World Mental Health Day 2022 provides an opportunity to showcase how some of the initiatives and resources delivered by the Worldwide Olympic Partners have been supporting athletes’ mental health.
On 10 October – World Mental Health Day – the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is highlighting how the support of the Worldwide Olympic (TOP) Partners goes far beyond simply making the Olympic Games possible – they also help athletes face up to many of the unique challenges they encounter on their sporting journeys.
One of those challenges is mental health. Indeed, in a survey launched by the IOC Athletes’ Commission in 2020, 32 per cent of the 4,000 athletes and entourage members who responded said that mental health was the biggest challenge they were currently facing.
Here, we highlight how a variety of initiatives launched by TOP Partners are supporting the mental health of athletes, and hear from those who have experienced the benefits first-hand.
Allianz shows athletes the power of “The Pause”
With its new “The Pause” campaign, Worldwide Olympic Insurance Partner Allianz enlisted a group of sports psychologists to explain the importance of mindfulness and drive the conversation around mental health.
“The focus with many athletes right now is to allow them to be human, to fail, to have negative emotions,” explained German sports psychologist and mental performance coach Mareike Dottschadis. “There’s a big value to pausing, taking a step back and listening to what you need right now. And there’s not the need to move forward all the time.”
The resources have been promoted to the IOC’s Athlete365 community and were highlighted during Allianz’s Career Conference for Athletes, which was held on 28 September.
The Allianz Support Dog Squad, meanwhile, provided international skateboarders training in Los Angeles for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and other international competitions with a group of more than 50 trained emotional support dogs. The initiative was part of the company’s unconditional support programme.
Skateboarders Leticia Bufoni (Brazil) and Dashawn Jordan (USA) were among those who benefitted from the programme, feeling the positive effects of the reduced stress and loneliness and the self-awareness that came from the companionship.
“I get so nervous before competing,” explained Bufoni. “Going to the Olympic Games and representing Brazil… it’s a lot of pressure, you know? Talking about mental health is hard. Going to my first Olympic Games, it’s then hard to explain the pressure that I put on myself.
“When I have a dog, everything goes away. All the thinking about the Olympic Games, the training, the sponsors, the medal – everything goes away. I felt so relaxed. I definitely don’t feel lonely. This experience has brought to the fore that I really need to work on my mental health. I realised that, as long as my head is in place, everything else will work.”
Four-time Olympian Lindsey Vonn, a passionate dog owner and mental health advocate, also teamed up with Allianz as a global ambassador to shine a spotlight on mental health and share her own experiences and advice with athletes to help build their confidence.
“I know first-hand the challenges that athletes face when it comes to preparing and training for one of the biggest moments of your life,” said Vonn, a gold medallist at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010. “I’ve also seen how uplifting and supportive it can be to have a team behind you – whether that’s an emotional support animal, family or friends, or trained professionals – to help build up your confidence and create a positive state of mind for those moments when you win or even come up short.”
Finding purpose through Airbnb Olympian & Paralympian Experiences
In partnership with the IOC and International Paralympic Committee (IPC), Airbnb introduced the Airbnb Olympian & Paralympian Experiences to give athletes the opportunity to share their passion and connect with people from around the world, in person and virtually.
Alongside the financial rewards, some athletes have benefitted mentally from seeing the positive impact they can have on others, as well as the chance to add purpose to their day-to-day life outside sport.
“It is very rewarding to see the positive impact the sessions can have,” said Latvian pole vaulter Pauls Pujats, who offers an introduction to yoga, nutrition and exercise at his home through the programme. “Giving value, helping and sharing is what matters, and that’s what people appreciate the most.”
For retired Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield, who won an Olympic gold and silver medal during his career, hosting his Airbnb Olympian & Paralympian Experience has given him a sense of fulfilment and helped him adjust to the challenges of life without competitive sport.
“When I first retired from professional sport, I shied away from people because I had this internal competitive fire burning,” explained Whitfield. “I had to recalibrate my expectations, and being an Airbnb host helped me adapt to life after sport.”
Helping others with P&G
Worldwide TOP Partner P&G launched the Athletes for Good programme in the run-up to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 to help athletes give back to the causes that mean the most to them in areas such as equality and inclusion, community impact, and mental well-being.
Canadian Paralympian Tammy Cunnington applied for P&G Athletes for Good to provide funding for Fast and Female, a charity determined to tackle gender inequality in sport and change the lives of the next generation of girls by keeping them healthy and active.
This initiative has given Cunnington a platform to open up about the difficulties she has overcome and to support others’ mental health and well-being. Crucially, the funding will allow Cunnington and Fast and Female to increase their reach.
“I’ve been through a lot in my sporting career,” revealed Cunnington. “By sharing experiences, both positive and negative, I can show others the benefit of being involved in sport even when things are tough.”
Mentoring and meditation through Intel
Worldwide Olympic Partner Intel has previously partnered with the IOC to deliver specialist support programmes to athletes via Athlete365.
This included offering mentoring to athletes to help navigate their career transition – a topic that can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. The programme paired participating athletes with an experienced professional working at Intel, providing exclusive, bespoke support and engaging them in regular meetings and development opportunities to help them learn new skills, expand their professional networks and map out their career paths.
“My mentor and I have been connecting once a month, and our conversations are so authentic,” explained US Para-athlete Tricia Downing. “I can be open and honest about what I’m going through or thinking, and she’ll pick up on an area that she can see is bothering me and give me a few solutions.”
The support also included opportunities to learn how to better deal with stress and anxiety through Headspace – a meditation and sleep app used by 66 million people around the world that is proven to reduce stress and improve happiness. As part of the offer, participating athletes received six months’ free access to the highest level Headspace subscription, including a full library with themed courses, a new meditation every day, sleep exercises and bedtime sounds, and move mode for body and mind fitness.
“We all need a bit of extra support, and that’s ok,” explained British long-distance runner Kate Reed. “I am so grateful to Athlete365 and Headspace for helping us Olympians.”
For more information on the Worldwide Olympic Partner programme, click here.