By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 7/2/22
Olivia Samkavitz believes the stigma of admitting as an athlete that you need support or help for your mental health is starting to change.
“I think people were always scared about talking about (mental health) because so many felt they’d think you weren’t strong enough,” said the 2024 defender who plays club for Dynasty Elite. “People were only focusing on physical strength in sports.
“But it’s being talked about more. It came up with (gymnastics superstar) Simone Biles and as more athletes have gone public about it, I think the message is to focus on mental strength just as much as physical strength.
“It’s OK if stress is building up and you feel you need to take a break. There are people you can go to and resources to turn to.”
Samkavitz, who attends Central Bucks East, spoke to a gathering of over 300 Dynasty players and parents at the club’s annual Summer Family Night Wednesday at Germantown Academy’s Sister Fields. The event benefited the Morgan’s Message Foundation, created to honor the memory of lacrosse player Morgan Rodgers – who tragically took her life 3 years ago at the age of 22 after struggling with mental health issues.
Samkavitz became an Ambassador for Morgan’s Message this spring after attending a Villanova women’s lacrosse game where she learned of the foundation. Her message for both players and family members was that it’s OK to seek help if you need it.
“I have always been passionate about student-athlete mental health,” said Samkavitz, who also plays soccer at CB East. “We are trying to break the stigma about mental health.”
Samkavitz also started a club at CB East called “Next Play Sports” that supports high school athletes in working to lessen the impact of bad plays and work to focus on positives. She plans to incorporate Morgan’s message into her Next Play Sports club since both support mental health. She hopes to run an event for this cause in the fall with the CB East soccer team.
At Wednesday’s event, parents helped run a table with resources about Morgan’s Message. Money was raised for the foundation through raffles, t-shirts and an ice cream truck. Morgan’s Message pamphlets have the number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) and a Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741).
“Having this event really means a lot,” said Samkavitz. “So many parents got to see it and there are so many resources for younger girls.”
Dynasty 2023 assistant coach Maggie Tydings is another Morgan’s Message Ambassador. Tydings, a rising junior goalie at Johns Hopkins from Princeton, N.J., attended Deerfield Academy, Mass., where she saw student-athletes struggle at times with mental health issues.
“I got involved with Morgan’s Message as a freshman at Johns Hopkins,” Tydings said. “Mental health is not talked about enough in the athletic community.
“It’s something I saw a lot in boarding school; I had the unique experience of being away from home and that’s the environment where a lot of people suffer with mental issues. It’s something I wanted to spread the word about.”
Tydings explained that athletes like to push themselves hard and be pushed hard by their coaches. But they don’t like admitting they sometimes need to stop or accept slowing down.
“If you look atthe athletic setting, you never want to be the kid that drops out early from the run and you never want to be the kid that asks a coach for a sub,” Tydings said. “You never want to be the one that asks for help or says you’re feeling down.
“Athletes are taught to keep going. What they are saying is the best way to keep going is to take a break sometimes.”
Tydings said the coaches at Dynasty will keep pushing their players to excel, but will take an equal amount of energy and time to ensure their mental health. Last fall Coach Jen Duckenfield, Dynasty’s Director, ran a Morgan’s Message resource day during a Fall Ball day with several teams.
“I think it’s important that on the field, as coaches, we’re going to push them hard,” she said “But off the field this is what we’re all about. All of the coaches with Dynasty have a great relationship with the kids and we do events like this and we’re always checking up on them.”