The recently concluded Summer Olympics and Paralympics were great for India. India achieved its best-ever medal tally in both events. The successful campaigns were everything to celebrate until we heard about the unfavorable mental experience wrestling sensation Vinesh Phogat had to go through during the games and after her loss due to indiscipline sanctions imposed on her by the WFI. Such incidents make us wonder whether the athletes known for rigorous physical training are provided with proper mental support from the concerned authorities.
An athlete encounters three stages in any sport:
• Pre-tournament stage
• The tournament itself
• Aftermath of the tournament
Each of these stages puts athletes under different kinds of pressure and mental fatigue. In the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the pressure rises to a completely different level due to the long waiting period between two editions and the monumental scale and importance attached to the event.
Challenges associated with each stage
1. Pre-tournament stage
The pre-tournament stage is the most exhausting for athletes as they have to train and focus for years while regularly thinking about the competition, their opponents, the expectations from people around, and the exhausting schedule they have to follow to remain fit and compete to win. This, combined with the pressure to even qualify, takes a toll on the mental health of the athletes.
2. The tournament
The tournament is where things get big. The scale of competition, the sponsors, the viewership, and the very fact that their years of preparation are going to get judged upon by just a few days or rounds of competition; the fear of failing, the fear of under-par performance— all comes smashing in the face of athletes.
3. Aftermath of the tournament
The aftermath of the tournament is where the non-sporting things in life start to affect the athletes. They have to decide whether they will devote more years of their life to another edition of the games or have to move on to some other thing. The winning athletes face increased expectations and hence increased pressure. At the same time, the athletes who fail to secure medals sometimes get too harsh with themselves.
Effect of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Mental Health of Athletes
COVID-19 brought uncertainties in the lives of almost every person, and athletes are no exception. Along with the tension of medical well-being, they also saw professional problems in terms of disruption of training, regularly postponing events, and the hectic bubble life of games. Some athletes had to drop out from the Olympics following their positive COVID-19 results. Such an incident is bound to affect an athlete’s mental health who has devoted years to compete at the Olympics.
Steps that can help:
● Mandatory state-provided psychologists and psychiatrists for athletes
● Monitoring of the mental health of athletes before and after tournaments
● Normalization of mental health breaks
● Regular counselling of athletes
● Financial support to athletes
● Removing uncertainties regarding events and the future.
Simone Biles, the USA sporting legend, provided the perfect example to athletes and countries about the practice of mind over medals and displayed tremendous courage while opting out of the Olympics citing mental health reasons.
In events such as the Olympics and Paralympics, which can be considered life-changing by athletes as these are the biggest platforms for them, the chances of disappointment, identity foreclosure, and real-life stress increase dramatically. So, such mental health breaks should get due encouragement to prioritize health over glory.
Athlete stress is not a myth but is still treated like one. The very physical nature of a game does not imply that there is no mental aspect to things. Athletes face different challenges to mental health during different cycles of games. Even after returning, the sheer exhaustion leaves them vulnerable to mental conditions like depression, and it must be understood that athlete mental health is everybody’s business, but it should also be treated as a distinct responsibility. Steps need to be taken to enable mental health screening of athletes while entering the Olympics as well as while leaving. A collaborative support system that removes the communication gap will certainly help. Educating athletes about mental health and training them to tackle pressure is a much-needed step to ensure the proper well-being of our sporting stars. Mental health promotion should complement mental healthcare, and breaks and mental health leaves should be normalized at par with physical injury leaves.
Written by – Arshdeep
Mayank verma · 20 September 2021 at 5:25 pm
Nice article great effort keep it up
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