It’s time to take action.
It’s time to talk about the mental health of young athletes suffering in silence during the pandemic.
We all need someone to talk to from time to time.
We all need someone to lean on. With everything that has gone on over the past year one could only imagine how many young athletes have struggled, feel alone, need to talk or share their feelings, but can’t.
You see they can’t share, due in large part to the sports cultural code of silence.
Shorten seasons, lost opportunities, quarantines and uncertainty continues to take a toll on young athletes. We haven’t heard those stories very often, actually almost never this year. The constant uncertainty has to be a lot for young athletes trying to cope with playing the sport they love while maneuvering through their emotions during a global pandemic.
Some have seen their sporting dreams dashed, others continue to struggle with countless issues surrounding the game and life. Phrases like ‘you should be grateful you’re even playing’ have taken over the vernacular.
There’s no question the complex and ever-changing world of growing up and playing sports in a global pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. Hell, we all have gone through stretches of confusion, anxiety and uncertainty during the past year.
What happens when a young athlete doesn’t have anyone to talk to?
What happens when they feel overwhelmed and alone?
Now more than ever before executives on any junior hockey or high-level sports organization or even a coach of minor sports for that matter should be seeking the advice of sports psychologists, performance coaches and counsellors.
Obviously, the culture revolving around the sports world and mental health issues has its share of issues regarding transparency.
“One of the biggest shifts I have seen in my private counselling practice, that focuses on enhancing athletic performance as well as supporting athletes through the mental and emotional challenges of sport and life, has been the ability to manage the inconsistencies and the uncertainties that have occurred during their past couple of seasons,” said Lesley Smyth creator of Mindfit when asked about the struggles of young athletes and hockey players this season.
“Unfortunately, with this year’s pandemic, many athletic organizations have had to revert to only practicing, with restrictions accompanied with little competition at times resulting in many athletes unable to effectively adapt to the constant changes to their program.”
Smyth believes the impact on athletes has led to low motivation, interest levels declining and lower self-confidence.
“In some cases, an onset of depressive symptoms and increased anxiety have also been experienced,” she said.
We can’t just assume that young aspiring athletes will be “ok” and have nothing to share given all the circumstances and the events that have transpired over the past year.
“There are many contributing factors to the changes including the lack of socialization; loss of physical activity that has provided mental, physical, and emotional benefits; potential changes in short- and long-term goals; and a decrease in self-worth and self-confidence that was once fulfilled by accomplishment and success in their sport,” stressed Smyth who’s been a volunteer Counsellor and Mental Performance Coach for the Moncton Major U18 AAA Flyers for the past four seasons.
“One of the more crucial contributing components to their struggles this season has been the athlete’s inability to mentally and emotionally manage the fluid and unexpected challenges of sport and how to embrace the journey, including the non-linear process that leads to success.”
With everything that has gone on with the season and life in general, organizations should have their support staff on speed dial.
Everyone wants a level playing field, but the teams and organizations that seek advice of sports psychologists this year and moving forward will be dramatically ahead of the curve on many levels. How important is it for organizations and teams to offer professional support services this year and moving forward given the pandemic and its effects on the person and players?
“Offering professional services should be an essential component to all athletic organizations; not only as a result of the pandemic, but as a resource to provide athletes with the strategies and techniques to manage the mental and emotional effects that are unavoidable in sport and in life,” explained Smyth.
“When we equip our young athletes with the appropriate tools to successfully work through the unexpected and expected struggles, we are ensuring they are well-equipped to potentially thrive in times of turmoil.”
“By offering sessions to individuals, parents, teams, coaches, and organizations that are specific to enhancing athletic performance along with a focus on mental health strategies to develop and strengthen emotional regulation in sport and in life.”
Smyth’s long-term goal is clear.
“My goal is to support all who are involved to be in a position to do what is needed to ensure a healthy and strong mindset of our young athletes,” she said.
“Working with the Flyers has allowed me the opportunity to support the team in a variety of ways including strategies focusing on emotional regulation, self-confidence, self-value, positive mindset, performance enhancing tools, and more.”
It’s 2021, the cultural aspect of the game of hockey or any sport for that matter needs to change. The code of secrecy or silence is still ever present which if you think about it is so archaic, but unfortunately that’s the harsh reality of the game. Players in the game today could still potentially feel apprehensive about approaching team officials based on their reaction and the potential ramifications of their actions.
In 2021, asking for help should be considered courageous, not a weakness.
“I applaud the Flyers organization and board for having the foresight to see the value in offering their players access to support, whether it is for their performance on the ice or a mental health concern requiring counselling.”
“Being a highly-respected organization, still under the minor league division, they are helping to shift the culture of hockey by setting an example that it is not only okay to engage in support to deal with challenges or to strengthen their mindset, but that it is highly encouraged.”
Smyth is thrilled to see other minor teams taking the initiative to provide these invaluable services. “It has also been encouraging over the past few years to have other younger minor hockey teams access support as I believe it is helping to create small changes to the overall acceptance of asking for help.”
“In an ideal world, all minor and professional athletic teams would be able to provide their athletes with access to professional support in some capacity—a team workshop, individual sessions, consultations offering guidance, or parent sessions.”
“The more proactive we are in providing effective tools for success, keeping in mind success is determined very differently in each athlete, the more effective our youth will be when facing life’s challenging journey.”
“When you embrace the process, moment by moment, the fluctuating challenges become less impactful and more manageable,” stressed Smyth.
It’s time that we all take a proactive approach to mental health.
It’s time that all involved in the sports world be transparent about their thoughts and feelings.
It’s time to start asking questions and talking with all young people and athletes, but more importantly it’s time to listen and seek out experts in the field that can provide solutions, balance, peace of mind and reassurance.
It’s time that all sports especially hockey from top to bottom take action with regards to the mental health of all its participants.
For more information on the services Lesley Smyth offers please visit her website at http://www.mindfittraining.com