MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK: ATHLETES SHARE THEIR STORIES ON MENTAL HEALTH EXPERIENCES
As part of Mental Health Awareness week, we spoke with some of our partner’s athletes from various sporting backgrounds on their personal experiences with mental health challenges, the importance of exercise and their advice for young athletes experiencing mental health challenges.
Kukri Sports understands the importance of Mental Health Awareness Week, an initiative launched by the Mental Health Foundation, which happens every year and aims to tackle the stigma around mental health.
Launched in 2001, the initiative is vital in increasing public understanding of mental health and how problems can be prevented. It also aims to help people understand and prioritise their and others’ mental health and well-being.
As part of our efforts to tackle the stigma around mental health and provide support, we spoke to athletes from various partners across different sports, who bravely share their personal experiences, their coping mechanisms and how their sport has positively impacted their mental health throughout their respective careers.
Adam Lyth, a Yorkshire County Cricket Club legend who has amassed over 200 first-class appearances and is the club’s leading run-scorer in the Vitality Blast, opened up about the challenges he has faced in his career. The left-handed opening batsmen insisted that a close support network has helped him through difficult periods.
“I was going through a difficult period of time when I was playing for England with the media, expectations and a loss of form from an individual perspective. That was probably the most difficult time in my career.
“I just tried to take everything out of it and concentrate on my job at the time, which I’m there to enjoy and love. Speaking openly and getting that support from your closest friends and family is really important, and it’s helped my greatly in my career up to this point.”
Lyth, who has sailed beyond 12,000 career runs in all first-class cricket, stressed the importance of young athletes speaking openly about their mental health challenges.
“I think it’s important that young athletes speak out, whether that be to friends, family, teammates or coaches. They are there to help you, and it’s never nice to see anyone going through difficult periods of time and them not wanting to speak out as a result of that.
“The most important thing for me is your family and the teammates you have around you, and if people speak out to them, they can hopefully help in getting athletes through a difficult period of time that will make them stronger for when they face other obstacles throughout their career.”
Kukri also spoke with international Beach Volleyball stars, the Bello Brothers, who already boast four World Tour medals, on the strategies they have found to be effective when competing at a high level.
“We also have long periods of time when we’re training without competitions during the off season or pre-season, so we find it very beneficial to have a good plan in place to ensure we stay focused and engaged at all times.
“We have a really good plan in place and team around us too, which helps to create the framework and routine that we follow, which allows us to have an element of consistency and helps keep our mental health in check.”
Javier Bello, who spoke on behalf of the Bello Brothers, also encouraged young athletes to speak out about the challenges they are facing.
“I think for any young athlete it’s important that you speak to people around you. Even if it’s just having a small conversation and not feeling like you are alone and fighting your own battle.
“It’s really important to get support from those around you such as friends, players and coaches that can help you overcome challenges.”
Kieran Molloy, Ireland’s rising boxing star who aspires to become a world champion, also gave an insight into the challenges he has faced in his career.
“I’ve had to step away from a lot of things, there’s no social life or going our partying as an athlete, but my dream of becoming a world champion outweighs all of that.
“But these are the sacrifices that athletes have got to make to reach the top and push for their dreams. You’ve got to be selfish, look after yourself and once those rewards eventually come, it’s all worth it.”
“Boxing is a very lonely sport, you spend a lot of time alone. It’s been difficult for me moving away from home at a young age and living alone, so you’ve got to surround yourself with people who you know are going to be there for you.
“I’ve got some great people around me here like my coach, Angel Fernandez, and the other boxers I train with such as Sergio Garcia, Frazer Clarke and Richard Riakporhe. We’re all in the same boat here and will be there for each other through thick and thin.
The 24-year-old, who made a triumphant return to his native Galway this month after beating Fernando Mosquera, also shared his advice for young aspiring boxers who are facing mental health challenges.
“Reach out to people. They can always give me or any of the other guys a message and we’d be more than happy to help and listen to what they have to say.
“Boxing is a very tough sport and if there is any way we can help people we will. Never be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling. There is a lot of good people in the world and a lot more good than bad out there, and I just think a simple message can go a long way to helping young boxers overcome challenges they are facing.”
Will Smeed, who became the first player to score a century in the Hundred in 2022. also spoke with Kukri on his coping strategies that help him mentally.
“A big thing for me is having a routine. I think having that in place helps me to cope with the pressures that come with cricket. I just try to enjoy it which helps to take that pressure off and go in with the mindset that I’m going out there to have fun and win, which for me is a good way to look at it.
“I think I’ve always been good at staying level and keeping things in perspective. Obviously, some people struggle with that a bit more, but I think it’s important that they have a routine to go back to, and if you are low, just keep persevering with that routine and then from there the performances will come good and that will help people to start feeling better about themselves.”
The 21-year-old, who starred on his England Lions debut in July 2022, is encouraged by the support out there for people struggling with their mental health.
“There are a lot of avenues out there now that athletes can pursue to get the help they need and get on top of their mental health. The main thing for me is to find your support network and reach out to people.
“I think the main thing is if you are struggling is not to be afraid to speak out and seek help.
“Especially with a sport like Cricket, I think it’s very important to stay level-headed. If players can find their own way of coping with the different challenges that cricket throws at you, then I think that will only help them in the long-term.”
As all the above athletes attest, exercise can be a powerful tool in the fight against mental health challenges. Although, with that can come pressure and increased expectation, which is where it is important to speak out and be open about your struggles.
We hope that their experiences will help others to seek help and support when needed, and to see the benefits of exercise in improving young athletes’ and other individuals’ mental health.
For more information on Mental Health Awareness Week and how you can access support, click here.