There is no doubt mental health is incredibly important, now more than ever.
We are in the throes of a global pandemic, one that requires us to concentrate and focus on protecting our physical safety. Our athletes will experience return to school a little differently than most students and they will feel additional stress. They will be required to maintain their level of fitness by going to the gym and training in their sport—but it will look very different and we must be mindful of that.
Athletes tend to thrive on routine, rituals and preparedness all of which are going to prove quite challenging over the next few months. Coaches are going to be required to proceed in a manner they have never experienced before. They will have to ensure their athletes are prepared for competition when sport is given the green light…both physically and mentally. Doing so while maintaining distance, making it more challenging to create strong relationships so necessary in developing healthy teams.
When this pandemic ends, as it will, we will see the unveiling of an echo pandemic. That echo pandemic is mental health.
If we want our athletes to be ready to compete, to be healthy, we must attend to how this pandemic will impact their mental health. There are many great mental health incentives that exist and we will see more come forward as our world strives to provide support to one another. Unfortunately, few will allow you to support your athletes and coaches during this time of confusion and unknown.
HONE Athletics has spent the last six years working specifically in the world of sport with athletes, coaches, and parents around sport specific mental health stressors. The weight of these athlete specific stressors will increase over the next few months and the only way we are going to be able to support our athletes is to support them every step of the way.
So, what does this all mean for our athletes right now?
In order to give athletes a more well-rounded and more positive experience, the people who control and set the tone around the environment our athletes exist in must create a sporting environment and culture where they feel comfortable and safe addressing mental health concerns. We cannot put the responsibility on athletes to ‘step up’. We cannot continue to expect them to come forward in a culture that strongly encourages them to be tough, show no weakness, and push or play through any level of distress.
We have been given an opportunity, as leaders in sport, to re-evaluate and consider what kind of environment we are creating; a chance to consider if we are using this time wisely and creating a culture that promotes mental health conversation and attention.
We support athletes when they are physically injured, training and medical staff rallies around them and work very hard to get them back to themselves. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to sport specific mental health. Let’s piggyback the physical rehab model in sport and do the same when an athlete is struggling with sport specific mental health concerns. Let’s move towards the athlete and rally around them.
Now is the time. They need their leaders to lead now more than ever.