28 October 2023
Helping You Gain A Mental Edge
Why Mental Health and Performance in Sport Collide
“Human well-being must be at the heart of elite athletic performance. Athletes should feel empowered and nurtured both physically and mentally… mental health and physical health are two halves of a whole, and care for both must be seen as priority.”
This statement from Abhinav Bindra an Olympic champion and an International Olympic Committee Mental Health Working Group member forms the basis of this Mental Edge.
When we consider mental health in sport, performing arts and the business world it is a critical to performance yet so often it’s an overlooked aspect. In sport, both athletes and coaches can face unique challenges that can have a significant impact on their mental health.
Key factors that can impact an athlete or coaches’ mental health and transfer over to their performances include:
- Performance Pressures: Both athletes and coaches can experience a high level of pressure, often where outcomes (the winning/losing) are top of mind. These pressures can be exacerbated by the culture of the sport, administrators, coach, parental and fans.
- Bullying and toxic cultures: In some sporting organisations, bully is rife and as an athlete or coach it can be very difficult to deal with and have a big knock on affect on their mental health.
- Burnout: Overtraining as an athlete or overworking as a coach in the pursuit of glory is a very common issue that can lead to burnout. Additionally, competing too much as well as unrealistic or strict expectations on how you should go about your business as an athlete or coach can lead to physical and emotional challenges.
- Perfectionism: The need to be perfect when you compete can cause some athletes and coaches to be excessively self-critical, which in turn, can lead to mental health challenges.
- Environmental Factors: In many sports, athletes’ and coaches’ personality style and environmental preferences, are in conflict with, how they spend their time on a daily basis. For example, the social athlete who trains alone can be significantly impacted especially if they don’t manage their time well away from their sport and ensure that their “social tank” is adequately topped up.
- Financial demands: In professional sport, funding, contractual issues, sponsorships, poor prize money, agent and management company issues can cause added stress and anxiety is some cases. For some, being able to play their rent or mortgage and live their lives freely can be very challenging.
- Injuries: Injuries are part and parcel of playing sport, depending on the physicality of the particular sport. For athletes, dealing with the psychological and emotional aspects of injury can be very difficult. Support during the rehabilitation phase is vital.
- Off the pitch / field issues: Both athletes and coaches are human beings, away from sport they may be involved in relationship breakdowns or divorce. Add in the need to potentially move away from home or country and the language barriers that exist. Death of loved ones or addictions can be difficult for some athletes and coaches too.
- Body Image Issues: Maintaining your weight, losing weight or gaining weight are common pressures in certain sports that can then lead to body image issues or eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.
- Poor self-care: In the egocentric and macho world of sport, or at least in some sports, self-care is frowned upon and ignored to the cost of mental health.
- Loneliness: This is closely linked to my statement above, where I mention the egocentric and macho world of sport, this can cause athletes and coaches to think talking about emotional factors is a weakness or that they are soft for doing so. That grinding it out, gritting their teeth is the best approach which is very questionable. As they say a problem shared is a problem halved.
To sum up, as I touched on in the last key factor (loneliness), talking about your emotional challenges is one way to overcome any emotional challenges that you have, as well as other methods. One thing I’d note when seeking support for your mental health, is that it is vitally important to do due diligence and check out the qualifications of the person who is going to support you. In the UK, being a Health Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered practitioner is seen as gold standard.
Additionally, it is important to educate yourself along the way, hence in our last 3 episodes for the Demystifying Mental Toughness podcast you’ll note that mental health has been top of our agenda:
What can we learn from the business world?
Loneliness can be an issue many senior executives and CEO’s face where they find it very difficult to share their true thoughts and emotions. This can then go on to impact their physical and mental health, and in turn their performance levels. My guest Nick Jonsson, author of the book Executive Loneliness, and Co-Founder and Managing Director of the Executives’ Global Network, Singapore provides great value and insights into this topic.
Whether you play football at grassroots or in the Champions League one thing is for certain you will be criticised by someone. It may be a team-mate or coach trying to drive up standards. Or it may be a friend, a partner or one of the many keyboard warriors out there who offend you.
Many factors can influence how you take and then respond to such criticism, as I talk about in today’s episode, the 4th of a 10 part series for football enthusiasts. You’ll also hear me share some advice so that you don’t get overcome with emotion and react accordingly.
My guest Amy Izycky a Clinical Psychologist and author of Skewed to the Right, Sport, Mental Health and Vulnerability provides great value for those that are keen to learn more about Mental Health in sporting environments. This episode provides some excellent insights, where we talk about the pro’s and con’s off having a “tough” attitude and personality.
Our Instagram page also has some nice ideas to help you where in the last 2 weeks we’ve shared a number of tips and tricks including the following:
BLOGS TO HELP YOU WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH AND PERFORMANCE
This article is set up to help coaches consider how they can create helpful environments and cultures so players can go on to more freely express themselves.
Pressures in sport can mean bullying, wrongly, becomes part of the game. Competitive sport is known for encouraging a positive environment, particularly within youth sport, as well as teaching athletes the importance of friendship amongst teammates. However, these competitive sports can also fester negative emotions such as stress and conflict. In this blog my colleague Olivia Scott discusses the topic and shares 3 tips to deal with bullying in sport. Read on to learn more!
OTHER HELPFUL RESOURCES
SPORT SPECIFIC RESOURCES FROM OUR SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY LIBRARY TO HELP YOU
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3 WAYS TO LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR WORK:
Online Sports Psychologist | Mental Performance Coach who supports many highly motivated athletes, young and old, developing their skills or who are already highly skilled so that they gain a mental edge and get the most from their talent across the globe from USA/Canada to Great Britain and Ireland to UAE, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, using ONLINE Video Conferencing.
Managing Director – Inspiring Sporting Excellence
Host of Demystifying Mental Toughness Podcast
Founder of The Sports Psychology Hub
Author of The Mental Edge
With over a decades’ experience supporting athletes, coaches, parents and teams to transfer their skills from training to competitive situations, under pressure.
T: +44 7734 697769