7 time British champion talks mental health
Professional athletes are under constant strain to take care of physical health as to prepare the athletes for the field, track, court or pool of play. In the last few years, there has been an advancement in social science which better highlights how to improve physical fitness. An athletes support team now consists of doctors, physio's, strength and conditioning coaches, sport scientists and nutritionists. That’s before we even begin to consider other support roles such as head coaches, assistant coaches and skill coaches.
Yet, there seems to be a lack of understanding as to how keeping fit mentally can also contribute to positive competitive performance. The mental side of the game may be just as important as the physical side regarding athletic performance. The ability to concentrate and interpret in-game situations under pressure allows athletes to analyse the different skills they will need to draw on to be successful in their chosen area of sport. Due to the importance of mental well-being impacting performance, performance psychologists are also typically part of the coaching team now.
We asked GB active, how their athletes feel about mental health contributing to their competitive play.
Julien Allwood is a Great Britain triple jumper, he is a 7 time British champion and received his first international vest aged 16 years. His main ambition is Tokyo 2020.
What is the most contributing factor to stress and anxious thoughts as an athlete?
I think that training is the easier part, it is doing what I love. The factors around it are what cause stress and anxiety. This includes pressures to ensure your diet, rest and mental state are all correct. The build up to any sport is stress-provoking and as an athlete, it’s not only the sport itself you have to consider, it’s also making sure you’re mentally and physically fit enough to even participate.
How do you keep calm under pressure before participation in sport?
I’m a firm believer in meditation techniques to ensure I remain in the right mindset. I think competition is more about mental strength, if you’re not mentally fit - you won’t be at the top of your game. I have a set routine of mindfulness and meditation that I follow the night before any big session.
How do you de-stress on an average day?
I like to do hobbies I enjoy, I think over-thinking is a leading cause to being stressed, so if you are spending the day doing something you like to do, you are less likely to have negative, stressful thoughts! Just spending time with family and friends is enough for me.
Does having a positive mindset benefit your physical performance?
I think that without a positive mindset you can't perform, let alone perform well. It's difficult to get your mind into a complete state of relaxation and optimal, but it should be done. You just have to find ways which work for you.
Why is your mental health important to you?
My mental health is important just for my own piece of mind. I've seen people close to me have problems with their mental health because they are trying to hard, they are taking on too much at one time. You need to have a balance.
If you could give aspiring athletes one piece of advice, what would it be?
For young athletes, I would say just enjoy it. You come into sport because you enjoy it. To really push yourself that underlying passion still needs to exist but you need to find your balance.
As a male, do you think you can open up about mental health problems to fellow athletes?
It's a sensitive topic. Not everybody opens up about it. It really does depend on who that person can trust, if it isn’t openly spoken about - people will be less likely to open up about it.
Thrive work alongside a number of different athletic and sports clubs to ensure that players and athletes are not only physically well, but also mentally. To see how we support those in sports - visit thrive.uk.com/thrive