En route home from Tuesday’s Sport Minds* Conference I stepped into the crush of a London Underground train carriage. Somewhere a guy started singing “Gold. You’re indestructible.” He kept the refrain going, getting louder as we climbed out and onto the elevators at Victoria. Exhausted commuters started to smile and speak to one another - a sharp contrast to the silence of that morning’s train journey where everyone was too immersed in their devices to make eye contact, let alone conversation. If I could sing, I would have helped him in his willingness to be a bit daft and to yell, smiling, at a stranger “because you are GOLD!”
This Saturday 10th October is World Mental Health Day. The Sport Minds* Conference brought together some of us invested in physical activity and sport as routes to improving mental health and connectedness within communities. Many of the speakers were leaders in professional sports where there is growing recognition of the need for different forms of mental health training/ care - not just a focus upon the mind as a competitive tool, but as an essential part of the athlete that may become injured or ill, over-stressed or even fractured. Footballers thought that they were particularly vulnerable, having been selected for development programmes in their primary school days and thereafter building their whole identity around football. A chance injury took away their whole perception of self. Sadly, rugby, athletics and dance could all chip in and say that the same was true for their elite performers - lots of pressure from early years to be the best in that one domain. Some eejit said that he could see academia going the same way - I guess that guy never paid much attention in school, because haven’t we seen the same problems in schools and universities for generations? Those bright young people who invest everything in study, who suddenly have a blip in one exam and feel that everything has crumbled around them? Sure, to become an expert at anything requires commitment and many, many hours of practise, but to let any child grow up believing that they are only valued for one of their many talents is immoral. Nor is it right to turn all their activities into something upon which they are measured - surely it’s OK to play an instrument for fun rather than have to go through formal grading? For mental and physical health, sometimes regular park run participation as runner or volunteer is more beneficial than a rigorous, pressured training programme. Let’s have some fun with our running and sports, especially when we’re responsible for young ones. How can someone feel motivated if it's all work and no play?
I get stressed about how stressed kids have become! It’s not their fault. They are coping with emerging hormones whilst over-stimulated from an online existence and under constant pressure from an endless cycle of assessment. We adults, even (especially?) the tech-savvy ones, are stumbling around in a digital world of bright white screens and constant streams of florid effluent that we’re supposed to “like” just to prove we’re connected, when really we’re drowning in it all. Yep, I know I’m being ironic.
This Saturday, could you do something from this list?
- Privately & directly say something positive to someone without using social media to show all “friends” or “followers” how thoughtful you are being.
- Compliment a runner on something other than their running.
- Make a stranger smile.
- Cheer, clap, tell someone they “are GOLD” - could be at a race or it could be a teenager in your life appearing for breakfast.
I won't ask you to seek out someone with mental health issues, but please don't ignore someone just because you don't understand their current mental condition. We all have mental health.
*Organised by the Sport and Recreation Alliance, Sport Minds will hopefully build into a very valuable initiative. The governing bodies of our major UK sports are already involved and recognise that there is much to be learned from grassroots clubs where sport & physical activity develop both individual mental health & supportive communities.