The Sparkle Coach: It takes more strength to protect our mental wellbeing than pursue an Olympic gold

Cricketer Ben Stokes, Olympian Simone Biles and footballer Tyrone Mings have all demonstrated their true strength by sharing how they have taken steps to protect their mental health, proving themselves as true champions way beyond their sporting accolades.

Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 9:59 am
Updated Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 10:02 am

Whilst this may seem like a ‘sad state of affairs’ due to the impact their elite sport and the pressure which comes with it as a professional can take its toll on their mind with vile online abuse and societal wide scrutiny over every aspect of their lives, it reminds us all of the need to protect our mental wellbeing as preparation for life and also the need of sabbaticals or support when it comes to looking after our health.

Stokes has put his head before his finger injury, Biles has taken time out from some of the Olympics to care for her mind over winning another gold medal and even more sportsmen on the BBC’s Man Up show as well as a recent BBC Podcast have all been brave enough to candidly share their personal stories of how sport and associated stigma can hinder your mental health.

England Footballer Tyrone Mings has now spoken about his need of a psychologist to deal with the scrutiny he faced prior to the Euros.

The Sparkle Coach

Physical activity can boost endorphins, reduce symptoms of mild to moderate mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, providing us with more natural energy and mental clarity. Not to mention the fact that sitting down for more than six hours a day during your free time raises your risk of early death by 19 per cent, not to mention making us slump, feel sluggish and fatigued.

Many people struggle with physical inactivity however, something which can also be a result of mental health problems and/or lifestyle, so it is always worth seeking appropriate support.

Adversely, too much exercise or ‘performing’ to a professional level can cause negative effects on the mind and body such as over-training and acute stress on the mind and body aka 'adrenal fatigue' which may undo any benefits. Not to mention the global pressure on athletes such as Biles, Stokes and Mings to compete.

Yet for me who is acutely aware of this fragile balance between any extreme having studied mental health in tandem with my fitness qualifications and now yoga which speaks of the need for alignment i.e. not to over or under exert ourselves, it is about listening to what our mind and body needs: Something Biles has proved in abundance having incredibly demonstrated her own self-healing.

Back in 2013, for example. she was pulled from a domestic competition due to injury and attempting to overexert herself. Yet now in the tempting flow of many sports people’s dreams of competing at the Tokyo Olympics, the US athlete has recognised the need to withdraw herself from highly anticipated competitions and even retaining her world title.

Whilst I have never performed at such an intense level, even as a professional dancer, health coach and sports lover, I too have felt the negative impact that too much adrenaline can have over our performance - from experiencing a ‘down’ prior to performing or even teaching a workshop.

Even the adrenaline needed to perform well, the adrenal high, aka ‘buzz’, of the show and like Biles learned the need to safely perform at our peak and then experience the post-show slump.

These intense waves of adrenaline can be addictive, as we seek for the high and forget the feeling of the ‘come down.’ Hence my coping strategy of keeping busy with other activities pre-performance and then aiming for my cup of tea and PJs in bed as I allowed myself introvert time to wind down post-show, rather than accepting invites to after-parties.

Even in our daily lives as we whizz from task-to-task - too much ‘stress’ whether it be positive or negative can be detrimental to our wellbeing.

Sometimes a break is enforced on us through injury or illness. But how many times do we try and ‘power’ through neglecting ourselves.

I personally know so many instructors who lead a large array of classes each day and don’t feel any extra benefits through too much physical exertion and are often feeling a decline in fitness or overall health.

For the day-to-day person too, such stress at work or even during a HIIT class can lead to us gaining or losing excess body fat through too much cortisol, lack of sleep and most of all negatively impact our minds.

Our mental rehearsal and training can be just as important to achieving optimum performance hence why elite athletes and top coaches build in rest, sleep and recovery as integral elements into a training schedule.

Our minds are our navigation systems that can alert us to when our bodies have had enough because too much adrenaline and focus on a performance can mask how we feel physically. If we neglect our minds, our bodies, lives and careers suffer in the long-run and are at risk in the short-term too.

We live in a world where mental health is still largely a Cinderella service in comparison to physical health investment but hopefully with these globally recognised sportspeople are powering off the starting for us to all recognise the value of incorporating our holistic health in order to achieve our goals sustainably.