Commonwealth Games: spare a thought for the coaches

As Australia’s elite athletes compete for medals in the Commonwealth Games, a recent sports medicine report has shed light on the mental health of coaches and high-level support staff.

The study published last month by a team from Orygen and the University of Melbourne examined the prevalence, and associated indicators, of mental health symptoms in elite-level coaches and high-performance support staff (HPSS).

As reported in Sports Medicine – Open, overall, 41.2% of the sample met probable case criteria, 13.9% reported high to very high psychological distress, 41.8% reported potential risky alcohol consumption and 17.7% reported moderate to severe sleep disturbance.

There were no statistically significant differences between coaches and HPSS. The most robust indicators of psychological distress and probable case were dissatisfaction with social support and dissatisfaction with life balance, while poor life balance was also associated with increased alcohol consumption and poor social support with sleep disturbance.

Interestingly coaches and HPSS reported similar prevalence of mental health outcomes compared to rates previously observed in elite athletes, with the exception of higher reporting of alcohol consumption among coaches and HPSS.

Read more: Routine screening for elite athletes is a must

The report’s authors suggested that similar to elite athletes, many coaches and support staff are also susceptible to the pressures of high-performance sporting environments.

Unlike previous research with elite athlete samples, no significant gender differences in mental health symptoms were observed, suggesting a differential role of gender between athletes and members of the daily training environment in terms of mental health and well-being outcomes.

The report concluded that: “Screening for mental health symptoms in elite sport should be extended from athletes to all key stakeholders in the daily training environment, as should access to programs to support mental health and well-being.”

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