sport news SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: We need to distinguish between pressure and stress when ...

sport news SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: We need to distinguish between pressure and stress when ...
sport news SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: We need to distinguish between pressure and stress when ...

Mental health has become a big issue at these Olympics and we should not be surprised. 

The Olympics are the ultimate and this one had been five years in the making, the stakes are the highest and exposure is the greatest. Fault lines were bound to appear.

My experience is that every case is different, every athlete is different. Things can change and unravel quickly in short periods of time. So, although people want definitive answers, guidelines and protocols, I can't offer you that. Nobody can.

Gymnastics superstar Simone Biles has pulled out of several events due to mental ill-health

Gymnastics superstar Simone Biles has pulled out of several events due to mental ill-health

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Ben Stokes has decided to take 'an indefinite break from cricket' to look after his wellbeing

Ben Stokes has decided to take 'an indefinite break from cricket' to look after his wellbeing

I have some broad principles which I have used in my rugby coaching career and became clearer and reinforced as director of sport for the British Olympic Association at three Olympics. 

The first and most important is to always appreciate you are dealing with flesh and bones, human beings, albeit amazing physical specimens with seemingly super powers. These don't make anybody immune to mental-health issues.

First, we must differentiate between pressure and stress. We must note the difference between the glorious rough and tumble of sport and mental health difficulties — the runs of bad luck, injuries, rehab, refereeing decisions that go against you, those days you can't buy a three-foot putt or those days when the bio-rhythms are out of synch and it feels all wrong. That's sport and that's why we love it.

Pressure and the ability to thrive in that environment is what makes great champions. It fires your ambition, it makes you come alive, it's why you want to play and coach competitive sport at the highest level as opposed to simply enjoy recreational sport to keep fit.

It involves being able to deal with expectations, big crowds, hostile crowds, opponents raising their game and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The pressure of training hard in all weathers, of working through injury and bouncing back from disappointments.

You must welcome all of that. You must be able to cope with defeat because most competitors spend a lot of their lives not winning. Even Usain Bolt finished last in his first Olympic final — Athens, 2004.

The truth is that if you can't cope with the pressure, you will not be a winner and possibly elite sport is not for you.

That's not a character judgement in an way, it's just stating the reality. You can still have endless hours and years of sporting fun away from the heat of elite competition. The same can be said of any walk of life away from sport, the pressures are all around us and some simply enjoy taking on even greater pressure.

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So now we come to stress, which is so very different from pressure. Stress can be the precursor of mental health issues and reveal itself in dangerous symptoms. It can herald difficult times and we must be aware of what is going on.

The ability to cope with defeat is crucial if you are to make it to the pinnacle of your sport

The ability to cope with defeat is crucial if you are to make it to the pinnacle of your sport

What causes stress in sport? All kinds of things. If you don't enjoy pressure, you will start to become stressed over the long term. But there are other origins of stress. 

Pressing personal and relationship issues and traumatic life experiences that have nothing to do with sport can weigh heavily on you. 

Unresolved injury niggles or undetected and untreated medical conditions can do the same, as can the unrealistic expectations of close friends, coaches or confidants

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