Chennai: Mental health is something that is still considered a taboo in society. Sports is no exception. In India, people concentrate on the physical health and fitness of the sports people. But does anyone care about the mental health of the players? “Every team should be provided with psychologists from the district level,” said Professor Chandru, Head of Physical Education, Dr. MGR Research Institute, Chennai.
The mental health of sports persons gained limelight recently when Indian cricketer Virat Kohli opened up about the pressures faced by the athletes and how important it was to take breaks to have a strong comeback. “I have experienced times when I am surrounded by people, but still I feel alone. Everyone can relate with this. So take time for yourself to reconnect with your inner self,” said Virat Kohli as reported by the media. Apart from Virat Kohli, international players such as Ben Stokes, Michael Phelps, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Chris Gayle etc., have also stated how anxiety and depression affected their form in the respective games and matches they were a part of.
Talking about the pressures faced by the athletes, sports psychologist Keerthana Swaminathan said, “For students involved in sports, it is mostly the parents as the student is expected to balance sports and education. Pressure of winning and the pressure caused by the expectation of the audience take a toll on the psychological health of the players.”
“Young and entry-level players are mostly excited about the match rather than the pressure to perform. Sometimes, if they feel the pressure the coach and captain of the team play a major role in bringing back the spirit of the player,” said Jaya Surya, division-level cricket player. “In my opinion, counselling is not a necessity for the young players as they are guided by their coaches. But it will be good if it is available for players involved in national- and international-level matches,” he added.
“In the international level, there are separate people to look after the physical fitness, health, diet and performance of a player. There will be a sports analyser who will observe and analyse the form of a player. This will help the team to know if the player is undergoing any mental struggle. But we don't have any such thing in the Indian team,” said Prof. Chandru. “As we have coaches, dieticians, physiologists, we should also have psychologists to help players who are confused on what struggles they are facing,” he added.
Talking about the pressures faced by the female athletes, Ms Keerthana said: “The pressure that surrounds the female players is mostly the body image issue.”
What are the steps that can be taken by the Sports Ministry and associations to address this mental health issue? “There is a belief that sports psychology is for ill-athletes and not for developmental athletes. This is not true. Right awareness is essential to address the issue,” Ms. Keerthana said. She also added that it should be made mandatory that a sports psychologist should accompany the players just like the physiotherapist, the dietician etc.
India is a country where the audience respects and glorifies a player if he/she wins and condemns them if they fail to achieve. If such a situation prevails, it is important for the Sports Ministry and various sports associations to make quick decisions and come up with initiatives so that the player can break the barriers caused by mental health disorders.