Prevention of mental illness begins with our sport community, which includes National Sport Organizations, Canadian Sport Institutes, Multi-Sport Organizations, Coaching Associations, and other professionals servicing high performance athletes.

To create a high-performance sport environment that is psychologically safe and healthy, as defined by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the following needs must be met:

  • Psychological Safety:a psychologically safe workplace is one where every reasonable effort is made to protect the mental health of workers.
  • Psychological Health:a psychologically healthy workplace is one where every reasonable effort is made to promote the mental health of workers.

Based on the above, the Canadian high performance sport system should aim to embrace psychological safety, health and resilience in the daily training and competition environments to provide a successful, sustainable and value-driven place of work for athletes, coaches and staff.

Mental Health

Recommended Strategies

National Sport Organizations and Canadian Sport Institutes across Canada may consider a specific model that fits with their current philosophy and provide a tiered approach in classifying athlete support services. Key strategies could include:

  1. Mental Performance Consultants (MPC): MPC’s utilize assessment tools such as the MCS-SP (spell out acronym for reader 1st time) with each carded athlete to support accurate conceptualization and understanding for subclinical psychological concerns and to implement appropriate mental training interventions.
    • A. When a mental illness injury occurs, a tiered approach is utilized to meet the athletes needs in the moment and to balance responsibilities between the National Sport Organization and the individual athlete. For example:
      • Tier I athletes receive subsidized mental health support through Game Plan (link here).
          1.  Once this resource has been fully utilized, additional support will be funded for a maximum of $500 on an as needed basis, as determined between the athlete, their mental health provider and CSI-P.
      • Tier II athletes also subsidized funding to support mental health needs through Game Plan (link here)
          1. Once this resource has been fully utilized, additional support will be funded for a maximum of $300 on an as needed basis, as determined between the athlete, their mental health provider and CSI-P.
    • B. Tier I and Tier II athletes requiring additional mental health support beyond the funding outlined above the athlete is responsible for the financial payment of subsequent services.
  1. If an athlete needs to take some time away from sport for mental health reasons, a return to sport protocol will be developed between the athlete and their mental health provider and communicated with the appropriate sport leaders (HPD, Coach, Mental Performance Consultant, Team Physician, etc.) so that the athlete is set up for success. Returning to the training environment may not be permitted until the team physician and/or Mental Performance Consultant has communicated directly with the athlete and their mental health provider and concludes the athlete is ready to return to training and competition.

Summary

There is a need for increased knowledge, awareness, and communication of the services available to athletes, coaches and staff within our sport system.  Resources such as mental performance consultants, registered psychologists and counsellors as well as guidance on career  and transition from sport, available through Game Plan, are vital in supporting overall wellbeing and success in high performance sport.

 

In addition, it is recommended that all service providers who liaise with athletes and coaches on a regular basis complete the Mental Health First Aid course or equivalent to gain an understanding of the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, available resources, and appropriate referral processes. Service providers could include:

  • Mental Performance Consultants (MPCs)
  • Coaches
  • Sport Science and Medicine Practitioners
  • Athlete Career Transition Advisors and Athlete Services Personnel
  • High Performance Managers & Directors

 

Mental Health First Aid is offered by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The two-day course is offered at locations across Canada. Details on upcoming courses and fees can be found at www.mentalhealthcommission.ca.