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You have an athlete who loses their temper and swears at others in training – what do you do? The same athlete makes phone calls threatening physical violence to one of their fellow squad members – what do you do?
Would your answers change if you knew the athlete was mentally ill?
This is a predicament I was presented with earlier this year and I thought I’d share the experience.
Firstly I had to consider what my role is as a coach. As coaches we:
The dilemma was how to keep this athlete in the sport and yet protect the other squad members?
If you know the athlete has a mental illness, there are a number of support organisations you can talk to or e-mail for advice. . If you only suspect the athlete has a mental illness, it is still worth getting in touch. The bodies to contact will naturally be different in England to the ones in Australia, where I live, but there is a definitive list of UK mental health support organisations listed here.
In my case, the athlete in question has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, with some added complications that haven’t been divulged to me. For simplicity, I’ll call him ‘Fred’ and the athlete he threatened ‘Mary’ (not their real names).
Based on my research, I developed the following plan:
The situation at the moment is that Fred has realised he behaved badly and wrote a letter of apology to the club (for the swearing and loss of temper). He said he would also write a letter to Mary, but has yet to do so. His attendance at training has been erratic, probably because he feels awkward and embarrassed and doesn’t know how to face Mary.
There is absolutely no certainty that Fred won’t repeat his behaviour, but I believe I have put in place appropriate steps to help him and protect others.
Other types of mental illness may require other management methods. I strongly suggest you seek advice regarding your particular situation.
I would like to see coach education include some basic training in this area. What are your thoughts on the subject? I look forward to hearing your opinions.
In terms of training and advice, I currently work with the national charity MIND and co-deliver Mental Health Awareness Training for Sports Providers with them. They also deliver a wide variety of more in depth training and advice about specific mental health conditions as there are a broad spectrum of conditions many which as a Coach you may not even be aware that a participant has through to the situation you are dealing with Barb. Their information and support webpage is a good place to start to see what they offer: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/ Hope this is useful to someone out there!
All of us, however experienced, can profit from Mental Health Awareness training (I certainly do) both from listening to the trainer/coach and from each other by just listening to experiences and how a challenge was overcome etc.I'm currently on a very steep learning curve working with an adult with a Dissociative disorder (split personality) so have to remember that I'm coaching 3 different people - we're winning :-) so in my next 'being trained' session we'll be able to swap new constructive methods.
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