As a former youth gymnastics coach, gymnast and cheerleader, Emily Rapada ’18 M.A. ’19 saw firsthand the toll that sports can take on the mental and emotional health of a player — and how often those effects are overlooked. As a student in Stanford’s Learning, Design and Technology program, she developed Beyond the Game, a digital platform aimed at helping coaches change this culture by opening up discussions about mental health.
Mental Health has long been an issue in athletics. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, one in four college athletes show “clinically relevant” depression symptoms. Many prominent athletes, such as NBA player Kevin Love, have opened up about struggles with depression in sports, which has aided in opening up room for discussion among athletes and coaches. Through her program. Rapada hopes to expand this discussion by offering coaches tools such as research, questionnaires and a forum.
The Daily spoke with Rapada to learn more about the platform.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): What is Beyond the Game?
Emily Rapada (ER): Beyond the Game is a digital, interactive platform that is designed for coaches of adolescent youth sports. Ultimately, it covers a range of topics about emotional health, and the goal is to give coaches the tools, resources, and confidence they need to start conversations about emotional health with their team.
TSD: What resources will Beyond The Game provide?
ER: Its an online digital course and it has videos from athletes, coaches, and experts in the fields. For example, if it’s a module on body image, you might hear from a nutritionist or an adolescent psychologist. In addition to the videos, there are discussion questions, tips and tricks to lead the conversation and suggested further resources to look into.
The program also offers a space for discussion. We found that coaches were really excited to share their own stories since all coaches were athletes. They have this huge insight into the world of sport and what it’s like to be an athlete. We wanted them to have the opportunity to share and learn from each other. The discussion board allows them to ask and answer questions of each other about any of the related topics.
TSD: What motivated you to create this platform?
I was a gymnast and a cheerleader growing up. I saw a lot of the positive aspects that sports can have on a person in terms of social emotional development. I’ve learned a lot about perseverance and work ethic, but I also saw a lot of athletes struggle with emotional health and saw it just wasn’t something that was talked about. I was a youth coach for a long time, and having young athletes come to me with issues over and over again and noticing that it’s embedded in a culture of sports, where emotional health wasn’t as important as physical health and I wanted to change that.
TSD: What changes do you hope to make with this platform?
ER: The main thing is developing conversation. It is about a space for coaches to be empowered to lead these conversations and know they have a role. I spoke with a lot of coaches who think, “Why is it my job to talk about emotional health? I don’t feel comfortable doing this.” But kids are spending more and more time in youth sports these days, and sometimes coaches play an almost parental figure, especially for young adolescents.
TSD: When will this program be launched?
ER: Right now, I have been prototyping it as part of the Learning, Design and Technology program at Stanford. It is in the initial prototyping phase and we will be doing a pilot with the local youth swim team this coming fall. Based on that, we are going to continue to try and spread to other teams.
This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed.
Contact Elisa Liu at elisacliu ‘at’ gmail.com.