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!

Learn from the best: John Levison

JohnLevison1Endurance sport is tough on athletes; lots of training and preparation, a long day out at a race, needing to fuel properly and maintain consistent energy. Something I’d never thought about is about how all of this also relates to those putting on races; the people behind the scenes who direct, set up, marshall, referee, draft bust or time races for us. Chatting to John Levison really highlighted this and I felt learning from his routines, perspectives and knowledge could give us all a lot to chew on.

John is basically ‘Mr Triathlon’. He has been around triathlon for almost as long as the sport has existed. He not only runs – the website most UK (and probably other country too) athletes go to for news on the triathlon scene – but is regularly found at races as the go to race commentator. His knowledge is deep and having spent so long in the sport he knows the courses and athletes inside out.  I jumped at the chance to pick his brains and learn about what goes into commentating a race and what psychological traits he sees displayed prevalently within the most successful triathletes.

The triathletes you are usually interviewing or commentating on will have all prepared for their races. What sorts of preparation do you need to do for your commentating sessions?

In some ways, I would say there are lots of similarities to what the athletes themselves do. Firstly, the majority of the work if you like is not necessarily specific. Just as an athlete will have some events they are racing / targeting, the fitness and ability to do those comes from consistency of general training, month-on-month and year-year, which builds them the base and the fitness and strength to which they then fine tune / taper / specific prep for the requirements of that event.

Similarly, that my day ‘job’ if you like is following / reporting / writing / researching / interviewing and more within the triathlon world – and that I’ve also been around for a long time – gives you a pretty strong base of experience, knowledge and understanding to call upon when needed. To that, you then do your specific ‘homework’ – what is the course? How many laps? Who is racing? What happened last year(s)? Who has been in form this year? That type of thing. Depending on the type of race, I might contact an athlete, a coach, someone else within the triathlon world, just to get their thoughts, and hopefully that gives you a rounded view of what you are going to expect and might highlight something you hadn’t thought of. Just like an athlete though, simply doing lots of hours of prep immediately before with no base, probably won’t get you very far!

I always estimate that you probably only ever use about 10% of the information that you might have (or is probably tucked away in the triathlon archives of my brain somewhere!), but for me at least, just going through that process gives me more confidence that I’ll be ok on the day. The objective is to try and be ready and potentially use elements of that preparation – not to try and use every statistic, just because you happen to have it.

Just like many of the athletes, I’m reasonably confident that I could probably get away with doing less and ‘winging’ it so to speak on race day on the basis of all of that accumulated knowledge / experience – but that’s not something I try to test out, as I’m sure it would come back to haunt me!

I’m probably also quite fortunate that my memory for triathlon history (and as my wife will confirm, not a lot else!), is quite strong, so most of the time, there is usually a nugget or two of trivia or memory about an athlete or a race that might come in useful.

JohnLevison2Commentating on a triathlon sounds like it must be quite a feat of endurance – especially those with lots of waves so will last for hours – how do you pace yourself and stay focused?

It definitely can and does get physically and mentally tiring. On a bigger and/or longer event, you will typically be working with one of more other commentators, and you do have to take those breaks. Your natural inclination at something like an iron-distance event is that you want to be (and you probably think you can be…), ‘there’ all the time, but you just can’t.

If you get too physically tired, you just can’t keep the energy up in your voice which will show. You’ll also not be switched on mentally, so if you are trying to communicate for example on an Age-Group World Championship, and there are multiple waves in progress at the same time, having a clear head and being able to track what is happening in real time across multiple categories is – to me – really important. I want to be ready to potentially call an athlete down the finish line to be a British / European / World Champion and ideally be building up to that for the crowd (which will likely have friends / family / coaches there), and give them that moment and recognition as it happens – and ideally not 15 seconds after they have crossed the line, when that time has passed. Seeing the smile on someone’s face – and it may be the one and only time in their life they achieve it – when they can hear that they are being recognised and that quite possibly it’s the first moment that they know they have won a medal, is really special.

