Athletes benefiting from mental health programmeSaturday, May 15, 2021
KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Government is giving a helping hand to athletes who are having challenges due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A mental health programme has been launched to help the nation's athletes to better cope with the challenges they are facing.
One of the first activities of the programme was a recent virtual forum dubbed, 'Elevate the Game - Building the Muscle of the Mind', which was held in partnership with international body, Optimization Hub.
Some of the topics discussed included 'Guts and Determination'; 'Risk and Recovery'; 'The Importance of Strong Mental Muscle'; 'How to prepare for transitioning from the sport'; and 'What can set us apart on the local and global stage — Ability and Excellence.'
There was also a segment for athletes and Olympians to share their experiences and challenges, with a view towards encouraging other sport professionals and finding solutions for the way forward.
Former long distance runner Kemoy Campbell, who has retired from competitive running, spoke of adapting to a new normal having been forced into medical retirement.
Campbell said he collapsed at a track meet in New York City in the United States of America, in February 2019. Subsequently, he did countless tests to find out what was wrong.
“When I went to see my cardiologist they told me that I have to put the sport behind me. That was very frustrating because I had to reorganise the way I thought about life,” he said.
Campbell is advising athletes to listen to their bodies so as to avoid unnecessary damage. Additionally, he said they should speak honestly with their coaches about how they feel.
“It's not just about learning to push yourself past limits, you have to look out for yourself, your well-being, your health. Athletes think it's always about go, go, go and never about taking time to figure out what's going on,” he said.
Olympic Diver, Yona Knight-Wisdom shared his experience on being what he called a misfit, since he was the first to represent Jamaica in diving in about 40 years.
“Through the good and the bad, I learned so much about myself, not only [about] myself [but] about my mental resilience… and also about the sport and about the world and it was a great journey,” he said.
Knight-Wisdom, who has been out of competition for some 14 months, while training for this year's Tokyo summer Olympics, said he spent the time learning more about himself.
“I've been out of competition for 14 months, which is a real test of motivation every single day, but I've managed to keep going and fingers crossed return to competition shortly,” he said.
Paralympian Alphanso Cunningham pointed to the importance of strong family support to keep in the best shape mentally. The 40-year-old athlete, who started sports at 16, said he is inspired by his family, and above all, his daughter.
“She is the one who inspires me… just people in general that's what grows me and builds me,” he said.
At the forum, Consultant Psychiatrist and Government Senator, Dr Saphire Longmore said that she has had to counsel athletes from “humble beginnings” who gained sudden success.
“You have to help them to appreciate and accept where they are coming from and help them hone where they want to go and actually own that they can get there if they have the inherent potential,” she said.
Touching on the importance of mental health, she said that social health and spiritual health are also very critical.
“And especially when persons are from backgrounds where their families are not wholesome and this is why you find that athletes gravitate towards their coaches so much, because home is where they have to escape from and their coaches offer that sanctuary,” she explained.
Sports Development and Innovation Consultant in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Florette Blackwood told JIS News that the topics discussed at the forum were selected to facilitate frank discussions.
“The importance of strong mental muscle, how to prepare to transition from the sport, those are some of the areas, challenges and coping mechanisms used to overcome barriers. These are part of some of the skills needed,” she said.
She said that coaches are not only concerned with the physical fitness of athletes, but also with “the mental fortitude of athletes to make sure they are alert.”
“Sports is a very strategic game. It deals with working on your mind as well as the minds of others. We do have those coping skills but having the coping skills is not enough, if we are not engendering, enhancing and building on the foundation that we have,” Blackwood stated.
She said the programme has been in train for many years and is part of a broad assistance programme targeting athletes.
She recalled a partnership that was sparked by discussions between herself and officials of Optimization Hub, while attending the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018.
“Our National Sports Policy speaks to the athletes' well-being and that is one area of our strategic priority,” she said, adding that the Jamaica Athletes Insurance Plan (JAIP) was introduced in 2016, as a safeguarding programme for athletes.
“It covers health. It covers accidents and emergencies. It includes life insurance which is a very generous plan and I do not know of any developing country in the world that has a plan comparable to the Jamaica Athletes Insurance Plan,” she boasted.
Meanwhile, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange, who spoke at the forum said that the support for athletes did not begin with the onset of the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“However, it has brought to the forefront, the need for greater emphasis on mental fortitude and agility,” she said, noting that athletes and sport support personnel are the focal point of the sport industry and sport development in Jamaica.
The minister also mentioned the financial support for athletes preparing for the Olympics and Paralympics, noting that over $50 million has been allocated to support approximately 126 athletes in six sporting disciplines.
Additionally, she said that the JAIP was established to provide health and personal accident insurance for approximately 1,600 national level athletes, representing 33 sport associations and sporting disciplines.
She said the plan also covers costs associated with visits to specialists to recharge the mind.
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