HAVERFORD, PA – Balancing schoolwork, achieving good grades, filling out college applications, making the varsity roster, having a social life and maintaining a vigorous practice schedule – These are just a few of the various pressures high school student athletes face every day.
For some, talking about dealing with these pressures becomes even more taxing than the pressures themselves.
Thanks to a local organization called SpeakUp!, students, parents, coaches and teachers are invited to speak up about their daily life challenges in a confidential yet open environment.
“While pressure is important, it can be overwhelming,” said Evan Scott, senior lacrosse player and SpeakUp! leadership team member from The Haverford School. “Without a place to vent, without a place to be emotionally vulnerable about the pressure that you feel, kids my age wouldn’t be able to do nearly enough cathartic exercise that SpeakUp! allows them to do.”
Martie W. Gillin, founder of SpeakUp!, initiated the organization in honor of her son Bob who passed away from AIDS in 1992 at the age of 30. Bob Gillin Jr. graduated from The Haverford School in 1981 where he served as student council president, excelled as an athlete on the varsity crew team and had the lead in all the school plays. And yet, at the same time, he was struggling with his identity and was afraid to be honest with his family and friends. Before he died, Bob’s vision was that we would be honest about his experience and promote open, honest dialogue between young people and the adults in their lives on tough topics. SpeakUp! is his legacy.
What started with one brave young man and family, is now a movement transforming lives through courageous conversations. SpeakUp!’s innovative, proven program is now operating in 37 partner middle and high schools with 1,000 student leaders and 5,000 youth and families speaking up each year.
During each SpeakUp! event, breakout sessions are held to encourage students and adults to speak openly about critical issues, such as anxiety, body image, depression, mental health and other critical topics facing today’s youth.
“Normally when we go into a school, the students pick the topics. What we saw happening in a lot of our stress breakouts, students were talking a lot about sports, and how sports, which can be a stress reducer, is actually turning into a stress producer,” said SpeakUp! executive director, Martie Bernicker.
Due to the overwhelming response of sports related pressure, a special sports-orientated SpeakUp! segment was held at The Haverford School on January 12. Guest speakers included Haverford School athletic director, John Nostrant, and sports psychologist, Mitchell Greene, Ph.D. More than 150 students, parents and coaches attended the event.
Greene approached the SpeakUp! board to host a sports-driven segment after he too saw an increase in his student clients facing similar challenges.
“It was unique that we had students, parents and coaches all in the same room at the same time. These are normally three separate groups of people who don’t normally discuss what’s happening in youth sports,”said Greene, owner of Greene Psych Clinical & Sport Psychology in Haverford, PA. “I think that whether you are a parent or a kid, everyone leaves SpeakUp! learning something new or is reminded what it’s like to be a kid these days.”
Besides being head lacrosse coach and athletic director, John Nostrant is also a parent of three young student-athletes. Nostrant addressed those in attendance about the importance of creating a bond of trust. He stressed that trusting in one another is much more important than “winning or losing.”
“If a coach is able to build that trust and he or she is able to create an atmosphere where there’s a partnership between the players, parents and coaching staff, you can’t lose,” said Nostrant.
For some, attending a SpeakUp! event may seem like a step out of their comfort zone. However, according to Scott, getting the opportunity to connect with peers and share insight on familiar experiences could help to make a difference in a person’s life.
“For any students that have been hesitant to come to a SpeakUp! event, I urge you to try it. In no way, shape or form do I think you will leave your break out room feeling underwhelmed with the experience. Even if you only feel the urge to speak once or twice, it will be met with compassion and understanding,” said Scott.
For more information about SpeakUp! and to view a full list of upcoming events visit www.speakup.org.