'Psychological Safety' training crucial for young athletes | London Free Press | Published December 19, 2022 | by Megan Stacy
“Jessica Worden is director of training with Alberta-based Team Alex, a non-profit created after an avid pond hockey player, Alex Ennis, took his own life in 2019. His family created the agency in an effort to end suicide.
The group tackles mental health among youth athletes by delivering training to coaches. While awareness and supports have increased in recent years, stigma, fear and performance pressures can still stop young athletes from seeking help, Worden said, especially at elite levels.
Worden, who is not directly involved in the OHL programs, said the training delivered through Team Alex is about creating “psychological safety” for athletes, because for many, sport is their safe place.
“We challenge coaches to ask themselves, do you believe anyone can intervene in a suicide situation? Challenging that stigma and empowering coaches to have the tools, to be able to have those conversations and create that psychological safety – we’re breaking down the barriers. We’re showing (youth) emotions are OK, feelings are OK.”
Equipping coaches helps young athletes learn to build self-esteem, focus on keeping mentally healthy, and extend that help to others, Worden said. But there’s a long way to go, she added: “Our biggest battle really comes from stigma.”
Editor’s note: If you need someone to talk to or need to be connected to mental health services, there is help available at Talk Suicide Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645) and Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868 or text 686868).
Mental health patches to adorn Red Deer Pond Hockey jerseys | rdnewsNOW | October 30, 2022 | Josh Hall
Red Deer Pond Hockey (RDPH) has bodychecking the stigma around mental health as one of its keys to the 2022-23 season.
In conjunction with Team Alex, a local non-profit, eight RDPH teams will wear a special mental health patch on the backs of their jerseys this season.
Around 70 coaches are also to take part in mental health training developed by Team Alex.
John Obelienius, RDPH president, says the league very much wants to be part of the solution when it comes to making hockey a safer space for players and coaches to discuss mental health.
“With the patch, we wanted it to be in a visible spot, and we hope it can raise awareness through people asking what the patch means. It’s a conversation piece for coaches to ask about when they go into the dressing room, and we hope that carries through the community. We eventually want every team to have the patches on their jerseys.”
Brian Ennis, who founded Team Alex in honour of his son who died by suicide in 2019, is proud to have the league he created be a big driver of stamping out the stigma.
“We really believe this is the time to do this because of where we’re at right now with COVID, people still struggling, and lots of mental health issues and suicides happening,” says Ennis.
“It gets the message across that your mental health matters. We hope other sports leagues see this and see the value of doing it. We want players and coaches to feel more comfortable sharing that they’re having issues or need someone to talk to. This could open doors for conversations.”
The first games with the new patches will take place Nov. 6 at the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre at Red Deer Polytechnic.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues and needs help, here is a list of resources in central Alberta:
Suicide Information & Education Services – 403-342-4966
Alberta Mental Health Helpline – 1-877-303-2642
Suicide Distress Line for the 403 area code – 1-800-784-2433
Kid’s Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868
BOOZE and BUDZ Local comedy groups raises over $1,000 for Team Alex Suicide Prevention Society | rdnewsNOW | Oct 12, 2022 | By Alessia Proietti
The cheque was presented to the Society on Friday, October 7, in front of the Employment Placement & Support Services (EPSS) non-profit organization (2830 Bremner Ave). The show took place on September 24 at the Red Deer Memorial Centre (4214 58 St), with Booze & Budz founders Robert Crane, Papa Larry and Niek Theelen, members Nick Fraser and J.R. Bjorson, guest comedian Alexx Seguin and headlined by Rahul Kapoor.
“Everybody needs laughter. You’ve had a hard day, a hard week, hard month; having a really good laugh seems to just take all that weight off your shoulders no matter what it is,” said Crane. “A good laugh heals.”
The Booze & Budz group was created roughly two years ago with the goal to hold comedy shows that would help local organizations.
Apart from their “A Not So Sober Christmas” last December, fundraising for the Red Deer Christmas Bureau this year, Crane says they chose Team Alex after hearing about the cause.
According to its website, the Society’s mission is to eliminate suicide by improving mental health supports and awareness among youth in sports, offering trainings for coaches, parents and players. Its founder, Brian Ennis, created the Society following the death of his son Alex by suicide in 2019.
“I grew up in sports teams and it was always ‘suck it up, deal with it, move on, put it to the next game’. You have no time for feelings. And I’m like ‘that’s not the way things should be done’,” said Crane.
“We need to get the stigma out of sports and not lose any more bright people.”
