Mental Health Within the Sports Industry

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

In sports, you win or you lose. It’s a black and white issue, and careers are defined solely on this criterion. Many people who work in the sports industry hold true to this mentality, often making for a cutthroat environment. It’s the what have you done for me lately approach: What matters most is who lands the biggest deals and who makes the most money. It’s worked for so long so there’s a philosophy to avoid fixing something that isn’t broken. While we know competition often breeds success, the problem is that we’ve long ignored a critical piece to the equation – our mental health. Mental health is not a black and white issue. We all have mental health issues and fall on an ever-moving spectrum. We all struggle with our mental health under the best conditions. No one is immune to the curveballs that life throws at you or the inevitable personal hiccups, like working from home, family health and societal issues. You can’t simply bottle your issues up and push them down. At some point, you’re going to explode.

Sports teach us to stay in good physical health. However, the reality is we need to treat our brain like a muscle too and have good mental health. The research has shown that more than 70% of people don’t get the mental help they need and much of this is due to the stigma around mental health. In the same vein, we know that employees give their best effort and outputs when in the best state of wellbeing (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual).

Frankly, it’s a miracle that we’ve been as successful as we have knowing that speaking up about mental our health has long been considered taboo. Thankfully, the tides are shifting as more and more people are sharing their mental health journeys and COVID-19 has forced us to slow down and reconsider our priorities. Below are a few steps we all can take to improve our mental health:

1. Normalize the issue of mental health

This starts with executives. Just because we can’t see the opponent, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. We’re trained to be judgmental as a society and be superficial in our dealings. Mental health is the furthest thing from superficial. Normalizing the issues starts with increasing the everyday discourse around mental health at work and at home. When we hear our leaders talk about mental health, the better odds we have at destigmatizing the issue. Be open with your boss, team, colleagues, family and friends with your mental stressors and take the steps you need to maintain your wellbeing. I’ve recently become more open about my mental health journey, and now I’ve become the go-to person on our team whenever someone is considering therapy.

Gender matters. In a male dominate industry like sports, we must eliminate the macho stigma around mental health. It isn’t a sign of weakness if you have mental health issues. We’re all wired differently – that’s why we have a team. Men need to do a better job at speaking up, advocating for themselves and providing a safe place for other minority groups to voice their mental health issues as well.

2. Proactively discover the best course of treatment for your wellbeing

This isn’t an either/or statement, but rather an and one. It’s likely that you’ll lean on some support tactics more than others depending on what the issue is or where you are in life. The goal is to have enough tools in your toolbelt to know how to manage your mental health. We want to proactively do this because when we’re faced with a stressor, we’ll know how to best treat it. Some of these tools include:

· Therapy

· Yoga

· Mindfulness/meditation

· Exercise

· Journaling

· Medication

I’ve found that therapy, yoga, meditation, medication and exercise make up the best treatment plan for me. This helps me stay out of my head and eliminates so much of my rumination that occurs on a daily basis. As people in sponsorship and the broader sports industry, we’re Type-A control freaks. I’ve learned that my wellbeing is better balanced the more I live in the moment and give up the control factor. Experiment with the above or other tools and see what balances you out best.

3. Check in on others

This one is the trickiest because no one can walk a moment in another person’s shoes. It’s impossible to know what personal battles someone has, but we can normalize asking for help and checking in on others. Be empathetic and self-aware around others. Offer someone a set of ears in case they ever want to talk. That will give you permission to continue to check in on them.

Here’s an example – a colleague’s mother just passed away after a long illness. It was made public that she was dealing with this passing and so I wanted to give her the space she needed. The next time we spoke on the phone, I shared how I am in therapy and opened the door to let her talk about her feelings. While I can’t relate to losing a parent, we’ve all lost a loved one. I could empathize with her and offer her my support. Because I know what she’s going through, I have offered to take on some of her responsibility and tried to be more patient as she grieves. While this is an extreme example, we can all find smaller ones that are emblematic of this.

Mental health and wellbeing matter. We cannot continue to push down our feelings and suppress our issues because they will inevitably reappear in a magnified way. Just like with an injury, the best course of action is to rehab our mental health and then continue to proactively care for the issue so we stay healthy and productive.