Marie-Laure Brunet, a former French biathlete and mental health coach, shared her journey, spotlighting the challenges she faced during her career as a biathlete and how she conquered mental health issues after her burnout at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.
Used to be the opening leg of the French Women’s Relay, Brunet, the winner of a bronze medal in the pursuit and silver in the relay from the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010, had an uneasy feeling before Sochi 2014.
"My task in the relay was to make a time difference and enable a smooth entry for my colleagues. But my body refused to go along: I collapsed in the middle of my leg, and my life took a turn I didn’t plan for. I decided to do the best out of the situation. I entered the therapy process, which helped me analyse things before I could understand them and transform them into applicable knowledge. In hindsight, it was clear that my burnout process started three years before Sochi 2014, but I ignored all the warning signals. I was not happy. I felt tired, but I pushed my body beyond its limits."
And perhaps the most important thing.
"Coaches, doctors, and the team’s other staff all share responsibility for the athlete’s well-being. One shall not suppress feelings and instincts."
Brunet also provided attendees with the tools to improve their performance and well-being:
1. Personal ecology is the key: it is one’s capacity to understand one’s needs.
2. Use heart coherence breathing exercise.
3. Plan for all aspects of your life.
Mental health in sports refers to the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of athletes. It encompasses the ability to manage stress, handle pressure, and maintain a positive mindset, recognising that mental health is a deeply personal and individual journey for each athlete. It is critical for both performance and well-being.
Jacques Jefferies, a member of the IBU Athlete Ambassador Program, complemented Brunet's experience with his perspective on promoting positive change within the biathlon family through sustainable practices. His accomplishments in understanding mental health needs through an athlete survey were also discussed and outlined the areas that require more attention and support.
Sverre Olsbu Roeiseland, now coaching the German women’s biathlon team, shared valuable insights from his experience with Norwegian and German federations. His talk aimed at guiding attendees to create a nurturing environment where each individual feels valued and promoting holistic growth and well-being in athletes.
"There is more room for individual training in Norway. Because of that, athletes gather a deeper understanding of training and their needs but get less feedback from coaches than in Germany. Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses. Working with the German team, we opted for the 80:20 ratio: 80% team and 20% individual training."
About the positive vibes within the team.
"A good team has a learning and sharing process. Everyone is unique and different. Everyone is responsible for the success, not just the athletes. Good team spirit gives strength to everyone involved, but the whole team needs to work for that every day."
Allison Forsyth, a veteran of Alpine skiing and a relentless advocate for safeguarding athletes, drew from her personal experiences to guide attendees on creating a safe and positive space for athletes and coaches at all levels.
A two-time Olympian, Forsyth felt a victim of sexual abuse. She pointed out a four-phase grooming process that sexual predators within the team use:
2. Personal bond/relationship outside of sport.
3. Isolation/mental or/and physical.
4. Complicity: giving an athlete a feeling of guilt.
Forsyth's key message.
"When you feel something is amiss, you should first ask yourself: Is this something that would be allowed within the schooling system? And then: Would I feel comfortable if this was happening to a friend?"