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Of agile minds

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MIND OVER BODY The mental ability of an athlete is equally important
MIND OVER BODY The mental ability of an athlete is equally important

An athlete's mental ability is as important as his physical well-being

An athlete's misbehaviour is considered endearing. Losing one's temper in public, substance abuse, trashing a hotel room, groping an airhostess, getting into pub fights and serial philandering are all brushed off as "bad boy" behaviour and "high jinks". The athlete who has a drinking problem is often scolded for his hard partying: that he may be an alcoholic in need of professional help gets missed. Bad behaviour may be a sign of underlying mental illness: depression, anxiety neurosis, complexes, psychosis and other mental illnesses are no less common among sportspersons when compared with the rest of the population, but you rarely hear about it. Athletes with mental health issues receive none of the sympathy or support that physically injured athletes do. An athlete complaining of clinical depression encounters much the same contempt that World War I veterans complaining of shell shock got. Confess that you have a mental problem, and you can kiss your team and advertising contracts goodbye. The Australian test batsman, Michael Slater, who never flinched while facing Ambrose and Walsh, found the courage to own up to a bipolar disorder only after retirement.And the drugs used to treat some mental disorders can adversely affect athletic performance in their own right, and this makes athletes all the more reluctant to seek help. The mental health of sportspersons deserves as much attention as their physical health. After all, the mind is an athlete's greatest weapon. Untreated mental conditions adversely affect athletic performance and family life, which can in turn worsen the original mental condition. Michael Slater's erratic behaviour, panic attacks, temper issues, and disruptiveness helped kill off his career as much as reactive arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis did. Perhaps his career would have been less patchy if his bipolar disorder had received timely attention. Ego gets in the way of athletes seeking help. But even an athlete looking for mental help is likely to struggle to get beyond a coach who spews pep talks. Some sports psychologists lack the skill to recognise or deal with mental health issues. Coaches and psychologists need to lookout for self-destructive behaviour and interact with athletes' families more often. Most psychiatric conditions are treatable and are not incompatible with a successful sporting career.Comprehensive treatment, including medications, individual therapy, and family therapy, may improve quality of life for athletes. An athlete unhampered by mental illness is more likely to give his full attention and energy to his sport and be successful when it counts. RAJIV. M

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