‘We love winning, but not at all costs’: Asics on offering athletes mental health aid
Last week, Asics cemented its commitment to its ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ philosophy by announcing it will now be building mental health support into the contracts of the athletes it sponsors. We catch up with the team behind the initiative to hear why athletes need this support now more than ever.
"We're turning brand purpose into brand action" says Asics team / Image via Asics
Whether it’s up and coming talent rising through the ranks or seasoned sporting legends, the impact of professional sports on the mental health and wellbeing of athletes has gained increased attention in the last few years, with sports stars such as world tennis number two Naomi Osaka speaking candidly about experiences on and off the field.
Recognizing that the problem exists on a larger scale, Asics will now fund mental health support for all its sponsored athletes, hiring high-performance sports and performance psychologist Daria Abramowicz to lead a group of specialized experts in providing confidential assistance to Asics athletes in the hopes of helping them reach their performance goals without compromising their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Olivier Mignon, the EMEA director of sports marketing at the brand, explains that this campaign is building on the work Asics has already done to promote mental wellness through exercise. “Since 1949, our motto has been ‘Anima Sana In Corpore Sano’ or ‘healthy body, healthy mind‘. We’ve always focused on this in our marketing, but for many years now it’s also been part of our brand strategy.
“To build this support into our strategy means there are now plenty of athletes, especially young ones, behind the scenes who will benefit – and not just from a PR or performance perspective.”
Asics’s senior manager of PR and digital marketing, Lindsay Mandeville, adds that while mental health and wellbeing has always been part of its philosophy, since the start of the pandemic the sports brand has doubled down on its efforts to help the general public care for themselves through movement.
“It’s become a widespread topic and to a certain extent – it’s no longer taboo, which means we can really bring it to the forefront of everything we do. By making something like this available to our sponsored athletes, we’re really turning that brand purpose into brand action.
“It doesn’t matter whether they’re an amateur runner or [tennis number one] Iga Swiatek at the highest level of her career. We’re here to support them and not just in the shoes they wear, but in what happens off the field.”
However, Mignon is quick to point out that this isn’t an opportunistic move to paint Asics as a “caregiver brand“. Rather, he says, “we’ve been doing this for years, but the timing has meant this had to happen now”.
He goes on: “We always see the top of the pyramid, the elite athletes, and of course we want to take care of them. But the kids, the young and upcoming athletes who are part of our family but who the public don’t see, that’s the big message for me. We’re not just supporting the ones at the top, but all of them.”
When it comes to rolling out this new support, Mandeville and Mignon say sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz is really the gatekeeper of the initiative. “Because of her, we get the insights from our athletes and see the need for this kind of support, and that helped inform our decision,” explains Mandeville.
The team detail how, going forward, Abramovicz will be the first point of contact for athletes seeking support, but the brand has also implemented a wider network of caregiver providers in order to cater to the needs of its international athletes.
“We represent Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” explains Mignon, “meaning there’s need for psychologists to speak multiple languages so we can provide the right solution for every situation.”
On how Asics hopes to see the campaign evolve in future, Mandeville says: “While we are currently rolling this out with our professional athletes, we eventually want to extend it to all our assets – whether that’s brand ambassadors or our ‘front runners’, who are amateur runners that support us as a brand. We want everyone to have the same ability, the same access to this kind of support.”
Mignon says that while he hopes Asics’s commitment to its brand purpose will speak to consumers, that isn’t why it is doing it. “We already have the talent and the great products, but we’re doing this because it makes complete sense.“
Mandeville agrees, concluding: “Of course, we have superior technology and top trainers and top talent, but as a brand we’re fundamentally here for your mind. And that’s the message behind this campaign – we love to win, but not at all costs.”