Below, I outline some of the challenges that an elite sportsperson may face, and the impact these factors can have on their mental well-being. I briefly outline what can be done to minimise the impact of these, as a way of supporting mental health in sport.
PRESSURE OF EXPECTATION
The pressure of expectation can be both motivational and challenging in sport performance. An expectation is the notion that what someone is wanting, one day… WILL happen! There is an undeniable pressure that what is wanted, will be achieved. So what happens when the individual is putting in their all, remaining disciplined, focused, and doing everything in their power to achieve their desired result… however still not gaining the result that is worked hard towards and hoped for.
Surely…for most people, this would get tiresome, become disheartening and begin the cycle of questioning themselves and the expectations they have of their game. Confidence can begin to lessen, adding to the level of frustration that is experienced, perhaps also the sense of shame attached to not yet having achieved their goal. Very subtly, this can begin the process of impacting the individual’s mental well-being.
So… how can the sportsperson manage the pressure of expectation and lessen their chances of experiencing issues surrounding their mental health:
- Know and understand their sense of internal value, regardless of the result.
- Remember… the result of the game is what you do, it’s not who you are.
- Focus on the process and remaining mindful… and not on the ultimate goal.
- Focus more on what has already been achieved, not only on what is yet to be achieved.
- Honour and give space to feelings and emotions… whether they are feelings of anger, frustration etc.
Within competitive sport there are bound to be experiences of competitive failures. Not only can there be the fear of failure, or perhaps even success that the individual may have in their conscious or subconscious mind, but there is also the reality of when this occurs and the emotions that arise as a result of this.
There may be 3 areas to focus on here and that being; the fear of failing, the fear of success, and the reality of failing. These are important factors that also branch out into other areas of thinking, behaviours and emotions, all unique to the individual. Some of these may be reaching for unhealthy coping strategies, triggers to past experiences or suppressing emotions. I know this all may seem a little vague at the moment, however this is an area I will be focusing on more closely in future blogs… if you want to learn more!
For now, here are how some of these areas can be managed in a way that is perhaps more productive or healthier for the individual:
- Accept the feelings and do not avoid them.
- Take responsibility – perhaps not immediately after, but when it feels right.
- Get support and also support yourself.
- Rationalise and reframe thoughts.
- Utilise the time to learn from the experience, to reflect, and to gain a better understanding of yourself within life and the sport.
Not only are there hours upon hours of practicing to perfect performance, there are strict exercise regimes and discipline with diets. Along with the day-to-day physical and mental challenges, there are personal sacrifices in order to be successful in their game, some of which include; loss of time, celebrations, relationships, sleep… plus many more!
Surely the personal sacrifice, though it is for a burning desire to achieve what is in the sportsperson’s mind, must at times take its toll. The isolation, the sense of not conforming to the reality of friends and family’s lives, and being involved in the personal connections that result from spending time together, can all be things that may slowly become a bigger ‘hole’ in the individual’s life.
The connection made within relationships (of all kinds) may slowly become more distant, where the professional athlete can feel ‘out of the circle’ or even experience a sense of ‘aliention’. We are all social beings that have a need for connection, so isn’t a lack of this bound to have an impact on the elite player’s mental well-being.
We cannot take away the personal sacrifices that are made, however there are ways in which the sacrifice can be lessened to not feel as much of a burden:
- Keep communication open with family and friends.
- Have a routine of forming contact with loved ones back home, via online platforms.
- Feel a part of celebrations by forming your own, as and when you are able to.
- Take regular mini breaks to just BE! This can work wonders to re-energise and re-focus.
The next and final blog will focus on the other 3 challenges that elite sportspeople face:
- Shame & Guilt
- Maintaining sense of self & identity
Play the game, don’t play yourself!