Sports physicals may soon include mental health questions

Next year, the physical exam required to participate in high school sports may include questions about mental health.
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 7:43 PM EDT
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Next year, the physical exam required to participate in high school sports may include questions about mental health. The Michigan High School Athletic Association is considering the move to identify kids who need help and make sure they get it.

Student athletes are not immune from anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Just ask Doctor Zach Goldstein, who performs the sports physicals kids need to play high school sports.

Dr. Zach Goldstein, Pediatric Physician, stated, “I was always surprised that out of the 40 questions we have on the sports physical form, that is put out by the MHSAA, there’s not one about mental health.”

Dr. Goldstein took his concern to the Michigan High School Athletic Association. As the parent of a student athlete who took his own life, the doctor knows that a child that looks healthy on the outside may not be healthy on the inside. He wants the sports physical to include a couple of questions about mental health. “It just has to be something simple to get the kid talking about mental health. You know, any concerns about hurting yourself or others, any concerns about nervousness or anxiety.”

Mark Uyl, Executive Director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association, says mental health was becoming a priority before the pandemic and is now front and center. All high school coaches are now required to get pre-season training about mental health. “It’s not so much we want coaches to step in and try to fix the problem. It’s all about who you refer that young person to.”

The other part of the equation is the sports physical form. Parents fill out the medical history. A doctor performs a physical exam and gives the student clearance to play. The MHSAA has a committee that reviews this form every three years and makes adjustments. After the pandemic, the committee added a mental health expert.

Mark Uyl explained, “We’re not just going to talk about sudden cardiac issues, we’re not just going to talk about concussion issues; there are now mental health issues that are now woven into most everything that gets discussed.”

The group considers changes to the form every three years, and that time has come. “We kind of figured out what the post-Covid world looks like, and what do our kids need. And the key word coming out of Covid was, we felt that kids were dealing with more anxiety than ever. So we said, we need to bring an expert in here to the table that can be part of these conversations.”

Doctor Goldstein is already having these conversations with student athletes when he provides a sports physical. These conversations can save lives by revealing what’s going on inside the child, that can lead to a mental health crisis.

Dr. Zach Goldstein, Pediatric Physician, added, “I’ve noticed that by adding those questions in, when I do a sports physical, I identify a population of students, student athletes that have fallen outside of detection. So getting them to talk about it and identify it can be a really important thing.”

Doctor Goldstein says a lot of parents are surprised when they learn their child is struggling with their mental health. The MHSAA will likely add mental health questions to the new sports physical form in the coming months.

You may remember Doctor Goldstein from a story we shared earlier this month about the youth mental health charity called Eli’s Project.

Please include link to Eli’s project website:

And MHSAA Resources —