By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – All tennis stakeholders should work on creating a safe environment for players whose mental health is at risk, the sports psychologist of French Open champion Iga Swiatek said on Thursday.
Four-times Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka said on Wednesday she would not take questions from the press at the French Open, saying the nature of news conferences puts an undue burden on players’ mental health.
Daria Abramowicz, who is in Paris to assist the 19-year-old Swiatek at the French Open which starts on Sunday, told Reuters that the demands on players affect their mental health and well-being.
“I absolutely understand the (Osaka’s) decision in terms of when a player loses a match, and tennis is such a specific sport because at the end of the tournament only one person does not lose,” Abramowicz said.
“The last thing that I want (Swiatek) to do, to be completely honest with you, after she loses a match, is that she does the press,” she said, adding that she had been working with Swiatek on helping the player deal with her life as a “public person”.
“It’s tough emotionally to cope with it, it is one of the challenges that tennis brings. It’s sometimes overwhelming and might be a burden when the emotional state (of the player) is way away from good.”
Abramowicz said that it was paramount to insist on “the empathy and mutual respect between athletes and the press, sometimes the organisers.”
In tennis tournaments, players have to attend a news conference after each match and face a fine if they do not.
Abramowicz believes that players should sometimes be allowed more time to reflect on their performances before being brought to the media and urged athletes to use their social platforms to share their thoughts.
She added that given the nature of the sport’s environment, which she labels a “business industry”, players needed support not only on, but also off the court.
“We live in the public eye, cope with additional pressure and outside expectations and it includes connecting with the press, the media – not only traditional media but also social media,” she explained.
“So yes I’m a strong advocate of building resources and equipping players and teams with the tools that help them and allow them to cope better.
“From my psychologist’s point of view this is one of the most important areas. There is no chance of escaping the media, social media pressure and expectations that partners and sponsors also bring to the table.”
Sports psychologists focus on the players’ environment, she said, looking to create a safe bubble for them.
“What we try to do in terms of sport psychology is that we no longer work solely on the mental tools that help to perform better, but we also work on the areas that help to create the healthiest career possible,” said Abramowicz.
All parties involved, however, need to be on board, she added.
“We have to build the resources to educate the players, teams, coaches, management teams and also press and organisers to bring the best policies and strategies that are good for the comfort of the players and good for the working environment,” she said.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)