Stepping Up for Athletes

Last May, KRISTA VAN SLINGERLAND—who holds a PhD in Human Kinetics and helped create the Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport—became Game Plan’s first mental health manager.
By Sarah B. Hood

What does a mental health manager do?
I was part of the working group that created the Mental Health Strategy for High Performance Sport in Canada; it’s one of the very few that exist. Broadly, I’m leading the implementation of the strategy, helping our national sport organizations and other stakeholders to implement the strategy’s recommendations. The system was already doing good work in the mental-health space, but communicating what resources are available can be tricky.

[For resources that are not yet available], I can either help with creating them myself or bring in the people who need to be involved to create them. Obviously, keeping athletes safe in an emergency is a high priority, so I’m working on a mental-health emergency action plan builder to help organizations create a mental-health action plan that’s specific to their circumstances. Later, I can be more proactive with a focus on prevention.

What challenges do you foresee?
The sheer size of the system is difficult, as well as the diversity of needs across the system and the disparity of human and financial resources that our organizations have. Consider the scope of Hockey Canada versus Archery Canada, for example; there really is no one-size-fits-all answer. There are over 60 organizations that all need an individualized approach.

What will be your biggest assets?
There’s a lot of will in the system, as well as a lot of champions and allies. The silver lining of the pandemic is that mental health has been thrust to the forefront of people’s consciousness again. Previously, there was some fear around mental health in an employment setting, but the pandemic has made it something that we cannot ignore. Mental health is foundational to our work as athletes, coaches and support staff.


Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Do an environmental scan of the many good resources that already exist and leverage that expertise.

Reach Out to Me
Having people come forward because they’re interested is really helpful.

Enjoy the Rewards
The 2019 Deloitte study, The ROI in Workplace Mental Health Programs: Good For People, Good For Business, shows that when you invest in mental health, you will contribute to the podium performances that our organizations are chasing.

Game Plan is a collaboration of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Sport Canada and Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sport Institute Network

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