Shut Out the Stigma: A Message from Our Children

May 17, 2023

What do you remember about your childhood? Why do some details – like the color of the family car – remain elusive, while others – the name of that obscure song playing during your first kiss – remain as vivid as the day they happened?

When it comes to memory and how it shapes us, studies show that emotional events, especially if reinforced by others, are the most impactful. Which is why youth sports are an especially powerful psychological trigger. Whether it’s a game winning shot or a key miss, the more we hear about it, the more ingrained that memory becomes. The pressure to play well and win, coupled with the influence and feedback of a parent or guardian, even if well intentioned, can negatively shape a child’s internal narrative of self-worth, greatly impacting their life. And while in-game performance certainly plays a role, it’s what happens after the game that really counts.

With this in mind, the Kansas City Royals and Blue KC – Official Health Insurance Partner of the Royals – are expanding their partnership to “Shut Out the Stigma” around behavioral health. Now in its third year, the Shut Out the Stigma initiative is expanding its focus to educate parents, coaches, and guardians on the pressure kids face both on and off the field. Roughly 27.4 million children between the ages of 6 and 17 play youth sports. And chances are, a parent or guardian is in attendance to watch them. The interaction and conversation in the minutes after the buzzer sounds is critical and can make or break many young athletes’ self-confidence and self-worth.

shut out the stigma letter display

To highlight this effort for change, Blue KC and the Royals recently unveiled the first in a series of Shut Out the Stigma letter installations, titled “Open Letter,” placed at the Mid-America Sports Complex in Shawnee, Kansas. A second letter is also located at the Capitol Federal Sports Complex in Liberty, Missouri. Each letter makes a statement, 10 feet high and 7 feet wide. They’re written to parents, guardians, and coaches, and were compiled from numerous survey responses received from local area youth athletes. They deliver a powerful message about the importance of the post-game car ride home.

Below, watch an inspiring video of a young boy reading from one of the “Open Letter” submissions.

“Young athletes who experience high external and internal pressures to perform, including pressures from parents and coaches, are more likely to burn out and develop behavioral health conditions,” said Dr. Greg Sweat, Senior Vice President and Chief Health Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC). “This risk is exacerbated if the child only plays one sport. Coupled with the fact that 50 percent of lifelong mental health conditions begin by the age of 14, we need to realize the way we talk to our kids about sports can influence success and long-term happiness.”

shut out the stigma letter display
Courtesy Kansas City Royals

While most parents, caregivers, and coaches only want their children to achieve their fullest potential, some conversations can do more harm than help. So, what’s the best way to encourage and support your loved one when it’s time to pack up and head home? Blue KC certified Behavioral Health specialists developed a detailed conversation guideline outlining a 7-inning approach on how to start a positive dialogue with your child. You can view the conversation guide HERE.

Shut Out the Stigma aims to eliminate the negativity around the subject of behavioral health, removing the stigma to bring awareness to this important topic. As part of the initiative, and in partnership with the Kansas City Royals, every time a Royals pitcher throws a shutout inning in a game, Blue KC donates $30 to a worthy area nonprofit. To date, over $60,000 has been raised in support of behavioral health. For further information, support material, and resources, please visit

Shut out the stigma check presentation