ProblemOur SolutionProject ContextResearchIdeationDesign IterationFinal DesignProduct Features


A multi-player mobile game for student-athletes

MY RespONsibility

Rapid Prototyping
Research Synthesis
Project Leadership


Many student-athletes struggle with mental health but only a few actually seek out for support they desperately need due to external reasons including social stigma and lack of trust in the system. Our team of five persuasive design students developed a multi-player mobile game to help create an environment where athletes feel safe about sharing their mental struggles with their peers and their network of support.


12 weeks (Sep - Nov 2021)


1 Product Lead (me)
2 UX Researchers
2 Visual Designers


Only 10% of athletes seek mental support

Some of the most elite athletes have recently raised awareness around mental health issues in professional athletics. But how much spotlight has been given to the lesser-known, non-professional athletes, namely those that play at the college levels? Not enough.

Primary driver was lack of trust & understanding

Individual interviews with 20+ student-athletes and athletic coaching staff indicated that the relationship among teammates and with coaches have direct influence over students' willingness to proactively seek the support they need.

Athletes refrain from seeking support due to the social stigma and a lack of trust between teammates, coaches, and advisors

Our Solution

"Headball" is a multi-player mobile game for student-athletes & coaches

Our solution to address student-athletes' mental health issues was Headball, a game that helps foster relationships among teammates and with their coaches. The persuasive goal of Headball was -

To normalize mental health issues among student-athletes by encouraging them to openly discuss their challenges within a network of support

3 persuasive design techniques were applied


Headball helps activate positive values by reminding players of personal relationships and memories beyond their lives in athletics


Using narratives about famous individuals, Headball allows players to process sensitive topics around mental health at a psychological distance from themselves


Headball touches upon topics that are irrelevant to either mental health or sports in order to keep the underlying intention subtle

Project Context

A major problem we had personal stakes in

Amanda and Marlon in our team had personally experienced the hardships that befall every college athlete. They knew the mental toll and struggle to meet the high expectations of excelling in both athletics and academics.

Therefore, our team was personally invested in addressing the problem that was pervasive in our own school environment and our generation.

1 out of 3 students struggle with mental health

The extent of mental health issues in college athletics was greater than what we had expected. Many online sources confirmed the gravity of this issue, from academic literature to personal anecdote from USC's women's volleyball captain Victoria Garrick on a Ted talk.

Changing one’s attitude towards mental health

The project goal was to develop a design solution that helps people experience a positive transformation in their mindset and behavior. After we selected our target audience as college athletes, we narrowed down our goal to the following -

How can we use persuasive design techniques to encourage athletes to share their mental health issues more comfortably?


More than just the athlete's problem

College athletes' mental struggles are intertwined with those around them, particularly their teammates, coaches, and athletic trainers. To get to the core of this problem, we needed to build empathy with not only student-athletes but also the network of support around them.

What their coaches and trainers think...

We interviewed 5 head coaches, athletic trainers, and clinical counselors from Division I and Division III colleges, some of whom had also been former athletes. All interviews highlighted the importance of one's nurturing relationship with individual athletes who struggle with mental health.

But athletes say that it's more multi-faceted

Focus groups and interviews with several athletes led to 2 recurring thoughts -

Students with a supportive team readily turned to them for help, while some could not even image having such sensitive conversations with their coaches and trainers
Speaking up about mental health meant risking their athletic careers and relationship with the team

Affinity clustering to synthesize our observations

Research insights that informed design decision


Design studio to explore various solution ideas

Each team members came up with 5 potential ideas during the design studio session. We explored various solutions including daily mood tracking app, Reddit-like online forum, collaborative journaling platform and a board game.

Ultimately, we decided to develop a mobile game that aims to help build bond and foster trust among athletes and coaching staff

But why did we decide to invent a game?

We believed that a mobile game was the most effective means to change student athlete's attitude towards mental health because of 2 reasons -

Games are a multi-user experience

Games invite social interaction between players which befits our persuasive intent of building relationship and trust

Games can be played sporadically

Unlike some apps that require repeated usage to be effective, games can be played anytime at irregular intervals, fitting for athletes with jam-packed schedule

Parallel prototyping with four game concepts

Four different game concepts prototyped and tested

Our team came up with several game variations, each with unique rules and play elements. Instead of prematurely choosing one idea out of all options, we decided to paper prototype and compare 4 variations.

One game involved guessing a famous athlete based on little-known facts shared. Another game asked players to tell a personal story using a set of randomly generated words.


Improvement areas identified through play test

We conducted 2 rounds of play testing with external players to first select one game variation and to refine its game mechanics. However, we continued to run into the challenge of keeping the game entertaining while achieving the persuasive goal.

I had fun for the first 5 minutes but once I got the hang of it, it wasn’t as much engaging...
I see what it’s [game rules] trying to get at, which sort of defeats the purpose of playing it.

Select feedback from participants in play testing

The biggest challenge was balancing the fun aspect and the persuasive intent of the game

Pivoting - making a "Titan" out of our game

To overcome this challenge, we decided to create 1 game comprised of 3 mini games, a feature more commonly seen in board games like the "Titan."

This allowed us to mix and match the best elements of each game - one mini game brings in the fun element, whereas the other two hone in on the underlying values of our persuasive goal.

Variations of a game board that ties all 3 mini games into a common playing field

Low-fidelity “digital” prototypes

So far, we were using paper prototypes to test the game design. However, we realized that a digital version of Headball would be both easier to play and more practical for implementation -

Headball has various game components such as a timer, a rolling dice, multiple card decks, and corresponding game rules that could be incorporated more seamlessly if played in a digital format.


Headball's gameplay explained

The game starts with a randomly generated game board showing different paths leading up to the goal line, or the "Crown." Competing in teams, players will attempt to reach the Crown by clearing each of the 3 mini-games on their paths.

Headball gently nudges athletes to talk about sensitive topics in mental health and share their lives outside of sports

Game 1 _ Identity Crisis

Guess Who? It's someone you know

Players try to guess the identity of a famous sports icon with little-known facts about them

Persuasive Intention

Associating their own struggles with adversities that also plagued successful athletes can help form a sense of belonging and inspire players

Game 2 _ What’s in the Box

Don’t tell, just describe it!

Players try to correctly guess an object, topic, or emotion based on a set of description provided

Persuasive Intention

Sharing personal thoughts about sensitive topics like "Depression” or “Injury” with other teammates can help normalize the sensitivity and lead to openness

Game 3 _ Spill Your Tea

Share your story, and I’ll share mine

Drawing upon experiences outside of sports, players are invited to share personal stories with keywords provided

Persuasive Intention

Bringing back the memories that are not related to sports help trigger self-affirmation of personal values, a chance to reflect on one's identity outside of the playing field


Benefits of iterative user testing

I learned the importance of user testing and benefits of iterative design. Ideas that initially seemed brilliant to us ended up being invalidated by users which led to continuous refinement until we reached the final version of Headball.

Resolving internal conflicts by being user-centric

As the product lead, I was responsible for mediating various opinions and views towards our design - this was especially important for our team which was composed of UX Researchers, Visual Designers, as well as former athletes who were our own target end-users.

I learned how to reach consensus among members with divergent opinions by grounding every key decision in user-centricity. This helped us turn Headball into a product that is engaging, effective, and implementable for our end users, the student-athletes.