Over the last 3 years I’ve had the privilege of training over 200 athlete wellbeing specialists, including current elite & professional athletes. These committed & passionate athlete wellbeing specialists deserve recognition as early adopters of the world’s first holistic, skills-based training program. Far from taking the easy option, these people signed up for an intensive program focused on developing the knowledge & skills to support the whole-person wellbeing of athletes.
By undertaking an intensive course, these elite sport wellbeing professionals not only demonstrated commitment but acquired real skills which they can transfer to athletes in an elite sport setting.
At the Wellbeing Science Institute our vision is to help everyone who works in elite sport acquire these skills & qualifications so they can better support elite athletes. Because without these skills people in wellbeing roles have little understanding of what’s expected of them and how to deliver value for athletes. Failing to equip people in these wellbeing roles with the knowledge & skills required sells them short and delivers poor outcomes for athletes.
Our work in training wellbeing specialists has led us to the following conclusions:
1) Athletes need proactive and holistic wellbeing skills
The best wellbeing work is preventative, not reactive. It is also based on the reality of how people live their lives – not abstract theories or fads. To be preventative, wellbeing work needs to be holistic. Athlete wellbeing is not simply mental health. And mental health is not mental wellbeing – as the World Health Organisation has pointed out. Holistic wellbeing means whole-of-body – physically, mentally, emotionally and socially well. It incorporates relationships, culture, spirituality and community. And as we know, finances also impact our wellbeing.
What is abundantly clear is that doing work that focuses on transferring knowledge & skills to athletes requires minimum standards of competency. Because only when we have minimum standards of competency & qualifications can we be confident that quality outcomes for athletes can be sustained.
2) Creating athlete wellbeing roles is not enough
While it is positive that an increasing number of wellbeing roles are being created in sport, it’s important that we also ensure that people appointed to these roles have the requisite knowledge and skills to do their jobs effectively. Without these skills & qualifications, we expose athletes and the people in the roles to unnecessary risk. And as such, we fail to meet our duty of care to athletes. In an effort to demonstrate a commitment, sporting organisations are putting people in wellbeing roles but unfortunately often without the requisite holistic wellbeing knowledge, skills & qualifications. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to do their job as it can and should be done.
3) Athlete Wellbeing qualifications – in practice, not just in theory
It’s clear that the people who complete their qualifications in elite athlete wellbeing management, will have the confidence & competence to make a real difference in the lives of athletes and their families. What’s also clear is there is a gap beginning to open up between these qualified professionals and others in wellbeing roles with little or no qualifications to deliver wellbeing work. The fact is that caring about athletes is not enough. It’s also true that just as great athletes don’t always make great coaches, successful athletes don’t always make great wellbeing specialists – but they can.
Wellbeing specialists who work with elite athletes need quality training in the principles & practice of wellbeing. These principles and practices need to be evidence-based; proven to be effective in an athlete-setting and they need to be skilfully transferred to the athletes. We don’t believe that wellbeing specialists need to hold post-graduate degrees. What they do need are applied, multi-dimensional and practical wellbeing skills that they’re able to transfer to athletes.
These qualifications also need to equip the wellbeing specialist with the skills to customise & contextualise wellbeing processes and tools so that they facilitates athlete self-determination.
4) All professions have minimum standards
Minimum standards are a key feature of all professions and elite athlete wellbeing should be no different.
Minimum standards include:
- a clear code of ethics
- a best interest test
- a competency framework
- a nationally recognised qualification and
- ongoing professional development.
Without these minimum standards it will be difficult, if not impossible, to gain respect inside and outside of sport.
It’s time that the sport industry as a whole – athletes, codes, national sporting organisations, athlete associations and educational institutions – come together to develop and agree what these minimum standards should be and ensure their organisations support them. Because it’s better to get these things right early in the establishment of a profession, rather than reacting when things don’t go according to plan.