UMass Football Players Mentor Local High School Athletes on Resilience, Stress Management and Leadership

Burnis Brown
Burnis Brown, an incoming member of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Football Team, speaks during a session of the Changing Minds, Changing Lives program.

AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts Amherst football players are mentoring Springfield Central High School football players, extending a college program designed to help the young men develop resilience as well as skills in stress management and leadership.

The initiative, which is based on the university’s Changing Minds, Changing Lives program, is supported by a university Public Service Endowment Grant awarded to Genevieve Chandler and Karen Kalmakis, associate professors of nursing.

The new support has allowed Chandler to continue the work started under a grant funded by the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) last year. Chandler and James Helling, a senior clinician at the university’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Health and leader of the Athletic Counseling Office, used the NCAA funding to develop similar skills in college athletes and help create a smooth transition into college life.

The Springfield-based program began in July and is co-taught by UMass Amherst nursing students Nellie Lewis and Maddie Valle, with UMass Amherst student-athletes serving as mentors and role models by facilitating the weekly classes.

During the classes, high school athletes gather with the nursing students and mentors to practice meditation and yoga, write about their lives, learn about the science behind resilience and the importance of building on strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses.

Central High School Principal Thaddeus Tokarz said, “We work on having our students consistently improve in every area. This program gave our students the opportunity to recognize individual strengths and weaknesses and work on improving each in a unique and holistic approach. We believe our students will better understand their feelings and emotions and be able to implement strategies and structures that will help them reach desired, positive outcomes.”

Chandler, a mental health nurse, has focused much of her research on resilience. She had the idea to offer the Changing Minds, Changing Lives program to the high school students after seeing how well college players responded to the class.

Mentoring the younger players further helps the UMass Amherst student-athletes develop leadership skills, a goal of the program.  

Following this summer’s class for the university athletes, Chandler said, “Our UMass student-athletes report managing the tension of meeting the demands of athletics and academics and learning to build on their individual strengths. The class provided an opportunity for students to appreciate the history and experience each brought to the table which, they enthusiastically recognized, will lead to a stronger team. The course recipe for success worked so well we wanted to start earlier, in high school. We are excited that the feedback from the facilitators has been very positive.”

The classes at Central High School ran through July and early August. Chandler will now compare resilience and stress levels in the group of high school players in the course against those of players on the Central team who did not take the course.

The UMass Amherst student-athletes will participate in a “booster session” of the class in September.

About UMass Amherst College of Nursing

As a leader in nursing education for over 60 years, the College of Nursing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst prepares students to enter the nursing profession at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels while also developing vital nurse educators and researchers to inform and educate future generations of nursing students.For more information on the College, visit:https://www.umass.edu/nursing/