Coaches can help their players by being aware that eating disorders are a potential problem and by approaching weight-related issues cautiously. Coaches can also help their players by being educated on the subject; for example, most coaches are likely unaware that anorexia is the deadliest of all psychiatric illnesses.
Coaches need to recognize that telling an athlete he or she is overweight, and needs to lose weight can trigger or exacerbate an eating disorder; it is better to be supportive and to talk about “fitness” and “nutrition.”
Gymnast Christy Henrich developed anorexia after being told by a judge she needed to lose weight. Gymnast Kathy Johnson developed anorexia after being criticized about her weight by a coach. Ballet dancer Heidi Guenther was told by her ballet company that she needed to lose five pounds; she developed anorexia and died at age 22.
Coaches can help by approaching weight issues tactfully. They should consider referring their athletes to a nutritionist, who can help them develop a healthy diet. It may also benefit coaches to be aware of the symptoms of the most common eating disorders, including:
Athletes need to be in top shape to compete effectively. An athlete with an eating disorder will be unable to compete effectively, if at all. It is in the coach’s best interest, almost as much as it is in the athlete’s best interest, to help prevent eating disorders.