An Athlete’s Mind | Event Recording & Resources

GUESTS: Dr. Margo Mountjoy from McMaster University and Sakura Kokumai from Team USA

On Thursday, March 18th, 2021 we hosted our first event in our Return to sport in pandemic times series. Prof. Margo Mountjoy, Canada, and Sakura Kokumai, Team USA, joined ShePower Sport to raise awareness of mental health in athletes and discuss what athletes can do to keep mentally fit in face of more uncertainty and adversity in 2021.

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Watch Our Discussion on Mental Health Here

Mental health has for too long been a taboo topic among athletes and in elite sports.
Sports affect mental health positively, but athletes are affected by stress, anxiety, and depression—just like anybody else.
How do you keep mentally fit despite hard training, wins and losses in competition, pressures and expectations, injuries and disease, and, last but not least, in face of the life-changing effects of the pandemic? 

In this webinar, Sakura Kokumai, an American karateka qualified for the Olympics, shares her experience over the last year before Prof. Margo Mountjoy explains what mental health is, how it affects athletes, how we recognise that we or teammates have mental health issues, and what we all can do fight the stigma and create a supportive environment.

Key Learnings from the discussion

How to respond to someone in mental distress?

  • Practise empathic listening
  • Focus and relate to them as a person; not as an athlete
  • Let them know what support is available
  • Respect their right to make their own decisions related to seeking help (unless there is an immediate risk of harm to themselves or others)
  • Don’t judge or blame them for their symptoms or actions
  • Don’t promise things you can’t deliver or provide inaccurate/false information
  • Respect their need for privacy and don’t pressure them to share their story
  • Provide a safe space to share their concerns should they wish to
  • Do not isolate or punish athletes for talking about their mental health concerns

Questions and Answers

What is mental health?

Mental health describes a state of well-being in which you realise your abilities, can cope with normal stresses, and are productive and able to contribute to your community. It is a sense of internal well-being where you feel in line with your values and beliefs, at peace with yourself, and positive and optimistic about life.

What are mental health symptoms? 

Self-reported negative patterns of thinking, emotions, and behaviours that can/may cause distress and/or interfere with functioning, including sports performance.

What are mental health disorders?

Clinically diagnosed conditions that produce significant and persistent changes in a person’s thinking, emotions and/or behaviours that are associated with significant distress and/or disability in social, occupational, or other important activities, like learning, training, or competition.

What are common mental health disorders in athletes?

  • Anxiety: Excessive fear, anxiety-related behavioural disturbances (including phobias and panic attacks)
  • Depression: Persistent and pervasive sadness/low mood, excessive fatigue, and loss of interest/pleasure.
  • Sleep-related: Insufficient sleep, difficulty falling or staying asleep, or misalignment of sleep-wake patterns
  • Alcohol misuse: Includes drinking despite harm or impaired function and alcohol dependence
  • Eating disorders: Disturbance of eating and related behaviours including excessive restriction and/or bingeing and purging

What are barriers to seeking help for athletes?

  • Stigma
  • Difficulty or unwillingness to express emotion
  • Lack of problem awareness
  • Lack of time
  • Denial
  • Scared of what might happen
  • Impact on ability to train and play
  • Not sure who to reach out to
  • Accessibility
  • Belief that it wouldn’t help


Awareness of mental health
This video shows how mental and physical health are inseparable:
Video with Dr. Claudia Reardon on mental health during Covid
International Olympic Committee Sport Mental Health Recognition Tool 1 (SMHRT-1) for athletes and their entourage can be downloaded here (click the Supplemental material supp002.pdf):

About Doctor Margo Mountjoy

Dr. Mountjoy is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster University Medical School and Regional Assistant Dean of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University.

She is also a clinician-scientist and sports medicine physician practicing at the Health + Performance Centre of the University of Guelph, as the Clinical and Academic Director. Dr. Mountjoy works for several International Sports organizations in the field of sports medicine, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC Games Group), the International Federation for aquatics (FINA), the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (Chair, ASOIF Medical and Scientific Consultative Group) and for the World Anti-Doping Agency (Health Medicine and Research).

She is a retired elite artistic swimmer.

One of her areas of expertise is the field of athlete mental health. She has worked in this area for the IOC, ASOIF, and FINA and. She is a member of the IOC expert working group on mental health in sport.

About Sakura Kokumai

Sakura Kokumai is an American karateka. She won the gold medal in the women’s individual kata event at the 2019 Pan American Games held in Lima, Peru, and will represent the United States at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.


  • Behind ShePower Sport are two sport medical professionals, Yoko Dozono and Katharina Grimm. With their combined global sporting background, some of which include Director of Medical affairs at Aspetar, member of Medicine & Science at World Anti-Doping Agency, heading the FIFA medical office, and an international level athlete, they are strong advocates for clean sports and female athletes’ health and rights.