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Performance, Wellbeing | May 22, 2019 | 3 min read

Making Wellbeing a Priority in Elite Sport

Here are the 10 key takeaways from Leaders Meet: Wellbeing.
John Portch

The great and the good of the Leaders Performance Institute gathered at the state-of-the-art City Football Academy in Manchester on 21 May for our inaugural Leaders Meet: Wellbeing event.

Members can read the full write-up here. 

Want to join us next time?

We’re heading to Atlanta’s world-class Mercedes Benz stadium June 25-26 for two days packed with insight, with speakers from General Manager of Atlanta Falcons Thomas Dimitroff to President & CEO of Toronto Blue Jays Mark Shapiro.


By John Portch

This invite-only summit, which included speakers from the likes of City Football Group, the Ineos Team UK America’s Cup sailing team and the Australian Institute of Sport, also included roundtable discussions where our members could talk through their challenges when it comes to wellbeing.

The topics covered onstage ranged from developing performance environments and the fulfillment duties of care, to resilience and mental health.

Here are 10 of the most resonant insights:

1) The time for a reactive approach to wellbeing is over

The time is now to to develop a shared understanding across its athletes, commercial and performance staff, with an increased psychological understanding and empathy that informs interventions in a collaborative, multidisciplinary fashion.

2) Staff need to be able to escalate issues early and swiftly

Workshops themed on wellbeing have been an invaluable educational tool across sport. Sessions must use simplified, accessible language. City Football Group, for example, gives staff the ability to escalate potential red flags through its SAFE approach, which can be summarised as: ‘Spot early warning signs, Ask in a safe environment, Follow up with further conversation and Encourage the player to seek further support.

3) Recognise that we are all working with human beings

In sport there is the risk of focusing too heavily on outcomes and the risk of fostering a ‘blame culture’ despite the considerable hours put in across the board. Organisations should encourage their leaders to self-reflect and to model both vulnerability and fallibility to their staff; they must set the example and demonstrate potential pathways for athletes to follow.

4) Caring for athlete and staff wellbeing is the right thing to do

Put aside duties of care for one minute – ensuring the wellbeing of all staff members is simply the right and proper approach. There is also an understanding that wellbeing is not the same as being happy or feeling good – it is flourishing and living your best, which applies across life, not just sport.

5) Mental strain is a load as valid as any physical load

This is crucial in obtaining the buy-in of coaches to any wellbeing initiatives you may have. The Rugby Football Union has advocated a ‘load-based’ model, which sees coaches made aware of player loads beyond training and playing. They have, in essence, developed the concept of a ‘life load’. Good recovery and wellbeing increases an athlete’s capacity to carry load and improve performance.

6) Resilience can be developed and it takes numerous forms

Resilience comes from bridging the gap between practice and the performance. The Royal College of Music [RCM] has adopted a systematic approach designed to weed out any bad performance and lifestyle habits.The also RCM needs to be mindful of the meaning musicians draw from their craft and the often detrimental effect it can have on their wellbeing.

7) Simulation can be a valuable tool

The RCM has also co-developed a performance simulator that enables students to perform in front of hostile audiences and dissatisfied adjudicators. It presents both easy and difficult situations for students and enables tutors to provide them with that coping strategies to reframe any tough moments.

8) Remember that one size does not fit all

One size does not fit all because of the potentially different interpretations of life and performance stressors experienced by each individual. It is easier to be intentional when one understands the individual context of the athlete or artist at hand.

9) There needs to be social and political will for increased wellbeing initiatives

There was social and political will around developing an athlete wellbeing & engagement infrastructure at the Australian Institute of Sport [AIS] when it became clear that some people were worse off for being in the nation’s high performance system. The AIS’ Athlete Wellbeing & Engagement department reports directly to the executive and has advocates in key positions. Wellbeing needed a seat at the decision-making table.

10) Current athletes can have a huge impact

Nothing removes the stigma around wellbeing than having current athletes speak about their mental struggles. Their stories are often the most impactful education tool and serve to generate a greater understanding of matters around men.

 

Want to join us next time?

We’re heading to Atlanta’s world-class Mercedes Benz stadium June 25-26 for two days packed with insight, with speakers from General Manager of Atlanta Falcons Thomas Dimitroff to President & CEO of Toronto Blue Jays Mark Shapiro.

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