Written by Andrew Thomson
Edited by Genevieve Gordon
WELLBEING – FIVE KEY AREAS
There is a common misconception from the outside world that all athletes are completely happy and fulfilled individuals.
How could they not be, playing and competing in sport every day of their lives is ‘living the dream’ surely? However, recent studies, well documented cases and my experience, both during my own career and speaking with athletes in my current role, prove that this is not always the case.
There are five key areas to focus on in order to look after your wellbeing and I want to take a look at them in more detail in relation to an athlete.
Feeling close to others and feeling valued is a human need, but so often in sport we retreat into our own ‘bubble’ because we believe we are protecting ourselves. I spent long periods, particularly if things were not going well in my career, shutting everybody out and feeling that I had to figure things out by myself. I was wrong. Talking, listening and connecting with others is essential in life and in sport. Ask how the people around you are, speak to new people, really listen to people, it is amazing how much of a lift it will give you internally and externally in your performance.
Now this seems obvious when we are talking about athletes but there are many areas we can be more active in even when training. I played the best football of my career when I was most active away from training. Rest is obviously important for all athletes but there are many activities that you can take part in that will not harm your physical performance. A light extra gym session, stretching exercises, a swim, walking the dog (or cat!), playing golf or just going for a gentle walk in the countryside will all help to make you feel better about yourself as well as encouraging more interactions with other people.
This broadens awareness of what is taking place right now, in the present. As athletes we are all at times guilty of dwelling on past events, this is key for learning and improving but can also be detrimental to our wellbeing if recent experiences are negative ones, the best athletes will learn from their mistakes but put them behind them very quickly and focus on the here and now. Just watch how quickly the top golfers put a bad shot out of their minds during a round or how a top striker converts his next chance after missing a ‘sitter’ earlier in the game.
Continuing to learn enhances our view of ourselves and will encourage more connections in new areas and more activity. Learning about our sport with the desire to improve performance is something that never stops, no matter at what age, but what about outside of sport? I am a firm believer that having goals in other areas will impact positively in your sport, what better feeling and what a release of pressure feeling that all of your eggs are not in one basket. Reading, studying and learning new skills all help us to grow as people and could also help to grow a network outside of your sport, which could just come in handy for life after sport.
Research has shown that helping others has a direct increase in our own sense of wellbeing. There is no better feeling as an athlete than ‘giving something back’ to the local community, I was involved in many community projects during my career and the highlight of this for me was visiting the local children’s hospital and handing out presents before Christmas every year. There are so many community and charity projects, public appearances and volunteering opportunities for athletes to get involved in and whilst we should not look at it from a selfish point of view, if doing something good for others has a positive personal effect too, isn’t that a ‘win win?’