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Taking care of sporting minds out of season
With the FA Cup coming to a close this Saturday, there’s no better time to discuss taking care of our athletes’ mental health out of season (for grassroots as well as elite sports). From mental health struggles tied to performance all season round, to issues triggered by stepping out of the strict training routines and feeling lost in the period of time between seasons, there are many common issues in the world of sports.
Here we highlight some of those struggles, look at addressing mental health needs in sports and discuss how coaches and clubs can step in to support sportspeople.
The world of sports can be tough (and not just physically)
Being a sportsperson has its glamorous side, but there’s often a lot going on behind the scenes that others aren’t aware of. Between the constant pressure to perform and stay fit and focused while juggling a personal life, and living under the watchful eyes of fans and the media, athletes and sportspeople are put under continued strain both physically and mentally.
And this doesn’t stop when the season does. Without the reassuring and familiar routine of training and playing the sport, and the support network and sense of purpose that comes with those, it’s easy to feel lost. Some sportspeople define themselves so strongly by their sport, they feel they have no identity without it.
Eventually, all of this can take a toll. In fact, according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as many as one in three athletes are likely to experience mental health conditions to a varying degree at some time. One of the most prominent is depression, but others include disordered eating, chronic stress and burnout. The good news is there are plenty of steps that can be taken to alleviate these issues both out of season and all year round.
Just as with physical issues, early intervention is key. You wouldn’t continue to play on an injury without seeking medical advice, so why take that approach with your mind? By taking action as soon as you notice a change in yourself, you can nip any mental health issues in the bud and maintain good mental wellbeing.
A sensible starting point is to identify your stressors, providing opportunities to uncover healthy ways of coping with them. Stressors may include difficult sports-related events such as competitive failure, serious injury or illness, or even positive ones like competitive success, national recognition, or participation in major events. Of course, personal stressors such as family conflict or the loss of a significant relationship can contribute to poor mental health too.
If it helps you to see things more clearly and make sense of them, try writing your stressors down on paper. It’s amazing what happens when you get things out of your head and on to a page!
While it can often feel as though the emotions you’re experiencing are unique to you, opening up to others will highlight it’s probably not the case. Whether you speak to a team member or fellow sportsperson who understands your specific challenges, talk to a close friend or family member or seek the help of someone impartial such as a physician or mental health provider. The simple act of being honest about how you feel can bring a sense of relief and hope.
Use tech to maintain good mental wellbeing
Heard of mindfulness? Simply put, it’s the art of being present in the moment and being fully focused on what you’re doing – just like you are when playing sport. Apps such as Headspace and Calm can help individuals learn the basics of mindfulness through meditation, resulting in decreased stress levels, increased focus, better sleep, positive thinking and more.
For sports clubs, the Govox wellbeing platform can help normalise mental illness and improve performance both on and off the pitch. Govox provides players with useful, actionable aids and resources, while coaches, managers and leaders are given insights and tools to connect and offer the right wellbeing support.
Look after yourself
Being an athlete involves pushing your boundaries, but this can wear you down over time. To combat this, good self-care routines need to be part of your everyday life in order to prevent burnout and keep you at your best, both physically and mentally.
Take it right back to basics and make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, eating a nutrient-rich diet (remembering to enjoy treats from time to time!), getting plenty of sleep and also taking time out for yourself when you need it. While the end of the sporting season can stir up negative emotions for some (such as feeling ‘lost’), try to embrace it as time to refresh your energy and motivation. When you throw yourself into spending time with family or friends, having fun, enjoying hobbies, pursuing your education or simply relaxing, you can regain a healthy life balance. Ultimately, this will probably allow for optimal performance on the pitch and prolong your career – not to mention helping you to feel happier and more fulfilled!
How coaches and clubs can step in
Creating a strong team is integral to good performance on the pitch, which is developed through regular training and playing together. But ‘team spirit’ is a central factor too, extending far beyond game strategy and physical capabilities. After all, teams are made up of people, so when individuals are at their best, it follows that the team is too.
By getting to know each other off the pitch and away from training, teams can form stronger bonds and a support network of like-minded people who share the same passion (and struggles). Increased understanding of players and their feeling can help to improve cohesion and morale within the team.
The Govox wellbeing check in allows clubs and coaches to connect with players’ thoughts and feelings, enabling them to quickly and easily spot anyone who’s struggling and open up lines of communication. Following their check in, each player will receive a personalised wellbeing report which offers helpful content and proven techniques for making positive changes. Coaches can view players’ results and feedback on the wellbeing dashboard, allowing them to gain key insights into the mental wellbeing of their team and enabling potentially life-changing conversations.
Don’t forget to share this post with your team, and check in with each other during the off-season!
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