It fascinates me and disgusts me that due to the unbelievable influence of social media that has grown over the years since I competed for my country in Taekwon-do, people feel that they ‘own’ other people’s feelings. They seem to think they ‘know’ literally everything about that person. They are armchair mental health experts. They confidently post that a true athlete would be able to handle pressure. That is part of their job. ‘If they can’t handle it, they shouldn’t be doing it’ – says the expert behind the tweet. I find the irony of this unpalatable. The irony that if their every move, body part, appearance and performance wasn’t being microscopically analysed by all the living room coaches from their couches, then they may be able to get on with their job.
Anyone who has competed at any level in a sport understands the importance of mental strength. Yes – part of being a successful competitor is being able to excel at the physical and the mental elements of sport. But if one of those gets broken – the body or the mind – it takes another kind of strength to get through it. Coming back from any injury: physical or mental, is a healing process. Firstly, you have to accept that you can’t continue or you’ll make it worse. Then you have to get professional help. We happily associate a physio with sport – from the wet sponge in years gone by to the now fully equipped medical professional running onto the pitch to carry out precautionary checks. What we aren’t used to is seeing the psychiatrist, the counsellor, the psychotherapist running into the sporting arena to check that the athlete is ok. What we don’t see is the months of recovery and the extreme strength of character needed to heal from a broken bone or a broken mind. What we always hear is the commentator telling us what injury the athlete has just come back from or how their career has been plagued by injury yet here they are – back despite everything and we applaud that and we all agree that shows just what an amazing sports person they must be to have had the mindset not to give up. They will commentate on sprains and breaks and tears but they rarely talk about that broken mind.
But now everyone seemingly knows everything about everyone, let’s talk about mental health. Let keyboard couch potatoes talk about how they can’t be real athletes if they break a mental bone. Let’s have these conversations, because by talking about it, it will normalise it and by normalising it people will eventually accept it like we all accept the physio running onto the pitch without saying that athlete can’t handle the pressure of sport. And – maybe – the ‘experts’ will even accept that they are a part of the problem.
No athlete wants to face an injury. When you land wrong and you hear the crack, you just want to hide. In an instant you are no longer the athlete you were. But you go away. You seek professional help. You recover and you may even come back stronger and as anyone who has actually competed knows – none of this shows weakness, this only shows strength. Let’s talk about it.
Author: Alison Hadlow
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