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April is Stress Awareness Month, and throughout the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing tips from experienced athletes on dealing with the unique pressures of being an elite sportsperson.

If you require independent, confidential advice, please email support@britishathletes.org.

In addition, within your sport, your Performance Lifestyle Coach or Psychologist can assist with any support needs you may have. Again, these conversations can be completely confidential.

“I understand that it’s a mental struggle at the start of your career. You want to be the best you can be, and you put a lot of pressure on yourself to achieve that.

“But you’ve got to be kind to yourself – you’ve got to pat yourself on the back sometimes and praise yourself, as well as being hard on yourself when needed.”

Will Bayley: Four-time Paralympic medallist (table tennis).

“When things aren’t going too well, having too much time between sessions means you often just sit and over-analyse. I teach hockey at a local school for 6-8 hours a week, and for me, that’s the perfect balance.

“It’s a really nice escape and gives you a sense of freedom, which is key for that mental balance – having other interests outside of your sport enhances your career. It’s the reason I’ve done so much better over the last two years – the emotional rollercoaster has been much flatter.”

Laura Sugar: World and Paralympic champion (para-canoe).

“One of the best things I’ve done is get social circles away from sport. When you surround yourself with other athletes doing amazing things, it can make your achievements not seem that special, but when you mix with other people you get that appreciation and that recognition of what you do.

“So first and foremost I’d say break away and explore a little bit.”

Neil Fachie: Two-time Paralympic champion (para-cycling).

“I would 100% say that having something else away from elite sport is crucial to finding that perfect mental balance, which is so important for sport.

“If you’re burnt out, if your stress bucket is full and you’ve just been going through the motions for a while, without getting that rest or that break, you will lose that excitement and desire to showcase your best performance.”

Nekoda Smythe-Davis: Commonwealth gold medallist (judo).

“The pandemic allowed me to re-set, and I figured out that I could do a lot more outside of the sport. That’s then taken the pressure off me in the sport, and I feel that I can just play for the sake of playing, without the pressure. I’m not convinced that the recent success that I’ve had would have happened with my previous mindset, which was just ‘head down, get on with it’.”

David Smith: Three-time Paralympic champion (boccia).

 

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