Give N’ Grow Sports, Inc. DBA Give N' Grow Basketball (GNG) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that elevates the physical, emotional and mental health of K-5th graders by combining mindfulness, SEL, and basketball.
GNG recognizes that depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and teen suicide are increasing worldwide, which is why elevating the mental health of K-5th graders in a productive, uplifting way is GNG’s utmost priority.
GNG has consulted with a bevy of experts in the fields of sports psychology, developmental psychology, childhood education, and therapy and life coaching to ensure that its curriculum integrates the most essential and effective mental health skills for K-5th graders to develop during adolescence: mindfulness and social and emotional learning (SEL).
GNG has combined these key mental health skills with the most popular youth sport in the United States, basketball, to ensure that students are engaged in its programming.
GNG was established in 2017 after Founder and Chairman Ben Cecchini, having just returned from volunteering in Ghana as a basketball trainer, received his professional life coach certification. In 2018, under the leadership of Executive Director Ryan McFarland, GNG began to implement programs and clinics for K-8th graders in Baltimore City and neighboring Baltimore and Howard Counties.
With the support of many friends, families, volunteers, partners, and sponsors, GNG has continued to evolve its startup, which obtained nonprofit status in 2019, into an innovative organization that gives adolescents across the country access to engaging virtual programs that cultivate crucial mental health skills through basketball, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
GNG AND ANXIETY
According to the CDC, 4.4 million children in America ages 3-17 have been diagnosed anxiety, the second most diagnosed childhood mental disorder in the United States.
Research shows that children with untreated anxiety disorders are more likely to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.
Research also shows that mindfulness helps to reduce anxiety. Mindfulness teaches us how to respond to stress with awareness of what is happening in the present moment, rather than with instinctive impulses fueled by unawareness of the emotions and motives driving those decisions. By teaching awareness of one’s physical and mental state in the moment, mindfulness facilitates the development of adaptive reactions to difficult situations.
The adolescent experience of anxiety is similar to those of professional basketball players Kevin Love (NBA), Marcus Morris (NBA), and Liz Cambage (WNBA), all of whom have been transparent about their battles with anxiety and have advocated for mental health services for everyone. In response, the NBA has taken these players’ stories and mental health needs so seriously as to equip each NBA team with a mandatory mental health professional.
However, GNG believes that athletes should not have to wait to reach the professional level to receive the mental health support they need in the recreational environment in which they are most comfortable, which is why we have incorporated mindfulness skills into every basketball drill taught during our workouts.
GNG AND DEPRESSION
More than 1.9 million children in the United States ages 3-17 are diagnosed with depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), older children and teens with depression may get into trouble at school, sulk, and be irritable. Teens with depression may also have symptoms of other disorders, such as anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
Depression persists through streams of negative thoughts in the mind. Redirecting attention away from such ruminative notions by becoming aware of what we are doing while we are doing it can “starve” our thought streams of the attention they need to keep going. That way, we can “pull the plug” on what is keeping us depressed, and our mood can begin to improve (Borchard).
Research has shown that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can cut the risk of future clinical depression in people who have already been depressed several times in half; its effects seem comparable to antidepressant medications (Borchard). Psychologists from the University of Exeter recently published a study that found MBCT to be a more effective coping mechanism for depression than drugs and counseling.
Numerous professional athletes, including Serena Williams (tennis), Chamique Holdsclaw (WNBA), and DeMar DeRozan (NBA), have been open about their battles with depression. In describing the management of her depression, Serena Williams has stated, “I like communication best. Talking things through with my mom, my sisters, [and] my friends lets me know that my feelings are totally normal.”
Similarly, GNG teaches students how to successfully Identify, Accept and Manage (I.A.M.) their emotions through its pre- and post-workout emotion check-in and other I.A.M. drills within its curriculum. These drills remind students that whatever they are feeling is normal and okay as they practice identifying, accepting, and managing their emotions.
GNG AND ADHD
More than 6.1 million children in America ages 2-17 are diagnosed with ADHD. Children with ADHD may develop significant conduct problems and antisocial behaviors, such as fighting, early drug experimentation, and adverse driving outcomes, and have an increased risk of developing oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder (CD) (Peasgood). ADHD can affect a child’s emotional wellbeing in several ways, such as increasing feelings of anxiety, lowering self-esteem, and causing poorer psychosocial health and overall quality of life (Peasgood).
Various research shows that mindfulness meditation can help relieve ADHD symptoms. Specifically, a landmark study by UCLA found that individuals with ADHD were better able to stay focused on tasks and were less depressed and anxious after attending 2.5-hour mindfulness meditation sessions and daily home mediation practices that gradually increased from 5-15 minutes over eight weeks. In another study, 78% of the participants who practiced ADHD mindfulness reported reductions in ADHD symptoms, and 30% of the participants reported “clinically” reduced symptoms, meaning that their symptoms had been reduced by 30% or more.
