Director of Player Personnel, D.C. United
Head Coach, Loudoun United FC
Franklin County Native

Ryan Martin smiles at the camera.

I’m Ryan Martin, the Director of Player Personnel for D.C. United. I’m also a Columbus native; I spent my youth playing soccer and basketball in the Columbus area before playing at Ohio Wesleyan and eventually professionally for Real Salt Lake and overseas in Iceland and Germany.

Ryan Martin speaks to soccer players in a sideline huddle.

My dad was a professional coach. I was lucky in that I never felt pressure from him, but I remember many of my teammates feeling a ton of pressure from their parents over the years. Pressure also comes internally, questioning why you’re not playing or if you’re good enough.

I remember not handling stress well. When I was feeling down or overwhelmed, I forced myself to practice more and improve. Years later, I know how important it is to take that pressure off yourself and ask for help when you’re feeling down.

Today, athletes are feeling even more pressure from social media, which never tells the full story. Everyone is always talking about their successes and rarely their struggles. This makes other student-athletes question why they aren’t where others are and why they seem to have struggles when everyone else’s lives look so perfect.

As a coach now, I take a different approach from what I saw growing up. I start by asking my athletes, “how are you doing? How are you really doing? What’s going on in your life beyond soccer?”

There are resources out there that didn’t exist when I was coming up. And athletes should take advantage of them. There are sports psychologists who specialize in talking to athletes. Even just ordinary counselors and therapists are a great resource. Also, it’s become more normalized for pros to talk about their struggles. No matter what sport you play, you can find a star in your sport who has talked openly about mental health struggles and how they overcame it.

In my experience, a lot of athletes behave differently when they’re struggling. They may lash out, they may shut down emotionally, and they may seem distant. If you’re a parent, a coach, or a teammate and you witness this, it’s essential to reach out to that person.

If you’re an athlete or know one who is feeling a lot of stress, it’s important to stay connected. Young athletes need to stay in touch with someone, whether that’s parents, peers, or professionals. Out-of-character behavior can be an indicator that something is up.

Advice I give to parents today: Be there. And I don’t mean be there at games to shout at referees. I mean, be there for your kids. Show your support and encouragement in their lives beyond sports. As for advice for young athletes: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. That can be anything, from improving your game to caring for your mental health.