One year ago, under “what do I want to do this year?” I wrote “start a mental health movement with Common Goal” in my journal. This was nearly a year after losing my best friend and Stanford teammate, Katie Meyer, to suicide in March 2022.
I was deeply affected by her passing. It was a difficult blow to bear. In the aftermath, I felt a strong urge to take action that could have potentially benefitted a younger version of Katie. I didn’t want any other families, friends, or communities to experience such a heartbreaking tragedy.
The challenge of transforming the mentality towards mental health in the sports world seemed overwhelming for myself, my fellow Stanford teammates, and other professional players to tackle on our own. We recognized the need for a united effort, one that could channel the tragedy of Katie’s passing into a catalyst for change in the soccer community, and possibly even prevent future losses of life.
Did I ever think that initial scribble in my journal would bring us to this point? Absolutely not.
I had completely overlooked that journal entry until a few days prior to the Create the Space mental health retreat that we held in San Diego last week with Common Goal. As I was flipping through the pages, I came across January 1, 2023 and thought to myself, “Wow, I can’t believe it.” I reached out to Lilli Barrett-O’Keefe, the executive director of Common Goal, who had joined me on this journey, to reflect on our past year of building this movement together. Common Goal is an organization that brings together professional players, brands, and non-profits to collaborate and make a positive impact in and around the world of soccer.
It’s hard to put into words the magnitude of what we accomplished over the last year. After many hours drafting, redrafting, scoping and rescoping, a journal entry manifested into an international movement to put players’ mental health first – all players, at all levels of the game.
During the first-ever Create the Space retreat, we gathered a group of 20 participants, including representatives from all NWSL markets and 25 youth coaches from organizations or academies located in the same cities as the clubs. Our goal is to positively impact the mental health of future generations and ensure that all communities have access to comprehensive support.
25 coaches are currently employed in marginalized and underserved areas throughout the United States. These communities often include BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and refugee youth who are frequently excluded from participating in sports and accessing crucial mental health services. It is imperative that these communities, which have the greatest need for these resources, are prioritized.
A number of professional athletes also experience a culture of silence where they are unable to express their true selves and be open about their vulnerabilities. In the sports world, achieving results often takes priority over the well-being of individuals. The purpose of this retreat was to provide a safe space for everyone to use their voices and, most importantly, to be listened to with genuine understanding.
The Create the Space retreat organized by Common Goal was truly amazing.
It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to read the response from players and coaches in the Guardian’s article. It humanizes us all. We all went into the weekend, not as coaches or professional athletes but as people. Stripped of our crests, our caps, our appearances, our teams, our differences. Each of us stepped through those doors looking to gain something for ourselves, our relationships and our varied communities.
It is difficult to articulate the immense impact of our shared experiences and personal development over such a short period of time. Together, we created a space that fostered vulnerability and meaningful connections. The facilitators selected by Common Goal were deliberate in their curation of the retreat, carefully designing every aspect of our time together to promote introspection and cultivate a genuine sense of community.
I am uncertain about what will happen in the future. Just a year ago, it was merely a thought written down in a journal. Now, we have a team of 20 skilled athletes spanning the entire NWSL. Therefore, it would be foolish to attempt to predict what is achievable. The journey has been both deeply personal and incredibly collective. Each game this season will have an element of “Create the Space,” which is truly unique.
I felt it was necessary to reach out to all of you, but at the same time, I am aware that this message cannot fully capture the depth of what was discussed during the private retreat at the peaceful San Diego hotel by the bay. Myra Sack, the creator of E-Motion, guided us in harnessing our sorrow and using it as motivation. I am committed to constantly moving ahead and I will always bring Katie with me on this journey.
I have come to realize that I am not the only one. I hope you also understand that you are not alone.
In the United States, you have the option to call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, chat on 988lifeline.org, or text HOME to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, you can contact Samaritans by calling freephone 116 123, emailing [email protected] or [email protected]. In Australia, Lifeline offers crisis support at 13 11 14. For other international helplines, visit befrienders.org.
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