When I began looking into Sport Psychology in 2013 there were not many books on it to investigate. Over the last nine years probably hundreds have been published. Is there room for one more? What can yet another one add? In the case of Perform and Thrive from Sarah Broadhead the answer is actually: A lot. This is the book that athletes, coaches and sport psychologists have needed for years. Looking at mental health and wellbeing through the lens of an athlete. In doing so it feels like an essential book for stage 2 trainees and sports coaches to learn about mental health and the impact it can have on performance. Something that is missing from many MSc courses.  

I love the section in the foreword from Jade Jones OBE that says: “Sarah helped me be the best version of myself, not just in sport but in life – helping me work out my values and what matters to me. There is no point in winning if that is all you have… I remembered that you are more than your results.” This sums up why the wider support of athletes – to build their self-awareness of what matters and how to keep this in perspective through excellent wellbeing is so important. Sarah’s book helps this happen.

Sarah offers nice elements to help us consider an athlete’s mental health suggesting that poor mental health comes when:

  • We experience patterns of behaviour, thoughts, feelings and experiences that result in significant distress, suffering, pain or damage to health.
  • They impact our life over a prolonged period
  • Our normal ways of coping are not working.

And at the other end of the spectrum we are given a great definition of good Mental Health, taken from MIND: Generally able to think, feel and react in ways that you need and want to live your life.”

Sarah highlights that good mental health isn’t for a moment in time – it is sustainable. Something which is incredibly important if you are an athlete as the highs can be rare and the day-to-day training can at times feel like drudgery. As a result, I really valued seeing a discussion of the models of suffering: The medical model and the non-medical model. I feel the non-medical model deserves much more attention that it gets in society. Sometimes we feel awful because we are in distress. It makes us a person with a problem instead of a patient with an illness. It is neatly described here as rather than thinking ‘what is wrong with you’ the model asks: ‘what has happened to you.’.

The chapter on culture includes many athlete examples of when poor culture in a sporting body has caused harm to their physical or mental wellbeing. The athlete examples make the abuse and uncomfortable situations we often hear about on the news feel much more real, much more personal. It then moves into a much more positive place, discussing how to develop fun, balanced cultures full of psychological safety. A great chapter for sports leaders to digest.

I really enjoyed Sarah taking us on the journey to find out all the elements feeding into our sense of self; our values, identity and personality traits. This I think could really help practitioners understand their athletes much more.

The chapter on relationships doesn’t just cover parents or coaches (something I was guilty of in my teenage sports psych book) but really considers all the relationships we have as athletes and the impact they can have.  It covered attachment styles, having difficult conversations, ways we can learn to express our needs and boundaries and even goes into subjects like handling the loss of loved ones.

The chapter on stress, anxiety and fear had lots of activities and ideas you could try but this felt like more of a process to follow would be helpful.

In the rest and recovery chapter Sarah covers the three-system model of tracking time spent in three emotional states: Drive, Threat and Recovery. She also covers issues rarely taught at MSc level: RED-S, Concussion and believes and the personality traits that hold us back from resting and recovering fully. This would be an excellent read of coaches or psychologists who can see their athletes are overtraining and struggling to get them to hold back.

Finally, the chapter on support gives lots of ideas on how to support athletes to get the specific help they need. It even lists the different types of therapy and therapists – something people regularly ask for.

My only critique is that perhaps the title doesn’t really describe the book. Perhaps turning it around: Thrive and then Perform, would better summarise the need to have great wellbeing before great performance becomes sustainable. Overall though Perform and Thrive has lots of athlete quotes to bring the points to life and is speckled with activities and questions to reflect on – this makes something that could feel prescriptive and generalist feel incredibly usable and personal.

Perform and Thrive is published on November 15th.