Some thoughts from the Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport:
Mental health is necessary to sustain optimal performance in sport.
Mental health is necessary to sustain optimal performance in sport. It influences athletes’ and coaches’ daily functioning, including their ability to effectively manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to successfully execute tasks, meet performance goals, maintain healthy relationships, and meaningfully contribute to their sport community.
Mental health affects everyone, including athletes and coaches.
Mental health affects everyone, and athletes and coaches are not immune to this. In Canada, 1 in 5 people experience a major mental illness each year, which costs the Canadian health care system $50 billion annually. With 7.2 million Canadians regularly engaging in sport, there could be as many as 1.4 million athletes and coaches struggling with mental health challenges each year. We can no longer turn a blind eye to mental health issues in sport.
Athletes and coaches may face more mental health challenges than the general population.
Competitive athletes and coaches may be more vulnerable to mental health challenges than the normal population due to the complex demands, high expectations, limited support, early specialization, and year-round training/coaching they often face. Other factors such as excessive pressure to succeed, debilitative coaching styles, lack of funding, overtraining, injury, and difficult transitions in, through, and out of sport can precipitate existing mental health challenges or trigger the development of new ones.
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How do you support your athlete’s mental health?
Share your tips and best practices!
Jenny B – Cycling – Niagara – 20 Years
“We use the Training Peaks online for athlete training schedules which is a great communication tool however, three important elements need to agreed upon.
1) Athletes agree to share motivation level and stress level for each training week.2) A trust and open dialogue is part of the system3) The bare minimum face to face contact per month is 1x/month which is fundamental to see how athletes are feeling, looking and communicating their training to coach.”
Scott Morton – Curling – Calgary – 25+ Years
“Listen and talk to your athletes, don’t just coach! Get to know who your athlete’s are and what kind of interests, problems, and concerns that affect them outside your sport. Keep notes on things they say and do that are a bit out of the ordinary. This will help you to determine when you need extra help coaching. But when there are other problem get help from other resources. You can’t do it all and the end result weather good or bad needs to be addressed and talked about.”
Jackie Davies – Volleyball – Toronto – 3 Years
“Something that my coach staff and I have incorporated into practices is meditation/breathing exercises. We do a quick 5-10min session at the beginning at practice and have our athletes focus on controlling their breathing, clearing their minds and getting mentally prepared/focused for the practice ahead.
We try to check in with our athletes and ask them how their day was, how school is going and how their family is doing. We are a pretty close team where lots of the girls go to the same school, so we try to keep the channels of communication fluid so players are comfortable to come to us with any issues.
What’s nice about this team is that we’ve been together for the past three seasons, so we know the players and families quite well, which makes is a bit easier to notice when someone is having an off day and to tackle the problem as soon as possible. However, not everything is so easy to identify. But, with the parents being a great support system for the girls as well as the coaching staff, both parties are pretty comfortable to discuss any issues or concerns about their children that involve their mental health or anything related to the team.”
Barry Grubman – Table Tennis – Etobicoke – 12 Years
“I think it’s important to remember that while coaches have a role play in supporting their athletes mental health, they are (usually) not professionals. When I notice something with an athlete, as a coach I try to decide if this is something minor which can be handled with the team & parents, or if it’s something I should hand off to a professional. Building a relationship with each athlete in advance helps a lot in noticing mental health issues when they arise.”
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What does it take to coach? What are the fundamental skills required in coaching? A lot of what a coach does goes beyond technical know-how. We know that some of the best coaches have not been elite athletes themselves, but have developed strengths in key areas such as motivation, communication with athletes, and demonstrating leadership on and off the playing field.
Some universally required skills are:
Leadership: Whether coaching a team or an individual, coaches need strong leadership skills. To lead the development of players and teams, coaches also must develop problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
Communication: Central to coaching is the coach-athlete relationship. Coaches should enjoy working with people, have strong communication and interpersonal skills, and the ability to work within a team environment.