Several professional athletes, such as Michael Jordan (NBA), Jason Kidd (NBA), Michael Phelps (swimming), and Simone Biles (gymnastics), have gone public about their battles with ADHD. In an interview with the Child Mind Institute, Michael Phelps said, “Once I found that it was okay to talk to someone and seek help, I think that’s something that has changed my life forever and now I’m able to live life to its fullest." Like Serena Williams, Michael Phelps recognized that simply communicating and sharing your emotions with someone can provide life changing benefits to your mental health.
To this end, GNG’s programming provides a safe and encouraging space for children to experiment with sharing their emotions in a recreational environment that is familiar, fun, and judgement-free. This type of environment is vastly different from a guidance counselor’s, psychologist’s, or therapist’s office, which may be unfamiliar, intimidating, and stigmatized. We believe that the welcoming environment we foster minimizes fear, anxiety, and the stigma associated with expressing emotions, and, in turn, leads to mentally healthier youth.
GNG AND TEEN SUICIDE PREVENTION
In addition to managing anxiety, depression, and ADHD, mindfulness and SEL programs have also proven to be effective tools in preventing teen suicide, which is the second highest cause of death of teens ages 15-24 in the United States (America’s Health Rankings). Nine in ten teens who take their own lives meet the criteria for diagnosis of a psychiatric or mental health condition or disorder, more than half of whom are afflicted by a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety (Committee on Psychological Aspects of Child and Family Health).
Suicide prevention research strongly recommends implementing universal approaches to supporting youth mental wellness before suicidal thoughts and behaviors can develop (Vollandt). Best practice literature specifically highlights school-based SEL as an effective upstream approach to suicide prevention (Vollandt). Mindfulness practices also help students learn to be more aware of their thoughts and feelings so that they are less likely to react harmfully or impulsively to negative thoughts (Vollandt). Specifically, MBCT has been shown as an intervention tool to help reduce suicidal ideations and behaviors (Vollandt).
What makes this proactive approach to mental health literacy so attractive is that its universal application can benefit children without diagnosed mental health and behavioral disorders just as much as those afflicted by them. Research on SEL programs indicates that this kind of learning helps to reduce anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, depression, and impulsive behavior in kids, while increasing test scores, attendance, and prosocial behavior including kindness, personal awareness, and empathy (GoGuardian). Studies have also shown that these benefits are long-term, as SEL students have 10% fewer psychological, behavioral, and substance abuse problems by the time they reach age twenty-five (Options for Youth).
In recognition of the importance of these programs, we dive deeper into mindfulness and SEL practices at the end of our classes and clinics through our MVP, a Mindfulness, Visualization, and Positive self-talk mental exercise where students put down their balls and focus their energy and efforts on the mindfulness and SEL skills that research has proven will elevate their mental health in a multitude of ways.
Co-Executive Director, Head Basketball Skills Trainer
In 2011, Coach Ryan held his first individual training session and hasn’t looked back! Since then, he has been training individual players, groups, and basketball teams in both Maryland and Pennsylvania. Additionally, he enjoys coaching at professional camps including the Michael Carter-Williams Pro Camp in Philadelphia!
After graduating college, he served as an Assistant Basketball Coach for his alma mater, Holy Name HS in Reading, PA. Coach Ryan is always mastering his craft and sharing his passion for basketball with everyone he encounters.
As Head Basketball Trainer Coach Ryan goes above and beyond to ensure skill and character growth. He breaks skills down with a positive, engaging energy that allows players of all skill levels to thrive. In each session, you can count on Coach Ryan to educate and inspire!
B.S. Leisure and Sports Studies, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, 2015
2 Year Starter, Reading Area Community College Basketball
Founder, Chairman, Head Mental Skills Trainer
Coach Ben is a basketball player, motivational speaker, rapper, and mental skills trainer who has travelled the world inspiring people to be the best they can be.
Ben worked for the NBA team the Atlanta Hawks, and was a footwear developer for Under Armour where he helped to create all of the custom Under Armour shoes worn by NBA players, including Steph Curry.
He has lived in Ghana in Western Africa where he served as a mental skills trainer for basketball players, and he is the founder, chairman, and head mental skills trainer for Give N’ Grow Basketball.
B.A. Mathematics, Washington & Jefferson College, 2013
Captain, W&J College Men’s Basketball 2010-2013
Certified Professional Life Coach, iPEC, 2017
Eric m rubin
Co-Executive Director, Director
After a 30+ year career in financial services, Eric is using his skills learned as a financial services executive in the nonprofit world. At Give N Grow, Eric focuses on the financial, Board, and administrative needs of the organization and supporting the outstanding coaching staff however possible.
Eric was able to combine his investment background with basketball when he was selected by the NBPA and NBA to provide the 401(k) enrollment meetings for the teams as well as conducting the league’s financial literacy program for several years.
Eric is passionate about issues related to children, Judaism, and a strong U.S. – Israel relationship. In his spare time, Eric serves as a Senior Adviser to Uncommon Giving - a new generosity platform, Safe Lane – a Jerusalem based technology nonprofit trying to reduce traffic fatalities, is a mentor to Our Generation Speaks – an organization that brings the younger generation of Israelis and Palestinians together, and volunteers at the MirYam Institute.