Get your Head in the Game

With their new organization, Joel Hark ‘22 and Natalie Smith ‘22, are hoping to create a welcoming space for ‘Berg student-athletes in discussing mental health

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Founded by Joel Hark '22 and Natalie Smith '22, Head in the Game serves as a community for 'Berg student-athletes to be vulnerable and have tough conversations surrounding mental health. Photo Credit: Muhlenberg Head in the Game

22 Sports, 1 Team is the philosophy of Muhlenberg Athletics. While athletes are on different teams, this philosophy tells us Muhlenberg athletics frequently work together. Student-athletes have added pressure due to practices, lifts, and games when their sport is in season. This is in addition to balancing a workload of sometimes more than 4 classes, a social life, and majors that have competitive fields. But conversations about mental health and struggles being faced are often uncommon amongst student-athletes. This important discussion leads to two passionate Muhlenberg students, both of whom are dedicated to ending the stigma surrounding the mental health of athletes. Taking the initiative, men’s golf star, Joel Hark ’22, along with softball standout, Natalie Smith ’22, decided to start the necessary dialogue.

Hark and Smith started a club called Head in the Game which is a community of Muhlenberg student-athletes who promote positive discussions about athletes and mental health. 

Sometimes athletes’ mental health issues stem from the immense pressure that their sport gives them. Athletes often have long schedules due to the fact that they have practices most days of the week, on top of school-work and other responsibilities. 

“The main reason my friend Natalie and I were so eager to start this club was because Muhlenberg did not have a space for athletes to support each other and to discuss difficult conversations,” Hark said. “COVID had such a large impact on all of us and I think it amplified all of our mental health issues and affected me, so I thought why not try to create a space for all athletes going through this.”

Smith, the other co-founder of the club, added, “I was eager to start this club because of my teammates’ and my own experiences. I feel that athletes deal with a lot of pressure and stress that can be tough for others to relate to, and creating a space for them to learn from each other’s experiences and support each other is something we needed on campus,” she said.

Since the club has only been around for a short time, they recently held their first meeting.

“I was so nervous; my hands were shaking, my heart was racing and I could feel my heartbeat everywhere,” said Hark.

Each of the 32 attendees at the meeting were there to end the stigma surrounding the mental health of athletes. They talked about topics ranging from time management to establishing relationships with fellow teammates and coaches. With Hark’s time at Muhlenberg  coming to an end soon, he remains optimistic about the future success of his newly-founded club.

“Once I graduate, I hope there will be another passionate student-athlete who Natalie and I can hand Head in the Game off to, to continue what we have started,” he said. The club has been a success thus far due to the unparalleled dedication of Hark and Smith, as well as all of Muhlenberg’s student-athletes. Head In The Game will continue to be relevant and important for the future and, by working with one another, athletes can work to end the stigma so their mental health is supported in all aspects of their life, including on the field. 

Smith said, “I hope that we created a space where student-athletes felt that they could be vulnerable and authentic with each other. I hope that Head in the Game teaches student-athletes that speaking up about our struggles can be a beautiful thing.”

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