4 Easy Ways to Make Your Team a Mentally Safe Space

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The Importance of Mental Health

No matter your affiliation with an aquatics team (coach, swimmer, board member, official, etc.), you are most likely wrapped up in a typical day-to-day routine in some capacity. When the time comes around for you to report on deck, how are you managing your mental health? As members of the swimming community, we put a lot of time, sweat, and effort into becoming great swimmers and clubs. Yet, rarely do we take a more in-depth look into the psychological aspects that swimming provides us. The constant desire for excellence can be overwhelming, often to the point where we show complete disdain toward swimming. While there may be many reasons you have these feelings, it’s time to start recognizing them and making change.

Regardless if you compete at the club, collegiate, or professional level, you and your teammates have so much more in common than swimming for the same team. You practice multiple times a week, in the same pool, for the same coach, and compete at the same meets. The list of positives could go on, but what about the negative? Bad races, burn out, injury, and schoolwork are all apart of our lives that build up so quickly yet drag us to our lowest points. Often, when swimmers make sacrifices to maintain mental well-being, passion, and performance take a huge blow. Positive mental health is attainable through the same people who swim next to you every day. Here are four ways to make your team a mentally safe space.

1. Establish a Line of Communication

No matter what age, speed, or gender you are, forming an open communication line with someone you trust is critical. This person, or group of people, can range from teammates to coaches to parents. It’s all about your comfort level and who you feel can best assist and listen. It’s important for you to receive this line of communication from others also. Establishing trust with someone can save you from a disastrous meltdown and provide an outside perspective to your situation.

2. Be Willing to Lead

There is no hierarchical status that dictates who can offer or receive help when it comes to mental health. People of all ages struggle with mental health in different ways, so it’s essential to support one another unconditionally. By becoming a leader and sparking your team’s conversation about mental health, you will create a chain reaction in ways you could have never imagined. Soon, it will feel natural to observe and participate in these somewhat tricky conversations.

3. Seek Out a Professional

Implementing a mental health professional into your team in any fashion could have drastic results. The resources, training, and reliability of a professional can further aid the conversation around mental health. No matter their capacity within the team, their guidance is trustworthy and reliable.

4. If You See Something, Say Something*

All too often, we overlook warning signs of struggling peers and are unsure how to handle a situation. You know your teammates the best and can relate to them on a personal level. If you notice that a teammate is acting slightly different or says something that throws you off guard, reach out and check in on them. Whether or not something is going on, there is always the chance that someone needs to get something off of their chest. When the time is right, and you have a moment, privately, check-in, use phrases such as “I noticed you were quieter today than normal. Is everything okay?” or “How are you feeling today? Is there anything you need to talk about?” The first interaction can be the most difficult, yet it is a learning process, and there is no doubt that your check-in is probably what that person needed the most at that moment.

Across the globe, the conversation surrounding mental health is more prevalent now than ever. If you can create an environment where there are transparency and dialogue around mental health, the stigma will ultimately weaken. It takes a lot of courage to be on either side of mental health. Whether you have an open ear or need someone to talk to, creating a safe space will lead you and others to succeed in and out of the pool. 

*If you or someone you know is seriously struggling with mental health, immediate help is available. You can reach The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255, or the Crisis Text Line is available by texting “HOME” to 741741.

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