Head in for success
The aim of this booklet is to highlight potential challenges dedicated athletes face and offer guidance and suggestions on how to deal with these stresses. Included in this booklet are tips on how to cope with injuries, how to manage uncertainties and disappointment, and suggestions of healthy strategies to cope with stresses that arise from sport and life in general and build resilience. This booklet aims to give the reader the knowledge and freedom to look after themselves and feel good about it.
Being an elite athlete has many positives, including keeping fit and active which can lead to many physical benefits. Additionally, this is coupled with the enjoyment and purpose of playing your favourite sport, camaraderie and friendship, and the loyalty and togetherness you can get from your team or club. Being in a performance environment also brings some pressure and stress, some are positive like building resilience, improving performance and work rate. However, there can also be negative effects as well where too much stress is unhealthy and can lead to different physical, emotional and mental challenges.
Dedicated athletes experience similar rates of anxiety, depression and sleep disorders to the general population but there is increasing evidence pointing to a range of specific wellbeing issues athletes might face at all ages and stages of participation. In our research we carried out, the key themes of what athletes told us were:
- Their identity was affected as they felt like they were known for their sport rather than as a person.
- Feeling isolated when they are injured although some felt they coped well with injury.
- Coping with uncertainty around selection, how they were valued at a club.
- Many bottle up their emotions.
- Most admitted to always trying to look positive even when they don’t feel like it.
- Most feared showing they were not coping or looking ‘weak’ emotionally.
- Over 9 in 10 said that they perform better when they are feeling happy.
Other factors such as specific injuries like concussion, major negative life events e.g. a family bereavement, poor support networks and impaired sleep can all impact mental wellbeing/health. We also found that extended travel away from home and exposure to unfamiliar (training) environments can take its toll. Transitioning out of sport which includes involuntary or unplanned retirement can also have a significant impact on personal identity.