May Partner of the Month: Miami Dade County Public Schools

May 1, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; American High School - Mental Health at loanDepot park. Mandatory Credit: JC Ruiz-Miami Marlins

Great Minds, Great Athletes: A Crucial Aspect of Well-Being

As high school athletes continue to face unique pressures and challenges, struggling between balancing rigorous academic schedules, social lives, and competitive sports, it’s easy for students to feel overwhelmed and stressed. This is why it’s becoming increasingly important to recognize the crucial role that mental health and wellness play in the lives of high school and middle school athletes.  Just like physical fitness, mental wellness is a key component of overall well-being; however, it is still one aspect that often receives less attention. Student-athletes’ mental well-being is paramount, as it affects their overall performance, resilience, and ability to cope with the pressures of academics and sports. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, a time when mental health professionals, advocates, and community members come together to raise awareness about the importance of mental health, we thought of no better time to highlight our incredible partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the Miami Marlins through the revolutionary, first-of-its-kind program affectionately dubbed Great Minds Great Athletes.

Great Minds Great Athletes was created to support high school and middle school student-athletes in their athletic and academic pursuits.  This innovative program recognizes that success in sports requires more than just physical strength and skill; it also requires mental fortitude, discipline, and focus. Great Minds Great Athletes is designed to help student-athletes excel both on the field and in the classroom by providing them with the tools and resources they need to achieve their full potential. By combining forces with the Miami Marlins and Miami-Dade County Public Schools, we have created a holistic approach to supporting high school athletes, ensuring a “Development Zone” is created where all parties; athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators are on the same page and speaking the same language, ultimately preparing and setting up athletes to develop the skills they need to succeed on the field, in the classroom and in the bigger game of life.

Navigating the Complexities of Mental Health

Student-athletes experience stressors such as performance expectations, time management, comparison, and the day-to-day rigors of teen and adolescent life.  The demands of balancing academic schedules with intense training and competition can often lead to increased stress, anxiety, and even depression.  Additionally, the pressure to excel in sports and academics can create a high-stakes environment that may contribute to feelings of inadequacy and burnout.  Through PCA’s live and interactive workshops and resources, the Great Minds Great Athletes program has provided MDCPS student-athletes with the tools to recognize the importance of a growth mindset and feel empowered to prioritize their mental well-being.  During a recent mental wellness panel that included both Marlins players, staff, and student-athletes from American Senior High School in Hialeah, FL, students shared how PCA’s resources have helped shape their mindset and given them the confidence to play without the fear of mistakes and embody what it means to be a Triple-Impact Competitor: an athlete who works to improve themselves, their teammates and their sport as a whole.   PCA’s character development program and the Great Minds Great Athletes program are preparing and shaping future leaders and empowering them to be confident, resilient, and ready to face what the world throws or maybe even kicks their way.

Coaches: Fostering a Supportive and Inclusive Environment

Coaches will always play a pivotal role in student-athletes’ lives and have a unique opportunity to promote mental health awareness within their teams. By fostering a supportive and inclusive environment, coaches can create a safe space for student-athletes to openly discuss their mental wellness concerns. Additionally, coaches can guide stress management, resilience building, and the importance of seeking help when needed.  Through PCA’s resources, Miami-Dade County Public School coaches have benefited by better understanding student-athletes’ challenges and, more importantly, how to support them effectively.   By proactively addressing mental wellness concerns, coaches can contribute to a positive team culture that prioritizes the holistic well-being of student-athletes.

When we asked Marcus Gabriel, Athletic Director at American Senior High School, how he feels the Great Minds Great Athletes program has benefited his athletic program he said,  “Our students are understanding the importance of having a healthy growth mindset, which has enabled them to approach challenges with determination and continue to strive to ultimately get better and better through time.”  He added that since the PCA workshops were conducted at his school, he saw a change in a star softball pitcher.  He noticed that she was becoming an even more positive leader, helping the team advance to the playoffs with her positive energy that was becoming infectious as time went on.  Ultimately, focusing on growth mindsets, working to be more resilient, and filling the emotional tanks of teammates has resulted in success on and off the field for her and her teammates. 

Amy McMillan, Activities and Athletic Director at Highland Oaks Middle School said of the program: ‘The workshops are great, the students are engaged and participating.  The presenters are great and have a lot of energy which I think gets the students more motivated too.  They are all communicating well and I see the students are more comfortable communicating and speaking up.  I have really enjoyed the views and variety of topics.”  

A major component of Great Minds Great Athletes is the important work that is done with coaches, empowering them to be more positive and increasing their focus on using sports to teach life lessons, fill emotional tanks, and putting a stronger emphasis on development and self-improvement.

School Administrators: Implementing Comprehensive Mental Health Support

School administrators are indeed responsible for creating a conducive environment that prioritizes the mental well-being of students and student-athletes. By implementing comprehensive mental wellness support systems, schools can ensure that student-athletes have resources to address their unique needs.  Through the Great Minds Great Athletes program and PCA resources, administrators and leaders have been given the tools and resources to create a culture that is inclusive and seeks to address the ever-changing needs of student-athletes with an action plan for their athletic departments. 

The Great Minds Great Athletes partnership is a shining example of what can happen when all parties are on the same page and pushing in the same direction.  When we asked what he would say to an Athletic Director who is considering bringing in PCA workshops and resources into their athletic department, Marcus Gabriel said, “If you want an infusion of good towards your athletic program, you should start with PCA.  This will help attract and retain quality coaches and a platform to build and mold leaders for now and the future.”

The Positive Coaching Alliance: Empowering Student-Athletes, Coaches and Administrators

As an organization dedicated to transforming the culture of youth sports to ensure that all young athletes have a positive, character-building experience, we are so proud of the Great Minds Great Athletes partnership as this is a true testament of the results that can be achieved when three great organizations come together to create a positive impact in the lives of student-athletes.

Since the program’s inception in 2020, over 15,000 student-athletes have been impacted through over 300 live and online workshops, covering over 50 schools in the district.  Each year, the Great Minds Great Athletes program has also culminated with a year-end panel discussion during Mental Health Awareness month where student-athletes from the district, and Marlins players, have discussed topics that include: daily stressors, ways to focus during difficult times, how to accept failure as an athlete, and motivation—proving that regardless of your level of sport, we all face the same unique challenges that can impact our mental health and wellness.  

As the program moves into its fifth year, a continued focus on character development, mental wellness and an added emphasis on coaching and competing with empathy, will only help to increase the solid impact the program has had thus far on the student-athletes and athletic cultures of the Miami-Dade County Public School system.  We look forward to the continued partnership with the Marlins and Miami-Dade County Public Schools, using PCA’s systematic and structured character development framework, with its emphasis on positive youth development, to continue to shape a positive athletics culture within every athletic department in the district.