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Fort McMurray football team puts a focus on mental health

Last Updated Mar 3, 2021 at 5:55 pm MDT

Photo by Dana Inzon - Merc Media Group

Fort McMurray Saints use government grant to work on fostering growth in their players

Football focuses on mental health, how a Fort McMurray high school team is supporting it's players and the community

FORT MCMURRAY ( 660 NEWS ) –The Fort McMurray Saints football team are doing their best to support their players mental health, and the mental wellbeing of the community. After receiving a grant for $9,000 from the Alberta Government, the team is putting on a series of conferences focusing on fostering growth – not only for the Saints, but for the rest of the community as well. Kevin Garbuio is a special education teacher at Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School in Fort McMurray, and the Saints head coach. He says that a tragedy last spring sparked his interest in getting a mental wellbeing initiative going with his team.

“We had a boy pass away, a former player, in the spring time. That was pretty tough. I taught him since grade seven, so that hit me personally really hard.”

The Saints will be putting on three different conferences. One will be geared towards students, another for coaches, and a third for parents. The events will focus on fostering a “growth mindset”, something Garbuio says is important in supporting his team through this tragedy.

AUDIO: 660’S Devon Banfield speaks with Saints head coach Kevin Garbuio

“I’ve had parents ask ‘what should we do’ or ‘what should we be working on’ and I didn’t have an answer. We preach to our kids all the time ‘if you don’t know something, go find the answer or we’ll find it for you.’ So this gave us a chance to practice what we preach.” Gabuio also added that the team is trying to focus on something actionable, and is using this tragedy to foster something positive for the Saints, and the rest of the community.

“The goal of these sessions is to teach athletes, families, and coaches how to foster a foundation of mental health through a growth mindset,” Garbuio said in a press release “We also want to have these groups advocate for mental health in all areas, not just sport.”

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The events are free of charge, and will be streamed live from the Saints Twitch account. The conferences are set to be hosted by two University of Alberta students. Shannon Pynn is a Ph.D. student and curler who recently won bronze as Team Alberta’s coach during the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Kurtis Pankow is a Ph.D. candidate with the university, as well as a coach with the university’s Golden Bears Football Team.

Kevin Garbuio says that as the team’s head coach, he’s focusing on ensuring that coaches are able to properly address and take care of any mental health concerns among players.

“We’re working with that kind of idea of ‘what can we do better?’” Garbuio says, adding that they’re trying to build resilience “Without using the cheesy football sport attitude of ‘mental toughness.’ Because whenever you ask a coach what that actually means, they usually can’t give you a definition. Myself included.” He explained.

The events are not exclusive to the football community, and Garbuio says the team encourages anyone who is interested to tune in. For more information check out The Saints on Twitter.