Upon returning home from Los Angeles, California, and presenting at the largest annual gathering of soccer coaches in the world, I couldn’t help but reflect on this incredible opportunity. It was the second highest attended Convention in the organizations 76-year history. There was an estimated 12,000 people in attendance. For the first time ever, they provided a session on my proposed topic: Pressures of Athletics Can Lead To Eating Disorders. While I had a respectable turnout, I was disappointed that more coaches didn’t prioritize this session on their schedules.
According to National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), one-third of all Division 1 NCAA athletes have an eating disorder. This statistic is significant. In college soccer, most programs maintain a roster of close to thirty players. In this case, TEN of these players would have the potential of developing a full-fledged Eating Disorder. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Eating Disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health. People struggling with an eating disorder need to seek professional help. The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.
Therefore, it baffles me on how hush-hush the subject of Eating Disorders remains considering the compelling statistics. When asked by coaches what I present on, and I state, “Eating Disorders in Athletes,” the majority respond with, “Wow. Yeah. Such an important topic.” And, that is the end of the discussion. Either many people feel uncomfortable talking about the issue, are unfamiliar, or just undervalue it in the grand scheme of things.
I can promise you that every coach has a strong desire to win. Many rely on number of wins in a season to keep their jobs. Others strive to earn a salary based on games won to support their families. And, in order for a team or program to achieve success and win, each player must exhibit one’s best performance. There are four major performance skills for an athlete: technical, physical, tactical, and mental. The mental skill is the one that can make the crucial difference for athletes performing consistently to their abilities. An athlete must be able to concentrate, have confidence and control, while being fully committed to optimizing one’s performance.
So back to my concern and disappointment of more coaches not making a session on Eating Disorders a priority. The fact that more people did not attend is indicative of the value coaches place on this issue. Whether they chose to watch a field session, a classroom lecture, or another presenter at that same time slot, they missed out on an opportunity to learn and hear about one of the most prominent issues in sports today. Studies suggest that the sooner this disease is identified and addressed, the higher the chance there is to recover. But, in order for coaches to recognize signs and symptoms, and what to look for, they must be educated and made aware of these behaviors. In many cases, a player who is suffering from an eating disorder is underperforming; in essence, hurting the team, and not contributing in a way that would best help the team find success.
When coaches are able to identify signs and symptoms, address them, and provide help and support, they could very well find more success overall and long-term in their careers. When a player is at one’s optimum health, the player will be able to compete to the best of one’s abilities. Let’s, as coaches, educate ourselves on topics, such as eating disorders, to ensure our players remain in good health; with the energy and strength to perform and play to their utmost potential. If each player is doing this, winning will come.