I’ve also now done several events over the years which will span 3/4/5 days of back-to-back work, like the Commonwealth Games / European Championships / Grand Final and the Nottingham-Leeds double-header this year. You also have to remember that you want your energy (and voice…) to get you through the entire competition, not just the end of the day. Triathlon does lend itself well to natural highs and lows (in terms of energy and excitement) during a race, so you’ll have natural excitement at the start / swim exit and transition / laps (if appropriate) as athletes pass, so there is opportunity there where you are naturally calmer and other times where you need that energy.

Do you get nervous commentating?

Weirdly, I can’t honestly say I’m nervous when speaking to a crowd even if there are thousands, maybe tens of thousands (Hyde Park in years past I’m guessing?), or indeed, for some of the online stuff I’ve done. Even that you don’t actually know what you are going to say / there’s no script / anything can happen.

I can only rationalise that as a) it’s a triathlon, b) I figure approaching 30 years of in-depth watching / studying / writing / researching means I’ve got some solid experience, history & understanding to call upon, and c) I arrive prepared!  Typically I may have only one piece of paper (number / athlete / country and a couple of bullet point / memory jogger notes), but have found that’s way more useful than a folder full of information that you will never, ever get to refer to in real time. I suspect I only ever use 5/10% of the ‘stats’ I know – but just going through the process provides that extra confidence, plus there can always be that random elite who appears out of nowhere!!!

I think I’ve also come to the conclusion, that what probably helps is that I genuinely ‘care’. Might sound a bit weird, but there are plenty of people (and commentators and other people in sport generally), for whom it is a ‘job’. That’s fine, I get that but for example I really was genuinely ‘in the moment’, and getting excited and trying to build up that finish to the women’s Age Group 70-74 race when I spotted with about 10 minutes to go that there was a realistic chance of a sprint finish. And I don’t even know the people involved !!!! Doing that isn’t difficult – but it is if you don’t have the passion to be looking ahead / working things out and trusting your instincts.

All things considered, I would much rather have a microphone and be talking to thousands of people than have to go into a room with 10 others and try and make small talk. That’s way more pressure and stress to me.

You have watched a lot of triathlons over the years. What traits have you seen in triathletes that you really admire? Are their traits that seem to be much more common in triathletes than other sports?

Triathletes, even the Pros, tend to be there because they truly love the sport. At the (very) top of the sport – a Gomez / Brownlee / Ryf / Duffy / Frodeno – the rewards can be significant financially, but that can only be part of the motivation. The sport is simply too hard in terms of the training requirement and competition, to do without passion. One way you can see that is randomly go to the results of say a World Junior Championships 15 or 20 years ago. Assuming you’ve been around a while, I bet you will recognise a significant number of those names from 17/18 years of age, still racing all those years later. A few may have become ‘big’ names, others not so, but there has to be internal motivation to keep doing it for all of those years that goes well beyond hoping to gain fame or riches.

I’d say that triathletes are also very resilient, perhaps stubborn, and seem to be able to bounce back from things that most would struggle hugely with. Of course, in recent months I think everyone has seen what Tim Don has come through with a broken neck, the Halo and then winning his first Pro race back. There are so many more though – look at Gill Fullen’s return from cancer and surgery, the winner of the Age-Group Champs (Overall) in Glasgow recently, Trish Deykin, suffers with MS, a former club mate of mine, Fiona Ford, got totally wiped out by a car and was told her sporting career was done… she subsequently made the podium at Kona. And that’s just three that spring to mind, there are so many others, Pro and Age-Group.

Triathletes also tend to be organised and dedicated – and not just those that are at the top of results lists. I’m also constantly amazed out how many doctors / medics / surgeons and the like manage to also be top performing triathletes! There is a saying along the lines of, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”. That does seem to ring true in our sport. Most the British Age-Group athletes that you may see on the Kona podium multiple times, tend to be very busy professionals too.

JohnLevison3If you could put together an Ironman relay team of any triathlete in the world who would you pick for each leg and why?

That’s a tough one!

If we take men first, from a commentary viewpoint you take Harry Wiltshire – because it doesn’t matter how far away you are, you just look for his windmill left arm and you can confidently state exactly where he is. And to be honest, that’s typically at the front anyway!

