18 May Mintridge Events Ambassador Georgia Lees talks about goals on and off the netball court
At 24, Superleague netballer Georgia Lees has several years left at the top of her sport and is thriving in the world of elite competition. However, unlike many sports people her age, she has started to think about life beyond sport and what she can do now to ensure, on retirement, her mental health is in as good shape as her physical health.
In this interview, Georgia explains how attending a series of Masterclasses run by Switch the Play, in partnership with Mintridge Events, encouraged her to think about the options available at the end of her career. Today, she proves that the ‘Athlete Mindset’ can include activities away from the sporting arena without any detrimental impact on performance…
Here Georgia discusses the athlete mindset
An athlete’s mindset. Belligerent. Focused. Stubborn.
Being selfish, single-minded and heavily goal orientated in a life without any distractions or outside interests is generally frowned upon within society. Within sport, many consider this to be a key ingredient to success. But just how healthy is it?
Georgia Lees, Surrey Storm and former England age-group netballer, knows exactly what it takes to reach the top of a sport.
“When you’re playing, your focus is just week by week, game by game,” she tells StP. “At some point you need to realise there is a life outside of sport. It’s quite a selfish mindset and, as athletes don’t have much free time, we become even more selfish.”
Within professional, and even more so within semi-professional sport, using those precious spare moments has huge significance. Rather than switch off and allow the brain to recover, many athletes choose to train harder, sneak in an extra gym session, prepare meals or consider tactics.
But at what cost is to mental health?
Georgia continues: “You can definitely have that mindset but (you should) focus energy on the court, training or match days and separate yourself away from the court. I don’t think it’s easy for athletes to snap in and out of. I suppose it’s not a healthy mindset, especially if you’re not thinking about life outside of sport.”
This part of an athlete’s career is where mental health can be put under incredible pressure. Such narrow focus on sport itself can negate the career upon retirement and as such put untold strain on any individual.
As Switch the Play endeavours to encourage athletes and sporting organisations to think of life outside of sport, it delivers educational sessions with athletes at different stages of their sporting careers.
It is at one of these events where it truly hit home to Georgia just how intrinsically linked a retirement plan is to wellbeing.
Georgia explains, “Mintridge and Switch the Play hosted some educational days for athletes. It was really good to meet other ambassadors and athletes who were at completely different stages in their careers. I’m still coming to the peak of my career, but other people were just coming towards the end of theirs. It’s not something I had really thought about until this time.
“Speaking to the other athletes, they’d wished they’d put plans in place sooner, believing it would have made it an easier transition from being a player to a retired player. It’s something I’m thinking about now. I’m getting more coaching experience and taking on all the knowledge I can now so that I can utilise it when I’m not playing. I can’t ever see having sport out of my life completely. The older I get, the less I’ll be able to play and eventually I will have to retire. It’s good to have that in the back of my mind. I can imagine, when it all comes to an end, I could feel really lost if I haven’t got any plans in place.”
With a university degree behind her, a background in sports science and a job as a health advisor, Georgia has plenty of skills to call upon when her elite netball career is over.
As a Mintridge ambassador, she’s creating more options for herself in the coaching sphere by running workshops for school kids. Whether the long-term aim is to work as a netball coach remains open ended, she is, at least, creating more options for herself.
And whilst much of the onus is on the individual sportsperson to take their own fate into their hands and consider mental health and transition much earlier, the awareness and structures to facilitate this are creeping into sports themselves.
Georgia hopes that when she hangs up her trainers, such a system will be fully integrated into netball and beyond.
“The longer I’ve been in the Superleague, the more support the franchises can offer you, not just as an athlete but somebody who works full time too,” she continues.
“I enjoy having my normal life, but it would be nice to have more time to train to my full potential. For young girls, in five or six years, when they are trying to reach their peak, hopefully there’ll be even more support and they might be full time athletes. You give so much time to your franchise, it would be good for them to give back to their athletes who have been so loyal.”
So, whilst the sports and those who run them are making improvements, there is still plenty of work to be done.
“It can be quite a taboo topic talking about retirement,” Georgia concludes. “It’s just about the athlete mindset. At Storm, where we’ve got quite a young average age, people don’t really know about how to plan for retirement, so it’s important to get the awareness out there. (Until recently) I’d never even thought about mental health. You have to have mechanisms to switch off from the athlete mindset and have your own life away from that.”
It is a collective responsibility, not just to talk about mental health but to factor it into the programme for every athlete and make it as important as the last bench press, the last sprint or the last team meeting.
The earlier an athlete can consider their transition, the more time they have to take action. The more time they have to take action, the less stressful that transition is likely to be. The less stressful that transition is likely to be, the better the athlete’s mental health.
That seems like a pretty healthy athlete mindset.
If you would like to organise or attend a Switch the Play educational day please contact firstname.lastname@example.org! If you would like to read more stories about athletes that have worked with StP visit the website www.switchtheplay.com.