Sally Hunter knows firsthand the pressure placed on elite athletes when they perform at the top of the game.
The previous Olympic breaststroke competed in the Beijing and London Games and won the silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
These days, West Australia is using her career following swimming to mentor young female athletes and aid them meet the challenges of elite competition.
While the Tokyo Games highlighted the issue of mental health, which has lengthy plagued elite sport, Hunter said more work needs to be done to better support the well-being of athletes.
“I think that’s probably the most significant thing,” Hunter said. “It’s not just one day of their career, it’s not just two weeks of the Olympics.”
“They have been working their whole life to get to this point and need a distinguished support network around them.
“I want to be that person that someone can come to and just chat about how they feel.
“[I want them to] I know I may have gone through the alike things as well and to be there to support them and aid them grow their mindset to be mentally stronger athletes.”
This year, Hunter has been working with Meg Hopkins, 16, who aims to access Commonwealth Games experiences.
“Sally and I are so close, we go for a walk together…it feels like a big sister to me,” Hopkins said.
The teenager said seeing some of the biggest names in the sport – including Simone Biles, Liz Cmbage and Naomi Osaka – prioritizing their mental health was encouraging to watch.
“Simon Biles is very influential, so I feel that she is stepping aside because of her mental health is very inspiring,” she said.
“It’s not only the physical aspect of the sport that you have to worry about, but it’s also the mental aspect. It’s a little 50-50.”
Hopkins hopes to succeed her mentor’s lead to one day represent Australia on the world stage.
“My coach, Wayne, and I are working for the Commonwealth Games next year, so I hope to like this experience,” she said.
“But one day, I’d like to get an Olympic gold medal. See how we go.”
Hunter believes that having positive role models is the key to helping young athletes prosper.
“You forever worship people and see them as something greater [than you]But they are just human beings.”
“Think [it’s significant] To have someone to lead or be a mentor, look up to and go, “You know what, if they can do it, why can’t I?”
“Instead of thinking they’re on that rule and they’re superhuman — everyone’s human.”
Hunter wants more coaches to focus on supporting the mental health of athletes.
“I think it’s just significant that we listen to the athletes… they are their best advocates, and they know themselves better than anyone else.
“So they need confidence and the aptitude to come forward and say to people, ‘I need aid,’ or ‘I am not competent to do that right now.
‘Extremely toxic behavior’ normalized
Psychologist Courtney Walton, who researches mental health in elite sports at the University of Melbourne, said conversations in the sports world have been slowly changing.
“We have normalized [in sport] Kind of toxic behavior and unrealistic expectations of what athletes or people should do.”
“A lot of people seem to think mental toughness means just taking anything and doing whatever it takes to triumph, and I think that’s the considerate of culture that just grew into elite sport, and we considerate of went with it, but I think that’s starting to change.”
Dr. Walton, who works primarily with athletes and performers, said many well-known athletes have battled crippling mental health challenges behind closed doors.
“A lot of athletes… the elite athletes we all know so well and who have performed well would talk about completely debilitating anxiety prior performances… vomiting in the bathroom, just minutes prior they entered the field.
“I think it’s simple for us to forget how much pressure is being put on these people.”
Create a path for more female coaches
Hunter, who has only had male coaches in her career, said one of the biggest problems for young female athletes has been the presence of mostly male coaches, which often prevents them from opening up.
“We just saw the Olympics [swim] Team There weren’t any female coaches, but there are a lot of female coaches in Australia.
“I think it’s just a really tough industry. I think a lot of industries are very male-dominated [are] It’s firm for women to burst in, and it’s firm for women to take credit for the things they do.
“I came from a distinguished program as a startup coach…in South Australia and they had lofty performing coaches.
“We were the only club in Australia that had all the female coaches, so we have a lot of support and a lot of praise for doing that.
“We just have to make sure that we are setting the right paths for the elite coaches.”