“Mental strength” has been a popular phrase for coaches through rugby’s professional era, but it has been replaced by “mental health” in terms of importance in elite sport.
The world of sport has started to talk more openly about how sportspeople have coped or, more correctly, sometimes struggled to cope within their environments, mainly in the hope that sharing allows the message to grow that it is all right to seek support.
Sportspeople, of course, are not alone in this as awareness and acceptance of personal wellbeing has increased in all walks of life. But governing bodies, clubs and players’ organisations are all keen to raise the profile of this issue and seeking ways to provide support.
Some of the recent stories concerning stress, depression or general mental health issues have featured national heroes Dame Kelly Holmes and Tyson Fury, cricketers Monty Panesar and Jonathan Trott, swimming legends Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe, and golfer Thomas Bjørn. In rugby, internationals John Kirwan and James O’Connor, Lions wing Dafydd James, former Wasps lock Kearnan Myall and our own Greg Bateman have all been mentioned or opened up. It is a growing list.
Many have given honest, heart-felt interviews on the story behind their story.
It is worrying that people who earn a living doing something they love can be victim of such an emotional toll.
Even more alarming is that many of the stories are so extreme, so heartbreaking before most of the subjects feel brave enough or comfortable enough to speak out.
We hope their bravery has its reward in allowing others to seek and accept help while there is still time to make changes.
Fans go through the emotional ringer too but, while it’s easy to say we’d “swap places any day of the week” with elite sportspeople, we do so with the safety blanket in mind of being able to walk away every seven days before feeling fresh optimism for another weekend.
One story that grabbed The Tig’s attention came from cricket, and concerned England wicketkeeper/batsman Jos Buttler.
It said: "You might recall that Buttler flattened a set of stumps and changed the course of English cricket... More pressingly, he wonders if that ‘30 seconds of pure joy and elation’ can ever be experienced again."
As we declare ourselves, however glibly, ready and willing to swap places with a Buttler, a Myall or a Bateman, it is easy to focus on the elation of “that” moment.
But it is worth remembering that the moment is fleeting and that elite competitors not only judge themselves against them but also strive to go even better next time. It is a pressure not everyone has to deal with in everyday life – and we don’t have to deal with national opinion or knee-jerk social media either – but it is also why strength of support (in all forms) is so important, in good times and bad.