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.
“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:
- Understanding Endorphins and Their Importance in Pain Management. Adam S Sprouse-Blum, BA, Greg Smith, BS, Daniel Sugai, BA, and F Don Parsa, MD, FACSHawaii Med J. 2010 Mar; 69(3): 70–71. PMCID: PMC3104618PMID: 20397507
Other useful links:
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