USWNT players back new mental health initiative

Leading players from the U.S. women ‘s national team and across Europe have joined forces in an effort to tackle rising mental health issues within football through a new initiative called “Create the Space.”

USWNT stars Naomi Girma, Sophia Smith and Sofia Huerta are among the stars to back the project, which aims to provide mental health practitioners to facilitate in-person training at all levels of the game, from the elite to grassroots level.

Arsenal striker Beth Mead and Chelsea defender Ben Chilwell are also involved.

Create the Space will work with Common Goal — a movement combining more than 250 players and managers attempting to use football as a force for good — to develop a programme which can be used by clubs and individuals to help break down the stigma surrounding mental health.

San Diego Wave defender Girma lost her teammate Katie Mayer after she took her own life in March 2022. In North America, Common Goal will work with expert partner E-Motion to launch a pilot scheme focusing on youth coaches working in at-risk areas across the US.

“What I have learned through losing my best friend, is that everyone struggles in their own way, even when it doesn’t seem they are,” said Girma.

“Suffering doesn’t always look like the way it’s portrayed in the movies. No matter if I am a professional athlete, a student or whatever, making sure that I’m checking in on others and checking in on myself is so important. Create the Space will help people be the best versions of themselves and may even save lives.”

In the UK, Common Goal will develop a bespoke programme with charity Football Beyond Borders. While sidelined following knee surgery, Mead lost her mother, June, in January after a long battle with ovarian cancer.

“In January I lost my Mum and because of the injury I couldn’t play football, which was always my escape, my happy place,” Mead said. “Moments when people thought I was fine because of my outgoing personality, were very dark.

“It’s been a tough process to understand. Teammates, people at the club, family and friends that supported me were so important, without them I could have been in a far darker place. I want to help create an environment in which it’s totally normal to address mental health.

“There’s not a perfect way of dealing with it, but if you feel you’re not alone it helps so much. We need to normalise mental health and in doing so that would go a long way.”

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