PsyD, director of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology Program at PCOM, ‘A Happier U’ is an interactive educational program where players will be learning how to build and strengthen a positive mindset related to sports, school, and life at home. Players will receive positive mindset exercises to try in between these in-person sessions, such as identifying encouraging self-talk, catching good events in life, writing down examples of personal strengths, and breathing/relaxation exercises.
- Digital Mental Health Toolkits: An estimated 125,000 youth soccer players will receive a QR code bag tag giving them easy access to Digital Mental Health Toolkits that are free and available to the public at https://www.philadelphiaunionfoundation.org/headfirst. The toolkits cover five key drivers of mental health challenges in young people: depression, grief, social media use, anxiety, and bullying. Each toolkit features tailor-made content geared towards youth players, parents, and coaches. The toolkits include the definition of the mental health concern, symptoms, communication and support strategies, and links to additional resources. The toolkits were developed by PCOM faculty Jessica Glass Kendorski, PhD, chair and professor of the Department of School Psychology, and Lisa Corbin, PhD, chair and director of the Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling Program, at PCOM.
- Annual Mental Health Forum at Subaru Park: An annual Mental Health Forum will be held at Subaru Park. As part of the HeadFirst initiative, the Philadelphia Union Foundation will host a forum for parents, coaches, and all those involved in youth soccer every May in line with Mental Health Awareness Month. Healthcare leaders, mental health advocates, athletes, community leaders, and other key stakeholders will convene to engage in a meaningful dialogue aimed at advancing attention on mental fitness and the HeadFirst initiative.
“We want our student-athletes to know there is a support network of loved ones, teachers, coaches, and healthcare professionals who can help them prioritize their mental and physical well-being,” said Carrie Collins, JD, PhD, PCOM’s Chief Advancement and Strategic Planning Officer. “As our children navigate the inevitable ups and downs of sports, we’re here to provide education and encouragement so that they feel their best on and off the field.”
“With mental health conditions like anxiety and depression on the rise, it’s important to create safe environments for our kids to talk and learn the skills needed to be their best selves. HeadFirst is committed to doing that in a way that meets youth in the place they love: the soccer field,” said Dr. Rodrigo Cerdá, Independence Blue Cross Senior Vice President of Health Services & Chief Medical Officer. “We’re proud to continue our longstanding community commitment and join the Philadelphia Union Foundation and PCOM in bringing mental health resources to kids, coaches, and parents.”