Josh Daley, Head Coach of the Semiahmoo Ravens U18 team, has been working to integrate mental health and wellness-related services into Semiahmoo Minor Hockey Association’s annual programming. 

Daley has driven the implementation of a unique pilot program offered at the hockey club with support from Reach Trauma Response Consulting. The program began in November and will run until March 31, 2023, generously funded by Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health Foundation as part of their Move for Life Project

This innovative model aims to customize health and wellness support for individual players, increase team resiliency skills, and inspire systemic shifts toward the de-stigmatization of conversations about mental health on minor hockey teams.  

“The game and culture of hockey hasn’t changed too much over the years, but the mental and emotional weight that youth players must carry today has,” Josh Daley says. “Increased online activity, and post-pandemic stressors add to youth’s risk of experiencing bullying, racism, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.” 

In order to meaningfully engage players, Daley and other mental health and wellness professionals lead individual and group mentoring sessions, conduct somatic body care and mindfulness practice, and gauge the emotional state of players with mental health and performance surveys. These activities, and more, take place at a time and place that is most accessible for players. 

“All of our sessions take place adjacent to the Semiahmoo Raven’s regular practice and game schedule,” Daley says. “It’s best to meet our players where they are. We provide a safe space in arenas and training facilities that they are already familiar with. Oftentimes, before or after hockey games is when they need support the most.” 

The recent death a 14-year-old player exemplifies the critical need for increased mental health supports for youth players. Robin Janjua played with Semiahmoo Minor Hockey before he left for Delta Hockey Academy at the start of the season’s U15 Green team. Although he was not a participant in the Semiahmoo Raven’s pilot program, his brother and former teammates are. Together with other U18 players, they have received increased support as they process grief related to the unexpected loss of their former teammate.   

“Robin’s death was deeply saddening for our hockey communities and is the first death or tragic event that many of our youth players may have ever encountered in their lives,” Daley says. “His loss is just one of the many incidents that reveal the desperate need for youth support in our community and others.” 

A recent UBC study highlighted that help-seeking behaviors in men’s ice hockey are heavily impacted by cultural and systemic factors. Despite many barriers to expanding the amount of support that the hockey club can provide, Daley and his colleagues have seen some positive shifts throughout the pilot program.  

Team culture is slowly changing towards the de-stigmatization of mental health support, and many athletes and parents have begun to welcome the idea of opening up about their personal struggles.  

“Our investment in mental health support for our youth athletes has proven to be highly effective in increasing overall team performance,” Daley says. “Winning hockey games is a big bonus, but the important thing is that our players are getting the support they need. As they gain important life skills, resiliency, and resources, they will be able to move through life and help further shift culture down the line.” 

“We’ve got big dreams for this program,” Daley adds. “Hopefully, with additional funding from healthcare partners like Peace Arch Hospital Foundation or others, we will be able to further expand our delivery and impact. The need will always be there.”