Sporting Chance visit Apex2100 International Ski Academy
Last week, The Apex2100 International Ski Academy welcomed the education team from Sporting Chance to Tignes, France to address mental health issues within the professional sporting environment. This comes over a year since developing a partnership between the charity and the Ski School to put in place a support system for the athletes, provision which includes access to the charity’s specialist online counselling service.
Sporting Chance has significant experience in delivering education and training to athletes and support staff across all the sports it works with, from Premier League football and horseracing to tennis’ ATP tour. In many cases this is to communicate the services available to athletes, how and why talking therapy might practically help them over the course of their athletic careers and in post-athletic life, and how they can access support in a way that feels safe and comfortable for them. Much of the work of the education department is also focused on encouraging participants to understand the role of mental health within their sport, developing emotional literacy and helping athletes to build sustainable programmes of self-care that reflect their unique environment and the unique stressors on their emotional wellbeing.
Over the course of three days, Sporting Chance’s team – consisting of Head of Education Alex Mills and Lauren Fisher, an England Rugby Union International and qualified psychologist from Durham University – delivered 11 sessions, including one to the staff body. 5 groups of athletes each took part in 2 sessions which covered a range of topics including sensation seeking and impulsivity, perfectionism, athletic identity, emotional regulation systems and addiction.
‘From a Sporting Chance perspective, I’m just really pleased we’ve been able to capitalise on a fantastic opportunity to get access to this athlete group’ said Alex Mills, following the final session on Thursday morning. ‘To spend this much time surrounded by the athletes themselves in their day-to-day environment and also to be given this much curriculum time to engage with them on this content is huge for us and unfortunately, it’s not the quality of access we get in every sport we work with. I think the willingness of the academy to bring us over here, the fact we’ve been able to deliver tailored content across all the age groups and the engagement we’ve got from exactly the kind of individuals we designed and built these sessions for – that’s been incredibly pleasing.’
Lauren Fisher, who competed at very top level of sport in her age group and whose mental health experiences have been shaped by many factors including multiple injuries and the pressure of balancing her athletic identity with the demands of university, was quick to agree. ‘The engagement and feedback we’ve got just confirms that these programmes are wanted and needed by young athletes whether they be a starting point for those who haven’t thought much about their mental health in this environment, or something extra for those who are more aware of their emotional set-up and have strategies in place when their thoughts and feelings are negative, acute or prolonged, ultimately debilitating.’
Alex added: ‘I think it was particularly important to have Lauren here, given that at 23, she’s experienced what a lot of these young athletes are going through relatively recently. She knows exactly what it’s like to be one of the best, she knows what it’s like to have the unrelenting drive of the athlete mindset, and she also knows what it’s like when adversity comes calling and the impact that can have. Just as importantly, she has an understanding of the importance of prioritising mental health rather than taking good mental health for granted. She’s spent time developing her support networks, how she communicates with her friends and her family about how she is feeling, accessing professional support when and where that is needed. She’s a great example of getting that balance right between going hard for your goals and looking after yourself in the process and I’m confident the groups we’ve worked with this week in Tignes have bought into that message too’.