The bike? Perhaps either Marino Vanhoenacker or Sebastian Kienle. I was in Klagenfurt when Marino broke the IRONMAN world record and I’ve followed his career quite closely. He races for one reason – to win. He has no interest in playing safe for a podium, it’s usually win or go home in an ambulance! I remember a quote he gave me in an interview, “I’ve definitely lost out on a lot of podium positions in my career which I might have gained by being a bit more conservative – but then again, I don’t think I’ve ever lost a race that I could have won.”

Sebastian is similar – races with such passion, and when he is in full flight, a sight to behold. I still remember when he caught and passed the lead group at a 70.3 World Championship in Vegas. He went past with such power that it was as if he was on a motorbike.

Run wise, well to absolutely guarantee yourself some killer quotes at the finish you go with Lionel Sanders! He’s got one of the worst ‘styles’ you’ll ever see, he looks permanently injured and as if he is limping – but he can push himself to deep, dark places – and stopwatch tells you he can run too. Being in Kona last year and actually feeling the conditions first hand, Patrick Lange finishing at sub–6 minute mile pace after almost eight hours is staggering too, while given his performances this year, I would like to squeeze Jan Frodeno into this team somehow too. So many options!

For the women, swim – Lucy Charles. No explanation necessary! For the bike, well I think right now we are seeing Daniela Ryf proving that she is absolutely the best female cyclist we have ever seen in the sport. If she can produce the all round race in Kona on a good day that she is capable of, her own course record will be smashed apart.

For the run, I pick Chrissie Wellington. Her final race in Kona was truly remarkable. She was a broken, physical mess coming into that race after her recent bike crash, yet at her ‘worst’ she had the mental strength and pain tolerance to still beat the best, and she did that on the run. She looked out of contention at T2, but in the first 100m of that run you could see that she was not ready to give up yet. It was a worthy way to call time on a wonderful career. I think we may have seen faster ‘runners’ than Chrissie, but would any of them beaten Mrs Wellington, head-to-head, when the chips were down?

What has been your favourite triathlon to commentate on?

Genuinely, I really don’t know if I could pick just one. While we generically might call it all ‘commentary’, exactly what you are doing, what you are talking about, who you are taking to, will depend upon the type of race, the length of race, where you are within that event, are you ‘on the ground’, the voice in the air, live broadcast etc.

A few that spring to mind:

European Games 2015, Baku, Azerbaijan – I can pretty confidently say I would never have been to Azerbaijan, had it not been for triathlon! That was a great week, working with a great team of people. The British men’s team (Benson, Bishop, Graves) produced perhaps the single best team performance I have ever seen. The domestique / pilot approach to racing has many critics, but on that day Tom and Phil gave absolutely everything they had and Gordon finished the race off in style, holding off their fast finishing Joao Silva. It was a staggering performance from the British team.

Outlaw Half 2017 – A month or so earlier I’d done a big interview with Gill Fullen (, a brilliant Age-Group athlete now in the 50-54 category who is just a legend of an athlete. Gill had recovered from cancer and major surgery that winter, but had kept it pretty secret from all but her closest family and friends. We’d spoken privately a few months earlier, as Gill found out that I’d had cancer myself some years previously, and I said that – when / if she was ready – I would be interested in doing an interview with her about it. That time came, and it turned into a long and detailed piece that I wanted to do ‘properly’, and I felt that Gill had really given me her trust and was very open, to someone that she didn’t really know that well. I got to know her better through that – and that interview was very widely read. So, when she then won – overall – the Outlaw Half a month later and I got to be the one explaining to the crowd who this was and calling her across the line – it was a special moment.

