(Editor’s note: Report by Danny Desin, M.S., www.desinsportpsych.com)
Where does mental health fit into the sports world? If I were to ask that question 20, 30, 40 years ago, most people would tell me that it doesn’t have much of a place. With the contemporary athlete and the contemporary athletic experience, we would be foolish not to realize the role that mental health plays. Some of those old-school ways of thinking are what got us to the point we are at today, where mental health still has a stigma attached to it when paired with sports competition.
I constantly feel the need to redefine the term “mental toughness” when I’m speaking with those involved in sports. We’ve traditionally seen mental toughness as the rejection of any difficulties or struggles in the athletic experience, or the ability to ignore those struggles. That idea is undeniably false.
Mental toughness, in my mind, is the recognition that you are not and will never be perfect, paired with the resiliency to work on those imperfections you possess. Without processing mistakes and failures in a healthy way, athletes are never going to find satisfaction and purpose through sports.
The audience watching sports events, whether it’s on TV or in person, tends to forget about the person behind the player. That person has unique experiences that sometimes are in need of a little empathy from others. That person isn’t always what they show on the court, field, etc.
The World Health Organization reports that one in four people will be faced with a mental health concern at some point in their lives. Athletes are no exception. Multiple famous athletes are even opening up about their experiences with mental health issues. NBA stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love are two examples. DeRozan spoke in detail with The Toronto Star about his struggles with depression and anxiety nearly a year ago, and Love followed suit soon after with a personal essay in The Players’ Tribune discussing his experiences related to mental health and the stigma attached to it. Decorated Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has revealed his struggles in the same way on multiple outlets. Even Montana’s own Josh Huestis, who helped lead Great Falls CMR to Class AA boys basketball state championships in 2009 and 2010, authored an article on mental health.
Despite these evident steps forward, we are still very far away from acceptance of mental health difficulties in sports. This relationship obviously exists, and all of us involved in sport can influence a positive change.
Administrators, coaches, athletic trainers, and parents should keep their eyes open for young athletes who are having a hard time and should be open to helping any way they can. Athletes should be open to recognizing these issues within themselves, as well as providing direction when they notice these issues in the lives of others. Arlee’s Warrior Movement is a wonderful example of this.
Whether we choose to realize it or not, dealing with these problems without support can result in unfortunate consequences. Please, be someone that offers that support. To any athletes who may be relating to this topic, don’t be afraid to seek help. Self-awareness is far from a weakness. In fact, I consider this to be one of our greatest strengths.
About Danny Desin: Danny Desin has been around the Billings sports community all of his life — as a spectator, player, and coach. Desin received a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from MSU Billings and played college basketball for both Montana State University and MSU-Billings. Has has graduate level education at both Boise State University and California Southern University, where he finished a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a specialization in Sport Psychology. He is a member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and a prospective Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC).