May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. This week, I want to acknowledge the very real, intensely anxious, and overwhelmed underbelly present in the lives of our youth.  

I have been known to say “It’s never been harder to be a kid,” and now I’ve been adding another side to that coin: “It’s never been more challenging to be a parent.” In fact, I think it’s the hardest job on the planet. Today’s issues are complex, but whether it’s a situation of addressing test anxiety, prescribing medication for ADHD, or preventing a panic attack, our society tends to default to a “fix it” approach. We want to find a solution and move on.

Some solutions are possible — but with kids, it’s often the minute we find relief with one thing that another situation surfaces, and the bar keeps moving. So I’d like to offer a perspective from one of my little Brooklyn*Buddas — a six grader in Park Slope. “Andy” doesn’t particularly enjoy learning. It’s drudgery, even at the progressive private school in his cool neighborhood. But — Andy adores soccer. He lives to play this game. So I would always try to weave this passion of the sport into our sessions together. One day, Andy taught me one of the keys to success in soccer: it’s called “tiny touches.” Andy’s coach instructed the team that the more they are able to make contact with the ball, the better confidence and command each athlete will have on the field.

Kurt Aschermann, in his book, Coaching Kids to Play Soccer, explains: “Simply defined, dribbling consists of ‘tiny touches‘ of the ball, usually in close quarters. When dribbling, as in the performance of other skills of the game, players must be able to use all parts of the foot — the inside, outside, top, and sole. Your players must be able to change speed, change direction, and dribble with their heads up. There are only two times when soccer players should have their heads down: when the player first touches the ball, and when it is last touched. Keeping the head up is essential because otherwise your players will not be able to see their teammates, defenders, or the goal.”

How does this skill relate to mental health? Well, ‘tiny touches‘ must continue throughout the game.  It isn’t enough to do them once or twice and then score — this technique has to become consistent and constant.  ‘Tiny touches’ must become routine, almost like breathing.  If we were to approach support in mental health like “tiny touches” by providing many opportunities of education and encouragement, think how amazing our world might be — and how strong we could help our kids become. 

It’s not a solution, but it is an amazing approach… and it just might be a key to winning the game.


Sandra is a board certified educational therapist in Chapel Hill. Read her blog here and listen to her on the air at WCHL weekdays on Music & More with Nicki Morse.