Athletes’ Minds Matter activities are designed to be completed before or after practice in about 5-15 minutes; like a mental warm-up or cool-down. Coaches, captains, and OMM club leaders can lead any of these activities with teams in large or small groups.
Browse through the categories below to find activities that will spark the conversation about mental wellness and improve student athletes’ well-being!
Smoke, spark, fire
At the start of practice, invite everyone to share a “smoke” (something negative that is clouding their mind), a “spark” (something they have recently been excited about), and a “fire” (something that has brought them joy for a while).
High, low, buffalo
At the beginning of practice, invite everyone to share a “high” (something positive that they have experienced this week), a “low” (something negative that they have experienced this week), and a “buffalo” (something strange, interesting, or funny that has happened to them this week).
Rose, thorn, bud
At the start of practice, invite everyone to share a “rose” (something positive that they have experienced this week), a “thorn” (something negative that they have experienced this week), and a “bud” (something that they are looking forward to in the next week).
let me catch my breath
Ask teens to take a deep breath and think about what they’re “inhaling” and “exhaling.”
Inhaling = What things are you taking in or trying to be more aware of? Exhaling = What situations are you willing to let go?
To celebrate connection and kindness, ask athletes to take a minute or two to think of a thoughtful compliment for the person sitting on their right. You can choose to set parameters around this, such as keeping the compliments related to your sport, or not. Then, ask each student to go around and share. Ensure that everyone receives and gives one compliment. Take a moment to reflect on how kindness and connection can change the energy in the room and build trust amongst teammates.
Body positive affirmations
Read the following affirmations and any other body positive affirmations that resonate with you and your team. Athletes can take turns reading these out loud or one person may read them and others can repeat back. This can be done while folks are stretching or cooling down atthe start or end of practice to save time, and you can make it a habit to do at each practice!
- My body is a good body. My body is deserving of love and respect. I will not compare my body to anyone else’s. I am grateful for everything my body allows me to do. My body is my home and I will build it up, not tear it down. I am strong. I am enough and I always have been.
- Ask folks to reflect on why it’s important to speak kindly about your body out loud, even when it might feel a little funny. Why might this be extra important for student athletes?
Pass out 5 sticky notes to each athlete at the end of practice. Have them write each of the following items on a sticky notes:
- Something I did well today was:
- Today I had fun when:
- A positive or kind thing I saw today was:
- Something my body did for me today was:
- Something challenging I accomplished was:
Let them know that it’s ok if they don’t have something for each category, because some days are more positive than others. Encourage them to at least fill out 1-2. After everyone has completed their sticky notes, post them around your practice space, team room or locker room!
what does my body do for me?
Invite athletes to silently reflect on how they think about their bodies and the pressure that is placed on their bodies. Then, encourage them to write down or silently think of five things that their body DOES for them- instead of focusing on how it looks. As time allows, have athletes share what they wrote/thought of. Some examples to guide your athletes along could include: My body can run sprints, my body makes me feel strong, my body scored the winning goal, my body gets me where I need to go.
Place jars (or another container) around your practice space with some pencils and slips of paper. Invite teammates to write down something they are grateful for and put it in the jar throughout the season. At the beginning or end of practice each day, read one thing that someone is grateful for. If the jar is empty at first, add in a few of your own to get things going!
coping strategy keychains
Pass out an index card to each athlete. Take a minute or two to brainstorm out loud some positive coping skills. Then, invite athletes to write down three positive coping skills that resonate with them on their index card. Once they have finished, they can attach them to their equipment bags with ribbon so they will always have coping skills to turn to during practice or a competition. Need some tips/recommendations of positive coping strategies? Check out our Self–Care Bingo Board here.
At the start or end of practice, give teens 1-2 minutes to identify their favorite workout song of the moment. They can think of this in their head, pull it up on their phone, or, if you have access to Spotify, have them add it to a shared playlist that you create. Once everyone has added their songs, ask folks to share why these songs motivate them. Listen and affirm as everyone shares the meanings behind the songs and their own motivations.
As a bonus, use the shared playlist you created at practice that day or even as your regular warm-up/practice/game day hype music!
yoga to help sleep
At the end of practice, practice different yoga poses that help with sleep. Encourage athletes to continue to do these poses at home to lead to a better sleep schedule. You can also check out plenty of other free yoga videos on YouTube, like this one.
Download the Breathe2Relax application and take five minutes at the beginning or end of practice to do some deep breathing techniques as a team.
Complete a five minute guided meditation with the team before or after practice using our meditation playlist provided by Evolving Minds.
At the end of practice, instruct athletes to sit quietly and take three breaths. Then, ask them to silently list 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste.
Have athletes sit down with an index card and a pen/pencil. Invite them to write down an expectation that they feel is placed on them because of their gender identity. Underneath this expectation, encourage them to write how they feel about this expectation. Collect the anonymous cards and read them aloud or have athletes read them. Open the floor for athletes to have a discussion about these expectations. See some examples below:
“Because I identify as a man, I’m expected to never show sadness.”
“Because I identify as nonbinary, I’m expected to never wear feminine outfits.”
“Because I identify as a woman, I’m expected to be kind and graceful all the time.”
what does it mean to “man up?”
For young men and boys, especially those in sports, there can be pressure to “man up” or appear “manly.” Ask athletes to share what comes to mind when they hear these kinds of phrases, and how it affects the way they carry themselves. What does society mean when they say “be a man?” Then, watch the following 2-minute video: The Best a Man Can Get.
