Mental Health in Professional Sport

When one compiles a list of the most important attributes or qualities a professional sportsman or woman requires to compete on the international stage, the following comes to mind:

1. Natural talent
2. Biological and genetic factors
3. Elite coaching and skills development
4. High-performance environment
5. Cutting edge strength and conditioning programs

These physical attributes and qualities consistently overshadow the mental attributes and qualities required in becoming a professional or elite athlete. Rarely does one consider or regard the following as differentiating factors between good and great sportsman or woman:

1. Self-Discipline
2. Acceptance of criticism
3. Poise under stress
4. Resiliency
5. Mental toughness

Fortunately, of late the mental application to professional sport has received widespread attention and many coaches around the globe have been on a quest to include conditioning on an athlete’s mental toughness within their high-performance programs. This has had tremendous success in that it did not only assist the athletes in achieving greater results within their chosen sport, it also affected the athlete’s social and interpersonal skills. These skills aided the athlete within the challenging environment when he or she decides to retire and commence with their life after sport.

There are too many examples where tragedy has struck retired sportsmen or women, who struggled with their mental health after exiting their beloved sport and could still be with us if they received the necessary aid during their sporting careers.

Examples that come to mind are:

Dan Vickerman (Australian Rugby Player)
Christophe Dominici (French Rugby Player)
Glen Hall (South African Cricket Player)
Sunil Jayasinghe (Sri Lanka Cricket Player)
David Bairstow (England Cricket Player)
Wayne Westner (South African Golfer)

It is therefore welcome that professional sport has released the importance of identifying mental health and mental toughness as mediums to success. Not only during one’s sporting career but as a holistic approach for life after sport when one retires.

Henrico Louw
KeNako Academy Strength and Conditioning Trainer