Glasgow 2014 & 2018 – Commonwealth Games and the recent European Championships, both wonderful events at Strathclyde Park. Great venue and both brilliantly organised. I’m a big fan of Nicola Spirig (who also won in Baku), and so it really is a pleasure to be able to just watch her at her best and be able to share that with the crowd. The Mixed Relay events at both were also brilliant. The battle for Silver and Bronze in 2014 between South Africa / Australia / Canada was epic, while last week just shows how close and unpredictable the relay format can be. I also really enjoy commentating on the Age-Group races too, and trying to give those and the athletes in them proper attention and focus. The team in Glasgow just did a brilliant job, they really did think about the Age-Group event and I’m pretty sure 800+ athletes will have left with a very positive experience of being part of Glasgow 2018.

I feel guilty not mentioning so many more! My first ever commentary was World Triathlon London in 2010 when Alistair Brownlee hit the wall with 200m to go and wobbled down the finish straight – that quite a start! The Club Relays at Nottingham is just a fabulous race and part of the fabric of the domestic season while doing some live stream broadcasts is a different buzz. I hope there are plenty more highlights to come in the future.

10 tips… for athletes setting up a Facebook fan page


Facebook is the second most popular social networking site in the world with over 1 billion active users. With Facebook it is essential to choose how you would like to use it; as a personal communication tool to stay in touch with friends and family (especially if you spend lots of time away on training camps or competitions), or as a way of promoting you and your sport. If you want to use it for promotion you can either make your regular page open to everyone (which has lots of risks) or you can set up a fan page which can be used for more general social media posts.

A fan page means you can separate out private and public information, and build a more external focused community. There is a limit on the number of friends you can have on a regular page, but no limit to the number of likes a fan page can have. These pages are also indexed in search engine results, so they can be found more easily. You can make someone an administrator of a page on your behalf so they can post for you if you are in competition mode and trying to get into the bubble and staying away from all social media. It will allow you to reach thousands of potential fans by creating a large base of followers, which in turn can help you get funding and sponsorship.

  1. When you set up your fan page the most important thing is to use your name or, if it is taken, differentiate by using your sport. My sporting ability is not worthy of a fan page however if I was significantly faster in my sport it would be Josie Perry Triathlete.
  2. Once the page is created make your profile a professional picture, your cover picture a great action shot and make your biography relevant and up to date. Include links to your other sites (Twitter, Instagram, blogs or website). Make sure you have the right to put up the pictures you do so you don’t end up with a large copyright bill.
  3. Many Facebook pages look unprofessional, are out of date or just look like they were set up to try to get sponsorship. So doing yours properly will make it stand out positively. Great content will get you more followers (or Likes) so really focus on creating value for followers so they feel they get lots of benefit by following.
  4. Decide what you would like the tone of your content to be. Do you want to be seen as funny and entertaining? Factual and interesting? An expert on your sport? A commentator on your sport. Choosing this tone early on helps you put out suitable content straight away.
  5. Take people behind the scenes – what more do they learn from following your page that they wouldn’t see without it. The daily routine of training may be dull to you but the life of an athlete is interesting to many people. If you are travelling to competitions shots from the country you are in are great, and any insight for how things are done differently in the country you are visiting.
  6. Put up your schedule of matches or races – with links to buy tickets or ways to get involved (even race themselves).
  7. If you have any tips or information you have been taught or told by the experts who support you (physios, psychologists, strength and conditioning experts, nutritionists) then share these. This technical expertise will be really well received.
  8. You can upload video directly to Facebook so it plays automatically in your friend’s news feeds. Facebook’s algorithm likes videos which are directly uploaded so they will get more exposure. Think about what might be of interest; particularly training or prep before competitions. A highlight reel of matches or races. Something which works well for this is a video diary around big events so people can see how your training is going leading up to your competition or big event. If you have a high enough profile you can host a Q&A to answer live questions yourself or for you to interview experts you work with.
  9. If you want to give extra thanks to sponsors and more value for their sponsorship you can give them some space on your page with their logo, reviews of their products and how you use them, run a give-away of their products, put up posts with discount codes, put up videos of you using their products or speaking to their staff at company days, thank them for their support. You can use your page to thank others who support you like your coach, physio, strength and conditioning coach, psychologist or nutritionist.
  10. You can share other people’s content: You can set up a Google Alert to find out if anything is posted about you online (it will send you an email if your name is mentioned on a website) and then share that. You can also use a website called Mention ( to tell you if anything comes up online about your sport so you have access to the latest news and information on your sport to be able to share with your followers.


