Does the Wellbeing of an Athlete have a Strong Correlation with their Performance?
May 22, 2022

Harrison Pothecary is a teacher at Budmouth School in Weymouth. It was clear from the start of the Community Listener Programme that he was passionate about sports. It made complete sense for him to explore Wellbeing Listening in the context of athletes.

Here is his project write-up.

The aim of my community listener project was to look into the link between well-being and the athletic performance of athletes. These athletes compete in various different sports at various different levels. I also recognise that measuring athletic performance is extremely difficult.

There are so many variables that play a part in athletic performance, so my project responds to the athletes giving me their honest opinion as to whether or not it has helped. What’s important to note is that the sessions that I carry out, I believe will impact different athletes in different ways. So there are a lot of factors which I’ll discuss further in relation to my project.

Ultimately, my main aim is to help athletes in my local area to come to some level of understanding about their feelings and thoughts, and help them become more attuned to their mental health and well-being. There is quite clearly online a lot of study and ‘talk’ about the link between the two topics, ‘Historically, sports psychology came about through the specific intention to enhance performance, but over time, the need to focus on athlete well-being as an integral part of performance has come sharply into focus’ (Sebbens et al., 2016).

There also seems to be a lot of high profile athletes in the media experiencing high levels of stress from pressure of performing well to private social issues and with the ever developing presence of social media all of this is in the spotlight to the public.

Young aspiring athletes also have to battle with the issue of potential hurdles, being able to impress the right people at the right time, fighting off any illnesses or injuries, changing room cultures which can be intimidating, and constant competition with the athletes around them. But to truly underpin the reason why athletes may experience. ‘Research suggests that elite athletes are at increased risk of poor mental health, partly due to the intense demands associated with top-level sport. Despite growing interest in the topic, the factors that influence the mental health and well-being of elite athletes remain unclear i.e poor mental health and well-being is very difficult as the possibilities are quite substantial.’(McLoughlin et al., 2021).

So I understand that with all this information that it will be difficult to underpin the cause and effects of this project, my main aim is to help local people in my area with trying to guide athletes into understanding their own thoughts and feelings. I have worked with several different sports to gain some depth into the project.

Football and Powerlifitng are the two sports I have looked into. Both unique in the pressures in which they bring. After discussions with Dorchester Town Football Club, it seemed that the coaches and players mentioned that injury, playing time and player competition were their greatest causes of stress and worry. I carried out two group discussions with the U18s and U23 teams and there was a really warm welcome to the chat of well-being. I have been unable to further help players 1-2-1. This was mainly due to none of the players feeling like they needed at this current moment in time. What did feel good was that every player at that club now knows they have someone that they can talk to who is completely unrelated to their personal lives or even tied to the club.

I am also working with some powerlifters, one of the people I have been working with who is living with Bulimia. She is a high performing powerlifter but has also been a bodybuilder and crossfit, amongst other gym weightlifting related sports. She is also a Personal Trainer by trade so has a lot of pressure to look a certain way. This was an interesting thing she mentioned. Her perception of her job was to look a certain way otherwise she felt that her clients or other people would judge her or think that she wasn’t as skilled in her profession. For me this was the first factor that I felt maybe impacted her mental well-being.

People battle with their own minds about the way they look, and again with the ever growing social media presence in the lives of athletes it may seem that they are constantly being looked at. This alone is enough to throw people off and steer them towards a more red way of thinking.

The person I spoke to described their relationship with food being very sporadic, they’d be very disciplined and healthy until the weekend, this is where she would eat lots of foods considered unhealthy which are high in sugars. This then made her feel like she needed to get rid of the food she had eaten. This was interesting as I have known the person for a while and she has always been a well known athlete in the local area, a very successful athlete of that too. So it made me start to think that we all may have a limit of stress and other factors which could lead us to a red state of thought. It seems obvious and simple but that doesn’t cause the value of that reality in my life to fall.

Quickly linking to my Inward Journey I feel like the community project I have undertaken has really helped me understand the way in which I think and feel. It almost feels like 100 light bulbs all slowly turning on in my head as I realise these lessons. To clarify I think that it’s an obvious link that well-being impacts athletic performance and there are clearly lots and lots of variables that play a part. It’s so complex I believe that it is impossible to link the two in the same way between two different people.

Adding to the discussion, I will struggle to understand the impact the sessions I’m setting up will have on the people I am working with. This leads me to the question, does it matter? What I mean by that is, if I’m trying to help people feel better and more accustomed to their own thoughts, that is enough reason to carry out this project.

I started this course thinking that the project I want will be this massive grand event. But stumbling at nearly every hurdle or barrier thrown at me helped me realise that, whatever this project is going to be, will be. This links again to my inward journey, I am developing an understanding that nearly all things in life are uncontrollable, and ultimately I need to try and stop worrying about that.

The less I forced this project, the more it developed and became something I was proud of. Similar to some situations in my life. Similar to how me and the powerlifter I was working with set up our sessions. I was unsure on how to deliver what it was that I was offering. I didn’t know whether I wanted to sit in a quiet room and talk face to face, I didn’t know if a zoom/video call was most appropriate, it was all unclear.

We did one session face to face and it didn’t feel natural. But we both enjoy the gym so I suggested we train in the gym together and chat then. She agreed and it was the best decision we could have made. She began to really open up and talk about a lot more things which could have been impacting her well-being, and she said that she felt incredibly more comfortable doing it like this. She felt like she was more at ease as she was in a setting which was safe to her. This felt like another ‘penny drop’ moment. The space we hold for another person is so precious and wonderful, and when we get it right, wonderful and amazing things can happen. After that session she messaged me saying “You’ve been more help than you know”. Creating a safe place is more than the location, it is about the feelings of the people in that space and how that can be constructed naturally.

One barrier I have come across throughout my whole time doing this course is realising the importance of opening up. I know I have found it very difficult in the past and see with my community project that people find it very difficult to even approach the topic sometimes. Where I have been working with athletes there is a bit of a stigma when it comes to well-being and their personal image.

There are several barriers to elite athletes accessing help for mental health concerns. Competitive athletes may have less positive attitudes toward help-seeking for mental health problems than non-athletes (Watson, 2005), perhaps partially due to being perceived as a weakness (Bauman, 2016).It comes back to that point about athletes having a lot of problems related to their image. (Sebbens et al., 2016).

At the start of this idea/project I wanted to be able to have lots of data which would help me measure how much I’ve helped, or how much of an impact and improvement I could make, but after starting and working with these people, for me that isn’t the priority. It has changed to, am I maybe having an impact on someone else’s life for the better, even if it is a miniscule amount of difference, that’s good enough for me. I just want people to know that, regardless of how it makes them look, people like myself are here to listen.

Mental Health in Sport (MHS): Improving the Early Intervention Knowledge and Confidence of Elite Sport Staff (Sebbens et al., 2016)
Cumulative lifetime stress exposure, depression, anxiety, and well-being in elite athletes: A mixed-method study (McLoughlin et al., 2021).

 

 

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About Inner Compass

Liz Scott & Stu Newberry are trainers, coaches and speakers. They work with individuals and groups across the UK. They also help develop coaching cultures (founded on wellbeing) within schools and organisations.

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