Looking after yourself

That’sthe Olympic games over until Paris 2024, as well as great sporting achievement another theme has surfaced hereand in other sports, the need to look after your mentalhealth.

Naomi Osaka
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Naomi Osaka was the face of the Tokyo Olympic Games. In June this year she announced that she would not be taking part in post match interviews at the French Open, Roland Garros stating her mental health was the reason. She later pulled out of both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. She went out in the second round in the Olympics. She is not the only person in sport to be open about their mental health.

Great Britain’s Jack Laugher won Olympic Bronze in diving 3/8/21 after considering leaving the sport earlier in the year for mental health reasons.

On the same day American gymnast Simone Biles of the won a bronze on the balance beam after pulling out of the team event and four other Olympic competitions due to mental health reasons.

In British gymnastics there are large numbers of allegations of abuse, about 300 each year, and a group of 17 women and girls aged between 15 and 43 about the conduct of coached across the UK. This includes the conduct of British Gymnastics’ head national coach Amanda Reddin who stepped aside from the role in August 2020.

Swimmer Adam Peaty, after winning gold medals in the 100m freestyle and 4x100m mixed medley relay at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo (held in 2021) has announced in a Sunday Times article that he is taking a break from sport in order to look after his mental health and that his highest priority is to jet wash his garden fence.

In other sports, England cricketer Ben Stokes has taken an indefinite break from from cricket to focus on his mental wellbeing, and will miss the upcoming Test series against India, Stokes immediately came under pressure from former Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar who has urged him to reveal the reason behind his mental health struggles.

Also in August 2020 the BBC reported that UK Sport – the funding agency for Olympic and Paralympic sports – has also received three notifications from governing bodies in the past three years of top coaches or support staff engaging in inappropriate sexual activity with an athlete, including two in 2019.

Letting the side down

There is always a pressure in team sport,right from the grassroots that you should always turn out when your health is less than optimum because it is seen as letting the side down. If you play in a Sunday league football team, having a match off because of a stressful week at work will be called out for being soft. What should at an amateur level be a way of de-stressing can add to the stress of daily life. When you get to top level sport stress can be external, coaches pushing athletes beyond their stress levels. There is a lot of stress competing at the top level, seeing the interviews post competition at the Tokyo Olympics that competitors hinted that the celebrations would involve alcohol of foodstuffs they denied themselves in the preparations for the event shows how they are so glad the stress is over.

Stress is good to a degree, it motivates people, but over-stress is dangerous, it causes loss of sleep, and lack of sleep causes bad decision making. On top of this a lot of the social interactions that people use to unwind have been stopped, or been on and off because of restrictions due to Covid-19. The uncertainty over Covid is itself a cause of stress. This paragraph is about life in general, work stresses such as being pressured to work long hours of overtime, and even to take your smartphone on holiday so that you can take work calls at 3 am local time.(These two examples, I have been banned from overtime because I would not do it at one hour’s notice, I wanted notice to prepare things at home. A manager at another workplace was disciplined by the directors for refusing to take his work phone on holiday and turning his personal phone off at night.)

But in top level sport all of that is multiplied. The extra pressure that you are letting your country down, the fans down and yourself down, I can only admire people who can put up with this pressure. All I can say is my opinion. Nobody is letting themselves, or the team or the fans,or themselves down by looking after themselves and their mental health.

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