10 tips… for athletes to get their LinkedIn looking slick


LinkedIn used to just be thought of as the site for job hunting but it is now used much more widely; particularly by journalists and conference organisers so if you are looking for ways to promote yourself, get sponsorship or have a platform for finding work when you retire being on LinkedIn could be really helpful. It has over 500 million members and is the fourth most popular social media site so there will be a lot of people on there who could be helpful to you. Think of it as your online CV.

To get your profile looking professional you need to follow the following guidelines:

  1. Professional profile headshot for your picture – no holiday snaps – you want to show you could do a great job as an ambassador for a company.
  2. Add in a background photo of something highlighting what makes you special; could be of you in competition, or on a podium or meeting school children.
  3. Put in current responsibilities or expertise – this is the first thing people read.
  4. Think about the key words people might use to find you. Athlete, runner, footballer, spokesperson, leader. Drop these into your text where it works.
  5. Have you got any videos or photos of your competing? These would be great to add. Also add any press cuttings or interviews you have done.
  6. Filter the skills and endorsements so they match what you want to be known for.
  7. Try to customise your LinkedIn URL so you are easier to find. If firstnamelastname is already taken add ‘athlete’ or your sport to the end.
  8. Make your summary stand out. 2000 Characters. Use them well. Think about the key words people are likely to search for or the search words you want to be found by. Add in anything which makes your expertise or experiences significant.
  9. Build your network quickly by adding friends, other athletes, competition organisers, college or university alumni (if you attend / attended), leaders and influencers in your sporting field, your sports governing body staff and key clubs in your area.
  10. Join some groups. Pick some for interest and a few to get involved with. You will then pick up on interesting debates, wider connections and if you are a member of the same group as another user, you can bypass the need to be a first-degree connection in order to message them. When you connect with someone it is not just them, it is their network. So use it wisely. And be careful when you receive requests from people you don’t know.

10 tips… for athletes who YouTube

YOuTube logoYouTube is a great way to create on online visual portfolio of your sporting career. It can show sponsors or coaches how dedicated you are to your sport and how passionate you are about it. Videos are also a great way to show off any specialist skills you have.

  1. Don’t feel you need to follow tick boxes on YouTube – videos can be as long or as short as you want. But start off with a couple to get your channel up and running. You don’t need brilliant video editing skills. You can usually do everything you need on your phone or laptop.
  2. It sounds very simple but think about the name you pick for your channel. It needs to be fairly sensible if you are to be taken seriously as an athlete. What may be funny now won’t be if a sponsor decides it is too out there to represent their brand effectively.
  3. Keep what you post fairly tame – no changing room shower shots, controversies, or outspoken rants. It isn’t worth the fall-outs of potential sponsor rejection.
  4. Think about the title you use for each video so it is easy for people to find it when they search.
  5. Leave really positive, encouraging comments on other athlete’s videos and they may come watch yours. Engaging on other people’s YouTube feeds will help highlight that you also produce great content. So be active with creating content and commenting
  6. Use your other social media channels to link to anything you put up on YouTube.
  7. YouTube is all about creating great content that people want to watch. If you have a team mascot then you can have great fun doing races or games with them before or after a competition and posting the video.
  8. If you have a tough strength and conditioning workout do little ‘shots to camera’ throughout it explaining what you are doing and why and post it up afterwards.
  9. If you have good nutrition then videos of you baking healthy sports specific food can be helpful for people. Making your own sports drinks or energy bars can give other people great ideas and is valuable content.
  10. Short video diary extracts for any announcements you make about your sport, matches or competitions or injury breaks you are taking will also be of interest.

10 tips… for athletes who Instagram

InstagramInstagram is brilliant for athletes as what you are doing every day creates fabulous aesthetics. It can give a behind the scenes peak into your daily life as an athlete with the ups, the downs and all the hard work. Here are 10 tips to get the most out of time on Instagram.

