Category

Sports coaching

Sport and Mental Health Awareness

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Personal Development, Sports coaching

LEARNING SOMETHING NEW

We have all found changes in our lives during lockdown and many of us are finding time to slow down, think and consider things which might never have made it to the top of our ‘to-do’ list in normal times.

I have been enjoying connecting with coaches from a wide range of sports (away from my own area of equestrianism) and I’m learning lots and thinking more creatively.

One of the benefits has been access to new courses and as it is Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 (18th to 24th May) I thought I would take the course offered by UK Sport on Mental Health Awareness for Sport and Physical Activity.

As a coach in non-sport environments too, this is a subject which comes very close to my work at all times, so it has been valuable to gain a little more understanding.  One of my key learning points is that we can talk about mental health without being counsellors; just as in all my coaching work, it is a question of understanding where boundaries lie and where people can go for expert help when someone needs it.

 

A BIT ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH

Our minds can fall ill, just as our bodies can. The illness may be short or long term. It can vary in severity. It can have different causes and diverse symptoms. Importantly, it doesn’t define who we are, it’s just a small part of our identity or our history.

The World Health Organisation says: ‘ Mental Health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to contribute to her or his community’.

Mind’s (the Mental Health Charity) ‘5 ways to well-being’ are a set of actions that we can all take to improve our well-being:

  • Connect – talk to people, meet people
  • Be active – start or continue exercise
  • Learn – goal-setting can highlight achievements
  • Take notice – be mindful, notice all the good things or achievements, however small
  • Give – do things for others, it feels good

WHY ARE WE LINKING SPORT AND MENTAL HEALTH?

Mind believes that, ‘Sport and physical activity builds resilience, enables and supports mental health recovery and tackles stigma’.

Many of us who are already active will know that we feel better for a bit of ‘fresh air and exercise’. There are physical reasons for it though, it isn’t just some random idea. The biochemistry behind it is a longish story, but in brief, neuropeptides called endorphins are released from the pituitary gland and go to block pain signals in the nervous system. This indirectly causes the release of dopamine which is the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure. (You can find more on Wikipedia or in the article cited below*).  So – exercise makes us feel good.

How can exercise help? Here are a few things to ponder:

  • Endorphins – our natural, intrinsic ‘opiates’, make us feel better
  • Self-esteem – think body image, goal achievement and improved resilience
  • Reducing the risk of depression – physical and psychological
  • Slowing the racing mind – body and mind become tired
  • Sleep patterns improve – serotonin levels are better after exercise. The reduction of ‘rapid eye movement or REM sleep has an anti-depressant effect.

A study by the Department of Health (2011) found that increasing from no exercise to just three times a week lead to the likelihood of depression falling by 30%.

And this is just the start!

TAKING ACTION, BEING ACTIVE

There is still a stigma around mental health and Mind describe a cycle to break the stigma which means that we need to learn about it, listen to people, be open to what they are saying and recognise the illness for what it is.

From a sports and coaching perspective, we also need to understand some of the possible barriers that exist to getting active.  The ‘Four Corners Model’ put together by the Football Association,  (http://www.thefa.com/learning/coaching/the-fas-4-corner-model) is a framework that can help us to look at how we develop our sports people.  In the context of mental health and physical activity, it can be used to create an understanding of barriers to exercise.   This could also be used in the preparation of specific programmes or sessions and helps us to see our clients from a holistic perspective.

  • Physical – travel, medication for example
  • Social – lack of self-esteem
  • Psychological – anxiety in new situation
  • Technical – not knowing the rules of the game or lacking skill or experience

It’s helpful to understand this and it underlines some of the things that we can do to help. I can think of examples in equestrianism, but also in other sports or forms of exercise. Sometimes the barriers are greater than others, sometimes they look bigger because facing them and dealing with them just seems insurmountable. It might be that small first step onto our own personal Everest ascent.

…AND SO?

“As coaches we are there to enable other people to achieve their goals”

It is all too easy to wrapped up in our way of working and of coaching, so the opportunity to think differently brings new ideas and new plans.  Having been unable to go out coaching since lockdown, it has been great to ‘meet’ coaches from sports as varied as football, squash, paddle and adventure sports, and many others.  The group coming together through UK Coaching has inspired me and reminded me that ‘coaching is coaching’, we are there to enable other people to achieve their goals.

Thank you all.

Here is the article that I mentioned:

Other useful links:

https://www.ukcoaching.org/

https://www.mind.org.uk/

https://dynamics-coaching.com/

Please follow us on Twitter – lots to mention but @alisonrpayne will get you started

 

Coaching conversations: Language

By | Coaching and Mentoring, Sports coaching

I had the good fortune to be pointed in the direction of the UK Coaching Connected Coaches site and today we had a healthy conversation about language.

