Komal Mehra is the head of Sports Initiatives and Associations at Usha International.
When a leading player withdrew from a major tournament citing mental health issues, it not only sent shock waves within the sports ecosystem but also sparked a global debate on whether enough attention was being paid to the mental health of sportspersons. Even before this particular incident shone the spotlight on the issue, there have been multiple incidents of athletes backing out ahead of the critical games, but unfortunately only a few scratched below the surface to address the real issues.
However, the conversation around mental health and wellbeing has become mainstream thanks to the pandemic and worldwide reportage on these incidents. Additionally, with the availability of deep research, we now have a better understanding of its debilitating impact on people. Our own experiences with people have also made us realise that this issue deserves a lot more attention than it has been receiving. So how can brands play a role in supporting this?
Brands today need a responsible, long-term and sustainable approach when it comes to associations with sportspersons. Collaborations like these need to be a 360-degree—one that will translate into giving back to the sports fraternity, society, and add value in the real sense. Brands and companies need to be mindful of the inordinate amounts of stress and anxiety that athletes go through to cut through the competitive landscape alongwith the additional load of being under scrutiny at all times. Whether it is trauma caused by past failures, uncertainty about the future, overpowering emotions after reaching stardom at a very young age, each of these can hurt in ways that incapacitate sportspersons.
On this World Mental Health Day, here are four ways in which brands can be mindful and incorporate mental health care as part of their sports partnership strategy:
Empathy—because nobody is immune to mental health issues
Ahead of another recent sporting event in the US, one more iconic player went on record to make a statement that athletes are regular humans and face similar physical and mental health issues, further corroborating what global sports icons have been saying for some time now. Physical and mental wellness are interlinked and need equal attention. Just because athletes work out and lead a physically healthy lifestyle does not imply that they are immune to mental health issues. It is more important than ever that brands become more empathetic towards them especially during their testing times.
Support athletes like your own family
How you treat your brand partners reveals the values and culture of your company. We will all do well to remember—you win some, and you lose some. It’s true of our lives as well. Celebrate with them when they win tournaments, trophies, championships, but it is the brand's attitude when they are down and out that shows its true mettle. Brands that handhold athletes with care and comfort when they lose are the real deal. Do remember, tomorrow is yet another day. Keep faith in them, and that will give them the boost they need to renew their confidence to win again.
Nurture them at the grassroots levels
The training journey of an athlete begins at a very young age and it is pertinent to provide them a platform to hone their skills. It could be in the form of mentorship programs, physical and mental training support, and access to world-class facilities. But it also could be handholding them to overcome their physical, emotional, and psychological environment. How brands create an inclusive platform to partner with potential athletes at the onset of their careers to offer equal opportunities, can make a world of difference in upping their resilience and endurance. It will result in improved overall health and performance in the long term. When youngsters learn that playing a sport is more important than winning, when they realise that enjoying the game can be as fulfilling as winning, then they make for great players in life.
Raise more awareness
Numerous global and Indian sports icons have come together to raise the bar on mental health awareness. Now we need to see more brands walk the talk with them, especially on big platforms. It is a great time for brands in sports marketing to take a much-needed lead in this debate by launching newer initiatives, policies and revisiting their approach which enables a healthy, safe and productive environment and starts a new trend.
The writer is a head of Sports Initiatives and Associations at Usha International.