The I of the Tiger
By Greg Bach
The importance of safeguarding the mental health of young athletes has rocketed into the spotlight these days.
And it’s become clear that it must be a focal point for volunteer coaches in all sports, and at all levels.
“I think coaches have a big responsibility because they’re the first person the athlete is interfacing with,” says Kim Carducci, author of The I of the Tiger and founder of Everything Athletes. “So it’s really up to the coach to create a destigmatized environment for the kids.”
That means cultivating conversations with players.
And squashing their fears that speaking up and sharing how they are feeling is a sign of weakness.
“it’s about really encouraging them to come forward and express what’s going on,” Carducci says. “Because that’s really a big part of the problem today is that athletes have so much fear in expressing what’s going on for fear that the coach might sit them out in the next tournament or the coach may not play them, and they don’t want to risk that. So it’s up to the coach to really cultivate a destigmatized environment so athletes don’t have that fear.”
TIPS FOR YOUNG ATHLETES
Use these tips to help young athletes bolster their mental health and navigate some of the challenges that accompany competing in sports:
Make time: “Focus on your mental health just as much as you do your physical health,” she says. “I know young athletes have homework and so many other things to do, but if they can choose one thing that they can do daily just to help their mind and help their emotions. It could be listening to a podcast, reading one chapter of a book, or finding a YouTube video of a professional athlete speaking about what they have gone through. You have to support your mental health just as you do your physical health.”
Dealing with defeat: “It’s trying to remember that you can only control what’s in your control,” she says. “It’s simple but it’s so true, and young athletes need to be constantly reminded of that. In swimming if the person in the lane next to you beats you by 10 seconds and you gave your best effort – you can’t control what they do. You don’t control what coach they train with and you don’t control what nutrition plan they’re on. You can only control what you can control, and I think just reminding your brain of that when you are facing defeat should offer some relief.”
Working together for change: “Especially now how mental health in sports looks, it doesn’t have to be that way,” Carducci says. “It will always be intense because it’s competitive sports, but it doesn’t have to look as dismal as it looks now. Everyone can step up as a community to create a healthy environment for sports and have them be fun again and have athletes and coaches equipped with the mental strategies and emotional tools to manage those tough moments so we don’t have those extreme pitfalls.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Carducci speaks frequently with athletes in all sports and skill levels on the many aspects of mental health, ranging from middle schoolers to collegiate athletes.
And her book, The I of the Tiger, features a wealth of information for athletes, as well as for parents of young athletes. Along with delving into the importance of mental health and providing coping skills for dealing with everything from defeat to injuries, she shares insights from her own journey and the challenges she confronted on the path to becoming a Division One athlete.
“I am a first-hand witness,” she says.
At the age of 14 she was dealing with depression, and it drove her out of swimming for a period of time.
“It was really weird for me to feel those dark feelings at such a young age,” she says. “I just had a total lack of energy. I didn’t want to go to school and I didn’t want to play with my friends. It was just very shocking to my system to be so young and be so attached to something that affected me that greatly in such a negative way.”
It’s why she’s a fierce mental health advocate for young athletes these days.
She’s been through it all.
And is committed to helping others navigate the challenges.
“Mental health has been overlooked so much, and it has been ignored, and we’re at the point now where athletes are more health conscious than ever before,” Carducci says. “We’re smarter, coaches are smarter, and training is smarter. The way that we have operated by ignoring mental health in the past is now rearing its ugly head in a sense. So I think the whole sports community is waking up to how the neglect that we’ve given this topic in the past has been harming athletes.”
Follow Kim Carducci on Instagram and Twitter.
Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion Briana Scurry, author of MY GREATEST SAVE, on managing challenging moments and what young athletes in all sports can do to navigate them and stay focused on the present
Ryan Gareis, former University of South Carolina standout and current forward for the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League, on bringing energy, enthusiasm and a team-first mentality at all times
Orlando Pride midfielder Chelsee Washington, founder of 90/10 Performance Co., on helping young players manage mindsets and build confidence from within to perform at their best
Erica Suter, former soccer standout at Johns Hopkins University and author of THE STRONG FEMALE ATHLETE, on helping female athletes enhance confidence, reduce injuries, and boost performance