The non-profit’s storey touched Crane, as he says he hasn’t had it easy either in his life.
In his youth, Crane entered Toronto’s Stop Now and Plan (SNAP) program to help with his anger management struggles resulting from a difficult home life.
Later on, he found himself battling with his own thoughts of suicide after discovering his wife was having an affair.
Living temporarily in a hotel room, it was then that Crane says comedy began to help him heal.
“Laughter does save lives. I feel like every comedian out there should actually have a doctorate in it, essentially,” he said.
Following an accident in 2017, Crane believes that is when his “comedy brain” kicked into high gear, creating continuous jokes on the spot and inspiring his own stand-up comedy journey.
Today, Crane says he has found happiness in helping people and local non-profits through laughter.
“As much as people feel like they’re in that rut, I highly suggest going out and getting that laugh. Sometimes people say you need to get that cry out to get over something; I say you need to get that laugh out because once you get that laugh out, it brings that joy over you,” he said.
Team Alex 3rd Annual Charity Golf Tournament | rdnewsNOW | September 8, 2022
You don’t have to golf like a pro to enjoy a day on the links with friends and colleagues.
Brush off those clubs and join us as we launch the second annal Team Alex Golf Tournament.
Hear our story, great prizes, raffles, food, drinks and more!
When: Saturday, September 10, 2022 @ 9:30 AM (World Suicide Prevention Day)
Where: Spirit Creek Golf & Country Club
Format: 18 Hole Shotgun Best Ball
Registration: $175.00 per golfer – REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED!
Mental health training starting for central Alberta sports coaches in honour of lost Red Deer man | rdnewsNow | Aug 17, 2022 | By Josh Hall
A Red Deer non-profit is ready to launch mental health training for sports coaches three years after a young man took his own life.
Alex Ennis, affectionately known as Al, was 26 when he died by suicide in May 2019.
He struggled silently, says his father, Brian, who’s struggled himself with how best to cope with the grief, but also spent the last three years helping develop a training model Alex’s family hopes will save lives.
That training will be offered starting in September by the organization now known as Team Alex.
Along the way, Al, who was bullied in high school — easily targeted with his hemophilia forcing him to the bleachers during gym class — also dabbled in officiating and eventually coaching.
In early 2019, prior to his death, Al went on several hikes, something that surprised his family because they knew his condition was an obstacle to doing such things.
It was on these hikes, his father says the family ultimately learned, that he was using the time away to decide what to do with his life.
“When Alex passed, it was horrific, devastating, and had a huge impact on his family and friends who still struggle with it. We decided we needed to do something to stop this from happening to others,” says Ennis. “Despite his severe hemophilia, a condition which prevents blood from clotting properly, Al was able to play hockey, but when he was set to go into peewee, which is the age they begin hitting, we started Red Deer Pond Hockey so he could play with others who face barriers of any kind.”
“Our vision is a world without suicide. We think about it every day, and we can only do it best by collaborating with other organizations. We’re excited about where we’re at with Team Alex, and really feel we’re going to start making a difference in the sports community,” says Ennis.
“We have a really unique training model which covers suicide, mental health and bullying, but also talks about building self esteem in the dressing room, helping give kids confidence, and it will go over what to say to a child or a team that just lost 14-0; little things that help build resilience and community.”
Once training is complete, coaches have access to ongoing resources such as a place to ask questions if they’re grappling with something.
Team Alex will also have all Red Deer Pond Hockey teams wearing a commemorative mental health patch this upcoming season, something they hope other sports teams — not just hockey — will take up across the country.
“We have amazing board members and volunteers, but it is hard work, especially for family and friends of Alex who are working on it. It’s hugely emotional, but we’re committed and we’re going to keep doing this until we feel we’ve done as much as we can,” Ennis says.
“I can’t see it ever ending. Suicide rates are not going down, especially with men. So, we need to be out there providing this training; coaches are sometimes the most trusted person in a kid’s life, and that’s one reason we chose them to focus on, because they have that respect built in and are able to see how their kids are acting on and off the ice or the pitch.”
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, about 4,000 Canadians die by suicide yearly, with the rate highest among men in their 40s and 50s.
On September 10, Team Alex is hosting its third annual charity golf tournament, spots for which are still open.
To register for the Team Alex training, contact the organization here.
Additionally, Team Alex is offering three scholarships, one self-funded and in memory of Sabrina Sanford, a central Albertan who passed away in November 2020; another funded by Smiles Thru Lindsey in honour of Lindsey More; and a third named after Alex but funded by the Hockey Alberta Foundation.