Mind Over Matter: Navigating Mental Health in High Performance Sports with Professor Graeme Close  

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As a former professional rugby league player and current consultant sport nutritionist and Professor of human physiology and sport nutrition, Professor Graeme Close brings a unique perspective to the topic of mental health in high-performance sports. With a combination of academic research and applied practice, Professor Close has established himself as a leading expert in sport and nutrition science. In this blog post, we delve into his reflections on the current state of mental health support in the high performance sporting world.

Reflecting on the challenges facing athletes
Through my research and consultancy work with top athletes and sporting organisations, I have seen the growing desire to improve mental health support for athletes. The environment in which these athletes operate can be ruthless and relentless, with staff and players alike being seen as dispensable. Although progress has been made in recent years, there is still a long way to go before we achieve optimal athlete care and development. It’s crucial that we continue to innovate and design new support systems that carefully consider the end-users and their unique needs, motivations, and desires.
Another challenge that athletes face is that their sport is front and central in their lives, they have limited time for anything else and so they only have limited life experience outside of sport. This can lead to feelings of boredom, loneliness, and a lack of personal choice after retirement as they struggle to find their place in the wider world. The constant scrutiny and negative feedback can also take a toll on their mental well-being, making it difficult for them to relax and enjoy life outside of sport.

One of the key issues that we face is the impact of retirement on an athlete’s mental health. Regardless of the reason for retirement, the transition can be challenging and lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Retirement is like a really bad divorce or a death in the family – you are no longer connected, but you are not ready to let go. It is imperative that we provide support to athletes during this critical time in their lives, as they adjust to a new identity and navigate the challenges of life outside of sport.

What Can We Do to Change the Status Quo
To tackle these issues, it’s essential to create a safe environment where athletes feel comfortable discussing their mental health needs. We must also emphasize that no athlete is alone in this journey and that everyone has mental health needs that must be addressed. This includes career planning, which should be integrated into all aspects of support.

As a community, we must continue to innovate and motivate, empowering athletes to make informed choices and encouraging them to take responsibility and initiative. By doing so, we can help them develop the skills they need to become future leaders and achieve their full potential both on and off the field. It's time to prioritize mental health in high-performance sports and support our athletes in their journey to success.

About Professor Graeme Close
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Professor Close is a consultant sport nutritionist and a Professor in human physiology and sport nutrition at Liverpool John Moore’s University. Graeme provides nutrition and physiology consultancy alongside academic research to some of the world’s leading sporting organisations and athletes, including England Rugby, The DP World Tour Golf and Ryder Cup, Professional Boxing and has formerly worked with several super-league rugby clubs, team GB ski and snowboard, The Lawn Tennis Association, professional jockeys and several Premier League Football Clubs including Everton and Aston Villa.
Graeme is currently accredited with the Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register (SENr), BASES (sports science) and UKSCA (strength & conditioning). His research focuses on using sports nutrition to maximize athletes’ performance, body composition and recovery. This combination of academic research and applied practice has enabled Graeme to establish himself as a world-leading academic, nutrition consultant and public speaker.