Gangwon 2024: Young Athletes Embrace Mental Health Education as Integral Component of Olympic Experience


Mental Health Education

In a groundbreaking move, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has placed a spotlight on mental health at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Gangwon 2024, reminding young athletes that mental well-being is as crucial as physical health.

Under the theme “Mind, Body and Me,” an educational booth has been designed to integrate mental and physical health, fostering open conversations, recognizing concerning behaviors, and imparting preventive exercises for athletes.

Mental Health Education Booth: A Holistic Approach to Athlete Well-being

The “Mind, Body and Me” booth, situated in Athlete365 House, forms part of the broader Athlete Education Programme implemented at the Youth Olympic Villages. The initiative aims to normalize mental health discussions, identify and respond to unsuitable behaviors in sports, and educate athletes on exercises to prevent injuries.

Lina Riedl (AUT), a bronze medallist in women’s luge at Gangwon 2024, highlighted the importance of mental health in sports, emphasizing its positive impact on performance. The booth includes a virtual reality (VR) mindfulness experience, offering athletes a peaceful environment within specially designed “disconnection pods.”

Athletes are encouraged to join Athlete365, the IOC’s community of over 140,000 athletes, where they can access a free subscription to a mindfulness app to support their sporting journey.

Changing Conversation Dynamics: A Shift Towards Mental Fitness

Recent years have witnessed a transformation in the conversation surrounding mental health in sports, with high-profile athletes like Simone Biles and Mikaela Shiffrin openly addressing issues such as anxiety, depression, and performance pressure. This shift has empowered the younger generation of athletes to be more open about their feelings, recognizing the intertwined nature of psychological well-being with overall success and resilience.

Australian biathlete Matthew Wilby expressed enthusiasm for the “Mind, Body and Me” booth, citing the meditation with VR goggles as particularly relaxing. This reflects the positive engagement of young athletes with the activities offered in the Youth Olympic Villages.

Canadian short-track speed skating coach Elizabeth Ward observed the changing attitudes and stressed the importance of engaging athletes at a young age. She noted the positive impact of hands-on activities in encouraging mental health conversations, stating, “I’ve seen a shift with athletes talking about it, where it’s OK to say, ‘I’m not feeling mentally OK today’. When I was an athlete 10 years ago, that was not a conversation we could have.”

IOC’s Proactive Role in Mental Health Advocacy

In preparation for Gangwon 2024, the IOC implemented the “Staying Mentally Fit” learning module, part of the Gangwon 2024 Readiness Programme. This course aimed to raise awareness about the influence of mental states on athletic performance and equip athletes with strategies to cope with mental health symptoms.

The IOC has been at the forefront of addressing mental health concerns in recent years, supported by the Mental Health Working Group. The culmination of these efforts resulted in the publication of the IOC Mental Health Action Plan in 2023, serving as a roadmap for the organization’s ongoing work in this vital area.

Olympic champion in shooting and IOC Athletes’ Commission member Abhinav Bindra, who represents athletes on the IOC Mental Health Working Group, expressed satisfaction with the progress. Bindra, known for openly discussing his mental health challenges, emphasized the collective effort to uplift athlete well-being and development.

Elevating Athlete Well-being Through Holistic Support

As Gangwon 2024 pioneers mental health education, the IOC demonstrates a commitment to fostering a supportive environment for young athletes. By integrating mental health into the educational program, the IOC is not only addressing immediate concerns but also laying the foundation for a future generation of athletes who prioritize mental fitness alongside physical prowess.

This proactive approach reflects a broader shift in sports culture, emphasizing holistic athlete development and well-being as integral components of the Olympic experience.

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