It’s mental health awareness week, and at SMILE this is something that we are looking to help with and we believe sport can have a big impact on managing and improving mental health conditions. Mental health issues can affect anyone at anytime and need to be taken seriously as they can lead to serious health problems. Our Founder Stephen Miller shares some thoughts on mental health and a few tips to get the most benefit from physical activity.
As a professional athlete, there can be many downsides to the constant pursuit of excellence and perfection. There can be a lot of pressure with the goal/result driven world of elite sport, still the positive aspects far outweigh the negative when it comes to sporting activity, as long as you don’t become too obsessive. Often the toughest times mentally for elite athletes are during periods of injury or after retirement, the act of doing sport being a pleasurable experience whatever the pressure to perform well.
As with most things in life where outcomes are measurable, there will be anxiety and stress related to getting the desired outcomes, so it’s very important when you’re training and competing not to think about the outcomes or the consequences of your performance. This is something elite athletes get a lot of help with through coaches and psychologists, we’ve all heard the term ‘stay in the moment’. Sure, plan and try to predict what outcomes you would like to achieve, but during the actual act of doing your chosen sport it’s better to let it happen.
In my experience people have the most enjoyment when they feel they are getting better and improving. Improvement is relative to the individual and in sport there are so many ways that you can improve – Skills, mobility, endurance, strength, flexibility, team work, communication, speed, technique, knowledge, mentality, coordination, balance, and much more, the list is endless really. If you think you’re getting better at something then you will tend to feel better about yourself.
Let’s look at my top 3 tips for getting the most mental health related benefits from sport.
- You are the competition! – Start at the bottom and work up, even for elite athletes this works, every year I start again and build myself up from scratch. This basically means evaluating yourself, picking the areas where you want to improve and gradually chip away. This year I wanted to improve my cleans in the gym and from a 20kg pb I gradually moved to 22.5kg and then to 25kg – not huge weight but has made a big difference to my power and just as important it makes me feel good. It doesn’t bother me that for most people a 25kg clean would be pretty easy, I know that it’s difficult for me and that I have improved a lot through hard work. It’s important to focus on yourself and not judge yourself against others.
- Keep it simple – This is true in most forms of life not just sport. If we look at the 80/20 principal then we know that generally just 20% of actions will contribute to desired outcomes, so you don’t need to spend every waking hour training, that will just make you tired and sick. Just 15-30 minutes physical exercise a day will make a huge difference for most people, as long as you focus on areas you want to improve and put in 100% effort. I do a maximum 4 exercises in the gym that I know will contribute the most to my desired outcome – throwing the stick further. This year I wanted to improve my core, so I said I’d do a core Sally Challenge (Youtube it if you’re unsure) every morning, at first I struggled to get halfway through one, but now I can do 3 on the bounce. Just under 10 minutes of my morning that has become a habit and has made a massive difference both physically and mentally.
- Keep learning – Key to all improvement and success is learning, with the time and motivation it’s possible for anyone to learn just about anything. Sure some people are naturally talented at certain things and others have to work really hard, but at the end of the day there’s no better feeling than mastering something new. In sport that could be a movement, a skill, a drill, a technique, even a way of thinking. Get help from coaches, experts, friends, books, other athletes, videos. Be curious and keep looking for ways you can improve and progress. This will keep you stepping forward, and however small your steps, when you put them all together over time it will make into a massive step and life changing results.
The mental benefits of regular participation in sport are many and it comes down to the fact that our bodies and minds were made to be challenged and sport does that so well, letting us enjoy feelings of achievement, belonging and ultimately enjoyment.