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Rhys McAlpine is trying to get his figure skaters adjusted to a post-pandemic world. He’s hopeful that a new project from the Coaching Association of Canada will help him do just that.

The coach based in central-eastern Saskatchewan said that several of his students have not returned to their classes since the heaviest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said struggles with anxiety, depression, and balancing school with their extracurricular activities have all presented significant hurdles for some young athletes.

The National Mental Health and Sport Resource Hub, administered by CAC and funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, launched on Thursday. It’s designed to help coaches speak about mental health issues with their charges, and McAlpine is eager to start using it.

“For a lot of coaches like myself in a rural area, it’s hard to access resources, especially for mental health,” said McAlpine. “Having a hub like this where you can go online, find any kind of information that you’re needing, whether it’s something you have experience with, or you don’t have experience with, it’s really good for coaches.

“A lot of coaches are volunteers and this isn’t necessarily a full-time job that they’ve had a lot of experience in so it’s really good this initiative is starting.”

According to CAC, between 40 and 48 per cent of Canadian children and adolescents have had mental health issues following the pandemic. The hub’s aim is to increase mental health literacy among coaches, both with a focus on self-care and supporting their sport participants.

That is exactly what McAlpine’s needs after “COVID really turned the world upside down” for his athletes.

“I’ve had athletes that, because of COVID, decided not to come back to the sport,” said McAlpine, who coaches in Whitewood, Sask., and Ochapowace First Nation. “Everyone has their way of dealing with things like this.

“We had a lot of regulations that we had to put in place that restricted skating times, restricted what we could do with the kids. Now it’s kind of getting back to the new normal. It’s a big adjustment.”

The National Mental Health and Sport project is targeted at underserved communities most impacted by COVID-19. Online modules are in available in English, French, Arabic, Punjabi, Chinese, Tagalog, Cree, Inuktitut and Dene.

Lorraine Lafreniere, CEO of the Coaching Association of Canada, said this is what her organization is all about: shoring up the gaps in coaching, regardless of sport.

“Our job is to help them deliver their sport in the best way possible. That’s why we focus on the resources that we focus on, because we know that’s where the gaps are in sport delivery,” said Lafreniere. “We never focus on the technical and tactical, that’s not what we do.

“We need to focus on is the holistic development of the person and that’s why these initiatives makes such a big difference.”

Jenny Yuen, senior vice-president of national partnerships and government relations for Kids Help Phone, also welcomes the new initiative. She said that there was already a mental health crisis among Canadian youth before the pandemic, but the global health emergency amplified those issues.

“What the coaching association is doing is ensuring that we’re meeting young people where they are,” said Yuen. “It’s really important that there’s a mental health conversation or supports in place where they are, where they spend the most amount of time.”

The Hub is populated with free, easily accessible resources that includes rich content, information, training modules, research, data, infographics, videos, and activities provided by organizations with expertise in mental health literacy and education. The platform will be regularly updated with new resources to maintain relevancy and expand on the available content.

Jennifer Misurelli, the director of education and outreach for the Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport, was instrumental in helping develop some of the hub’s resources. She said that the culture around athletics is shifting as people have a greater understanding of the critical role and impact that coaches have on athlete’s mental health.

“One of our workshops is specific to promoting mental health by having coaches think about their own self care, their wellness strategies, and thinking ‘Am I practising what I preach? How am I demonstrating this with my athletes on a daily basis?”’ said Misurelli. “At the end of the day too, coaches need to take care of themselves as well.

“Coaches’ jobs can be very stressful, so understanding the impact they have on their athletes, but also understanding the importance of really just taking care of their own mental health as well is essential.”