Is it time for Athletic Directors to incentivize Coaches to Mandate Mental Health?

Six college athletes have died by suicide in a little over two months and while athletic departments have expressed a desire to enhance mental health services – will there be any real change in mental health resources for college athletes.

Coaches oftentimes comment that the game is 90 percent mental and ten percent physical.

However, when it comes to the amount of time athletic departments, coaches and college athletes dedicate to mental health the numbers do not align with what coaches say.

Coaches mandate certain academic activities, strength and conditioning workouts, community service, and even nutritional regimens. What about mental health?

Last week, the NCAA released research that suggests mental health is the number one reason college athletes transfer and abusive coaching is number two. So, not only are some coaches neglecting investing in their athletes’ mental health, but their lack of attentiveness to athletes’ needs has consequences. Or we can look at the flip side – might there be a correlation between the recent success of athletic departments who have invested in mental health? Two schools, one in the Big ten and another in the SEC, come to mind.

When college athlete low graduation rates become unbearable, the NCAA strengthened its legislation related to academics. In turn, schools responded by creating financial incentives for coaches tied to college athlete academic success. Is it time for the NCAA to strengthen its mental health provision legislation, but more important it may be time for schools to incentivize coaches to achieve SMART goals related to the mental health of their athletes?

While coaches’ salaries dwarf the salaries of mental health professional, and suggesting they make more money is a difficult pill to swallow, the reality is college coaches, and their staffs have the most influence and thus are the keys to athlete mental health. No one, and I mean no one, can have a greater impact on athlete mental health than coaches. If we have to pay coaches more for them to exercise their influence when it comes to mental health – if it will save athlete’s lives – then so be it!