Molly Carlson faced numerous challenges leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics. She battled with a binge eating disorder, experienced body dysmorphia, and consistently compared her physique to that of her fellow athletes on Canada’s diving team.
Due to her height of five-foot-nine, Carlson faced challenges as a diver, making it difficult for her to excel in the sport. This added pressure was particularly evident as she strived to secure a spot on Canada’s Olympic team.
Carlson expressed that he experienced intense self-disapproval and was unable to discuss it openly because he believed he was pursuing the necessary path to become an exceptional athlete. However, he later realized that this approach was not beneficial for him.
Instead of feeling sad or disappointed, Carlson was relieved when she wasn’t chosen for Canada’s Olympic team as she no longer had to bear the burden of that pressure.
Carlson stated that she was able to remove herself from the stressful circumstance and seek the assistance she required. She mentioned that this was the moment when she made the choice to request help for the very first time.
Carlson is far from alone.
Recent data from Canadian Women & Sport, a non-profit that partners with sport organizations, governments, and leaders to build better sport through gender equity, has found that only 1 in 10 girls feel well equipped to talk about their mental health and well-being.
After not making it onto the Olympic team, Carlson started her first year at Florida State University. Upon her arrival, she chose to confide in John Proctor, her newly assigned high diving coach. It was during this time that she noticed an improvement in her mental well-being.
The 25-year-old from Fort Frances, Ont., is now a star on TikTok and readying for another run at qualifying for the Olympics. She has also become an advocate for youth mental health and is partnering with the Coaching Association of Canada to raise awareness ahead of Tuesday’s World Mental Health Day.
‘It needs to come from within first’
Carlson recommends that any young person struggling with their mental health should start by becoming inquisitive about their own feelings. For her, that process started with journaling and building a greater understanding of what she needed.
“Unless you truly acknowledge your own struggles, you won’t have the desire to seek help, correct?” stated Carlson. “The motivation should originate from within oneself initially.
I would advise young athletes to engage in self-reflection and have open conversations with themselves regarding their emotions, encouraging them to ask themselves various questions.
Lorraine Lafreniere, CEO of the Coaching Association of Canada, expressed the desire for increased open discussions between young individuals and trusted adults. To support this goal, the organization has developed a Mental Health and Sport Resource Hub. This resource aims to provide coaches and volunteers with the necessary tools to effectively handle conversations initiated by athletes or recognize when they are facing challenges.
When Carlson discussed her mental health concerns with Proctor, she found it beneficial that he simply listened to her instead of immediately offering solutions. Alex Hodgins, a mental performance consultant for the Vancouver Canucks and Vancouver Whitecaps, agreed that Proctor’s approach was perfect and recommended that all youth coaches adopt the same approach when assisting their players.
Hodgins suggested prioritizing listening over speaking. According to him, this is particularly important for young athletes and women who may have been contemplating their thoughts silently for a while.
The primary concern is that coaches must know the appropriate direction to guide the athlete. Unless they possess qualifications as a clinical psychologist or certified counsellor, they are likely not equipped to fulfill the athlete’s needs.