“Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”
Yogi Berra is right.
Outside of the obvious math error, his quote is accurate; you can’t achieve elite-level athletic success with physical ability alone. For as long as people have played sport, we’ve been continuously fine-tuning the technique, equipment and physical strength in order to push the boundaries for what’s possible in our game. Arguably we’ve left no stone unturned when it comes to perfecting the body.
But what Yogi pointed to in that quote is that the mind is crucial; potentially even more important to ultimate success than just the physical. We agree.
Over recent decades, sport has worked to better integrate this other side of the athlete. In the 2000’s you started to hear more about mental toughness. It’s now not uncommon for teams to have access to mental performance consultants. Elite athletes delve deep into sport psychology as they perfect themselves for peak competition.
Sport has tried to answer the call for mental well-being. But has it worked?
The answer is a bit muddy. There is more discussion than ever on the topic. However, evidence continues to spill forth that we haven’t yet made a sustainable dent in the issue. Take a look at what has happened across sport in just the last couple of years;
- Simone Biles withdrew from the women’s gymnastics finals in the Tokyo Olympics citing mental health concerns.
- Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open in 2021, quoting her fear for her mental state.
- Carey Price announced a minimum of a one month hiatus from the Montreal Canadiens in 2021 to attend to his mental well-being.
These are only a small sampling of the high-profile athletes that have made the news. The reality in the population at large is even more alarming. In fact, a study in 2017 stated that 63% of student athletes report a mental health concern that impacts their ability to perform. But only 10% get help.
Why is the problem appearing to worsen rather than get better?
The HONE Athletics point-of-view? We’ve been far too narrow in how we view the topic. Predominantly we look at mental health as a problem for the individual. We have attempted to resolve it with the individual.
But if you take a deeper look at the high profile cases named above, there is a key element not addressed at all: sport culture.
While teaching mental toughness and making individual supports available have undoubtedly moved the needle in a positive direction, these efforts are not enough to overcome the larger, overarching problems which we see as three-fold:
- Being an athlete means facing stressors differently than non-athletic counterparts. Dedicating time to sport has implications for time management, relationships, pressure and more. The demands on athletes are great.
- There are still sport-specific stigma. Athletes are still largely operating on the premise that admitting mental distress is akin to weakness. But athletes are perceived as needing to be STRONG. This misconception breeds self-doubt and isolation can set in if one feels they don’t meet up to the ideal.
- We cannot place responsibility for resilience on the individual in cases where the environment itself may be toxic. Those in a position of power and influence have to assume responsibility for the health of the team environment; open communication and positive team culture comes from the top.
The current paradigm of “address it when it shows up” is missing the vital preventative piece that can be achieved via culture. When we re-prioritize mental well-being and recognize its role in overall performance and quality of life, it gives a new point-of-view for guiding the conversation
The Next Frontier of Sport?
HONE believes there is an exciting future ahead if we can begin to change the way we view athlete development. We need to create development plans that address the “90% mental” as well as the physical.
Given the high-profile cases of our elite athletes who have tapped out at the peak of their careers due to mental health needs, it’s clear that there’s work left to do. And we want all levels of athletes to grow up through sport understanding how the body and mind work together and what support looks and feels like.
Picture a time in the future where we have:
- Redefined strength to take on a WHOLE ATHLETE view,
- Open conversation on the impact of stress has reduced stigma, and
- Work toward creating sporting environments that are healthy and supportive.
The teams that figure out how to make a meaningful shift in these areas will be leading in their leagues. We know this will be true.
It’s up to us, sport leaders. There’s untapped potential and a bright future ahead for those who join the movement to #PutMentalHealthInTheGame.
HONE is creating the path forward to equip our coaches in integrating mental well-being into their work. If you’d like to know more about our sport-specific platform that addresses sport stressors and your team culture, please connect with us to book a call or click here to learn more.