Getting young people talking is the message for young stars from Irish goalkeeper David Harte following the recent Mental Health Awareness month as they cope with the emotional rollercoaster that comes with the sporting life.
Harte was speaking in his ambassadorial role for Believe with Belle (www.believewithbelle.com) founded by Michelle Ryan, a Clontarf hockey club member with whom he shares a natural affinity as a goalkeeper.
The Irish international said it was something he was delighted to get involved with having raised money for Aware during his school days, something that helped him get a better idea about the organisation.
“I thought it would be a great idea to be a part of Believe with Belle doing something to help raise awareness about depression, something I feel is sometimes not openly discussed,” he told The Hook.
The ambassadorial role involves promoting the Believe with Belle website and how people can gather not only information but also advice on a sensitive topic.
Speaking about the mental side of playing sport at an elite level, Harte said is of particular importance: “Mental health, in my opinion, is one of the least discussed matters both in and outside of sport.
“Hopefully this will change and those suffering will be able to speak up and dare to discuss such a matter. Sport entails so many highs and lows and often can be an emotional roller coaster especially at an elite level.”
He is one of a number of high profile Irish sports stars to work in this ambassadorial role. Rugby stars Sean O’Brien and James Downey, Grand Slam winner Fiona Coghlan, Dublin dual GAA player Ross O’Carroll, cricket international Boyd Rankin along with Nikki Symmons – the country’s most capped international – are all on board to help promote the cause.
“I wanted young, successful Irish people as Ambassadors for Believe with Belle. Their support has really giving my campaign credibility,” Ryan, pictured below, explains. “My Ambassadors are well respected and admired in Ireland, and by them showing their support to the campaign sends out a strong message – ‘It is okay to admit to being low, and it is okay to look for help in times of need’.
“My campaign aims to create more awareness and understanding of Depression, and David, along with my other Ambassadors have a pivotal role in this.
“Recent Suicide Statistics released were an eye-opener; eight in ten suicides in Ireland at present are males. This may be because males find it harder to confide in their friends, whereas talking comes more easily to females.
“Talk Therapy is a key factor in beating Depression, and nipping it in the bud. AWARE offer a number of outlets to people, including a phone line and local support groups.”
Speaking from his personal experience, Harte says that the opportunity to speak to someone gives a perfect outlet to cope with the often stressful life at the top level.
The Irish team had a number of sessions prior to last year’s Olympic qualifier on a range of topics including with a psychologist. They discussed the mental side of the game during and after an elite athlete’s career that he found extremely beneficial.
“The Irish Institute of Sport and Irish Sports Council have supports available to deal with pressures of sport and the toll it can take on you not only physically but also mentally.
“In recent times the Irish men’s team has had many contact hours and sessions with sports psychologists to discuss whatever is on your mind.”
A recent ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Broke”, based on a Sports Illustrated article that said 60pc NBA stars and 78pc of NFL players were broke with five years of retiring, described the comedown for many top players with many turning to drink, drugs and gambling which can lead to depression. It offers a salutary lesson in the need to find coping mechanisms.
“I was aware of this from following sports reports from the US and UK regarding professional sports people like Paul Gascoigne etc.
“Having read many autobiographies such as George Best, Paul McGrath and Andrei Aggassi it is clear to see many pro players suffer greatly both during and after their careers.
“Each tournament is different incorporating factors such as travel, new environments, expectations, outcomes and processes involved to achieve targeted goals.
“To stay steady and focused, I believe, comes from experience having gone through different scenarios in previous competitions. Mental toughness and resilience is also important here whether you need to pick yourself up after a knock or the mental strength to finish the tournament strong after a tough week and more.
“On top of this teammates and support staff can equally help you stay focused and on course.
“The only advice I would give to young players to believe in yourself and trust in your own ability. This combined with hard work can go an awful long way to making the jump to the international stage.
“To have the ability to speak your mind and open up to others to admit when you have issues and are struggling be it physically, technically and especially mentally.”
Furthermore, he finds having a significant outlet in his life, namely his job as a teacher, acts as a good foil: “My regular job of teaching in the International School Utrecht makes it far easier to deal with my hockey career.
“It can be simply the distraction I need following a tough day at the office on the Sunday or a nice way to joke about embarrassing goals conceded on national TV when an 11 year old questions your technique!”
His next challenge is the upcoming World League round three in Rotterdam in June and Harte is pleased not to be heading out to the stifling Malaysian heat.
In the Netherlands, Ireland have been drawn to play the hosts, New Zealand and India in the initial phases before taking on quarter-final game which will effectively act as a World Cup qualifier.
“I find the draw to be tough as expected when you get to this level of competition. In both tournaments there will be no easy games but it is still an amazing opportunity to play against the world’s elite especially to see where we stand regarding World Cup qualification.
“I think as a group we are delighted to be in Rotterdam instead of Malaysia. Having experienced Malaysia and it’s incredibly difficult conditions to play in, along with stomaching fried rice and noodles for breakfast, Holland will not be such a culture shock and it will be much easier to adapt to the surroundings for the team.”
He reverts back to Irish duty after a fine club season with Utrecht-based Kampong but one that ultimately came to a painful end. In the Hoofdklasse top four playoffs, his side beat Oranje Zwart 4-1 in the first game of their best of three series before a pair of losses saw the side ultimately bow out.
There was the novelty of playing against twin brother Conor for the first time as he lined out with SCHC, a club based just 15 minutes away from Kampong in nearby Bilthoven.
“It was incredibly strange having Con on the opposing team for the first time in our hockey careers. Naturally of course I miss the bond I have with Con as my sweeper.
“Especially as short corner time it almost felt like training seeing him on the top of the D. It was tough playing against my brother, former club and team mates so the win was welcomed but wasn’t overly celebrated.”