  1. If you feel sub-conscious or too shy promoting yourself perhaps think about it as not promoting yourself as a person but as an individual doing your sport to try to inspire others and bring more people into your sport.
  2. Set up a professional looking profile. The pictures can be the same as your twitter pictures with your headshot picture being you in kit and your background picture being a mid match or competition shot. In your biography you should include your sport and club and link to your club’s Instagram feed.
  3. Rather than think of Instagram as an online photo album it can be more effective to think of it as a way to tell your story – sharing videos of your training or straight after competitions will give some insight and help people see the journey you are on with your sport. This helps inspire and build a genuine connection.
  4. Remember our stories won’t always be perfect. In fact they almost never are. Our lives don’t travel in a nice straight line. We all have ups and downs and you will connect much better with people if you show this. Don’t do it to the detriment of your career (ensure you don’t post anything which gives your competitors one-up on you) but, where you can, be honest about the struggles and loses you have, and about the learnings and wins. This will make you a much truer ambassador for your sport and show you as an authentic athlete.
  5. Use hashtags so your shots can be found easily by people not yet following you.
  6. Don’t take yourself too seriously – have fun with it. Make beautiful pictures which authentically show your life – both the fun side and the hard working side.
  7. Follow others. This will help build up your followers and give you great ideas on what to share. It also helps you see great content you may want to share with others. Key people to search for will be other athletes, nutritionists, exercise experts (rather than influencers), psychologists, coaches and physiologists.
  8. Use filters. They make a big difference to how frequently they are viewed. A research project through Yahoo Labs found filtered photos are 21% more likely viewed and 45% more likely to have a comment made on them. So use them liberally.
  9. Every month or so look back through your posts, see which ones received the most likes and comments and tailor your future content more along these lines.
  10. If you struggle to think what content you could post consider including:
  • Photos from workouts and exercises – these can give people examples and ideas
  • Meals you eat which are great for supporting your training – with the recipe on another picture so other athletes can try making it too.
  • Quotes or tips which have helped you see things differently or inspired you.
  • Travel pictures of where you are training or competing.
  • It can be nice to sometimes have a theme to your pictures such as having your club mascot pop up in some shots or taking shots from a certain angle.
  • Join in ‘days’ such as Medal Monday, Transformation Tuesday, Throwback Thursday, Flashback Friday or SelfieSunday.

Ten tips… for athletes to grow twitter engagement & followers

  1. Follow other athletes in your team or club, athletes on the national team for your sport or other athletes in your sport you admire or are interested in their career path.
  2. Follow the governing bodies for your sports; at local, national and world level.
  3. Think about the companies whose products you currently use and companies you would like to be sponsored by and follow then, join in competitions and engage with them.
  4. Follow the media organisations and journalists who cover your sport, your local area or your hometown (if you have moved away) and retweet with comment any relevant stories they publish.
  5. Follow coaches and support experts in your sport – retweet any great articles they share.
  6. For all these people tweet them to say you have joined twitter and ask if there is anyone great you should be following. People often enjoy being asked for advice and offering tips.
  7. Check the big organisations in your sport, see who they follow, who are they retweeting and who they interact with and follow them.
  8. When you see anything of interest to others in your sport retweet it, sometimes offering your own comment.
  9. Put your twitter handle on your website, Facebook page, email signature and any printed material you do with sponsors so you can continue to grow followers.
  10. Do your twitter yourself. Some high profile athletes have an agent or manager tweet for them but this can feel unauthentic and followers realise they are getting something corporate and filtered rather than the actual views and perspectives of an athlete.


10 Tips… for athletes using Twitter

Twitter_Logo_WhiteOnBlueIf you are going to use just one social media site make it Twitter. It is a great way to publish information, engage with fans (your own and of your sport), to market yourself and appeal to potential sponsors. While most of the 1.3 billion people with accounts won’t see your tweets, if you work hard to build a great content feed and grow your followers you can make an impression on the people who can help your sporting career. Here are 10 tips to help use twitter effectively as an athlete.


