A Sarnia man has received back-to-back awards for his contribution to coaching and mental health awareness in young athletes.
Tom Babcock earned the Mental Health Advocate award from St. Clair Child and Youth recently for his development of an educational program for minor hockey players called Face Off for Mental Health.
And earlier this month the provincial body Alliance Hockey named him Coach of the Year, a first for a Sarnia-Lambton coach.
“It puts a little tear in your eye to know that somebody sees what you’re trying to do and cares enough to acknowledge it,” said Babcock, 47.
The campaign, which kicked off in 2017-18 and runs through November, sees participating teams display stickers and wrap hockey sticks in bright green tape – the official colour of mental health awareness.
“The main goal of the program… is to end that stigma. That it’s OK to reach out, it’s OK to talk to each other about how you’re feeling.”
The head coach of the Lambton Minor Bantam AAA Jr. Sting and father of four said he developed Face Off after noticing a disturbing trend over his 25-year career behind the bench.
Suicides were becoming more frequent among city youth, he said. It hit home when one of his sons went into crisis during the hockey season, Babcock said.
“He came into our bedroom and he basically said, ‘I need help now or I won’t be here in the morning.’”
With support from St. Clair Child and Youth, Face Off for Mental Health was born.
Last season, participating coaches also received mental health resources, or “scripts” as Babcock described it.
He stressed coaches don’t need to be therapists; they just need to be willing to listen and direct their players towards help.
Last season 5,000 Lambton minor hockey players participated, and several other Ontario cities are interested in adopting the program.
“I see it spreading through the province within the next year or two,” he said. “I would think Face Off for Mental Health is going to be a province-wide brand that everybody knows and everybody is receiving the same messages.”