Our Young Athletes Mental Health



the-mayo-minor-team-752x501I know now that in the aftermath of the third Sunday in September 1999 I had some sort of a mental breakdown.

What was a glorious dream that every Mayo man dreams turned into a very real and horrible trip. -Gaelic Games were the drug, Croke Park was the vessel and football was the trip.


Of course we know now without support or knowledge how can an 18 year old deal with his world unraveling from a certainty of direction broken by the events of one single hour. One hour of time erased the cognitive benefits of a then lifetime of dreams of glory in a green and red kit.

I was never right again after that hour, Never reached any potential, Never regained any sort of form slowly my confidence drained and was refilled with a steady drip, drip, drip of anxiety for years thereafter.

This failure was like a sticky corner back, following me all around the field of my young life. It came everywhere with me, this manifestation that became anxiety. Some describe as a shadow, some as a dog, to me it just stuck. That’s all I can say it stuck to everything.

Some see the third Sunday of September as a bastion of culture, others as simply a game, who you are or where you are from. To me it is no different to any drug for what It can do. Euphoria or Depression. There is no middle ground. It is one or the other.

Some may argue that this is the difference between players making it or not. but in fact studies are showing that if kids and young adults are given a tool box of mental health coping strategies they can overcome failures and breakdowns and go on to fulfill their potential.


Methods do exist to potentially reduce mental health problems in elite young athletes. For example, athletes should develop a coping mechanism for stress with their coaches and parents. This can include (1) thought control, (2) relaxation, (3) mental development and (4) help seeking— all of which positively improve objective and subjective achievement, whilst decreasing the risk of mental health injury[xiv],[xv]. Parents and coaches are encouraged to comment on the athlete’s attitude and effort, rather than performance—-http://blogs.bmj.com/bjsm/2017/08/14/mental-health-elite-young-athletes-spot-support-late/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=socialnetwork

I hear stories now of the professional set ups of these underage panels , wearable GPS tech, premier league standard Strength and Conditioning, Nutritionists- the list goes on. I am sure that if they have all of the above, They must have systems for the mental health of those young athletes.

With a massive natural ability, and what must be (as I do not know) mental strength to boot I hope that all those dreams can get Alan Dillon onto the pitch on this coming third Sunday. As like with every Mayo man not playing we dream to be one of those that are. We dream to be in the boots of those gracing that grass. I stood shoulder to shoulder to Alan once, I hope he and thus I can live out that dream. Albeit me a tiny cog in the wheel from nearly 20 years ago and he a living legend that could make it all worth while.

Only from starting to write this blog I realized I read ”When I grow up, I’m going to play for Mayo” to my two year old boy.

Does this make me a drug pusher? Who knows he might want to become a Golfer, and as horrific as it sounds it’s still cool with me. As I know from my experience I can help him overcome and perform through my own failings and thus it give that corner back a skinning.

Upon reflection of my own what if’s, but’s and maybe’s on top of the mental health tool box mentioned above. Personally I think all young athletes serious about a sport should have a second back up sport or hobby that they enjoy. That can help when they are feeling down and also fill the void when its no more.

Best of luck to the auld buck Alan Dillon, The Crossmolina boys Stephan, Conor and Joe and David Clarke who’s greatness is certainly derived from some Inferno Hot Pilates classes he did last season!

‘Hon Mayo!