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Laura Johnson
Rapport Building and Communicating Developing Mindsets Safety and Welfare

Do Athletes Get the Support They Need to Excel?

Parents and coaches are in a unique position to offer close, personal support to athletes. This blog looks at the types of support offered to athletes and why some aren't being given the support they need to meet their full potential

As a parent or coach, you are highly invested in supporting your child or athlete to excel in their sport. The first thing to recognise is that this support has to start long before they are recognised for their talents. In fact, this support should start during youth sports teams and competitions.

Without the right support system, even the most promising athletes can fail to rise to their full potential; and without it, even those who get to the top of their field can quickly fall from grace.

Let’s take a look at two aspects of this question about support. First, let’s discuss how to offer support. Second, let’s consider why athletes aren’t given the support they need.

As a parent or coach, here are 3 levels of support you can offer:

Medical support

Injuries and illnesses are common in athletics, regardless of the sport of choice. Bruises, abrasions, blisters, sprains and pulled muscles happen frequently and support can be as simple as having first aid supplies close at hand packed with Band-Aids, elastic bandages, insect allergy kits, medicinal creams, and so on.

You also need to learn how to use a Steri-Strip to close a wound and prevent infection; how to mold a Sam Splint to reduce the pain from a sprained wrist or ankle; and how to use a pocket mask should you need to do some rescue breathing.

These just-in-time aids will prevent minor injuries from becoming major issues because of delayed treatment.

Then, of course, you also need to offer advanced medical support for more serious injuries. Teams at the middle school level and beyond usually have an athletic trainer on staff but even so, serious injuries typically means getting the professional help of physiotherapists, general practitioners, and surgeons.

Psychological support

It’s easy to forget that athletes need psychological support. They don’t appear as fragile and vulnerable as ordinary people. Since they have developed strong wills, heroic endurance, and extreme persistence, it’s harder to notice that they have the normal range of emotional setbacks and feelings of loneliness, loss, confusion and self-doubt.

In fact, athletes have become so good at masking their vulnerabilities that they don’t admit their own angst typically until it’s too late. When their internal unrest reaches a critical point, it may express itself as an injury that prevents them from competing any longer or worse, it could manifest in a physical confrontation with a teammate, opponent, referee or fan.

As a parent or coach, you have to become a bit of an amateur psychologist and take notice of the psychological health of your players. You should also enlist the help of a sports psychologist when you do notice that your athlete is repressing strong emotions that could damage their career.

Social support

Human beings may be the most gregarious animals on planet earth. Although we often like to pride ourselves on our rugged individualism, our desire to socialise and connect with like-minded people is rooted in evolutionary biology. There is an emotional energy that is exchanged during times of camaraderie that sustain a sense of well-being and happiness.

Athletes, like geniuses, are least likely to seek support from their peers. This is because they are so above and beyond the normal range of human talent that it’s hard for others to relate to them. Consequently, athletes are often idolised or condemned but rarely befriended. And those that do befriend 'normal' humans, are likely weary of any ulterior motives this new person in their life may have for becoming their friend.

While athletes derive some level of camaraderie from coaches and fellow athletes, these relationships often have a restrictive quality. Relationships with coaches are constrained by the roles that exist in a student-teacher relationship. Meanwhile, relationships with fellow athletes are often tinged with competitiveness.

In addition, athletes have to spend much time alone studying their sport and training to improve their coordination, dexterity, and skillsets. This gives them little time to develop their social skills and develop strong relationships with others.

For all these reasons, it’s important for athletes to have some healthy outlet for expressing their social natures and just be themselves.

Why athletes don’t get more support

An athlete is someone who trains their mind and body to excel beyond normal levels of human performance. Add to this the pressure to constantly improve at their sport and you begin to appreciate how long, hard, and lonely this road can be.

Unfortunately, athletes rarely get the support that they need to do as well as they could.

It takes a perfect storm for an athlete to become a star athlete, and those who become world class performers and Olympians are the best of the best. Yet even among these elite athletes, there is a whittling down process and only a few break world records and win medals.

It is commonly believed that one athlete wins over another because they are simply better. They are faster, stronger, or more skillful, and they have a better attitude and stronger will.

While this may be a fairly accurate assessment, what is the genesis for these qualities?

It’s the support that they get from those close to them.

One reason for this lack of support is that others – coaches, parents, and, especially, peers – don’t realise how difficult it is to be an athlete. They don’t appreciate the toll that strict dieting, strenuous exercising, and constant training has on the mind, body and emotions.

Athletes are made, not born. While genetics may have given an athlete the physiology to excel, their talents are partially molded by their environment. It takes a perfect storm of genetics and environment to build a world-class athlete.

Related Resources

  • Promoting Good Mental Health through Coaching

  • Coaching Bootroom: Danny Kerry (Part 2)

  • Talking Talent: How to Work Effectively with Parents


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Laura Johnson