Mental Health and Mental Performance – Seminar

AASP picThis week I am at AASP Conference. AASP is the Association of Applied Sport Psychologists. There are about 2500 members in 55 countries and about 50% of those members have turned up at conference. That is how good it usually is.

One of the sessions I was most looking forward to attending was on how practitioners support good mental health when they are trying to promote high levels of mental performance. The panellists had experience from youth elites (Valerie Valle at IMG Academy), Olympians (Sean McCann, US Olympic Committee), NCAA students (Vanessa Shannon, Uni of Louisville) and Pro Baseball (Angus Mugford, Toronto Blue Jays). It was pulled together and hosted by Duncan Simpson who is also at IMG Academy and is one of my ‘go to’ guys when I write features as he explains complex research findings in a way that is instantly usable by athletes.

The elements I thought would be helpful for me if I work in a team environment in future and maybe helpful for other Sports Psychs to reflect on:

How the panel deal with tricky or clinical issues when athletes are off at competitions or camps:

  • Realise there is an urgency
  • Have your phones switched on all the time when working with a team
  • Train the sports medicine staff in Mental Health First Aid so they can triage the situation if you are not there
  • Expect tricky things to happen but remember every situation is different so slow down to make decisions
  • Have communication processes in place
  • Be proactive in relationship building with other staff so support can be collaborative.

Stressors and risk factors for poor mental health in athlete populations:

  • Age – around 14 is the time when many mental health issues start to appear – especially if young people are away from home so have more freedom but also more pressure – so we really need to understand what happens to the brain during adolescence.
  • Time travelling – thinking ahead about what might happen if… In competition athletes should be in the moment.
  • The biggest occasions – i.e. Olympics can become a magnifying glass of emotion as it is often a once in a lifetime opportunity.
  • After big events – athletes may struggle even if they did well and if they are not prepared can suffer with depression or substance abuse.

Working in Multi-Disciplinary teams

  • It can be really hard to collaborate across a large number of teams so you will need to identify communication systems which keep you all updated but don’t risk the athletes privacy.
  • Can split mental health and mental performance so there are fewer issues for athletes on what is shared.
  • Collaboration is rarely efficient but it can be very effective.
  • Think about informal connections and discussions which can be had
  • Develop an athlete management system so each athlete feels like they have 1 unified programme.
  • On a team know who your ‘high awareness’ players are who will need more support and attention.

Transition of athletes into a programme

  • Provide coach education so they know and understand what athletes are going through
  • Provide lots of support in an athlete’s first few weeks on a programme
  • Get seen a lot so it is easy for anyone struggling to come and see you.
  • Run an induction session with new athletes – and maybe with their parents too.
  • Do some screening to see who is likely to need support; Anxiety, Patient Health Questionnaire and Eating Disorders.

Transition of athletes out of a programme

  • Be clear everything is on the table for discussion.
  • Most athletes (and often their coaches) will not want to consider what comes next but those who do enjoy performance benefits and an easier time after retirement.
  • We need to prepare them for the ‘after’.

Stigma for athletes of seeing a Psych

  • Coaches and other athletes who have had support can be the best people to spread the word the sports psych can be trusted
  • There will always be discomfort when we don’t have experience of something but most athletes will not have learnt mental skills before so will not know their value- you may need to sell them what you can offer – sell this as ways to maximise potential.

Ways for Sport Psychologists’ to maintain mental health

  • Share our vulnerability
  • Admit we are not perfect but that we are trying
  • Get good colleagues we can consult with
  • Practice what you preach when it comes to self-care: Lots of sleep, good nutrition, other self-identities, lots of support
  • Have boundaries
  • Accept you probably won’t get balance if you are embedded in a travelling team but find your blend and know your non-negotiables and set up routines.
  • Find autonomy and meaning and value and create proactive systems.

