Winning at all costs: mind over matter

Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Athletics – Men’s High Jump – Final- OLS – Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan – August 1, 2021. Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy celebrate after winning gold REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Mental health continues to gather the attention it deserves. The travel and sporting event restrictions, e.g., participation bubbles, place athletes and support personnel in unprecedented situations. In addition, the social disconnect places strain on the relationships that are paramount for mental health, and thus performance.

Emotion fogs the nuance around performance. As athletes fight for glory, observers simplify the narrative of winning and losing. Instead, it is a complex interplay of physical and psychological capabilities. The outpouring of emotion on and off the podium is indicative of that. The pressure to perform creates an expectation that athletes are gladiators at the mercy of the crowd. Instead, they are humans with upsets and triumphs no different from our own. As athletes withdraw from events citing mental health reasons, the audience’s feeling should be compassion—empathy towards the person, not the performer.

As medical practitioners, we witness the lows of injury and are privileged to develop intimate relationships with our athletes. Challenging situations foster unity, and along with injury management, we provide athletes with psychological and emotional support.

Find out how you can maintain an athlete’s mental wellbeing, focus, and motivation during this unprecedented time by reading Trevor Langford’s article at Sports Injury Bulletin.

We have entered a period when the support teams will become increasingly crucial in athletic success. This success may come in the form of medals and championships, but more importantly, a sense of achievement and a spirit of togetherness.

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