United States
USWNT star Naomi Girma wants to 'Create the Space' for mental health in soccer
United States

USWNT star Naomi Girma wants to 'Create the Space' for mental health in soccer

Updated May. 22, 2024 2:59 p.m. ET

Before the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia kicked off last summer, FOX Sports announced a groundbreaking multi-year partnership with Common Goal USA, in which FOX Sports became the first and only World Cup broadcaster to take Common Goal's 1% pledge and commit 1% of its World Cup coverage through 2026 to telling the story of soccer for social impact cross-platform. By the end of the tournament, FOX Sports' total commitment of airtime exceeded 6%.

This year, ahead of CONMEBOL Copa América 2024 and UEFA EURO 2024, FOX Sports is continuing its commitment to making a positive impact on soccer in the United States. FOX Sports will work with its parent company, Fox Corporation, and Common Goal USA to host a series of mental health training for youth soccer coaches and hundreds of young athletes across the country in select host locations for Copa América 2024, including Atlanta, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami and New Jersey/New York.

The first of these mental health training sessions was held on Monday at the Cheviot Hills Recreation Center in Los Angeles as part of Common Goal's Create the Space initiative, which provides mental health training for professional athletes and community organizations, and unites the soccer community behind the idea that mental well-being is just as important as physical health.

Create the Space was launched in November with the support of some of soccer's biggest stars, including United States women's national team and San Diego Wave FC fullback Naomi Girma. In March 2022, Girma's friend and former Stanford teammate Katie Meyer died by suicide at the age of 23. Since then, Girma has been one of the leading voices for mental health in women's soccer, which was motivated by her own experience with grief.


"In my first year of being a pro, my best friend passed away and that's what really started this — Create the Space and our work with Common Goal," Girma told FOX Sports on Monday. "My coach and teammates just did a great job of being like ‘What do you need?' and then doing that for me. I think sometimes when hard things happen, we want to give that person space or not say anything, but I think asking ‘What do you need?' and them doing what I said made me feel like they cared about me, but they weren't overwhelming me in that moment."

With Create the Space, Girma is hopeful that the support she received during her time of need can be taught to coaches and players at the youth level.

"Common Goal's big philosophy is ‘train the trainer,' which I think is really effective when talking about mental health," Girma told FOX Sports. "Can we bring coaches into workshops, have them learn how to go through emotional literacy, help kids learn to express their emotions, deal with stress, deal with grief, deal with a lot of different things that they're going through? And then can they go to their own clubs with the kids that they coach and teach them? I think that's an effective way to get to as many kids as possible. That's something that Common Goal does a good job of."

"The more than 60 youth from local Los Angeles-based nonprofit soccer organizations — America SCORES Los Angeles, Football For Her and Girls Play LA — participated in mental health training followed by a skills clinic hosted by Angel City FC forward Messiah Bright, former United States men's national team star Stu Holden and Italy legend Giorgio Chiellini. Holden and Chiellini will serve as soccer analysts for FOX Sports this summer.

"At the youth level, a lot of times, it is for fun and people are just out here enjoying it, but a lot of kids use soccer to hide from other things or feel like that's the only place they can be themselves," Girma told FOX Sports. "So, I think if we can bring those resources into a place that feels safe — like a school — it's going to be even more effective."

But while youth athletes and coaches will be the primary targets for this summer's training sessions, there's work to do at the professional level, too, according to Girma.

"The resources at the pro-level aren't even standardized yet," Girma told FOX Sports. "It's everywhere that there could be more resources, and I think when there's a set thing that's treated as important as your physical health, that's when we've gotten to a good point."

Girma was named to the United States women's national team's roster for their upcoming friendlies against South Korea in June. They will be the USWNT's first official matches under its new coach, Emma Hayes.

""I've met her once so I'm excited for this next camp where she'll be fully in," Girma told FOX Sports. "I think she has done a great job at Chelsea of managing player and making players feel good and excited and ready to play, I don't think you win that many trophies without that relationship and trust with your team, so I'm excited to have that within our group and just excited to get started with her."

Reporting by FOX Sports soccer editor Christian Rivas.


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