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.)

The Dangers of Returning to a Sport Too Soon After an Injury

September 12, 2023

Henry Ford HealthWhen you've been hit with an injury, it's natural to want to get back to your regular activities as soon as possible. In fact, it's not uncommon for athletes to sidestep doctors' orders and return to the field or the court before an injury has healed.

"It doesn’t matter how much you train, or how much you prepare, injuries are going to happen, especially if you're an athlete," says Jamie Schwab, an athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health System. "But the real trouble arises when athletes try to play through their pain without allowing sufficient time for recovery."

Risks Of Returning Too Soon After Injury

If you sprain your ankle during a cross country run, it can be tempting to finish the race. Unfortunately, hiding your pain and powering through the activity can actually make matters worse.

"If you continue to work out after suffering from an injury, you run the risk of furthering that injury," Schwab says. So what began as a minor ankle sprain can evolve into a major sprain that sidelines you for weeks.

Returning to play after surgery demands extra precautions. "Athletes are a lot more susceptible to re-injury after returning from surgery, especially if they don't complete the entire 9-month or year-long rehabilitation protocol," Schwab says. In some cases, you can exacerbate an injury to such a degree that you'll never be able to participate in the same capacity.

A Safe Return To Play

The road back to play after an injury is a long and winding one. Before you can even consider returning to exercise, you need to reduce swelling, get pain under control and get your range of motion back to almost normal.

"The recovery process takes time," Schwab says. "But if you stick with it, and you take it seriously, it's going to be a whole lot easier for you to return to the playing field in a timely manner."

Once you get pain and swelling under control, you can focus on agility and weight exercises that will help you regain strength and slowly return to baseline. The key tenets for a safer return to play:

Be honest about your abilities: "So many athletes are afraid to tell the truth," Schwab says. "But if you're hurting and you're not competing at your full potential, you're letting your team down and yourself down, too." Even worse, you could increase your risk of further injury.

Focus on building strength: Strength training is critical. It can help you become faster, stronger and more agile on the field. It can also help you recover more quickly after an injury.

Listen to your body: If something doesn't feel right, pay attention to it. Talk to your athletic trainer or a physical therapist to get to the bottom of what's bugging you and put a plan in place to address it.

Boosting Performance Over The Long Haul

Unfortunately, not every coach and athletic trainer stresses the importance of a maintenance program. In fact, focused training and maintenance exercises are key to preventing injuries in the first place.

"The rehabilitation exercises you begin doing on day one after injury need to be maintained at least three to four times each week, indefinitely," Schwab says. "If you follow that regimen, all of your muscular nagging strains will no longer be a problem because your body is constantly adapting to the stresses. It's conditioned, it's strong, it can withstand the constant changes in direction."

Most importantly, don't be afraid to try complementary strategies. Practice using a foam roller, try cupping to release tension in the muscles and enhance blood flow and consider getting a monthly massage.

Jamie Schwab, AT, ATC, SCAT, CSCS, is an athletic trainer with Henry Ford Sports Medicine and works with student athletes at Edsel Ford High School. She is a National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified strength and conditioning specialist.

To find a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/sports.