TASS deliver support to para-athletes on their journey to performance

TASS are delivering the 20-32 Programme, developed for individuals on their journey to performance in para sport. This programme implements the principles of the Para Performance Strategic Framework and aims to develop para-athletes’ knowledge and understanding within key areas, helping them on their journey as an athlete and person. It’s a year-long programme, comprising 4 x face-to-face camps based at Loughborough University and 6 x online education sessions.

Many topics will be covered including:

  • Understanding your journey towards performance
  • How to work with your support network
  • The basics of fuelling and recovery

In addition to the camps and online education sessions, TASS will be providing extra support to athletes in the form of a full support services package (S&C, physiotherapy, nutrition, psychology and personal development/lifestyle) including medical and mental health support through its delivery network to all athletes selected for the duration of the programme.

Colin Allen, TASS’ Head of Operations commented:

’TASS are delighted to have developed this year-long programme, in collaboration with UK Sport, bringing together expertise from within the team alongside external partners. Years of sports science delivery experience together with insight gained from para-specific research projects, ensures that we are ideally placed to provide a valuable learning experience to these para athletes.’

The first camp took place in February. The theme was Personal Development and content was delivered by lifestyle practitioners Jane Holden and Nuala Deans.

Workshop 1 – Athlete Identity

In this workshop we focused on athlete identity and the importance of a multi-dimensional identity. Athletes were asked to describe who they are outside of sport, including their interests and hobbies.

We also explored the common stories that exist within elite para sport, such as the performance discovery and relational narrative.

We discussed the meaning of ‘athlete voice’ that encompasses advocacy (involvement in policy making, board representation, informing NGBs) and activism (using their sport as a platform to challenge social injustices).

Workshop 2 – ‘Knowing Self’

In the ‘knowing self’ workshop, athletes investigated their self-awareness. Participants explored their strengths by completing an online assessment. Athletes also asked three people (well known to them e.g. coach, friend or family member) to list their top three super strengths. We then used peer coaching and values cards to develop understanding of the athletes’ values and how they can bring values and strengths into day-to-day lives and use them to guide decision making.

Workshop 3 – Mental Health First Aid England Mental Awareness

           

Our final session was a Mental Health First Aid workshop for athletes. The aims of this workshop were to help athletes to:

  • Define mental health and some mental health issues
  • Understand factors that affect mental health
  • Identify the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health issues
  • Feel more confident about starting mental health conversations
  • Understand how to look after your own mental health

Athletes shared their valuable experiences of stigma in relation to mental health but also how they manage their disability and the language others use that can be helpful and unhelpful. An example of this is the use of ‘vulnerable’ and whilst this is used in many formal settings within health care, many individuals do not identify with this description and preferred people to ask them directly about their disability rather than making assumptions. Some athletes explained that they use humour to make others feel more comfortable and to break down barriers. They make an effort to allow others to feel more at ease with their disability and to engage in conversation in a variety of environments including educational and sporting.

Athlete voice

Embedding athlete voice into the design, delivery and evaluation of camps is essential for TASS . Whilst the Loughborough University research team will be conducting the formal review, it’s important for TASS to capture live feedback to ensure we meet are meeting athletes’ needs. An anonymous feedback post-box is available throughout the camp, ensuring athletes could share their views and we can make immediate changes if required. Post camp interviews are being conducted at random to gain deeper insight into the content and structure of the camp.

Athlete reflections

Some athletes shared feedback on their camp-experience. Joel said that his favourite part of the camp was ‘meeting people from different sporting contexts’. He expanded on this, saying that ‘when people were as honest as possible about their experiences’ allowed them to learn from each other. He found the interactions that he had were most valuable, but the ‘content catalysed those interactions’.

Another para-athlete, Mike, said that he always ‘gets a lot out of camps on the whole’.  Mike’s from a military background and so has a different experience from most athletes. He really enjoys meeting and talking to people and learning about other sports.

We also learned that by the end of the camp, the group’s confidence in Mental Health awareness increased by 33% and that their knowledge of Mental Health increased by 89%

Having consulted with the athletes and the emerging para framework , the next camp will focus on ‘Sports psychology and performing under pressure’. We will also be introducing our mindfulness and breathing techniques sessions. Camp 2 takes place on 15-17th March.