In honor of National Mental Health Awareness month in May, coach Shannon Maloney, South Ocean Middle School health teacher, and her South Ocean Middle School softball team of girls helped raise awareness of the positive impact of playing sports.
“Being part of an athletic team at school not only keeps children active nonetheless, but it also encourages healthy habits and promotes positive social interactions with their peers,” said Maloney.
Earlier this month, the team played the Saxton Middle School girls softball team, where they made special T-shirts for both teams. The girls were also given “mindful homework,” where they were required to write down one compliment for each teammate. Maloney then purchased and labeled a jar for each player on the team and collected their homework and put the cards in each teammate’s jar. After the game, she said, the team gave each other a jar full of compliments.
“I reminded the girls they are never alone and that if they are ever feeling down and out, they can reach into their jars and be reminded of all the love and support they have from their teammates,” she said.
In addition, the girls posted flyers around the school encouraging their peers to come watch the game and wear green. The day before the game, the team put little cards in everyone’s locker that had healthy coping skill challenges for their peers. They also gave the players on the other team green ribbons to wear in honor of mental health awareness.
“The best part of coaching is watching the girls grow and succeed as a team throughout the season,” Maloney added. “It’s heartwarming to see the special bond of sisterhood spark as the girls make lifelong friendships.”
Past the age of 14, she explained, girls are two times more likely to drop out of sports than boys. Being part of an athletic team helps build confidence, discipline, and respect for yourself and others.
Second-base player Brittany Santiago has been playing softball for nine years. She said the best part of the mental health awareness game was doing it for a good cause, and she enjoyed writing nice things about her teammates.
“Receiving my jar warmed my heart and I love everything that my teammates wrote,” she said. “It made me very happy, and I felt appreciated. I think it made my teammates very happy and appreciated, too!”
Seventh grade pitcher and middle infielder Kelly-Morgan Harper agreed, stating that she enjoyed the “homework” as well as handing out green ribbons for the opposing team.
“I think being a part of this softball team at South Ocean Middle School is positive for my and others’ mental health because even though we all make jokes about Ms. Maloney calling this team a ‘sisterhood,’ there are parts of me that knows she is right,” she said. “This team has made me feel like I was safe and that we could talk about anything.”
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