During lockdown, most of us outdoor coaches are really feeling the lack of contact as well as the lack of fresh air and our chosen sport (or sports).  In true positive fashion though, we are starting to look at how we can work effectively in a virtual social space and to explore the slightly elusive positives of this time.

It is great to be included with people from such a cross-section of sport and for me, it’s also fascinating to see the cross-over with the work that I do as a coach in education and business organisations.

I wasn’t alone in thinking that it might be a time for supporting our clients (sports people or other coaches) in really thinking carefully about what we do, and an esteemed colleague from athletics suggested that one thing that we could work on was being much more careful and specific in the language that we use.

Reflecting on our online conversation I am reminded of the number of times that I’ve gone down the line of ‘why?’.  Now,  Root Cause Analysis or ‘The 5 Whys’ are well known tools in leadership but neither of these quite get to what I am seeking to achieve in coaching.  Nonetheless I believe that they have a part in helping us to understand the value in delving deep into things that we might be just taking at face value, so as  little aside, let’s have a very quick look.

Root Cause Analysis does what it says on the tin and is valuable in itself because it heads for resolution of cause, not just overt symptoms, and is therefore often useful in an organisational environment as it considers:

  • What happened
  • How it happened
  • Why it happened and then
  • Actions for preventing reoccurrence

‘The 5 Whys’ tool is another from that massive Toyota Toolbox which also brought us ‘nemawashi’ – the idea that we need to walk the shop floor to fully understand what is happening (before we can then understand why).  It can get right into the possible causes of single or multiple problems by gaining an understanding of events at different levels in a chain of events or sections of a business process.

As a tool for coaching, I adapt it to vary the process, using carefully chosen open or closed questions to filter and define what is really happening, either in a physical process or in someone’s understanding of that process.  Quite often the initial answer that we get from a question is quick-fire.   For example, “How did that feel?” might well elicit the reply, “Good”.  Unfortunately this a) doesn’t give us any specific information on what was happening and b) hasn’t encouraged real reflection on the process.

It is in the further questioning that we really start to get to the bones of it all.  And this is, perhaps, where we can use the time and space (which sounds a bit sci-fi!) that we currently have to explore these things in the detail that they deserve, leading us to yet better results.  One element is the use of silence which is a well-accepted tool in the box of coaches, but it’s a tricky one to use well – especially in a possibly fast-moving physical environment.  (Time and space, time and space!!) Let’s use it now.

So, perhaps an example would help. (I’m sure all coaches could translate the following conversation into their chosen field – I’d love to know how your conversations go!)

I’m helping someone to ride the perfect (haha!) 20m trot circle.  I will give them some basic rules (handrails, if you like) and send them away to explore.  Let’s suppose that things are going well, so after a few minutes we’ll regroup and discuss what is going on, it might go something like this:

Me: ‘Tell me about that” (I am deliberately keeping this broad and creating an opportunity for any kind of answer).

Client: “Well, it was pretty good” (So, this is my opening for exploring what good really was.  I’m also doing a little internal dance because they haven’t said, ‘ugh, it was awful’!)

Me: “In what way was it good?” (Open question, which may well generate a moment’s silence and thought)

Client: “The rhythm was good, but it wasn’t quite a circle” (We need to keep our clients focussing on the good things, but we’ll return to dealing with the rest later)

Me: “What was good about the rhythm?”

Client: “It stayed the same”. (I’m pleased with this because it’s what we are after, however, I want my client to be able to go away and replicate it so that they can ‘self-coach’ when they away from their coaching session).

Me: “How did you know the rhythm was good?” (And it is at this point that I start to get rather blank looks, because they have given me a good answer – what else could I possibly expect??)

Client: “The hoofbeats were even one-two, one-two, all around the circle”.

Me: “Great. It looked like a super rhythm to me too. As well as hearing the hoofbeats, what could you feel that helped you to tell that the rhythm was good”.

Client: “Boris, ” (lets just call the horse Boris for now shall we?)…”didn’t rush off”.  (This is good too, because it means that Boris is finding some balance.  This gives me a clue, as coach, that there might be something else which will be significant).

Me: “That’s a good feeling then and it’ll make things easier, won’t it? What difference was there in the feel through the reins?

Client: “I didn’t feel him taking so much weight in my left hand”.

Me: “Brilliant. So when you are working on your own, how will you know what good is with reference to the rhythm?”

Client: “From the sound and feel of the hoofbeats and whether I’m taking a different contact through the reins”

So, we move from a simple word, to a definition of that word which is specific to that rider, in her context when she rides a 20m circle on Boris.  She has described it in her own words, so it should be meaningful and easily remembered.

In other coaching, it works well too and helping clients to consider the real meaning of words means that they can celebrate small things, or succeed in keeping things in perspective by understanding exactly what ‘happy’, or ‘good’ or ‘difficult’ really mean for them.

Language – let’s celebrate it and use it.