Soccer captain innovates new mental health resource

After witnessing and experiencing the emotional challenges that playing a sport can create, soccer captain Nolan Hughes decided to innovate a solution to the problem.


To try to help create a better system of resources for athletes, Winning from Within President Nolan Hughes created a non-profit organization to help athletes afford and connect with mental health professionals.
According to Hughes, the problem he identified was that the long-lasting emotional struggles that athletes face are often overlooked.
Many people believe that once the game or season is over, the struggle is over.
Hughes recognized in himself and his teammates that this is not the case. However, there wasn’t a good resource at the time to help.
“One of the reasons why I wanted to get involved is because I found out if you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself,” Hughes said.
According to Winning From Within Vice President Stephanie Hughes, a key part for Hughes starting the organization is to help increase access to mental health treatment.
After his own mental health had its ups and downs, he wanted to “use what he’s learned and share that.”
Field hockey player Ashley Buck was inspired by Hughes to prioritize her mental well-being instead of continuing to play field hockey.
“Nolan’s mission reminded me that I have to take care of myself first,” Buck said. “And if hockey doesn’t fit into that, that is okay.”
Buck decided to take the fall to focus on herself instead of playing hockey and has been much more fulfilled since.
Stephanie believes that many student-athletes face unique pressures due to their high performing nature and perfectionism. “When they try to compete at a high level, do schoolwork at a high level,” Stephanie said. “It’s these pressures and demands that they put on themselves that can be unattainable.”
According to Hughes, the organization is creating scholarships to help pay for counseling for athletes.
They are currently partnering with Brightside Counseling in Lederach, Pa.
Beyond helping pay for counseling, the organization hopes to help increase education on finding resources.
“Part of the money is going to the scholarships, but part of it is going to awareness and bringing in guest speakers,” Hughes said.
According to Stephanie, the scholarships are incredibly important because they can create access to therapy and treatment, which can be out of some athletes’ budgets.
“Just to talk to somebody initially and get a diagnosis and potentially medication is a big cost,” Stephanie said. “So, some people just try to deal with it and fight through it.”
Stephanie finds Hughes’ willingness to start this difficult conversation impressive.
“I just couldn’t even believe that a teenage kid would be able to be that open and to now do this and share further,” Stephanie said.
According to Stephanie, one of the most important goals in the future is to help educate coaches and athletic directors on how to be part of the solution.