Soccer-US players harness World Cup spotlight for mental health initiative

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – Concacaf Women Championship – Semi Final – United States v Costa Rica – Estadio Universitario, Monterrey, Mexico – July 14, 2022 United States players during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Daniel Becerril/File Photo

By Nathan Frandino

The United States brought the issue of mental wellbeing to the fore at the Women’s World Cup on Wednesday by announcing the launch of a new initiative for under-served communities after the tournament.

The project in collaboration with non-profit Common Goal was announced as part of U.S. defender Naomi Girma’s emotional Players’ Tribune post remembering her Stanford University team mate Katie Meyer, who died by suicide in March 2022.

“Any time I talk about Katie it’s obviously emotional, and then just with everything coming out today, it kind of brings all those feelings back to the surface,” said forward Sophia Smith, who also played at Stanford.

“Everything that we do is now for Katie.”

The Common Goal initiative will provide mental health training to coaches from more than 15 youth sports organisations, focusing on issues including anxiety, depression and loneliness, after the World Cup.

“It’s long overdue that our soccer communities put mental health at the forefront when we discuss player care,” Common Goal USA Executive Director Lilli Barrett-O’Keefe said in a statement.

womens world cup
FILE PHOTO: Jun 27, 2023; Carson, California, USA; USWNT defender Naomi Girma during Women's World Cup media day at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

The United States are seeking an unprecedented third consecutive title, and fifth overall, at the tournament in Australia and New Zealand, kicking off their campaign on Saturday against Vietnam.

Defender Emily Fox, who is competing in her first World Cup, said that the squad frequently discuss the “external pressures” that come with competing at the highest level of their sport.

“I have a sports psych that I talk to that really helps me, and then it’s (about) leaning on your team mates who are sharing the experience with you,” said Fox.

The American soccer players are the latest athletes to take up the cause of mental health, after Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles and four-times tennis major winner Naomi Osaka helped flip the narrative on a topic once seen as taboo in high-level sport.

“A big thing is leaning on your team mates and knowing that we’re all in this together,” said Smith. “Whatever those emotions may be.”


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