Hack Your Mental Health with Track & Field

On this episode of the SpeakReal podcast by YouthSpeak, host, Christian sat down with Coach Cathy Barry Schadskaj, a Track and Field Sports Performance Coach and the founder of the Eclipse Track and Field Club. Coach Cathy talks about her journey to track and field as an athlete and her experience coaching youth athletes of all ages and abilities, from beginners to professionals, to help them reach their fullest potential and empower their mental health. 

Coach Cathy’s Love for Coaching Youth

What is remarkable is that Eclipse has mutually impacted both the youth and coaches, including Coach Cathy herself, physically and mentally.

“First of all, it has impacted me a lot. I treat these kids like they’re all my own children, and it’s hard for me to sometimes separate out, like bringing that home with me… I think about them a lot. I think about, “How am I gonna fix this?” “This one looked like they had a bad day.” They enhance my life. I go to practice, and in that short amount of time, I forget about everything that’s going on. It’s an hour and a half of pure enjoyment.”

The Positive Impacts of Track and Field

The intergenerational and collaborative relationships present in Coach Cathy’s program at Eclipse Track and Field Club allows youth and coaches to learn and grow personally and professionally together. 

She believes that children and youth gain the following positives from track and field:

  • Relationship-building skills and lifetime friendships
  • Performance development and self-confidence
  • And, most importantly, life lessons that they can carry with them

Skills learned in track and field are applicable to other areas of life.

“Is everyone going to be an olympian? No, just like not everyone that joins hockey is going to be an NHL player. So, what else can we do to build on them becoming the future leaders of our communities, good members of society, and role models for other people?”

Sports, recreational activities, and hobbies foster healthy competition. Compared to adults, losses and mistakes can have a bigger impact on youth, but these experiences can improve their team-building, problem-solving skills, and resiliency.

An example of this is how Coach Cathy poses reflective questions as a way to help youth navigate their emotions during challenging times:

  • How are you feeling right now?
  • Did you do your best? If yes, what are some positives?
  • Did you get the result you wanted? If not, what can we address? What can we do to get that result you want or be closer to it?

By validating emotions and encouraging sportsmanship, coaches help empower youth to become future leaders.

Christian’s personal experience with coaches is a testament to that. He echoes that coaches tend to model love and care for their team and transmit important values and skills, like focus, passion, and mindfulness, which youth will replicate in their lives, for example, while doing homework. Youth learn fundamental skills that nurture self-empowerment and mental health. 

“It’s not about winning… It’s about improving. I don’t care if you get first place, second place, top ten, but I do care that you’re gonna improve on your own personal time and personal best… You put in the best effort, and that is an accomplishment, too.” 

Diversity and Inclusivity in Track and Field

Coach Cathy and Eclipse warmly welcome youth with physical disabilities, neurodivergence, and mental health challenges, such as anxiety. The program ensures that each young athlete will get the support they need as well as access to equal opportunities when it comes to participating in the sport.

“I have many kids who are either in the spectrum or have some physical or mental challenges. I treat everyone like they’re an individual. I treat everyone the same, but you do have to change the way you do certain things because sometimes there’s a lack of understanding or they just learn differently… They are human beings too that deserve respect and encouragement, and to be treated fairly just like everyone else remains the same.”

One way Coach Cathy helps youth who experience anxiety is to practice mindful exercises with them. In order to bring them back to the present moment, she asks grounding questions such as:

  • Where are we right now? 
  • Do you hear the birds singing? 
  • Can you feel the sun? 
  • Can you feel the breeze?

As a result, Eclipse has created a safer and more inclusive space for many young athletes.

Coach Cathy shares an anecdote of one of her students, a young athlete on the autism spectrum, who gradually developed their skills and would hug and high-five her after every goal accomplished. 

Christian remarked that it attests to the positive impact that she has made on youth:

“That’s [an autistic youth athlete who would hug and high-five Coach Cathy after every goal] a very big deal, actually, depending on where they are at the spectrum, especially if they don’t like to be touched. They only will only physically interact with those they feel safe with, like you’re almost a mother figure to him.”

When youth become members of a supportive, lifelong community that makes them feel heard and included, they are encouraged to become better individuals and athletes at the same time.

Ultimately, Track and Field is more than just a sport; it teaches youth of all ages, abilities, and capacities to develop a positive and resilient mindset, good sportsmanship, and mindfulness while fostering a sense of belonging. All of which are important to the journey of self-empowerment of youth mental health, and Eclipse has been succeeding at that for years.

Watch the full podcast episode here:

To learn more about Eclipse and its team, check the website:  https://www.eclipsetrackandfieldclub.ca/

Follow Coach Cathy Barry on social media here: Instagram @coachcathyb)Twitter/X (@CoachCathyBarry) 

YouthSpeak is a charity organization based in the GTA, Canada that conducts assemblies and interactive workshops to help increase the resiliency of youth facing challenges today. To find out more about our projects and initiatives visit https://youthspeak.ca/. Follow our journey on social media @youthspeakCAN Help support our For-Youth-by-Youth projects by donating at: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/i-support-youthspeak/

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