On World Mental Health Day, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is reiterating its commitment to promoting mental well-being across its global sporting community by emphasising the importance of self-care and launching new resources encouraging the use of mindfulness. Complementing the ever-growing number of #MentallyFit tools available for athletes and their entourages for free through the IOC’s Athlete365 platform, a new Mindful Social Media learning course as well as free access to a leading mindfulness app have just been added.
Support beyond sports performance
Recognising that athletes’ mental health needs are as important for their performance and well-being as their physical health needs, and that good mental health means much more than the absence of a mental health symptom or disorder, a dedicated #MentallyFit section of Athlete365 contains exclusive athlete stories, assessment tools and resources to promote athletes’ well-being. This includes advice from experts on a wide range of topics that may affect their well-being, a large number of courses and tools, including the IOC Mental Health in Elite Athletes Toolkit, and information on the IOC’s Certificate and Diploma in Mental Health in Elite Sport.
Designed in collaboration with leading experts, a new “Mindful Social Media” learning course is now available, aiming to help athletes recognise the signs that social media may be affecting their mental health. Most importantly, it offers a range of strategies and techniques that encourage mindful use of social media. It also provides further information on where to go for support.
The IOC is also now providing 2,000 athletes with a one-year premium subscription to a leading mindfulness app, encouraging athletes to develop positive self-care practices in their daily lives inside and outside the sporting arena while promoting the immense benefits of meditation.
“Meditation is key for my preparations,” said Germany’s Olympic long jump champion Malaika Mihambo. “It helps you set your focus over a long period of time, and you learn how to withdraw from the pressure that’s going on with you. You focus on the moment you have right now.”
Breaking the stigma through awareness
Throughout Mental Health Month, the IOC is directing its attention towards mindfulness as part of its Mental Health Action Plan launched earlier this year. The Plan aims to break the stigma around mental health to create safer and more inclusive sporting environments; to prevent mental health symptoms arising for those at risk; and to promote activities that help athletes’ build resilience when recovering from setbacks, coping with stress and achieving a flow state.
“Stress is a silent killer. As a perfectionist, I expect more from myself than anybody else,” reflected Slovenian climber and Olympic gold medallist Janja Garnbret. “I expect to win every single competition, and to not give 100 per cent but 200 per cent every day, so sometimes it’s not easy to live with myself. But I have to try to relax and not be so hard on myself.”
Crucial to the IOC’s ongoing commitment to providing essential resources that support athletes’ overall well-being is to create a safe space for athletes to speak up. Through Athlete365 and the International Athletes’ Forum, which returned to its in-person format earlier this month for the first time since 2019, the IOC continues to facilitate open conversations surrounding well-being and to signpost athletes to the tools and resources available.
“We know that it’s as difficult to have these conversations [about mental health] in life as it is in sport,” explained IOC Athletes’ Commission member Humphrey Kayange. “We have to be patient and continue with awareness-raising among athletes.”
Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, who won badminton gold at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, highlighted the importance of athletes being able to speak up.
“The ability to be vulnerable and speak out is definitely important,” Axelsen said. “If you’re nervous about something, if there’s something you don’t feel is working for you, or you feel the expectations are too much – there are many different things which can play with your mind.”
Mindfully building healthier communities with WHO
Together, the IOC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been actively promoting sports participation as a hugely effective low-cost tool in fostering healthy lifestyles for people of all ages and abilities, highlighting in particular the mental benefits of being active as much as the physical benefits.
In November 2022, the IOC and WHO launched a joint three-year programme that set out to strengthen the role of sport in contributing to the global target of a 15 per cent reduction in physical inactivity by 2030. Forming part of the IOC’s Olympism365 strategy, this programme has been working with health and sport stakeholders to provide guidance, training and toolkits to health and sports organisations looking to design and introduce initiatives that use sport to help improve people’s physical, social and mental health.