SUDBURY -- Greater Sudbury Soccer Club (GSSC) has found a way to make mental health more of a priority for the game.

Recognizing the strain the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on the mental health of its members, the Sudbury sports league has added experienced sports psychology consultant Cole Giffin to its roster as it gets set to, hopefully, one day soon, get back on the field.

Giffin will be working with both recreational and competitive players and their coaches as they look at potentially returning to play after the activity was sidelined since last March.

"Having a mental performance consultant was something I never had through my playing career," Giffin said. "Usually, when I was playing soccer in Kingston we'd have a coach, an assistant coach, and sometimes a really nice mom who would bring us orange slices after the game, we never had a consultant."

He said he got into sports psychology interventions and mental skills by accident. He'd use it through a process called imagery where he'd picture what he was trying to achieve on the field that night.

Years later, while he was completing his undergraduate degree at Laurentian University, he'd learn that was a mental skill that athletes use.

While they are still working out what exactly his role will look like, a lot of it will be focused around the mental health of players. He knows he'll be busy after a year and a half break due to the pandemic.

"There's a lot of athletes suffering in silence, so if I can help make the difference with the GSSC team for mental health, that would be amazing, that would be a dream come true," Giffin said.

"I think providing a resource to players is a really important first step and I think talking about it through the radio and TV is another important step because we're raising awareness and we're not letting COVID-19 take over soccer. We're actively trying to improve that situation and I think I can help with that and I think the GSSC team can help with that and the initiative they're showing to move forward is really powerful."

Players like Blake Rosener say they're excited for the contributions Giffin will be making to the league.

A member of the U-16 league, the teen said it has been tough to be sidelined for so long.

"It's been hard for sure. I try as much as I can to play just by myself at home but it's definitely hard not playing with friends and with the team," Rosener said.

"I would love if someone contacts him or wants to talk with him that they're able to have a one-on-one conversation with Cole and talk to him about soccer and stuff, but I also think it'd be great if he's able to talk to a whole team through online since we can't do it in person."

Club officials said they're excited about what the addition of Giffin in his new role will mean for their players and coaches.

"There has to be a priority on mental health and well-being because it's all-encompassing - physical, mental, even spiritual I would say," said Joe Snofl, the GSSC club president.

"To me, it's about keeping kids engaged longer when they're going through tough times. So I'm thinking about players that might slip away and not play soccer anymore for example or another sport. If we can keep them engaged longer to get them through hurdles like COVID-19 as a massive hurdle for all of us or individual hurdles, like they're having a bad day or going through a tough time or worrying about things they shouldn't have to worry about ... that's a big part of it."

"Just having a resource like Cole that can help our players and coaches deal with that uncertainty and hopefully come back refreshed from this break and, hopefully, we can get back to soccer on the field because that's what we all love to do," said Giuseppe Politi, the GSSC head coach.

In the meantime, the club said it is still waiting for word from the province on when it'll be able to resume activities.

The mental health support project is being funded by insurance industry company Hill Life Financial.

Members of the soccer club can book a free 30-minute Zoom meeting with Giffin.