#CoachesWeek with Stu Gershman: Starting the Conversation on Mental Health in Sport

Sep 15, 2023

“You can’t have good physical health without good mental health.”

Dr. Stu Gershman, Sport Medicine physician

Stu Gershman, who is simultaneously a father, physician, and coach, realized his passion for mental health in sport early in his career, but especially after the passing of his son, Jesse.

Like many young athletes, Jesse faced many challenges that took a heavy toll on him, eventually resulting in his death by suicide in 2014.

It was with his son in mind that Stu set out to create Buddy Check for Jesse, a program designed for coaches to support youth athletes with the promotion of helpful and supportive mental health messaging.

Although mental health in sport is important for all ages, Stu believes that young athletes are a special demographic when it comes to this topic. “They can be changemakers for the future,” Stu insists.

However, in order to reach this audience, Stu turned towards coaches.

Coaches can have a powerful impact on young athletes. Oftentimes coaches will take on a role greater than just improving the physical skills of their athletes. Many coaches are people that their athletes can rely on, confide in, or seek guidance from. As many parents say, “my kid listens to their coaches more than me”.

As such, coaches are in a unique position to shed light on the importance of mental health in sport.

The idea to make the resource for coaches instead of young athletes came from Stu’s own involvement in coaching.

“It used to be me speaking and handing out green tape, and my two other sons asking me to do it every year on the anniversary of Jesse’s death,” Stu recalls. “It got me thinking… why can’t more coaches do this? This isn’t that hard, and the potential impact is massive.”

In October 2018, Stu officially launched Buddy Check for Jesse. In no time, he began receiving positive feedback from the community.

To date, thousands of coaches have given “Buddy Check” talks to their teams, and social media ensures that conversations centered around the program and its influence happen daily between athletes, coaches, families, and organizations alike.

“Not a day goes by without me feeling and seeing the impact on coaches and players,” Stu says.

Through this project, Stu has met a multitude of people who have entered his life and helped grow his own support system. “There are no words to adequately describe how this has helped myself and my family on our journey since Jesse passed,” he says.

Stu feels it is a privilege to contribute this vital resource to help coaches with the mental health conversation while simultaneously honouring the memory of his son.

In the future, he hopes that these youth athletes will grow up with conversations around mental health normalized in the same way that one would speak of physical health. The ultimate goal would be to see coaches leading the way through routine mental health messaging so that sport culture can evolve as a vehicle for compassion and acceptance.

Since Stu has started his journey, he has already seen major progress in the sport community. There are more coaches leading conversations, and numerous high-profile athletes have openly spoken out about their mental health struggles.

“It is time to create a new generation of leaders,” says Stu. “Maybe someday people will no longer be surprised when a top-level athlete admits they are just as human as everyone else. They are going through the same physical and emotional challenges that life can present to anyone at any time.”

Everyone has a role to play to destigmatize the conversation around mental health.

Stu urges everyone to merely start talking. “It really is simple to start a conversation, and we don’t need to be mental health professionals to have an impact. Our youth are smart, impressionable, and deserve to be given the tools to change the future in a positive way for all of us.”

If you are interested in learning more about Stu’s journey and Buddy Check for Jesse resources for coaches, please visit his site.

viaSport would like to thank coaches for all the efforts they have made thus far to push the importance of mental health in sport. To find other resources that have been thoughtfully curated to support coaches along with the rest of the sport community, please check out our viaSport Resource Hub or the Coaches Association of Canada’s mental health hub.