Athlete Mental Health – Reality Check!

  • January 09, 2020


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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Coach Responses

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 system
3) 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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