O-K Red Tennis Rivals Team Up to Promote Mental Health Awareness

By Jon Ross
MHSAA Director of Broadcast Properties

October 7, 2022

The Ottawa-Kent Conference Red boys tennis championship was decided Saturday, but all eight teams also teamed up for something bigger.

All participants from league members Caledonia, East Kentwood, Grand Haven, Grandville, Hudsonville, Jenison, Rockford, and Holland West Ottawa warmed up together, wearing special “be nice.” shirts in their respective school colors.

The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan provides the be nice. program, with its mission to promote mental health awareness and prevent suicide through education with a four-step action plan (Notice, Invite, Challenge, Empower).  Additionally, be nice. provides mental health awareness training to all head coaches of MHSAA-sponsored sport teams.

“Over the past four years, coaches have received mental health and suicide prevention education by learning the be nice. action plan through annual rules meetings. Now these coaches are bringing it to their athletes and parents,” said Christy Buck, executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. “To see these coaches recognize the importance of having mental health discussions on their teams with their athletes gives me the chills. For the entire O-K Red, 140 coaches and athletes, to then take it a step further and bring awareness to their community is incredible. The information people received that day, without a doubt, started important conversations that will be life-changing for someone who was struggling, and that's what we're trying to do. The be nice. team program is simple, accessible, and it's going to save lives." 

Leading up to the competition, every team had access to a be nice. team training that taught them to recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental illness and how to take action when they notice these changes. This program is a simple and effective way to empower coaches and athletes with a game plan for mental health concerns. Parents and spectators also were briefed on the be nice. action plan before the tournament began.

“Tennis is competitive and intense in the Red, but for the players and coaches, we see tennis as an extension of something bigger. It's about life, friendships, camaraderie, learning how to deal with adversity, learning how to lose, learning how to win, coming together as a family and creating collective goals,” said Rockford varsity tennis coach Tom Huizing. “Every day we try to live the be nice. way. Not only within our teams or within our conference, but within our lives outside of tennis.

“We've had many be nice. matches within the O-K Red, but now we wanted to set the standard as a conference and let everyone know that we are in this life together. We will notice, invite, challenge, and empower. All of us, not just one player or one coach or one team. Every player, every coach, every team. We want to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. So that's what we're doing on the biggest stage for our tennis conference. We are coming together at the O-K Red Conference finals and we are making a pact as an entire conference to be nice.”

Hudsonville and West Ottawa ended the season as co-champions of the O-K Red.

PHOTO The O-K Red brought together 140 athletes and coaches for its boys tennis championship tournament and also in an effort to bring awareness through the be nice. program. The entire group is pictured above, and the coaches below. (Photo courtesy of be nice.)

Sports Injuries & Student Athletes: A Parent’s Guide

February 6, 2024

Playing sports is a great way for children of all ages to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It also builds confidence and teaches them valuable life lessons, like working as a team and the value of hard work. While it may be every sports fanatic’s dream to have their kid make it big time in the arena or on the diamond, sometimes pushing young athletes to be the best at a young age can lead to serious injuries that will take them out of the game altogether.

Henry Ford Health"Sports help with physical and psychological well-being," says Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. "However, year-round participation in a single sport at a young age can lead to overuse injuries and mental burnout."

Nowadays, many kids will start playing one sport at a young age and continue to play that same sport year-round for years. This can be harmful to your child because his or her soft tissue and bone structures aren't fully developed. Furthermore, the pressures of year-round participation and focus on excelling, rather than enjoyment, can negatively affect a young athlete's mental health.

Basketball causes the most injuries among high schoolers, causing many visits to the emergency room each year for stressed and torn ankle ligaments. In baseball, the Tommy John surgery, a procedure to reconstruct torn ligaments in the elbow after overuse, has also been increasingly used to treat young athletes still in high school.

How To Prevent Sports Injuries

Preparing your children appropriately before a sports season begins and supporting them during the season is important. Dr. Santa Barbara offers four key pieces of advice to help your youth athletes avoid injury.

1. Don’t limit your child to one sport. Playing a variety of sports in different seasons is a great way to work different parts of the body. When your child gets older, they can make the transition to playing a single sport they are good at and enjoy.

2. Warm up. Make sure your child is properly warming up before they play any sport. Dynamic warmups--incorporating exercises that involve moving the body such as lunges, high knees and arm circles – are preferable to stretching alone.

3. Strengthen core muscles. Building up core strength takes pressure off joints in the arms and legs. It gives young athletes more momentum and can help improve their performance.

4. Abide by rest rules. Many schools and sports leagues have rules in place to limit how many teams kids are on or how often they play. Follow these to ensure your child is allowing time for their joints and muscles to recover from physical activity.

Children participating in a sport should never push through pain, and injuries should be promptly evaluated by a sports medicine physician. Physical injuries are often more obvious, while mental health issues due to sports participation can be more subtle. Symptoms such as fatigue and declining performance can be signs of burnout. In these situations, rest is also important.

"Sports should be fun for kids," says Dr. Santa Barbara. "Avoiding single-sports specialization at a young age keeps the focus on enjoyment while reducing the physical and psychological risks of year-round participation."

To find a sports medicine provider at Henry Ford Health, visit henryford.com/sportsmedicine or call 313-651-1969.

Matthew Santa Barbara, M.D., is a non-operative sports medicine physician at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine in Detroit, Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus, Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township and Henry Ford Medical Center - Fairlane.