Mental Health in the Sports Community

Abby Dubchak is a 14-year-old girl that currently is in Grade 9 at Rundle College Jr High. She is heavily involved in the sports community and plays a number of competitive sports such as volleyball, soccer, and basketball. She has seen the toll that the pressure of playing these intense sports can put on someone’s mental health first hand and hopes to make a difference by speaking up about it.

Going to a private school that has a high focus on academics, do you see that impact people’s mental health in any way?

It definitely depends on the person. Some people struggle more under pressure while others don’t at all. The higher focus on academics can have an effect on people for sure, but it depends on how well they respond to stress and if they are getting the right support from others.

How much awareness does your school bring towards mental health and how much support is given?

Mental health is definitely talked about. We have councillors and presenters come in to discuss mental health as well as study strategies that can help people deal with the stress of school and exams. In a small school community, people find it harder to speak up if there is a problem because rumours and gossip spread so much faster. Everybody knows one another, so I think that people worry that speaking up will make them seem weak to their peers. Even though there are a lot of support from the councillors, who have mental health support training, and teachers, there is definitely a stigma that can prevent people from speaking about their own mental health.

How about sports? How much awareness is given to mental health in those communities?

I’ve played a lot of competitive sports throughout my life, and in my experience, there is way less talk about mental health within the sports community. This was really evident when I played competitive volleyball. Volleyball is a sport with a lot of pressure on the individual, even though it is a team sport. If you screw up, and say, miss a serve, it was you that lost that point. This could be a big challenge, because you would feel like you were letting your team down even when you were trying your best.

How important is having a bond with team members? What happens when people don’t get along?

I have made great friends and learned many amazing lessons by playing team sports. That being said, there was often a large amount of drama. Those who weren’t considered top players were often excluded. Unfortunately, people can be really mean to each other; however, my brother, who also plays a good amount of competitive sports, doesn’t experience this in the same way. His team dynamics are different and more unified. From talking to other people, it seems like, more often than not, there is a lot more drama in girl team sports, but this is just from experience.

How can a coach impact the way people feel and act when playing a sport?

Coaches have a huge impact on people’s mental health when they play a sport of any sort. An unsupportive coach or a coach that very clearly has favourites can seriously lower the self-esteem of other players. I’ve had very supportive coaches throughout my years of playing team sports, but sometimes they don’t understand that we have a life outside of our sport. While sports have many great benefits, such as allowing people to be active, learning about teamwork, and making many new friends, being committed to sports can take a toll on relationships and people’s personal lives. Having coaches that understand that balance is important makes having a well-rounded schedule a lot easier and can make people way happier in the long run.

What do you think can be done in the sports community to improve mental health awareness?

Coaches and teammates are often super supportive people that are always there when they are needed, but sometimes they aren’t the solution, especially if they are the ones causing the issue in the first place. I think that it would be beneficial to have a person-specific to that sport’s community that anybody on the team could reach out to or get advice if they needed to. This could be a councillor that is trained in mental health so that they are able to address any situation that comes up. Sometimes just having someone to talk to is enough.