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Head of Performance - Physical activity and mental health

Published:

I have always loved taking part in sport or just being outside being active.

Growing up I was part of pretty much every sports club I could convince my parents to take me to and would spend most weekends skateboarding, mountain biking or generally being a bit feral, running around the countryside where I lived. I got into triathlon when I went to university and soon fell in love with the process of training and generally exploring my surroundings through swim, bike and run.

It was not until 2020 when I realised how important being physically active was for mental health.

Picture the scene. It is January 2020 and I have just found out that my work over the last four years as the Pathway Manager has led to my promotion to the Head of Performance for Welsh Triathlon. We had grown our team to include two full-time coaches, three contracted Sport Science Practitioners and most importantly we had more athlete engaged across all our programmes than ever before. I was excited, motivated, and ready to take on 2020.

Three months later the entire country went into lockdown, none of our athletes could access the environments we had worked so hard to provide for them, let alone any races. Half the Welsh Triathlon team were furloughed, and I had to figure out how to keep supporting the athletes, coaches and contract staff. How would we work our way back to delivering quality coaching and support to athletes on the ground?

I enjoy a good challenge, and this was certainly up there with one of my toughest! The process of adapting, supporting and keeping programmes going was a stressful but enjoyable task. It brought out the best in the people we worked with and led to some great creativity. However, it required a lot of mental energy from me. When you lead a team your behaviours and approach will naturally influence the rest of the people around you, add into the mix you are often the first person someone comes to when they have a problem or complaint, and you have to be at your best all the time.

This is where I really noticed the benefits of being physically active. Most mornings I go for a run or jump on a Zwift ride. At weekends my wife (Gemma) and I starting training for a trail marathon*. Exploring the hills and trails around Cardiff was amazing and I have found so many places I never even knew existed which are on my doorstep. It gave me the time and space to switch off from the world and just be present in the moment.

On the days when I did not make an effort to be active, I really noticed my motivation and mood drop. I found it so much harder to concentrate and give the energy required to do my job well. My sleep would suffer and I would generally be in a bit of a low mood.

So, what has 2020 taught me about physical activity? Well, I still love nothing more than being out in the Welsh Countryside running, mountain biking or walking the dog. I have a newfound appreciation for being physically active as I now understand how it helps me with my mental health, and I found a new love of running (slowly for long distances!)

*And because you are all dying to know. Yes, we did the trail marathon in August 2020. The actual event was cancelled so Gemma and I did a route around the hills north of Cardiff. I loved it, Gemma less so!

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