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Athletes and coaches in fall sports got advice and practical tips to reinforce their physical, emotional, and mental wellness in two presentations from local experts.

The Athletics Department invited Anna O'Connor, a mental health and performance coach and consultant, who serves in those functions for the University of Maryland's men's lacrosse team, and Anna Huddleston, who is regional supervisor of Military Family Counselors at Magellan Federal. Students listened to a presentation from each expert, followed by time to socialize around the Pit and enjoy ice cream prepared by the refectory staff.

“We feel that mental wellness and performance are important topics, so we wanted to take a whole afternoon dedicated to them," said Director of Athletics Chad Byler, noting that practices and games for all athletes in grades 7-12 were suspended to hold the sessions. “We want the students to realize how important they are."

Byler said that part of the impetus to offer the sessions came from a summer retreat for school administrators with new Head of School Travis Larrabee, which included discussion of national trends impacting teens, including lack of sleep, anxiety, and depression. He noted that Norfolk Academy students are high performers and driven in all areas of their lives, and they need to appreciate that they have a support system around them.

The presentations by the two experts offered a variety of approaches to wellness, including ways that students can do a self-check for how they feel at a given moment to more habitual practices for sustaining good health and equilibrium. Both experts also emphasized that students should seek help from adults, including parents, school counselors, and others with specialized training. There should be no hesitation about seeking support, both experts stressed.

Byler reiterated that point. “The biggest takeaway for the students to hear was that we have people to help," he said. “If at any time they feel overwhelmed or anxious, we have services here."

Coaches are also part of that support network. At Norfolk Academy, coaches also teach academic classes, so they understand their players in a more comprehensive way and appreciate that students are juggling assignments and many activities.

“We want our student-athletes to realize that coaches are champions for them," Byler said. “The health of each individual athlete is our number one priority."


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