Bringing Mental Health Practices to the Pool Deck with the Yorktown Swim & Dive Team

Yorktown Swim & Dive Team 

Thousands of teens participate in Our Minds Matter clubs every year. However, we find that in traditional club settings, cisgender boys are often underrepresented in participation, even though they are a high-risk group. 

We developed the Athletes’ Minds Matter program to reach a wider audience. By reaching teens where their interests and time commitments are, we can effectively promote mental health education and foster deeper peer connection through specially formulated exercises for athletes. 

As an early step in this new program, OMM staff visited Yorktown High School last November for a workshop with the Swim & Dive Team. The workshop focused on “Mental Cool-Downs,” or five-minute team activities that facilitate peer connection—especially amongst teammates in different social circles—and encourage athletes to practice good mental health habits in a team practice setting.

Overall, the workshop focused on two strategies: 1) building authentic peer-to-peer social connections and initiating thoughtful conversation amongst teammates and 2) explaining and practicing Mental Cool-Downs so students feel comfortable leading these at practice. 

To break the ice and get team members talking, we started with a fun, dynamic “Speedfriending” activity.

Students connecting during the opening “Speedfriending” activity. 

After a few rounds, with the athletes more comfortable and engaged, the OMM leaders introduced the Mental Cool-Downs. Here are a few examples: 

Title: High, Low, Buffalo

Skills developed: Social connection, thoughtful reflection

How-to: Each person in a circle shares a “high” (something great from the week), a “low” (something not so great), and a “buffalo” (something weird). The opportunity to reflect and talk about both the good and the bad helps team members share their authentic selves.  

Title: Stretch & Share

Skills developed: Expressing gratitude, practicing mindfulness

How-to: Moving clockwise around the circle, pick a stretch for the whole group to do for 30 seconds. While everyone does the stretch, share one thing you’re grateful for OR something you’re looking forward to. Repeat until everyone has a turn. 

Title: Box Breathing

Skills developed: Emotional regulation, relaxation

How-to: Breathe in to a count of 4. Hold for a count of 4. Breathe out to a count of 4. Pause for a count of 4. Repeat as needed. 

After explaining each Cool-Down, the Swim & Dive team members practiced the activity with their teammates in small groups. 

Athletes practicing the “Stretch and Share” Mental Cool-Down.

While OMM’s programs are teen-led, we rely on committed school staff to support students and create space for mental well-being in their busy schedules. A sports team is a great place for teens to build positive mental health habits, but incorporating them into practice requires the support of a coach. By committing to allocate five minutes at the end of each practice for a Mental Cool-Down, Yorktown’s Coach Torey Ortmayer encourages the team to prioritize their mental health and ensures that the skills practiced during the workshop become a regular habit. 

A few days after the workshop, the OMM team was thrilled to see a testimony of Coach O and the Yorktown Swim & Dive Team’s commitment to the Athletes’ Minds Matter program: an Instagram story (@yorktownsd) of the team implementing the “Stretch and Share” Mental Cool-Down on the pool deck at practice!

With forty-eight team members in attendance, enthusiastic participation, and lots of smiles around the room, the workshop was a success. In our follow-up survey, 100% of teens reported that they felt confident leading their teammates in a mental cooldown activity, and 91% stated that they felt more comfortable reaching out for help if they were struggling with their mental health. 

OMM is so happy to be partnering with YHS Swim & Dive. Athlete mental health is so important, and OMM is excited to continue building our Athletes’ Minds Matter program and support more teens as they lead the way to a new culture of mental well-being. 

Special thank you to coaches like Torey Ortmayer, who go above and beyond to help teens in and out of the pool!