Making mental health a topic of conversation in sports

Who likes talking about mental health?

When I first learned the term many years ago, I associated the term with trouble, anxiety and something not being right, partnered with a sense of uncomfortable awkwardness.

It was something I’d avoid!

But now my perception has changed and with a deeper understanding, I’m trying to inspire others to understand it from a new perspective too.

Let’s begin…

Here’s a common definition of mental health…

“A state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”

In addition it’s important to understand mental health can be positive, negative and balanced and our state is in constant flux as we navigate through our daily lives.

When we introduce the definition into sports we can say this…

A state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life and sports, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her sports community”

So far pretty straightforward right?

But here’s the issue. The normal stresses of life and sport can be exaggerated tenfold if not more, by any individual’s perception of a situation.

When there’s an abnormal level of stress in life and sports, mental health will lean towards negative and get stuck on negative. Something has happened and you don’t have the solution to deal with it.

Perhaps you’ve been transferred and feel alone?

Perhaps a new player has come in and now you’re out on the bench

Maybe there’s issues away from the game that distract you?

Maybe you’re about to retire and you have no idea what you’re going to do

Or perhaps you’re simply struggling?

And it’s at this point of realism that people suffer.

I’m sure you’ve seen YouTube videos and interviews with sports stars and celebrities talking about their own battles with mental health and through my research, there’s one common denominator…

They all wished they had spoken up sooner

But speaking up is half the battle. Why didn’t they speak up earlier? What made them think they had to hold in the debilitating thoughts? What emotions stopped them from talking?

Fear of being ridiculed. Fear of embarrassment, loss of kudos, ego, pride?

To change the perception of mental health, we have to understand three simple yet powerful steps, whether you are suffering or you’re a team mate or coach, please take these suggestions on board

  • Create a nurturing compassionate culture within your organisation by taking purposeful actions to allow people to talk openly, without judgement and criticism about their ideas and concerns
  • Spread the word that speaking up isn’t a weakness, but a definitive sign of courage
  • Give examples of what you can do differently. Take ownership for your mental health and know if something isn’t working, it’s time to seek out alternatives. (THERE ARE ALWAYS CHOICES)

Your mental health is worth much more than a contract, a large following on social media, the nice cars or the mansion. Your mental health is to be appreciated when times are good and to be challenged when things are a struggle.

Learn to enjoy the sport you play and be supportive of others and your sporting career won’t go far wrong.

Task giving back is a great way to find positive mental health. How can you use your position to help someone else? Perhaps offer a listening ear or offer your experience to the younger generation.

I invite comments, thoughts and questions and invite you to consider hiring me to help you.

Take it easy


By Mike Nichols

when the person thrives, the professional thrives

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