Contrary to popular belief, what impacts our mental health is our emotions and our relationships. Athletes are heavily inundated with the complexities of relationships magnified by fame. Relationships with coaches, teammates, team staff, fans, and (similar relationships as the general population) with family of origin, family of choice, and other associates in and outside of their local communities. Athletes are imperfect humans that have to balance a sense of connection with imperfect people while coming from imperfect backgrounds.
Sports is protective in that it can aid athletes ability to cope, limit time in involvement in environments that maybe of negative influence, has structure in place that teach discipline, and the importance of managing emotions and relationships effectively to maintain team roles and involvement.
Sports increases the risk in that athletes have to consistently use their mental capacities to navigate playbooks, relationships, their athletic gifts/talents and skills, and often without much room for error. Athletes are at increased risk of being exploited and have increased pressure to perform within their playing arena and in life as their every action is placed under a magnifying glass and fault comes at a high cost. Athletes may come from trauma-filled backgrounds, yet are potentially burdened with the responsibility of bringing fame, money, and power to their family name and hometown.
Relational poverty, to me, means the lack or absence of healthy relational skills, which often involves mismanagement of emotions. The lack of exposure to healthy relational skills and healthy relationships in the environment or neighborhood we call home. We can have something in one environment or area of our life, yet have barriers that keep us or increase the difficulty in transferring those skills over to another area, environment, or relationship. Cultural and systemic barriers that have exacerbated the impact of intergenerational trauma (trauma passed down from generation to generation) like financial poverty, racism, systemic biases, discrimination, unequal pay and access to opportunity can distract us from seeing the value in transferring over healthy skills.
Although sports may serve in some areas, we have to be intentional about placing it in a position to serve, not harm us.
What are you playing for?