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Mental Health: The Changing Room

Photo by Liz Weddon on Unsplash

Sport. It is an outlet for many people who are struggling with their mental health. Whether it is a 5 a-side league on a Wednesday evening or a competitive sport at the weekend. What is overlooked is the negative effect sport can have on an individual's mental health. There are not many sports that are more mentally demanding than cricket. Picture the scene, it is the height of summer and you are standing in a field with your batting partner and eleven other people. Just to add these eleven other people are playing against you and want nothing more than for you to fail. This is where the sledging comes in. Sledging is defined as 'the practice of using insulating, intimidating or provocative language or behaviour against an opponent to try and gain a competitive advantage. In other words, making someone feel as small as possible to win. This happens at every level of the game from pub teams on a Sunday to professional teams playing on the biggest stage.

What effect does this have on someone over some time? Coming from personal experience, some things can be said when a line is crossed and a general unwritten rule is never to get personal such as mentioning someone's physical appearance, sexuality or gender or someone's family. Although like everything in life, there are people out there who will go out of their way to do this. Let me tell you a personal story. I was playing a game over 2 days where there had been some controversy. I had been called every name under the sun, it won't mention specifics but some of them may or may not have started with the letter C. This is nothing new until something was mentioned about my younger sister who was at the game watching. This flicked something in me, and I snapped. To cut a long story short I refused to play for this team again as i felt the way this issue was dealt with was not putting me first. I was category told 'there is nothing wrong with a bit of banta.'

Banta, I am sure there have been many friend groups all across the UK that have had some sort of disagreement where something horrible has been said but put under the banta label and everything has been fine. The sports changing room is a strange place. A small room that generally smells of dried sweat and deep heat, topped off with one flickering light bulb to bring the space together. Many changing rooms are seen as a safe space by many, for others, their worst nightmare. The competitive nature of sport allows for egos to grow, especially among men all jostling for the 'alpha male' sport, which is generally done by putting another member of the group down. Notice how I said, group not team. A real team do not do this.

In my personal opinion, a sports changing room should be a safe space where people and be vulnerable with each other which creates a good environment for people to feel comfortable and develop. How do you achieve this? Well, as far as sports governing bodies go they all say that they promote equality and strive to make everyone feel welcome. In reality, this comes down to individuals. How would you feel if you were pushed away from the sport you loved simply because of the changing room environment? Well for many people this is a reality.

So the burning question is how do you combat this? More could be done in educating leaders within sports teams, such as captains and big personalities within the side. This could be done through online workshops about how to create a safe space and make everyone feel welcome in a sporting environment. In addition to this, create a clear structure where if someone is upset or feels comfortable they can talk to someone and resolve this issue. By doing this it creates a safe space to develop and grow both on and off the pitch.

If you play any sort of sport there is no doubt some of this article would have related to you in some way. So, my one request for you is to think before you talk and to ensure that your changing room is a safe space.

Henry Rodda


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