Training for the Olympics can be grueling physically, but the toll it can take on mental health — especially during a pandemic — can also be damaging.
Financial services provider Allianz, a worldwide sponsor of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, launched a program to provide relief for Olympic athletes struggling with mental health. Teaming up with the non-profit organizations Love on 4 Paws and Little Angels, Allianz created the Allianz Support Dog Squad, providing more than 50 emotional support dogs to international skateboarders training in Los Angeles.
Omnicom agencies BBDO, FleishmanHillard, GMR and OMD created a short documentary to raise awareness for the program that demonstrates the positive impact animals can have on mental health, including reducing stress, anxiety and loneliness and increasing optimism and self-esteem.
The film features Leticia Bufoni (Brazil) and Dashawn Jordan’s (U.S.) delayed journey to the Olympics, which impacted their mental health and led them to seek support from the Allianz Support Dog Squad.
“Skateboarders are obviously used to competing really frequently, but this is the first time that they’d ever been thrust into a global spotlight,” executive creative director Marco Cignini told Campaign US. “They’re all first time Olympians this year. And that’s a tough challenge. You’re going to a place that’s unknown. You’re not allowed to bring any of your friends, family or support system. We thought if anybody’s under the pressure of loneliness, isolation and dealing with any potential mental health issues, more likely it would be these guys.”
The athletes are training for the biggest competition in their careers while battling a pandemic, a situation that posed new challenges. The uncertain climate presented interesting and relevant fodder for the documentary to explore.
“COVID and everything that’s happened in the last year has taken a real toll on them just as much as it has on everybody else,” executive creative director Betsy Decker said. “You have all this pressure on you, and you’re trying to stay healthy and safe from COVID. You’re then separated from your friends and family. That really set the stage for this idea.“
It was rewarding to see the athletes learn more about their mental health and document how the dogs changed them, Kotlhar added.
In addition to the documentary, Allianz teamed up with Olympic Skier Lindsay Vonn to share experiences and advice with other athletes. Allianz also launched a mentor and skill development program for Olympic & Paralympic Family to prepare for life after competition.
“Mental health is never really talked about,” Decker said. “In this generation, it’s OK to talk about it, find a solution for it and to use that to make you even better.”