Athletes Advocate for Mental Health Focus
Igrew up playing competitive soccer and eventually reached my goal of competing at the university level. It wasn’t until university that I started noticing that my athletic performance was influenced by more than how many hours I had put in in the gym or on the field. No matter how much I trained, I was always tired. I started to dread going to practice and felt overwhelming anxiety during games. I realized that my overall wellbeing, and especially my mental wellbeing, played a greater role in my athletic experience than I previously thought. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the resources or knowledge to know where to start or how to address my mental health needs while staying engaged in sport, and I ended up stepping away from soccer. From an athlete’s perspective, the conversation around mental health in sport feels like a relatively recent one. Over the past few years, highlevel professional athletes have used their platforms to promote mental health awareness and share their experiences with mental illness. People like Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, Carey Price, and DeMar DeRozan have been very open about their struggles with mental health while maintaining their careers. Since the pandemic, those conversations around mental health in sport have increased, but there is still a lack of resources and information available for athletes, and especially amateur athletes. This gap hasn’t gone unnoticed by Nova Scotia’s Athlete Advisory Committee. About two years ago, the Athlete Advisory Committee was created, in part to assist Sport Nova Scotia with safe sport initiatives and education and awareness from athletes’ perspective. They recognized and advocated that mental health is an integral part of “safe” sport, and ensuring athletes’ mental health and wellness is prioritized leads to safer sporting experiences. For this year’s Safe Sport Month in October, Sport Nova Scotia announced it would be releasing a mental health podcast in partnership with the Athlete Advisory Committee. When I was asked to host the podcast, I felt excited to be a part of a project that would amplify athletes’ voices and act as a platform to share their experiences. In working with the committee, we identified various mental health topics as being relevant to their experience as athletes, including: 1. Safe Sport and mental health: An introduction to Safe Sport and mental health in sport 2. Body image, eating disorders and sport: Exploring the relationship between sport, body image, and eating disorders 3. Coach-athlete communication: Navigating difficult conversations with your coach 4. Psychological maltreatment: How to identify and address psychological maltreatment in sport 5. Sport-life balance: How to develop good timemanagement skills, identifying burnout, and setting boundaries 6. Transitioning out of sport: Exploring two athletes’ experiences transitioning out of sport and their identities as athletes Athletes shared their experiences and questions about these topics and received evidence-based feedback from experts in mental health and health care. The goal is to provide listeners with some basic mental health resources and a starting point for those who relate to the athletes’ stories. These podcasts are available on the Sport Nova Scotia website and accessible on all listening platforms. Sophie Nicholson is the Support4Sport Co-ordinator at Sport Nova Scotia. Sophie contributed to Sport Nova Scotia’s mental health podcast series as host and producer.