by Joanne L. Charnetski, Wexford University
There are many definitions of an elite athlete. Some common elements are that an elite athlete performs best in class, has the potential to turn professional and is prone to injury. Using the definition according to McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine, an elite athlete (EA) is defined as an athlete with the potential for competing in the Olympics or as a professional athlete; elite athletes (EAs) are at an increased risk of injury, given the amount of training, for psychological abuse by coaches and parents, and self-abuse. It is estimated that about 80% of EAs suffer from minor depression (Schall et al. 2011). The purpose of this paper is to show how sport psychologists can help EAs battling addiction. Sport psychologists recognize the addictive nature of exercise, and how anxiety as well as burn out can lead to injuries, decreased immune functioning and psychological symptoms of depression (Greenspan et al., 1991). This leads to increased substance abuse as an attempt to gain control and enhance performance. The paper will define addiction and question whether it is a disease or set of extreme behaviors. It will highlight the primary areas of addictive tendencies amongst elite athletes and discuss root cause for the addiction. By using examples of real athletes, the paper will conclude by outlining various ways that a sport psychologist can help identify the addiction as well as design a program to help treat the addictive tendency.