Passion: Not to be forgotten with the modern focus on sports science and analytics, great coaches still possess a love of the sport. Communicating their passion for the game is as important as anything they do. Along with that passion comes a desire to make a difference in a person’s life.
What other skills do you think are required to become a great coach?
What role do they play in your coaching?
Coach Ken Anstruther – Taekwondo – Mississauga – 15 Years
“An athlete must believe they can do what needs to be done. The coach must help instill that belief by using positive inputs throughout the training. The coach must be a good listener, observer and translator. He or she must allow divergent thinking but have the ability to converge on the right things.
He or she must be able to listen to and observe the athlete
and translate the words, emotions and sports actions into adjustments that fit
with their athlete. E.g. a parent came to me and advised his son was developing
OCD characteristics. I researched strategies for dealing with their fears and
anxieties and discovered that this could apply to other athletes. The right
answer could lie anywhere, so the coach must be prepared to look everywhere.”
Coach Sean Ferguson ChPC, RGP – Swimming – Waterloo – ?? Years
“A great coach also needs to be mature. ‘Mature’ is one of
those funny words, as many may assume that the younger you are, the more
immature you may be, and therefore the older you are, the more mature you will
However, I personally don’t equate one’s maturity level with their age; age is only a number, and to me, it’s a fallacy to assume one way or the other with respect to age and maturity level.
Mature individuals make great coaches, because: they walk the line calmly, they educate themselves/seek information, they choose to be open-minded, they learn how to wear different hats when needed (multi-skilled), they are not afraid to admit fault, and they adapt to their environment all while being a great leader which is not an easy thing to do.”
Coach Amanda Miles – Basketball – Markham – 15 Years
“I think having patience is the key to becoming a great coach. Knowing how to let certain things go and when to spend time on something or move on. This is super important to helping you grow and your team develop.”
Coach Howard Dewsbury – Baseball – Barrie – 18 Years
“The skills that make a good coach change as the athlete develops, here I will talk about what I think makes a good coach for entry-level athletes. At all levels, a coach must understand that they cannot win a game only the athletes can do that. It is the coach’s job to prepare the athlete for winning.
To prepare an athlete for winning the coach must teach the fundamental skills required to play the game, to do this the coach needs to be able to demonstrate those skills and explain them to the athlete. The coach must also realize each athlete is different and be able to vary their approach to suit the individual athlete.
A good coach also understands that the time for teaching is at a practice or a careful word when they are on the bench not while they are on the field during a game. On the flip side, a coach can lose a game by not properly preparing the athletes, too many times I have seen coaches teaching their team about game strategies without having taught them the skills needed to execute those strategies. Many times they are doing this while the athlete is playing the game.
As a good coach you are prepared, understand the needs of
the athlete and present a positive environment for the athlete to play in.”
Coach Patricia Careau – Weightlifting – Pembroke – 20 Years
“Human beings are hard-wired for connection and vulnerability. You need to be able to listen and hold space with athletes especially when the going gets tough…or even when they share their fears, anxiety, anger, disappointment and everything else that they bring with them on the field of play.”
Coach Joe Benedetti – Fastpitch – Hamilton – Too Many Years
“…I recall reading a short article on this topic and the 3
top assets of a coach were:
We certainly cannot ask our athletes to work any harder than
we are. We must all strive to be life-long learners and stay up to date in the
area of knowledge and skills and attitudes. Finally, what better way to develop
the passion and motivation of our athletes than for them to see us having FUN
Coach Rolf Waffler – Football and Skiing – Thunder Bay – 20 Years
“Patience. Regardless of the level of sports athletes acquire, consolidate and refine skills and abilities at different rates. Patience is required to develop training that includes athletes who are refining skills and those that are still acquiring the same skill. Age, athletic ability and mental maturity all factor into the teaching of sport and life skills. In teaching this the coach’s patience will always be tested by the athlete and more often by the parent who will be questioning why isn’t little Johnny at the same level as the remainder of the team. Patience is required to stay the course of a well-laid training plan.”