Video discussion questions: What do you think about this video? What does it mean to YOU to “be a man?” How can we change the culture of masculinity or “manning up” so that we can be “the best a man can get?”
Gender Language Note: This activity uses the terms “boys” and “men” because this stereotype of what masculinity should be is societally attributed to young people who are socialized as boys, men, or masculine folks. We acknowledge and encourage you to acknowledge that gender is not binary, and folks may identify all sorts of ways, even on a “male” sports team. That being said, this activity is an important conversation starter for young athletes who play on male teams to explore the extra messaging they receive around masculinity as athletes.
gender and mental health
Prior to the beginning of the activity create a line on the floor, stretching across the gym or field, using masking tape, painter’s tape, string, or yarn. Label one end with “uncomfortable” and the opposite end as “comfortable,” or just verbally explain the two ends to athletes.
Facilitator says: Most of our personal experiences tell us that folks of different gender identities tend to receive different societal pressures and messages around emotions. For example, young men are less likely to seek help due to stigma around not showing “weakness,” young women are often told that showing anger isn’t “ladylike,” and nonbinary folks can often be looked down on when showing confidence or joy due to bigoted beliefs. This is just a small example of how gender impacts what emotions society tells us are “appropriate,” and we’re going to explore that a little more now.
Today we are going to explore this through a visual representation of our group’s comfort level with emotional expression. I will state an emotion and you will move along the line to represent how you feel, from comfortable to uncomfortable, expressing, or sharing the following emotions with a close friend or trusted adult.
*Facilitator tip: work this into a warm-up by having them do different movements as they move along the line such as high-knees, grapevines, lunges, etc. and extending the length of the line so they are moving greater distances.*
Before moving into the rest of your warm-up or practice, take a moment to ask folks to silently reflect or share aloud how we can start to break down the stigma around emotional expression for folks of all genders.
Operation Beautiful: Locker Room Edition
Explain to your athletes that doing acts of kindness for others not only can make someone else’s day, but can bring up feelings of joy and purpose for the one doing the act as well. Next, pass out a few post it notes to each athlete along with some pens or markers. Give folks 2-3 minutes to write down messages of kindness, hope, body positivity, support, or encouragement on their sticky notes. Once everyone is done, have them walk around the locker room and stick the notes around on lockers, walls, in the bathrooms, etc. Leave the notes up for as long as possible so they can serve as reminder for athletes, and create a culture of kindness in your locker room.
*Note: This would be great to do as a cool-down so athletes can post them around the locker room as they head out for the day!*
Be Kind 365
Have athletes go to the following link: bit.ly/bekindeveryday and generate a random act of kindness from Born This Way Foundation. Once they have one, ask folks to share the act of kindness they’ve been assigned and how they plan to complete it today. You can do this at the start or end of practice every day if you’d like!
You can also download and print a QR code here that teens can scan to access the link above more easily.
resource scavenger hunt
*Timing note: This activity will take some prep, and will take 10-15 minutes to actually facilitate. But the fun makes it worth it, and the athletes will definitely get warm while they’re running around during the scavenger hunt!*
Prior to running this activity, identify trusted adults in the building that are open to discussing mental health with students. The goal is to identify at least one adult per department. Ask each identified adult to fill out an About Me Sheet and post it on their door the day of the scavenger hunt.
Using information collected on the About Me sheets, edit the Scavenger Hunt sheet. Include one clue per trusted adult.
On the day of the scavenger hunt, decide, as a group, to complete the scavenger hunt in teams or as individuals. Provide each person or team with the Scavenger Hunt sheet personalized for your school. Set a time limit of 8-12 minutes depending on the number of trusted adults in the school. Have students disperse throughout the school looking to match the clue with the correct trusted adult. Remind students that the answers are on the About Me sheets on the trusted adult’s door.
When everyone is done, have them come back to the practice space and share their thoughts on turning to a trusted adult if they or a friend are struggling.
Resource awareness ping pong
Gather some buckets, bins, or large jars and some plastic ping pong balls. Set up buckets in a line or fun pattern, and as a bonus you can place a few yummy and healthy treats at the bottom of each one, leaving enough room at the top to toss the ping pong ball in.
Give each athlete a ping pong ball and ask them to write a mental health resource on it. This could be a school counselor, the 988 suicide prevention hotline, OMM’s Text “Mind” to 741741 for 24/7 help from Crisis Text Line, or any other local or national resource. It could also be a trusted adult in that teen’s life. If the teens need help identifying resources, you can share some ideas from our robust Mental Health Resources.
Once everyone has written on their ping pong ball, have athletes line up in front of the buckets or jars. As each teen takes their turn trying to land the ball in one of the buckets or jars, they should first read off the mental health resource they chose. If they land the ball, they can have one of the treats inside (or just bragging rights)! You can cycle through until everyone has made a shot, or just go through once.
If there’s time, ask folks to share one new resource they learned.
Apples and Actions
This activity will symbolize how our words have consequences and that everything we say can make an impact on someone else, and aims to reduce stigma and promote acceptance and kindness.
Pass the apple around in a circle, and ask each teen to insult the apple and then drop it on the ground before passing it to the next person. Once the apple has gone around the circle, cut it in half and show the teens all the bruises inside. Let them reflect for a moment on how this relates to the invisible bruises that can come along with unkind words or stigma.
Before wrapping up, go around the circle again (you can pass around a new apple for added effect or not) and ask folks to say something kind, empowering, or supportive that negates the insult they spoke moments ago and creates a positive energy instead.
*Tip: Bring some extra apples and pass out slices after the activity is over!*