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Playing sport, as most know, is beneficial for our mental well-being, but when you are playing at an elite and competitive level are there greater opportunities for an individual to experience mental health problems…the answer is YES!

Whilst we are ALL susceptible to dealing with issues surrounding our mental well-being, either through-out our lives, or at some point in our lives, there are particular individuals however who may be more susceptible to this…one being those playing in elite sports.

Playing at a high level in sports can, at times, for some sportsmen and sportswomen, have an impact on the well-being of the individual. In amongst all the gains, the success, the lavish lifestyle, and ultimately the perception of HAVING IT ALL, there are many factors many of us may forget to consider, such as; the pressure of expectation, competitive failures, personal sacrifice, shame and guilt, loneliness, maintaining sense of self and identity…plus many more!

I feel it is important to highlight and bring in to awareness, some of the challenges that individuals in an elite level sport may be dealing with on a day-to-day basis and how the game they play can have an impact on their mental health.

For many of us, we gain a sense of fulfilment in a number of areas, such as; socialising with friends and family, undertaking regular hobbies we enjoy, having a sense of routine, etc. With elite sportspeople these are unable to be fulfilled as regularly, as they must be focused and disciplined… in order to win! There is a level of dedication and discipline that must be met in order to achieve their desires, however this at times can come at a cost.

When the position in rankings, statistics and outcome of the game is attached to the individual’s value of self and perhaps feeling ‘good enough’ to be the best at their game, this can begin the cycle of experiencing mental health issues, if not managed correctly. So… when does the game of sport become the game of mental health?

Not only can the game influence self -perception which is challenged on a day-to-day basis, but also other people’s perception as a result of how the individual’s game is being played. There is a wondering about how the sportsperson is supposed to manage and separate these, and get in touch with their own sense of thoughts and feelings, amidst all the pressures they face.

In my next blogs I will focus on some of the challenges an elite sportsperson faces, focusing on… HOW this occurs and WHAT can be done to help lessen the impact of these, in order to take care of mental wellbeing:

  1. Pressure of expectation
  2. Competitive failures
  3. Personal sacrifice
  4. Shame & guilt
  5. Loneliness
  6. Maintaining sense of self & identity

Play the game, don’t play yourself!