CWG 2022: Why mental health is the real strength for athletes
By Emily Hagan | Published on Oct 18, 2023
As the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) kick off in Birmingham, let’s take a moment to recognize the true strength of the athletes participating. Behind their impressive physiques and competitive spirits lies a constant battle with the pressures of representing their country and meeting expectations.
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Lovlina Borgohain, India’s Olympic bronze medalist who will be competing at CWG, recently shared her experience of feeling “mentally harassed” due to the absence of her coaches at the Games. Her social media post raised important questions about the significance of mental well-being in the world of sports.
Over the past few years, there has been a significant shift in the narrative surrounding athletes’ mental health. Remarkable individuals like Simone Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, and tennis player Naomi Osaka have shed light on the importance of prioritizing mental health in sports. Biles, who withdrew from the Artistic Gymnastics finals at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, emphasized the need to focus on her mental well-being. Osaka, in a Time magazine article, discussed the significance of acknowledging the challenges athletes face in terms of mental health.
Their courageous admissions have changed the game for athletes who have long struggled with the weight of emotions and expectations. It serves as a reminder that stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and suicidal thoughts are not exclusive to athletes but are part of the human experience.
Sports psychologist Divya Jain highlights the importance of recognizing the person behind the athlete. Often, we only focus on their medals, rankings, and personal bests, neglecting their thoughts, emotions, experiences, and circumstances. Mental health conditions impact every facet of an individual’s life, including mood, thought processes, performance, interpersonal relationships, and physical health. By prioritizing mental health, athletes not only promote their well-being but also unlock their full potential on the field.
The pressure of expectations plays a significant role in athletes’ mental health. Competing at a national or international level brings immense pressure. Athletes face the expectations of their team, their country, their family, and themselves. The knowledge that a fraction of a second or a meter can make the difference between victory and defeat adds to the stress. Living away from family, disruptions in schedules due to competition calendars, public scrutiny, the fear of injury, and the looming thought of retirement all contribute to mental health challenges.
Dr. Kersi Chavda, a consultant psychiatrist, emphasizes that athletes must possess mental skills to navigate these challenges. Resilience and the ability to learn from mistakes are crucial traits that enable athletes to grow and succeed. It is important to acknowledge failures but not dwell on them for too long. Instead, athletes should focus on their strengths, set process goals, and seek support from friends, family, coaches, or psychologists when needed.
Maintaining overall well-being is a key aspect of handling failure. Taking care of physical health through proper nutrition, sufficient sleep, and recovery is essential. Building and nurturing relationships within the family, friends, and the sporting community provide a supportive network. Engaging in activities outside of the sport that bring joy and purpose can help alleviate stress. Enjoying the training process and embracing the excitement of competition contribute to a positive mindset.
Sports psychiatry and mental health coaches play a vital role in supporting athletes. The recent appointment of Paddy Upton as the Indian team’s mental conditioning expert highlights the growing need for professionals to assist athletes in managing the pressures they face. Sports psychologists provide athletes with tools to understand the realities of wins and losses, relaxation techniques, and strategies to maintain balance even in extreme situations. They emphasize the importance of accepting that life may not always be fair and that the person is more important than the game or the glory.
As we witness the incredible performances at CWG 2022, let’s remember that mental health is the foundation of an athlete’s true strength. By prioritizing mental well-being, athletes not only enhance their own lives but also inspire others to prioritize their mental health. Let’s support and celebrate the athletes, both in their victories and in their courageous efforts to maintain a healthy mind.