  1. Have a professional profile name – not a comedy name you gave yourself years ago and thought would be a giggle. Your twitter name should be as close to your real name as possible as this is how people will look for you. If your name is already taken you can add your sport to it. The easier you are to find the more it will be used in the media and so you’ll great more followers.
  2. Have your profile picture be a professional headshot of you in your sports kit. This is often the shot a journalist would use or a company you are speaking for may pick to put on any information about you so it needs to be one you really like.
  3. Use hashtags as these are easily searchable and it means more people will find your tweets if they are trying to find out more about a subject. To find the best hashtags to use there is a tool called Hashtagify ( helps you decide. You type in a keyword that stands out from whatever you are sharing and it gives you other important related hashtags.
  4. If you have any type of public profile in your sport put out news on your social media first. This means people follow you to hear news first and you reward  those who follow you with exclusives.
  5. Decide on your twitter tone and stick to it. You need to be yourself and authentic so let your personality and humour shine through, but ensure you don’t alienate anyone or be rude to others. Some what ‘not to do’ ideas from professional athletes who have screwed up can be found here.
  6. Having a good variety of positive, professional and interesting posts is key. These could include information on kit or sponsors, charity or awareness campaigns you are involved with, match or competition comments, community work, training, nice comments about team or club mates, the build up to matches or competitions and thank yous to people for coming to watch you.
  7. Join in other people’s conversations. Only get involved in things you know about or want to learn more about but this will help you show you are an expert in your sport as well as competing in it. Learn from others and offer your opinions and sporting expertise.
  8. Use photos (they get on average 35% more retweets), videos (28% more retweets), quotes (19% more retweets) and hashtags (16% more retweets). If you have professional photos taken at competitions or matches and they go up online retweet them or ask to use them. These are striking and get followers attention.
  9. If you want to get the best engagement there is a tool called Buffer ( which looks at all your tweets and measures what time people interact with you most. Then you can schedule tweets for these time periods.
  10. To make great content, take people behind the scenes of your life and your sport. Think about how you can be useful to your followers. Insight into your sport, interesting facts or figures, comments on competition will all be of interest to sports fans. Show people what it is like to do your sport. Changing room photos or videos (but these must not embarrass anyone else), training shots, little videos of gym routines can all be of interest.


Review: How to support a champion, Steve Ingham

InghMI attended a week long workshop a couple of years ago at the English Institute of Sport and one of the people leading it was Steve Ingham. He had some great advice on how to build our skills as applied sport scientists so I bought his book as soon as it came out. And then it spent a year sitting in my reading pile as it felt like it would be too heavy and ‘grown up’ to read.

Today I finally got a chance to read it and it was so easy to read I finished it in an afternoon. It was not at all what I was expecting. I bought it thinking it would give me lots of things I could do with athletes to make them better – what it gave me was lots of ideas and approaches I should be using with my attitude to be a better practitioner. This is far more valuable. It doesn’t tell you how to be a good practitioner – but it really makes you think about your practice, the questions you ask and the way you ask them. He is really clear that often it is not what you know but how you know it. He suggests that sometimes you have to question your grounding thoughts to build yourself a firmer evidence base and think critically around what you read. He is also clear that often it is not about the facts and figures but about the ‘so what’ – what should athletes do with the information you give them.

It is incredibly honest. There is no ego bursting out of the spine of the book here. Ingham is very open about all the mistakes he has made and how he would behave differently now. This gives a real authenticity to the book and all the suggestions he proposes.

I loved his advice for those already on the journey – here are a five nuggets which I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing:

  • Before you aim to build rapport and trust with your athletes ask for feedback from people you trust about how you come across.
  • To work well in a team then only push the ideas you are passionate about if they are something you would pay for yourself.
  • To think critically question everything including, and especially, the literature, and start to build your own evidence base.
  • To be truly accountable think about who your key relationships are with, what their needs are and what keeps them up at night.
  • If you are trying to influence others use reflective thinking and find someone you trust to share some of these thoughts with before you share wider.

If you work in any area of sport science or coaching; in fact with athletes in any way there is so much you will learn in this book. It will set your brain off on new adventures and force some really positive reflections. It should be on the reading lists of all practitioner courses.