In many regards, sports can be looked at as a physical battle between two sides where there can only be one winner. However, the battles that can be very much overlooked in sports are the battles that many athletes have with mental health. According to Athletes for Hope, more than 35% of elite athletes suffer from some kind of mental health issue, and of that group, only about 10% reach out for help.
Club Football Head Coach Greg Jones does not overlook this issue. As a former athlete who dealt with mental health issues and battled suicidal thoughts, Jones has the ability not only to be a coach, but also a helping hand to those who have been down the same road.
“I am able to be in a position where I get to help kids that might be going through something similar,” said Jones. “Hopefully they are able to relate to my story a little bit.”
Jones battled with mental health issues throughout high school and college and attempted to take his own life because of these thoughts. Through the grace of his support system and the sport of football, Jones persevered through these obstacles, which led him on the road to coaching and, more recently, to teaching First-Year Experience (FYE) at Sacred Heart University.
One way that Jones has been able to address these issues is by making himself a resource to his team and his FYE students, as he emphasizes the idea that many kids just need someone who will listen to what is going on in their lives and get the opportunity to talk about what mental battle they are fighting that day.
“Sometimes that’s all anybody needs,” said Jones. “Just a guy who wants to listen, a coach that wants to listen.”
With over 1,200 followers on Twitter, Jones has been able to relay and reiterate awareness for these issues on his timeline. On Nov. 4, he posted to Twitter about men’s health month, which is observed in the month of November.
“This is important,” said Jones via Twitter. “I’ve been going through it hard recently but have started to talk about it more openly. It’s okay to not be okay.”
Although in some cases mental health issues result from interior thoughts, there are also exterior forces that can contribute to these problems. One such force is bullying, which was prevalent in Audrey Niblo’s life before she entered college. Her experiences being bullied led her to be an advocate against bullying before she passed away nearly four years ago.
With high intensity sports such as football and basketball, it can be hard to draw the line between what is motivational coaching and sportsmanship and what is borderline harassment and bullying. For Jones, an important factor in coaching is not only teaching his athletes how to succeed on the field, but also how to be respectful and kind.
“It’s about being able to push them on the field, helping them off the field and getting rid of that bullying mentality,” said Jones.
Mental health awareness has been brought to the bigger stage as well, with professional athletes such as Simone Biles, Kevin Love and Serena Williams opening up about their own struggles with mental illness and creating a platform for other athletes as well.
“It’s so important that these athletes are able to talk about what’s going on in their heads,” said Jones. “It is very important for young students to hear.”
With the help of Sacred Heart Athletics, the Heart-to-Heart initiative was created to promote suicide prevention and mental health awareness within the athletic community. This is just one of the many resources on campus that can be utilized by those in need.
“If you’re going through it, just ask,” said Jones. “There are people here who want to help, and I am one of them.”
There are many other opportunities to find support and help or to offer support of your own. One such opportunity is the annual “Songs of Sanctuary: A Concert Against Bullying,” the latest of which took place on Wednesday, Nov. 3. For more information on the concert, please check out Features!
Here are some resources at SHU who are here to help!
Heart-to-Heart: @SHUHeartToHeart on Twitter
Greg Jones: @CoachJonesySHU on Twitter
Jenny Fischer: @jennylynnfisch on Twitter
Visit the Counseling Center: Wellness Center, 4980 Park Ave, Fairfield, CT
Talk with a s.w.e.e.t. Peer Educator
If you would like to join a club sport, head to sacredheartclubsports.com to become a part of the community!