GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Mental health among athletes is a hot topic right now. With prominent athletes like Simone Biles opening up about their struggles, a local group wants to inspire high school athletes to do the same.
Daniel McElheny, the cross country head coach at Forest Hills Eastern, wants what's best for his athletes.
"I think it's definitely a conversation that has evolved over time," says McElheny.
He says over the last few years, walls are starting come down around mental health discussions.
"There have been more students who are comfortable expressing challenges they are facing, or reaching out and expressing that they have a need," says McElheny.
That kind of help is what the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan aims to provide for student athletes around the state.
The Foundation's Be Nice initiative created a video as part of a training all high school coaches are now required to take part in.
"We're creating people that are knowledgeable and can have the ability to help someone out at that point," says Christy Buck, executive director of the Mental Health Foundation. "At the beginning when they are first struggling."
Coaches will learn to identify mental health risk factors in their athletes.
"Stress at home, stress at school, stress in relationships," explains Buck.
Because as Buck says, who knows these kids better?
"Most likely, they've played that sport and they can relate with their student athletes," she says.
That kind of mentality is exactly what McElheny says they look for at FHE.
"We want adults who are positive mentors and positive figures in kids' lives," says McElheny.
Buck hopes those discussions become more commonplace, praising athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka as inspirational for speaking publicly about their mental health.
"I am just not myself right now. I have to take time. I have to concentrate on me," she says.
In the end, both she and McElheny believe sports need to be a safe place for student athletes to find peace.
"Do something that they're passionate about," says McElheny. "Burn off some of the stressors of the day."
The training will be mandatory for all high school coaches in Michigan, who will go through it before each of their respective seasons.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.