Sports, addiction, and mental health

Sport has always been a massive part of my life. I’m sure other students, in the majority of UEA sports clubs, feel the same. We all know that sport is such a massive vice for many people to clear their minds, keep fit, and generally improve their overall well-being.

With all the hockey I have played, it has always been clear that when I am struggling with anxiety or a low mood, I can most likely feel better after running around and focusing entirely on the match or training session that I am partaking in.

This article is very personal for me to write, and I hope that it helps others who are struggling to talk about their issues in an environment where you should be supported by your teammates and coaches. However, I am also completely aware that when feeling your absolute worst, exercise or whatever sport you are playing can expose low levels of confidence, a lack of motivation, and problems that are being masked or kept below the surface.

Indeed, for me, as many of the UEA Hockey club are aware, I used to be highly aggressive when playing, finding issues in whatever drill or session I played in. Which resulted in beating myself up about making a mistake and speaking poorly to others as a way of coping with the issues I was struggling with myself.

I first felt the presence of obsessive-compulsive disorder when I was 17, and its impact on my motivation for hockey was noticeable. In reflection, the way I played within myself, and lacked the conviction and confidence on the pitch was very much reflecting the problems that I was battling off the pitch. Obsessing over the fact I could potentially be gay plagued my mind, and even with attempts to focus upon the sport I loved, I could not find any relief. These worries did not come from a place of disdain toward the LGBTQ+ community, but a severe obsession over the possibility that I was not acting how a 17-year-old boy ‘should’ act. I had become so inside my own head that I had lost the ability to be present within conversations and battled with this irrational fear for most of my upper 6th year at school.

The focus I had upon myself moved away from doing something that I loved, and I lost myself within an agenda which was driven by instant gratification and substance abuse.

Hockey at university had become the only place where I saw how I felt when I was on the pitch. Only recently have I reflected upon the way that sport, in general, has guided me towards gradually looking after my mental health properly. As I started to succeed on a more competitive level, the gratification and intoxication I had relied on to numb my own pain became less critical. Sports’s power on our lives and our problems cannot be underestimated. 

I hope that others who have struggled with mental illness, substance abuse and addiction attempt to seek help and engage in activities that help to clear their mind constructively. I am also sure that these productive, active environments will encourage you to share your struggles in a positive, healthy way. 

University life can, of course, be challenging, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to reach out when you are struggling, but there is always a way out of more challenging times and towards a more positive future.


About Author

Sam Crawford

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August 2022
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