Cashmere Behind the Baseline: NBO22 leading the change in athlete mental health – National Bank Open

At the National Bank Open presented by Rogers a new Quiet Room in the lower bowl is giving athletes an oasis from the noise and pressure of competition.

The softly lit space is outfitted with beds, a lounge area, essential oil diffusers and private rooms for meditation, visualization, relaxation or even a nap. As part of an unpreceded new investment in athlete wellness at the tournament, the space has been utilized by many of the world’s best this tournament including Serena Williams.

It’s easy for athletes to get stuck in their thoughts which can be a distraction to performance, says Tara Costello-Ledwell, a mental performance consultant working with the NBO22 initiative and team member with the Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport (CCMHS). The new resources offer practical strategies to get them less in their heads and more engaged in the moment. 

“First and foremost, the space is set up to relax and to have some quiet time,” said Costello-Ledwell. “When players come in, I check in on them and ask if there is anything that they need. I find out if they want any sort of guided meditation or conversation around mental performance. We’re really respecting their space and what they need but also letting them know that we’re here, if that’s something that would be helpful.”

Also, for the first time at the National Bank Open, a yoga instructor, Ashley Burton of Power Yoga Canada has been onsite for player one-on-one sessions. With the rise in mainstream awareness of the benefits of yoga, it has become so ubiquitous she says that many athletes already incorporate elements of the practice into their training routine.

“I look out and I see the players doing the poses that I teach, and I have a feeling that they may not realize that it’s yoga,” said Burton. “They’re doing supine twists and waterfall and all those poses. It’s been really exciting to have some time to get my hands on them and really stretch them out.”

New developments to the tournament to enhance the athlete experience have been in the works for the past few years to further meet their holistic needs. Other new enhancements include an upgraded fitness area with an additional gym, and an indoor half tennis court for players to warm up before their matches. The team at Tennis Canada says more exciting developments are coming down the pipe.

Part of Tennis Canada’s recently launched Mental Time Out initiative, enhancements are aimed at minimizing the stress experienced by players and improving the mental health of those involved in tennis on a whole.

Canadian star Bianca Andreescu has been a champion for the initiative and vocal about her own journey to finding holistic wellness as a player.

Ticket buyers, tournament staff, volunteers, media, players, as well as those following on social media around the world, have been invited to sign The Positive Court Pledge – a written commitment to ensure a positive environment for all athletes performing in Canada. Fans have also been leaving “Positivity Postcards” to their favorite players, which have been collected by the tournament staff and distributed directly to the stars during the tournament for that extra mental boost.

Beyond the tournament, for more than 20 years, the WTA has made mental health services available to athletes on the tour. They work very closely with the sport science and medicine team to holistically tackle physical and mental and emotional wellness. The team travels with the athletes to all the 500 events, 1000 events and Grand Slams, and are expanding into 250 events as well. On site at NBO22, athletes can schedule an appointment through their online booking system to work on aspects such as mental performance training, and mental health and wellness counselling. WTA mental healthcare provider, Caroline Zadina says the goal of the program is to provide emotional wellness for athletes to reach optimal performance on court, gain self-awareness and actualize as a person.

An exciting time for mental health progress, women’s tennis stars like Naomi Osaka, and Andreescu have been leading the charge in public conversations around mental health and wellness. Zadina says the women on the tour generally show strong signs of emotional awareness which bodes well for the future of women’s tennis and the movement towards a healthier sports world.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Zadina. “We’ve had so many role models who have the courage to be vulnerable on a bigger scale. That’s deeply inspiring to me. As we hear it more, we hope it will inspire future generations to know that we are humans and we are athletes and that the two don’t exist separately.”

Zadina has been impressed by the efforts of Tennis Canada at NBO22 to make mental health and holistic wellness resources even more accessible. 

“We’re so grateful to Tennis Canada for putting this event on and for bringing in resources like (onsite yoga and the Quiet Room),” said Zadina. … I think that we are encouraged by this and we’d love to see more events do it.”

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