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ESPN, Doc Wayne and The Village Team Up to Expand Mental Health Services for Youth

Connecticut by the Numbers

Doc Wayne Youth Services —  a Boston nonprofit whose sport-infused therapies improve mental health — along with Bristol, CT-based global sports brand ESPN, and The Village — a Hartford nonprofit dedicated to building a community of strong, healthy families who protect and nurture children — are collaborating to advance mental health initiatives for young people by leveraging the power of sport.

The effort is being supported by ESPN as part of its commitment to ensure its social investments are going to those who need it most, with at least 60 percent of all of its grants going toward its two youth investment strategies — Access to Sports and Empowerment through Sports — to benefit Black and African American youth, according to company officials.

The partnership, launched with Doc Wayne, will train The Village clinicians through its Champions Network™ program, an external training curriculum that includes a range of trauma-informed, sport-based therapies, as well as professional credentialing. The remote and live sessions will help equip and empower organizations, clinicians, coaches, teachers and others around the world to utilize sports in a therapeutic manner. The Village is the first Connecticut organization to receive the Champions Network training. 

“The combination of sports and proven clinical mental health strategies is incredibly powerful, and there couldn’t be a more imperative time than now to utilize this program,” said Kevin Martinez, ESPN Corporate Citizenship vice president. “As the pandemic set in, the needs of many organizations intensified, including our long-time Hartford neighbor and partner, The Village. With much of their focus on children, it is clear that uniting our three organizations would bring additional advancements for these youth, their families and the community.”

As part of the partnership, The Village took part in trainings focused on Doc Wayne’s Rookie Pride program, designed to address the unique needs of youth between the ages of five to eight years old. It’s part of their overarching Creating Champions curriculum that layers clinical and social-emotional learning goals onto an easy to grasp framework that resembles a tournament-style sports bracket, and uses youth friendly, sport-based language to ensure youth and families can connect to the material. It’s founded on four fundamental constructs – Teamwork, Communication, Resilience and Confidence – that are broken down into 30 teachable skills that ladder up to Connectedness.

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The training of staff in the curriculum took place in September and October, with separate sessions for those working with older and younger youth; there were 15 people trained in all, and implementation of the curriculum got underway at the beginning of this month.   In groups of 8 – 12, about 120 children will receive the Doc Wayne Creating Champions (ages 9 – 14) or Rookie Pride (ages 5 – 8) curricula.

“Doc Wayne has set the standard for a protocol that addresses mental health through the lens of sport,” said Galo Rodriguez, president & CEO of The Village. “We are highly optimistic that by incorporating their curriculum into our programs we can reach children we serve, help them heal from trauma and find their inner resilience.” He concluded, “The Village is deeply grateful for ESPN, who continuously supports and enriches the work we do.”

The Village for Families & Children was one of the first agencies in the country to provide homes for neglected children. Today, The Village provides a full range of behavioral health, early and childhood youth development, substance use treatment, and support services for children, families and adults in the Greater Hartford region.

In the program, four fundamental constructs—Teamwork, Communication, Resilience, & Confidence—are broken down into 30 teachable skills and delivered using youth-friendly language to help them connect to the material. Participants develop healthier coping skills, feel more confident to engage in sport and fitness, and become leaders in their school or community. As the program rolls out, The Village has an analytics team on board collecting data to be able to track outcomes.  

Doc Wayne’s programs take place in a gym or on a field, versus a clinical setting, and clinicians, known as “coaches,” engage with youth between the ages of five and 18 years old. The evidence-based approach fosters openness and trust, and enables the development of new life skills and learning teamwork with the benefits of physical activity. Thus far, Doc Wayne has trained people and organizations in 25 countries, impacting nearly 68,000 youth.

“It’s really terrific that our organizations are collaborating, we’re so well aligned and can achieve more together,” commented David Cohen, CEO of Doc Wayne. “Over the past year, with the pandemic and so many high-level athletes sharing their mental health stories, like no time before we’re witnessing how utilizing sport also supports social justice and change, and acceptance, and fortunately, it’s helping to diminish the associated stigma.” 

Recognized with the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Sports Award, among others, Doc Wayne was formed by Susan Wayne in 2002 in memory of her brother Dr. Eli Wayne, a pediatrician and tremendous supporter of using sport as a medium for positive youth development.

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