GOJHL partners with Heroic Minds to better educate and help players with mental health

The new GOJHL league logo. (Provided by GOJHL)

The Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League announced a partnership this week with Heroic Minds, a mental wellness platform founded by former OHLer, Ben Fanelli.

A release from the GOJHL on September 20 stated that players and team officials will have access to the platform.

“All GOJHL athletes and staff will have access to the Heroic Minds platform, developed by 5-year OHL defenceman and former captain of the Kitchener Rangers, Ben Fanelli. More specifically, they will have access to exercises that can influence how they feel, question how they think and arm them with tools for life,” the release said.

The platform will offer mental health and wellness tools to players across the entire league, and Fanelli says better understanding causes of symptoms like depression and anxiety or insomnia is key to treating those symptoms beyond just understanding someone has one of those symptoms.

“Is that because we’re not meditating enough, or not taking enough melatonin, or, is there another problem in our life that we haven’t dealt with, that we haven’t had the tools to deal with, that is then rendering us unable to fall asleep, relax, etc. It may be beneficial, to shift our attention not just to be on the anxiety, depression, the symptoms of the problem, but the problem itself. Where is that coming from? Let’s look upstream and see, what tools do these individuals maybe not have right now currently, or do they not realize that they already have?” said Fanelli. “We could look at it as individuals that don’t have the capacity to handle the challenges of life. So do we wait until it becomes a greater problem and focus on the anxiety, depression, etc.? Or, do we go upstream, arm them with the tools they need to meet the demands of life, and limit the chances of it getting to a point where there’s anxiety or depression at a level that is interfering with their life? I think that’s the best summary I could give of what this will offer them,” Fanelli added.

Fanelli adds that understanding the sources of symptoms and giving people the tools to manage and understand the causes and the symptoms in concert will help players be more mentally fit. He notes that when players or team staff members sign on to the Heroic Minds platform, they will be met by a number of different exercises to choose from.
“They’re going to see audio exercises that are categorized by different topics, and they can also search by theme. So maybe they can search for focus, maybe they wanna improve their focus, or maybe their life values, it could be leadership skills, relationship skills. They can also search by what we call curation, of certain topics or skills,” Fanelli said. “We’ve done our best to keep each exercise under 3 minutes, to focus each exercise, such that, it can be applied right away. They listen for 3 minutes, and you can even speed up they audio, and they can apply it right away. So we keep it very pragmatic, if you will.”
Additionally, Fanelli says the users will be able to access a part of the platform that is geared toward self reflection.
“So it would be a short paragraph, reflecting on a strength they have, maybe reflecting on a cognitive realignment, of sorts, acceptance and commitment exercises, cognitive behavioural therapy exercises. So it’s a quick paragraph that they read, and then they can put in their own reflection,” Fanelli shared.
In the official partnership release from the GOJHL, the league noted that they have lost two young men in the last 15 months. Stratford Warrior Carter Schoonderwoerd tragically took his own life in 2021, and Ayr Centennials Captain Eli Palfreyman recently passed away as the result of a health incident between periods of an exhibition game. The league says they want to ensure that all their players and staff have access to meaningful mental health and awareness resources.
“No one is immune to mental illness and these heartbreaking events have led to the league’s Governors and Presidents taking charge by committing resources for players, coaches, management, and others involved with all of our teams. Whether someone is experiencing mental health issues themselves, having a hard time dealing with other tragedies, or simply want to further their education on various, and sometimes difficult topics, we want services to be available at their fingertips,” shared GOJHL Commissioner Brent Garbutt.
Fanelli launched Heroic Minds first as a podcast and has interviewed over 100 people from many different backgrounds with unique journeys within the world of mental health and mental health awareness. Guests on his show shared stories of resilience in the face of struggles such as disease, amputation, immense pressure and loss, suicide and more.
“I noticed that the way these individuals overcame their challenges was different than our current approach to mental health,” Fanelli stated. “The existing methodology constitutes taking action once someone is already anxious or depressed. Thus, we focus on the symptoms being anxiety and depression and direct people to take time off, meditate for 5 minutes or attend a workshop. We are not looking upstream to uncover the cause or what tools, ideas, and concepts could prevent things. Ultimately, we are leading people away from the experiences, self-reflections and ideas that can truly improve how they feel, think, and perform.”
To hear a full interview with Ben Fanelli of Heroic Minds on the new partnership with the GOJHL and his own journey and inspiration to start Heroic Minds, you can listen here courtesy of the Instigating with Clarkey and Drury show.