We asked TNN Medical team about Mental Health

21 September 2022

In his role as Team Doctor, Dr. Rafael Castol has been instrumental in designing and implementing the team’s medical program. Charlotte Hayes is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist and is the Head of Diabetes, Wellness and Education at Team Novo Nordisk. Below, they answered questions about the importance of Mental Health in professional sport. 

In an era where talking about mental health has become more normal and more respected by society, in sports and especially in cycling we know the importance of strong mental health to deal with victories, frustrations, and everyday efforts. How do you deal with this subject with the riders?

Charlotte Hayes: The actions that prominent athletes have taken to raise awareness and shift the narrative about mental health in sports have been an important step forward for the industry. 

Cycling is a “tough as nails sport” with unique demands and challenges. The team works hard to maintain a culture of trust, respect, and teamwork – making open and authentic communication about strengths, vulnerabilities and pressures that may contribute to possible mental health challenges. We check in frequently with team members about how they are doing and emotions they may be feeling.  

We also remind riders that building quality rest time into a routine is just as imperative as the time spent training and competing.  Recovery days are built in for physical and mental renewal and riders are encouraged to do yoga or other mindful activities as well as to do things they enjoy as part of their rest and recovery routines. 

Also, the importance of sleep for optimizing both physical and mental performance goals, functioning well and feeling your best day-to-day is something we emphasize as part of a holistic approach to rider well-being, and we invite riders to develop a sleep routine that enables falling and staying asleep for both physical and mental recovery. 

Dr. Rafael Castol: Three of the core principles inside our team are: teamwork, trust and respect. Following these principles, we try to create a healthy and relaxed environment within the team in which the athletes have the liberty to discuss anything that is in their minds without feeling they are going to be judged but knowing  instead that they will receive all the support and strength of their teammates to overcome obstacles. We strive to create an environment in which our athletes don’t define or measure themselves by their race results but by their human potential.

– We believe often the team has a spotlight shining on them. What advice do you give to overcome this and help the athletes focus on their goals?  

Charlotte Hayes: In general Professional athletes live in the public’s eye especially given the constant demands of media and social media. Team Novo Nordisk athletes are in a unique spotlight: They dedicate their lives to racing for results as any other competitive cyclist does, but beyond this, the team also has a shared mission of inspiring, educating and empowering people affected by diabetes by showing the world what’s possible with diabetes when the condition is well managed.  Sharing this message, especially at races and events where there is the opportunity for face-to-face interactions is as positively reinforcing for our team members as it is for the people in any audience. In giving back to the diabetes community, which is uniquely their community, they are rewarded in ways that aren’t always tangible but are deeply meaningful and enriching.

Dr. Rafael Castol:  As the athletes of any other team and sports, our athletes are equally focused and driven to achieve their goals; so when racing, they rarely feel the spotlight on them. They all know very well that they are not defined in any way by their medical condition and they have proven this by riding alongside the biggest teams in the peloton for the past 10 years. Our advice to them is to always keep their focus in reaching their full potential as athletes and human beings and in being role models for the younger athletes with T1D that want to engage in sport at any level.

– How do you think cycling can contribute to keeping good mental health? 

Charlotte Hayes: The link between being physically active and mental health is strongly established by research. Regular exercise participation has been shown to reduce feelings of stress, depression, anxiety and to boost mood. In addition, regular exercise is central to physical health, disease prevention and healthy aging. Cycling is a form of exercise that anyone can participate in and enjoy at any level. It is a sport that draws people outdoors into fresh air and sunshine. It also is a social sport: Having social interactions and sharing experiences is increasingly recognized as critical to mental health. Finally, cycling as an organized sport can be a platform contributing to the conversation about mental health by recognizing challenges that athletes as well as others in society face, and offering solutions. Professional athletes and sports organizations have opened the conversation admitting that “it’s ok to not be ok”. There is strength in facing vulnerability and talking about it is a first step toward regaining a sense of health and well-being.

Dr. Rafael Castol: Cycling can contribute by being more open as a sport and accepting that mental health issues are real and nowadays more common in professional athletes due to the external pressures and social media scrutiny they are constantly subject to.  Our job is to provide a network of support and channels of communication so that the athletes can express themselves and deal with any issue without fear of being judged.

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