With the Olympics drawing to an in depth, many athletes will start to show their consideration to a vital but daunting query: what’s subsequent?
The Olympic Video games are a novel occasion, with the potential for excessive highs and lows that accompany success, loss, damage, or remorse. The expertise of the video games on athlete psychological well being goes far past the competitors itself, although, with the weeks and months following the occasion essential to athlete wellbeing.
It’s vital to grasp what can contribute to raised or worse post-Olympic experiences for our athletes. In our just lately printed analysis, we got down to discover this query by interviewing 18 Australian athletes who had competed within the 2016 Rio Video games.
Our objective was to discover what elements are most essential to athlete wellbeing (and why), along with understanding the methods athletes used to manage following their Olympic experiences.
The psychological well being of athletes is of accelerating concern
The psychological well being of athletes has attracted elevated consideration, because of high-profile stars like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles.
However even earlier than the Tokyo Video games, a 2019 assertion from the Worldwide Olympic Committee highlighted that psychological ill-health was frequent amongst elite athletes. It additionally emphasised how extra must be achieved to enhance the popularity and remedy of psychological well being points, help athletes and cut back stigma round this subject.
For instance, it has been estimated that roughly one-third of elite athletes world wide expertise signs of melancholy or anxiousness. Right here in Australia, latest analysis has supported these findings, notably amongst feminine elite athletes.
Publicly, athletes have spoken of darkish post-Olympic durations, specifically. Michael Phelps, probably the most adorned Olympian of all time, has described bouts of suicidal ideas in these moments. He mentioned in a 2019 interview that after each Olympics he “fell into a serious state of melancholy”.
The ability of no: Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and Black girls’s resistance
‘Once you get residence it’s actually lonely’
In our analysis, the Australian athletes we interviewed felt the standard of their performances had a direct impact on their post-Olympic wellbeing.
Those that exceeded expectations, achieved their targets, or have been glad with their performances have been usually optimistic concerning the post-games part, as the next athlete indicated:
I lastly did my PB [personal best] within the closing, and actually for me, doing a PB at that time in my profession was like successful a gold medal. I do know it’s a cliché, however I did actually have a fairy story finish to my profession.
Nevertheless, given what number of exterior elements can affect efficiency outcomes, consideration should even be centered on issues which are extra simply managed. Pre-Olympic planning and having social helps in place, for instance, have been key for many who transitioned extra simply to a post-Olympic life.
A number of athletes described the significance of getting a plan for what they might do subsequent, saying this was completely essential to their wellbeing. These plans diversified from getting married or happening vacation to starting a level, a brand new job, or perhaps a new athletic season.
Conversely, when athletes didn’t have clear plans — like being unsure about whether or not to retire or proceed competing — difficulties emerged. One athlete mentioned,
Once you get residence it’s actually lonely […] It’s fairly miserable, and it’s a little bit overwhelming, ranging from sq. one once more.
One other telling quote got here from an athlete who described how some fellow Olympians would “actually, actually battle” after the video games.
They’ve come again from the Olympics and so they haven’t had something to do. So, they haven’t had college, they haven’t had work, they haven’t had a household, they haven’t had group engagement, they haven’t had a plan.
The good thing about help programs
The athletes additionally shared with us that help from household, mates, coaches, and their sporting organisations considerably enhanced their wellbeing.
Some mentioned when this help dropped off, it made the transition again to normality far more durable. For instance, an athlete with a very troublesome expertise mentioned,
[Before Rio] I had my head of my staff, the power and conditioning coach, a psychologist, the nationwide coach, nutritionist, therapeutic massage therapists, all that type of stuff. Everybody was serving to me […] Submit-Rio, I didn’t get contacted by a single individual, not certainly one of them contacted me.
Sadly, offering systemic help for athletes might be troublesome because of the ongoing stigma related to searching for assist for psychological well being challenges.
Earlier analysis has proven that athletes face particular limitations to searching for assist for psychological well being points, reminiscent of fears of staff choice adjustments and issues they could be perceived as unable to manage.
Certainly, one athlete in our examine highlighted this:
It’s that vulnerability of claiming, ‘Yeah, I’m not coping.’ I assume that’s what retains me simply wanting inside my interior circle as a result of it’s not one thing you need to put your hand up and go, ‘Yeah, I’m over right here. I’m struggling massively.’ There’s nonetheless that stigma concerned with it.
What Olympic athletes can educate us about regulating our feelings and staying devoted
What might be achieved to assist athletes transition?
So what might be achieved to assist athletes? The Australian Institute of Sport established a psychological well being referral community in 2018, with over 50 psychological well being practitioners now offering confidential help to elite athletes in areas of psychology, psychiatry, neuropsychology and vitamin.
Our examine suggests some athletes should still battle to achieve out for this type of assist, and having psychological well being professionals verify in with them for a major time frame after the video games is essential, too.
Athletes should additionally work on constructing an id exterior of sport that they will then immerse themselves in on the finish of their careers or a aggressive cycle. That is additionally one thing Australian sporting organisations are actually striving to help.
For the remainder of us, most of the people and media must be empathetic and supportive of our Olympians. Social media abuse of athletes is on the rise, notably for ladies and racial minorities, as we sadly noticed with Biles’ expertise throughout the Tokyo Video games.
Given we all know vital psychological misery is frequent following the Olympics, it’s vital to be compassionate, respectful and supportive in direction of those that do us proud on the most important stage.
Andrew Bennie obtained funding from the Australian Olympic Committee for the analysis printed on this article.
Courtney Walton doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.