Naomi Girma Reflects on Mental Health Movement Inspired

Naomi Girma Reflects on Mental Health Movement Inspired

Exactly one year ago, in my journal’s “what do I want to do this year?” section, I wrote down “start a mental health movement with Common Goal.” This entry came nearly a year after the devastating loss of my best friend and Stanford teammate, Katie Meyer, to suicide in March 2022.

Katie’s passing deeply impacted me, prompting a strong desire to take action that could have possibly helped a younger Katie. I was determined to prevent other families, friends, and communities from enduring such a tragic loss.

Naomi Girma Reflects on Mental Health Movement Inspired
Naomi Girma Reflects on Mental Health Movement Inspired

Changing the culture of mental health in sports seemed like an immense task, too significant for just me, my Stanford teammates, or fellow professional players to tackle alone. We needed a collective effort to transform the grief from Katie’s death into something that could revolutionize the soccer industry and potentially save lives.

Reflecting on that initial scribble in my journal, I realized that I had forgotten about it until a few days before the Create the Space mental health retreat hosted in San Diego with Common Goal last week. It was a moment of realization as I looked back on the progress made over the past year. Common Goal, an organization that brings together professional players, brands, and non-profits to instigate change in and around soccer, played a crucial role in our journey.

The past year saw the transformation of a simple journal entry into an international movement prioritizing the mental health of players at all levels of the game. At the Create the Space retreat, we brought together 20 players, representing each NWSL market, and 25 youth coaches from organizations or academies operating in the same cities as the clubs. The goal is to influence the future generation’s relationship with mental health, ensuring all communities have access to comprehensive support.

These coaches are active in marginalized and underserved communities, particularly those where BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and refugee youth often lack access to both the soccer field and life-saving mental health resources. It’s time to prioritize these communities, which are often most in need of such resources.

The retreat aimed to provide a platform for all individuals, including professional players, to express their vulnerabilities openly—a departure from the culture of silence in sports that prioritizes results over individuals. The Create the Space retreat was a transformative experience, offering an environment for true introspection and community-building.

Looking ahead, the journey continues, and the impact of Create the Space will echo in every game this season. What began as a simple idea in a journal has now evolved into a family of 20 professional athletes across the entire NWSL, making it impossible to predict the movement’s full potential. The retreat was a deeply personal yet overwhelmingly collective experience that will leave a lasting imprint on the games to come this season.

It’s challenging to convey the power of our collective experience and individual growth in just a few days. The retreat fostered an environment that encouraged vulnerability, connection, and community building. As I move forward, fueled by grief and carrying Katie with me, I know I am not alone, and I want others to recognize that they are not alone either.

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