Triple Olympian Mikel Thomas: “We need a more holistic approach towards improving mental health”

The Playknox spoke with Mikel Thomas, a Triple Olympian who competed at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, representing Trinidad and Tobago in track and field. He was also a silver medalist at the Pan Am Games in 2015.


Tell us more about yourself.

Apart from being an Olympic athlete and a coach, I am also a firefighter as I like to serve my community. I am currently a student at the AISTS Sport Management graduate program in Lausanne working to better understand how sport can be used as a tool for human and social development. I eventually plan to move into Sports Business development.


How important is mental fitness/health for an athlete and are we giving enough attention to it?

I will answer your question backwards – No, we aren’t doing a good job when it comes to taking care and prioritizing mental health. Currently, no matter where you go, there is lot of tension and stress in the world. We might be the most technologically connected generation but on a communication level, we are most disconnected.

Also, what we need is a holistic approach rather than a performance based approach. We need to shift the focus on human performance. So instead of saying that we need to prepare ourselves mentally, just for sports and going into competitions, what we need is more mindfulness in daily living and a more understanding attitude towards life in general.


Mikel at the IOC and airbnb partnership announcement event

Why should more brands come forward to sponsor athletes/tier 1 and 2 sports?

I believe brand sponsorship is an integral part of the sporting fraternity. The commercial dynamics are different for different markets. The real problem is in the private sector. Speaking for Trinidad and Tobago, we need more brand activations at local level to generate more interest in sports. It has to be a comprehensive package where brands show intent and carry out activation, media can then tell and sell stories and inspire others. There is huge opportunity in tier 1 and tier 2 cities and it will be a win-win for both brands and athletes if they collaborate. Also, sponsorship need not be only monetary but can also be in value kind which also support athletes a lot.


How much time do you reckon for the sporting world to adjust to the new Covid-19 norm?

The recovery will take a long time as not all athletes and spectators will be willing to go out. We have seen leagues starting but then all of that is just an experiment to see what we can do to recover. Leagues can still be operated but for Olympics it will be tough as it is a mix of culture and people coming over from different countries.

The immediate move of everyone should be to move into digital space to connect with fans globally and provide new products of sports. The aim should be to conduct quicker and safer competitions. There won’t be much of exchange between international athletes and lesser international tournaments. The uncertainty will remain for the next few years and the recovery depends upon tech and medical advancement.


What has been your lockdown routine?

Lockdown has given us all a much needed opportunity to re-evaluate our lives and structure it as well as possible. With the prevailing uncertainty, I try my best to structure my life. I was studying in Switzerland but then had to return early to the US. However, the online classes are still on so have to shuffle from time zone to time zone and wake up at 3 am US time to attend classes. I practise a lot of meditation and mindfulness as there is a lot of tension and frustration around.

Also, with no sports happening , we don’t have the opportunity to be able to express through sports. Its been months since I have been to an actual track facility but I try to work out at home a lot. I am sure we will all come out of this as better people because if we don’t, then that would mean we have lost a valuable lesson.

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