Lessons to remember

  • We need to manage our own expectations of what we can achieve (be realistic!)
  • Remember that we are performers too
  • Keep focused on it not being the outcome which matters. Think about what being a good sports psych looks like – it is usually about the process and never about the outcome.
  • Value ourselves – but don’t over value ourselves!

Press release: Sporting Brain Box

Brain Box photo

  • Athletes spend many hours each week on their physical fitness – now they have an easy way to also train their brains to be mentally fit.
  • The Sporting Brain Box is a full mental skills toolkit which will allow athletes at all levels to benefit from the techniques taught by sport psychologists.
  • Dr Josephine Perry, Chartered Sport Psychologist at Performance in Mind and Sarah Dudgeon, Designer at Art of your Success have worked together to create the box.

Awareness of the mental side of sport has never been higher. No longer hiding the fact they work with sport psychologists, clubs and athletes now celebrate the successes that they can achieve once they have their mindset on their side. But, not everyone trying to do well in their sport or attempting a challenge has access to a sport psychologist or can afford to see one.

Having seen the benefits that learning mental skills and approaches has on her clients Chartered Sport Psychologist Dr Josephine Perry approached Designer and keen runner and cyclist Sarah Dudgeon, who creates motivational products and gifts for athletes, about collaborating to develop a unique product. The product was to give educational benefit to athletes but in a really accessible and fun way. The Sporting Brain Box was born. The box includes everything needed to learn and put into practice 13 strategies and techniques which don’t just help athletes to cope better with the pressures which come from performing in sport, but actually learn to thrive and enjoy the process of performing.

Based on Perry’s GRASP approach athletes using the box can become skilled in:

Goals: Setting goals and sticking to them by using a goal setting sheet, a training diary and weekly planner.

Racing: Designing mid race or competition tactics to get you through the tough times with a confidence booster, a skills sheet and a mantra.

Awareness: Having high levels of self-awareness through control mapping, seeing your stars in the dark and learning all about your chimp.

Support: Knowing where you get your support from for your sport and from supporting yourself with a bravery box.

Prepared: Being really well prepared so you get to your competition or performance confident and with the right level of mental activation through ‘What if’ planning, a pre-performance routine and developing your personal performance playlist.

Perry is delighted that the box will help those who have never been able to use psychology before. “I love seeing how athletes benefit from learning sport psychology techniques. The improvement in their performances, their new approaches to their sport and the enjoyment they get from it can be really exciting to see. Hopefully the Sporting Brain Box will offer these mental skills to those who may not previously have been able to access sport psychology.”

Dudgeon says “Art Of Your Success is all about inspiring you in your challenges by bringing you products to motivate, organise and celebrate your training & racing.  We’ve seen how athletes like to improve their own performance, while also supporting others.  The box can help both by becoming an essential part of an athlete’s own sports kit, but also an ideal gift for anyone tackling a challenge.”

The box launches on October 3rd and can be purchased from: for £50 plus £4 postage.

Notes to editors:

  1. High res photos are available on request.
  2. Dr Josephine Perry is a Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist and runs the Performance Consultancy, Performance in Mind which works with athletes and stage performers to perform at their best under all conditions. Perry has recently published her first book; Performing under Pressure: Strategies for Sporting Success. She also has a love of endurance sports and has raced in triathlons all over the world.
  3. Sarah Dudgeon is a keen runner and cyclist. She’s run over 50 marathons, including a personal best of 3:00:04, and a few silly Guinness World Records along the way, and cycled the whole Tour de France route.  She combines her passions and knowledge of sport and design at Here you can find training tips, gifts and stationery, or commission a design for your club or event.
  4. The techniques in the box can help athletes who want to:
  • Reduce anxiety and nerves
  • Boost their confidence
  • Cope better with setbacks
  • Spot helpful patterns of pre-competition behaviours
  • Get to the right level of activation before performance
  • Increase their levels of emotional control
  • Have positive and helpful head chatter doing competitions.

For more information contact Josephine: 07958 519733 or