New Program Offers Mental Health Game Plan for RPCS Student Athletes

New Program Offers Mental Health Game Plan for RPCS Student Athletes
With more than 70 percent of Upper School students playing at least one sport, Roland Park Country School is committed to supporting the emotional wellness of our student athletes. Last fall, RPCS teamed up with the MINDset Center, a psychology practice that offers a comprehensive wellness education program specifically designed for student athletes. Through their Person Before Player initiative, psychologist Dr. Shreya Hessler and psychotherapist and Associate Director of Sports Psychology, Casey Giovanazzi Kutner, M.A., provided ongoing seminars and resources throughout the school year to support students, parents, and coaches, and equip them with the tools they need to succeed in athletics and in life.
“The emotional health and well-being of our athletes is always a priority, and we are so grateful to collaborate with the MINDset Center to provide our community with practical advice and tools to help them,” said Scott Buckley, Co-Director of Athletics. “The Person Before Player initiative has been well received at RPCS and we look forward to continuing this programming to foster a healthy and positive environment for all of our athletes.”
At the beginning of the fall and winter sports season this school year, Dr. Hessler and Ms. Kutner visited RPCS to meet separately with student athletes, their parents and coaches to provide education on mental health wellness, communication techniques and supportive skills. In these sessions, they also explored theoretical scenarios and engaged in other in-depth discussions with each group.
“When meeting directly with students, parents and guardians and coaches, we emphasized the differences between who a person is and what they do, underscoring that identities are not linear and that all student athletes have multi-faceted interests,” said Dr. Hessler, who is also a past RPCS parent. “Through our Person Before Player program, our goal is to empower student athletes using tangible strategies and action plans to cultivate resilience, both in and out of the game.”

From left to right: Casey Giovanazzi Kutner, M.A., Scott Buckley, Dr. Shreya Hessler, Dani Kell Steinbach

Senior Payton C., who participated in the fall and winter sessions found the program to be beneficial and relatable. “One of my favorite things that I learned in the Person Before Player sessions was about having bad cycles in practices or games and how to break them,” Payton said. “It’s very easy to fall into a cycle where you constantly feel defeated, but this program gave us tips on how to maintain clarity and perspective.”
Including parents and coaches in these discussions is an important piece to providing positive mental health experiences for student athletes. Current parent of a two sport varsity athlete and RPCS Board of Trustees member Cynthia Cavanaugh, P’23 participated the Person Before Player parent session and clearly sees the benefits the program has had on her daughter and fellow parents. “Our students are constantly exercising, working on their skills, trying to play at the top of their game, but if their mindset isn’t in the right place, will they really achieve that?” Cynthia said. “I think that’s the goal of Person Before Player; getting them in the right head space to be at the top of their game to thrive mentally and physically.”
In addition to providing mental health awareness and education, the Person Before Player program also emphasizes the importance of students advocating for themselves as individuals before athletes. Elizabeth Blaum, Head Coach for the Varsity Field Hockey team, noticed that her students have felt comfortable this season approaching her to explain situations outside of athletics that might affect their performance on a given day. Having that knowledge has helped Elizabeth coach her team better as a whole.
“I love this program. I really like integrating wellness into my coaching practices and building the habits of my student athletes,” Elizabeth said. “This platform has also helped develop a shared language among coaches and with the players. Helping them adjust the language they use when describing themselves has been a very obvious change I’ve seen that stemmed from this program. The voices in their heads are sometimes the most important.”
Cynthia also spoke about the change she’s seen in her daughter when it comes to advocating for herself. “If she is upset about something that happened in a game or recognizes that something is wrong with one of her teammates, she knows that the door is always open and that she can talk to her coach and work together to make it better.”
As one example, Payton remembers feeling comfortable talking to her coach about some of the team’s challenges. “This program helped me realize that the relationships between players really mattered to the team’s success, not just my own personal success, and that I needed to talk my concerns out with my coach to find a solution and move forward.”
With the success of the Person Before Player program, RPCS hopes to continue its collaboration with the MINDset Center and expand its offerings to Middle School athletes, parents and coaches in the future.
“High school sports can really take a mental toll, so I really hope this program continues at Roland Park Country School for years to come,” Payton added. “It’s so valuable to know that RPCS really cares about their athletes’ mental health and that makes us feel supported.”
Watch this video to hear more from our community and learn more about the MINDset Center’s Person Before Player program here.