White Rock hockey players will receive innovative mental health support following a community tragedy, thanks to the financial support of Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health Foundation’s Move for Life project.
According to Semiahmoo Ravens U18 head coach Josh Daley, this support is coming at a critical time.
“The game and culture of hockey hasn’t changed too much over the years, but the mental and emotional weight that youth players must carry today has,” said Daley.
“Increased online activity, and post-pandemic stressors add to youth’s risk of experiencing bullying, racism, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.”
The Move for Life project is part of the nationwide Physical Literacy for Communities initiative, in which a working table of cross sectoral representatives come together to envision ways to increase the physical activity and health of the local population. It has been especially successful in White Rock and South Surrey, where they’ve introduced projects such as one where post-operative patients are walked around hospital corridors to ease their recovery.
For this pilot project, offered by the Semiahmoo Ravens and Reach Trauma Response Consulting and which ran from November 2022 to March 2023, the goal was to customize health and wellness support for each player and de-stigmatize conversations about mental health on minor hockey teams.
“Our project envisions a healthy community where people are committed to physical, social and mental well-being. Through supporting highly impactful local initiatives such as this, we move closer to our goal of creating the healthiest community possible through a better connected system,” said Allison Guiliani, Move for Life’s community physical activity coordinator.
In order to meaningfully engage players, Daley and other mental health and wellness professionals lead individual and group mentoring sessions, conduct somatic body care and mindfulness practice, and gauge the emotional state of players with mental health and performance surveys. These activities, and more, take place at a time and place that is most accessible for players.
“All of our sessions take place adjacent to the Semiahmoo Raven’s regular practice and game schedule,” said Daley. “It’s best to meet our players where they are. We provide a safe space in arenas and training facilities that they are already familiar with. Oftentimes, before or after hockey games is when they need support the most.”
The need for this service was exemplified by the recent death of a 14-year-old named Robin Janjua who played for the Ravens before moving to Delta. He wasn’t a participant in the pilot, but his brother and former teammates are. They have received increased grief-related support to help process this unexpected loss.
“Robin’s death was deeply saddening for our hockey communities and is the first death or tragic event that many of our youth players may have ever encountered in their lives,” said Daley. “His loss is just one of the many incidents that reveal the desperate need for youth support in our community and others.”
A recent UBC study highlighted that help-seeking behaviors in men’s ice hockey are heavily impacted by cultural and systemic factors. Despite many barriers to expanding the amount of support that the hockey club can provide, Daley and his colleagues have seen some positive shifts throughout the pilot program.
Team culture is slowly changing towards the de-stigmatization of mental health support, and many athletes and parents have begun to welcome the idea of opening up about their personal struggles.
“Our investment in mental health support for our youth athletes has proven to be highly effective in increasing overall team performance,” said Daley. “Winning hockey games is a big bonus, but the important thing is that our players are getting the support they need. As they gain important life skills, resiliency, and resources, they will be able to move through life and help further shift culture down the line.”
According to Daley, this is a program with legs.
“We’ve got big dreams for this program. Hopefully, with additional funding from healthcare partners like Peace Arch Hospital Foundation or others, we will be able to further expand our delivery and impact. The need will always be there.”