People love their sports. Whether it’s Monday night football in the Fall, Spring training in baseball, the NBA Playoffs, or even The Olympics; competitive sports fill a strong yearning and void that many people have around the world. Unimaginable amounts of money, resources, and time are all expended by people on their sports. Parents invest in their children very early when they see the slightest notion of athleticism (and even when it’s not visible), and much is sacrificed in the name of competing and winning. All is well and every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears shed during the process is worth it when our child, our favorite athlete, or our team wins. Little consideration is given however to the rigors of the competitive process and the toll it takes not just on those who win, but also on those who don’t win or don’t “bring it” when it’s game time. The amount of physical conditioning and discipline it takes to compete at the professional level in sports is unreal in itself, but the mental health of the professional athlete, and that of the people who support them, is traditionally overlooked.
World renowned professional athletes Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have recently received much attention, including stark criticism, for their decisions to value their mental health over their respective sporting obligations; the entire world watched. Essentially, both professionals withdrew from highly anticipated and publicized sporting events all in the name of “protecting their mental health.” The polarized feedback given by the world regarding the decisions of these two women are indicative of the issue that mental health is still a subject that is taboo. Many inferences have been made and comments have been shared through public platforms that reinforce the stigma that suggests acknowledging and addressing mental health challenges is an admission of weakness. Simply put, many people still believe that taking time to address one’s mental health is not a hallmark trait of the elite, it’s an excuse. Does the athlete’s consideration of their own emotional and mental wellbeing pale in comparison to the investments made by spectators hoping to be entertained by that athlete’s all out performance? What can be inferred about the mental health of someone who is unwilling to respect the value that another person places on their own mental health, especially during critical moments?
Where do you stand? Even if you’re not a professional athlete, you will certainly (if you have not already) experience moments where weighty decisions must be made that could adversely impact your mental health. Would you expect others to respect your decision to consider your mental and emotional wellbeing at that juncture, or would you neglect your feelings and emotions at that time and “power through,” hoping for the most favorable outcome, the one that’s validated by the people? All sincere competitors must discipline themselves and train to win; however, only one is the victor. Is the competitor who wins satisfied with the outcome when so much has been sacrificed? Are those who lose devastated by the loss, thereby compromising their mental health? Will the fans internalize negative feelings and emotions when their favorite team or athlete isn’t successful at winning it all? Either way, it’s time we take a closer look at how the people and things in which we invest so much energy, especially in the world of sports, are impacting our mental health and potentially creating a competitive disadvantage. Our mental health deserves much more consideration.
Michael Dangerfield, LPC, NCC FB: facebook.com/mikdange IG: heal_thymentality #healthyMENtality #allintherapy