Tennis coach Tysons ReporterMcLean inspires new DC tournament aimed at mental health awareness

The main tennis court at Rock Creek Park during the Citi Open in August 2021 (Image via USTA Mid-Atlantic Section, Inc.)

A series of junior tennis tournaments will take place in the nation’s capital this weekend, named after Maclean tennis coach Matt Stephenson, who died at the age of 32 in 2017.

The Matt Stevenson Junior Tennis Championship Series was launched in San Diego, California, in September, coinciding with National Suicide Awareness Month, in DC on Saturday and Sunday (October 2-3) at the Rock Creek Tennis Center, which hosted professional players for the Citi Open in August .

It is the first and only junior tennis tournament series of events to advance the importance of adolescent mental health, according to the Mid-Atlantic Division of the nonprofit US Tennis Association.

“The inspiration behind the MSJTT series came from the late Matt Stephenson, a young tennis player who lived and ran successful junior tennis programs in McLean and the metropolitan area,” said USTA Mid-Atlantic. “Before taking his life tragically in 2017 at the age of 32, he had written extensively about his own mental health issues and called for children to be made aware of the importance of maintaining their mental health and to seek help if they needed it.”

The tournament first started in 2019 in San Diego and expanded to the capital and New York City last month as a collaboration between the nonprofit ProtoStar and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The program seeks to “address depression, anxiety, and the suicide crisis in adolescents by engaging adolescents through a sport they love and promoting dialogue and understanding of these issues,” according to the September 8 press release.

Speaking to a Tysons reporter, Judith Stevenson recalled how her son created tennis games to entertain children and teach them the basics of the game.

One match, King of the Court, involved two players trying to pass the ball through the coach. When they score against him, they would run and beat him while he was doing pushups.

“The fun they were having was great,” she said. “I loved teaching sports.”

Stephenson attended high school in Alexandria and college at Marymount University, coached youth and adult players at McLean Racket and Health Club, and worked as a tennis director at Langley Club. He chose coaching as his profession.

His mother said Matthew Stephenson’s struggle with depression began in his early teens, when bouts of depression began in high school.

Judith noted that it can be difficult for parents and coaches to know how to support a challenged player without stepping in. However, she said it is important to be willing to listen and show respect by supporting a young person as they take charge of their treatment.

She hopes events such as the Junior Tennis Championships will help bring the conversation about mental challenges closer to physical problems, such as sports injuries.

ProtoStar President and Founder Gary Boone noted that Stevenson built tennis programs from the ground up and was very well liked in the community.

USTA Mid-Atlantic shared more details about the event, saying:

Awareness of mental health among adolescents is critical today as a youth mental health crisis continues to grow in the United States, which has recently been exacerbated by the pandemic. The USTA Mid-Atlantic Division stresses the importance of mental health among young tennis players and considers October 2-3 a mental health weekend with this and only one other tournament in which players can participate in the region, or they can choose to spend a quiet weekend to rest, reset and focus on mental health. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Institute of Mental Health will have practical information available to parents and tournament players.

Matt Stephenson has also written nearly 2,000 articles for Mad in America (MIA), a non-profit organization that seeks to rethink and change how the psychiatric community uses medication, especially in the long-term.

Judith Stevenson said her son expressed concerns about the names of mental health disorders as well as the stigma attached to them, contradicting language describing various conditions that he considered pejorative.

After Stevenson’s death by suicide in 2017, the MIA published a tribute for his work interviewing experts and writing about mental health issues online, highlighting his efforts to read the scientific literature on BPD and books critical of mental health issues.

“The topic he talked about most often was about the false nature of psychiatric diagnoses and the harm that such labels can cause,” the organization said.

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