The importance of mental health and mental performance for athletes of all ages was the focus of the recent SheCompetes webinar hosted by USA Lacrosse. Normalizing the conversations in this space and viewing mental health as just another tool in an athlete’s tool kit was one of the main points of emphasis among the presenters.
The panelists were Dr. Kelsey Erickson of USA Cycling; Dr. Sam Maniar of the Center for Peak Performance; and Dr. Tiffany Jones of X-Factor Performance. USA Lacrosse’s director for the Center for Sports Science, Jason Viscovi, PhD, served as the moderator.
“Mental health impacts everyone and we’re all somewhere on a spectrum from mentally unwell to mentally healthy,” Erickson said. “Most of us will fluctuate on that spectrum on any given day. Mental health is something that, if you are alive and breathing, impacts you.”
The panelists noted that mental skills are the strategies and techniques that can be used in everyday life to help keep people on the mentally healthy side of the spectrum. For athletes, those mental skills can often be utilized to help optimize physical performance.
Mental skills are often confused with the term mental toughness, which is frequently misinterpreted and could imply the idea of ignoring an issue.
“I like to use the term mental resilience,” Maniar said. “That’s more about handling adversity, having a growth mindset, and learning to cope and bounce back, rather than to ignore.”
The panel discussed research findings that show that athletes who specialize in one sport not only have greater risks of injury, but also stress. That leads to higher rates of burnout and quitting the sport.
“Part of having the mentality to deal with distractions and the things that are out of your control is to be a multi-sport athlete,” Jones said. “When I think of an athlete, I think of a person that’s a competitor with a mindset of resiliency.”
Technological advancements are also being utilized more readily in helping modern athletes cope with the demands of sport. Today’s resources can assist athletes with routines like visualization, nutrition tracking, and relaxation, which can further assist peak performance. Technology can also help athletes more easily stay connected remotely to therapists or other support personnel.
“The important thing with technology is that we train athletes to use them appropriately,” Erickson said. “There needs to be a reason and a purpose. Just having more is not necessarily better.”
The availability of resources that athletes, coaches, and parents can access these days to help support both mental health as well as mental skills has never been greater. Two that were referenced by the panel include www.athleteassessments.com and www.equilibriainsports.com/8-essentials.
“As an athlete, a great opportunity to differentiate yourself is to train in the mental domain,” Maniar said. “Intentionally work on your confidence, on regulating your emotions, and on your mindset. Mental performance is part of your physical performance.”