A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about my past mental health struggles and how I believe they could have manifested themselves through a faulty approach to life that began for me as a youngster entering elite sport. In short, I believe a desire to overcome internal issues like low self-esteem (of which I was unaware) lead to me placing an unreasonable emphasis on gaining things, like success, in the external world, to make up for what was lacking. In turn, this tactic helped me to avoid the pain I may have felt had I turned my attention inward and addressed the actual problem.
The inner shame I felt became like an anchor dragging the bottom of the sea. Through determination, I was able to force the ship on and get to some of the places I wanted to get to, and this did bring me some success, especially as a coach. I do believe however, that not having the awareness of the heavy burden I was taking with me, hindered me in reaching my full potential.
Whilst I am aware I achieved some very special things in sport, it has been my journey to fall short and therefore to have to closely analyse the mistakes I think I have made. As a result, I look back on my time and wonder whether my coaches and I could have approached things differently, and whether this could have brought better performances. Or, if I’d been able to see that nothing in me was every really lacking, would the drive and determination that was within me have faded away? In other words, I’d have had nothing to prove.
Reasons to be traumatised come in many forms, and it is difficult to compare someone who has experienced their parents breaking up, with someone who was bullied, with someone who perhaps grew up in a low-income environment. It has always appeared to me though that typically those who have some demons and have had to struggle through life become more resilient performers in the end.
During the last 6 years, I travelled so far away from elite sport. My view of that world became completely obscured and there was no way I could have seen a route back. My priority had to be putting myself back together. But as I started to realise that I was doing exactly that, I couldn’t help but think that the things I was learning could be invaluable if I ever were to work with athletes again. Now, I stand on the verge of forming a track and field group once again and feel ready to test the holistic approach I have developed in my own wellbeing routine.
That holistic approach will be grounded in respect and balance. I will encourage those I work with to reach for something more but without the burden of thinking they NEED to get there because there’s something missing inside of them.
It’s going to be an experiment in many ways. Could the cost be that I make my athletes too content and stop them for reaching for the stars? Maybe! But, I am not willing to work with any athletes in a way that I believe will leave them washed up and broken when they finish with sport. With no understanding of who they are, and a compulsion to go looking outside themselves for something that gives them meaning. Just like I did!
I do have an inclination however that my new way has the potential to create happy human beings AND the most amazing performances. I certainly wouldn’t be moving back towards top level sport if I wasn’t excited about the possibility of being with athletes whilst they achieved things that the likes of Danny Talbot and Emily Diamond did under my guidance. In fact, I’d be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t declare that I’m coming back to do the things I set out to do back then, but wasn’t quite able achieve.
Furthermore, I believe we have already seen a person who brought peace of mind with him into sport and as a result had the most incredible performances. Usain Bolt always looked to me to be free on the start line, performing his trademark lightning bolt with a smile on his face. He knew who he was, and I don’t think losing races would have made a difference to that in his mind. He was able to stay loose in the highest-pressure environments and became the most remarkable athlete that has ever stepped on a track.
Through all the personal struggle that pushed me out of elite sport, wouldn’t it be great if I’m returning with the holy grail of athlete preparation and that one day, my happy athletes will break world records and win Olympic gold medals?
I will be starting a new training group for sprinters in September (my initial recruitment will be for male sprinters between 16 and 25 years old). I am already running a speed session once a week for athletes in sports other than athletics. If you or anyone you know is an aspiring athlete who wants to explore their true potential with a coach who’s not only been there and got the t-shirt, but now knows how to do it better, please use the contact form to get in touch.
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